Robert the Bruce and his Battle Axe

Robert the Bruce and One-to-One Combat

It is fairly unusual, even in the period of medieval kings, to hear about Kings engaging in one-to-one combat with a leader of a rival army. They are just too important to risk dying. Sure, they are on the battlefield. Yes, they roam around towards the back with their retinue of armed guards and standard bearers. On occasion, their heavily armed super guards cause routs. But the odds are astronomically small of two rival leaders actually meeting on the battlefield to make it almost impossible. It could be it happened more often and simply wasn’t recorded, but I doubt it. Kings did not tend to be shy when encouraging Historians to write about their brave deeds. It seems unlikely if they went toe to toe with their opposite number and triumphed, that they would be shy about it.

There are a couple of examples and near misses. Richard III made a last ditch charge when all was lost directly on Henry VII at The Battle of Bosworth, it certainly isn’t impossible they actually crossed swords. There was also Sir William of Marshall who unceremoniously unseated Richard the Lionheart. Today though we are going to talk about Robert the Bruce and his conflict with Henry de Bohun.

The background to Robert the Bruce

This is typically the part of a post where I provide some of the solid background facts to the famous person we are looking at. I highlight to us all where the man was born (typically somewhere none of us have heard of). I provide the year the monarch was born (not really a year any of us can place or relate to). Sometimes, I will advise what the famous person’s parents did (spoiler: because I nearly always write about monarchs their parents are usually King and Queen). I will then usually give some of my thoughts on the period/background before drifting off into a dramatic narrative.

I do not particularly enjoy writing this section which is probably a good barometer as to whether or not you enjoy reading it, however, I do appreciate that for some sort of context it can be useful. So here we go, quick fact file, quick opinion, dramatic text.

Robert the Bruce FACT FILE

Name: Robert the Bruce

Occupation: King of Scotland 

Year of coronation: 1306 

(If immediately upon hearing this date your heart rate began racing you would be right. This was the year before Edward “Longshanks” I died, leaving behind a huge power vacuum. His son Edward II, who seemed like quite a nice chap, wasn’t actually a great King.)

Have some more context. Our story focuses on the Battle of Bannockburn fought in 1314 between the English and Robert the Bruce of the Scottish people. Edward II is seven years into his reign and is keen to demonstrate he is not a monarch to be messed with. He lacks the military prowess of his father, the ability to read men or any form of leadership. He sends his armies up north. The leader of the vanguard is a Henry de Bohun.

P.S. Ignore anything in the film Braveheart about Robert the Bruce.

Robert the Bruce vs Henry de Bohun

Henry was tired of this nonsense. He had been sent forward as part of a scouting party to spy on the Scottish army. To SPY on the Scottish army. For goodness sake. Do you know who would not have taken this shhhhh…shenanigans? Edward I, old Long Shanks would have had the lot of them strung up and they’d of paid for their own rope. Riding out randomly across the hills of this freezing Bannockburn place, what was the point? They weren’t going to suddenly stumble across the Scottish army through luck, were they…

Oh Hello, what was that, thought Henry? Heavily armoured cavalry horses, check. Infantrymen, check. Archers, check. Yeah, this was an army. This was the Scottish army. Maybe there was some method to the madness. No doubt head office would decide it was down to their great strategic know-how, Henry de Bohun knew better though, he knew it was down to his hard work, his diligence, his years of field experience.

Henry knew another thing too. Down in the valley, sat closest to his scouting party, was Robert the Bruce. The leader of the Scottish army and his retinue of knights. They stood in the valley, stripping down their armour. Laying down their weapons.

Henry de Bohun doesn’t remember thinking the word, but he shouts it, “CHARGE!”.

Henry de Bohun springs an ambush on Robert the Bruce

“The English are here, the English are here!” Robert the Bruce shouts.

He is surrounded by a whirlwind of activity. Men at arms rush to grab, well, arms. Archers…bows. Cavalrymen look for their horses…you get the picture. The camp is carnage though. Putting on armour is not like putting on your trousers, it is a lengthy process. An endless stream of English soldiers is pouring down the hill, only it isn’t an endless stream. It is a trickle of that. This is the vanguard decided Robert the Bruce.

“Mount!!”, he commanded. The unarmoured men shouted a number of words at this command, none of which are repeatable.

The unarmoured Robert the Bruce needed to re-establish leadership. Clutching his favourite axe and not wearing any armour, Robert the Bruce leapt upon his travelling horse. He spun her round to face the charging Vanguard, “You, you die today son!”, he pointed with his axe at the fully armoured Henry de Bohun, mounted atop a warhorse and wielding a lance.

Robert the Bruce vs Henry de Bohun

Too easy, thought Henry de Bohun. His mouth actually started watering when he thought about his victory feast. King Slayer. What a title! His lance was levelled at the fool, riding a travelling horse, unarmoured and swinging around an axe. Henry started to think insignias, his current insignia was fine, he guessed, but perhaps a thistle should be added? To denote the slaying of the great Robert the Bruce. He could not believe his luck.

As the distance closed Henry laughed at the horsemanship of Robert the Bruce. He was all over the place, swaying around in his saddle. His lance remained level. At the last moment, Henry saw Robert the Bruce sway to a 90-degree angle from his saddle just before his lance should strike. Strange he thought. The world is spinning around.

Robert the Bruce dodged to the side in his stirrups, crouching impossibly low, he struck up like a cobra beheading Henry de Bohun.

Robert the Bruce was apparently extremely annoyed he had broken his axe during the conflict. #Firstworld14thcenturyscottishconflictproblems

Feel free to tweet using the above hashtag…nobody’s going to tweet using that are they?