Bruce Invasion

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Bruce Invasion

The Bruce invasion of Ireland (1315–1317) was in fact an episode in the Scottish War of Independence, arising from the attempt of Edward I of England to annex Scotland following the extinction of the direct line of native kings in 1286. A national resistance movement at once emerged, and in March 1306 Robert Bruce had himself inaugurated as king of the Scots. Forced almost at once to flee, he returned to conduct a successful guerrilla campaign against the English. In June 1314 a large invading army was destroyed by Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling. Nevertheless, the English refused to accept Scottish independence.

It was probably as a means of bringing pressure on England, and of depriving it of the resources that it was drawing from the Irish colony, that Robert, in May 1316, sent his brother Edward with a force to Ireland. The invasion was accompanied by an appeal to the native Irish to throw off the English yoke. After being joined by Domhnall Ó Néill, acknowledged head of the Irish of Ulster, Edward Bruce was proclaimed king of Ireland. A letter—the famous "Remonstrance"—was sent by Ó Néill to the pope, setting out the oppressions of the Anglo-Normans and asking him to transfer the sovereignty of Ireland from the English to Edward Bruce, to whom Ó Néill transferred any hereditary right he had to the kingship. Two and a half years of indecisive warfare followed, ending with Edward's death in battle at Faughart, Co. Louth, on 14 October 1318. The campaign coincided with three years of exceptionally bad weather, which led to the worst European famine of the Middle Ages.

The Bruces had hoped to find widespread support in Ireland, but this failed to materialize. They may not have been aware of the depth of racial antagonism between Gael and Anglo-Norman that existed at this time in Ireland, since it did not exist in Scotland. Only some minor Anglo-Norman landowners in Ulster and Meath joined the Scots, all the major barons staying loyal to the English crown. The factional divisions of the Gaelic Irish ensured that—as happened with the O'Briens—if one faction allied themselves with the Scots, their rivals would join the English. Nevertheless, the opportunities provided by the invasion were seized upon by the Gaelic Irish, especially in the provinces of Leinster and Connacht, to attack the local colonial settlements, and after the invasion large areas passed out of the control of the Dublin administration. If the Bruce invasion failed in its aim of establishing an independent Irish kingdom allied with Scotland, it accelerated the Gaelic Recovery and the progress of gaelicization among the Anglo-Norman elites.

SEE ALSO English Government in Medieval Ireland; Gaelic Recovery; Gaelic Society in the Late Middle Ages; Norman Invasion and Gaelic Resurgence


Barrow, Geoffrey W. S. Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. 3d edition, 1988. Reprint, 1992.

Duffy, Seán, ed. Robert the Bruce's Irish Wars. 2002.

Frame, Robin. "The Bruces in Ireland: 1315–1318." In Irish Historical Studies 19 (1974): 3–7. Reprinted in Robin Frame, Ireland and Britain, 1170–1450. 1998.

McNamee, Colm. The Wars of the Bruces: Scotland, England, and Ireland, 1306–1328. 1997.

Kenneth Nicholls

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Bruce Invasion

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