In February 1306 two cousins embraced as they entered the Church of the Minorite Friars in Dumfries. Within minutes the veneer of friendship had slipped. As they stood deep in earnest conversation their voices began to rise. Rage boiled over. A dagger was drawn and an almost instinctive strike sent Sir John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and the most powerful man in Scotland, staggering back, clutching his chest. Instantaneously Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick and Lord of Annandale, was hit by the full realisation of his actions. He had killed a kinsman in cold blood inside a church.
Following his actions Robert the Bruce was left with two options – disappear into exile or strike out for the throne. He chose the latter and set in motion a train of events, which were to lead to Bannockburn and Scottish independence. It’s a story every Scot knows. Or do they?
Surprisingly there is no single centre or attraction throughout Scotland solely devoted to the memory of the man fondly known by some as “The Hero King”.
That is about to change, however. Just over two years ago in Dumfries a seven-strong group of individuals, drawn by a common admiration and interest in Bruce, got together.
The Robert the Bruce Commemoration Trust was born. Its aim is to create a vibrant visitor centre at Dumfries, centred on the murder of the Red Comyn but telling the whole Bruce story.
As a first step the Trust has unveiled a website which uses colour, music and narration to introduce itself and outline its intentions. The web address is www.brucetrust.co.uk
The Trust has won the backing of Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway to develop the site with a highly detailed picture of Bruce’s connection with the southwest. The plan is to follow the website with a CDRom based on a virtual reality visitor centre.
“We are aiming to open the centre by 10 February 2006, which will be the 700th anniversary of the murder of the Comyn,” said the Trust spokesman Doug Archibald.
“Personally, I think it is to Scotland’s shame that there is no major commemoration of a man who was remarkable human being. Bruce was a man of great belief in himself; a man of tenacity who steeled himself at the low point in his campaign for the throne when his brothers had been brutally executed, his wife and daughter imprisoned, and many of his friends killed; a skilled warrior, but above all a man of great compassion.
“Bruce was a complex man who suffered illness and injury throughout his life. But he was a tough competitor who never accepted defeat.
“He commanded love, loyalty and respect from all who knew him. His treatment of captured English nobles and the bodies of their dead after Bannockburn I think singles him out as a man at the very peak of chivalry at the time.
“But I believe what really sets him apart was his ability to turn what was essentially a family feud with the Comyns into a national struggle for Scottish Independence.
“On our very doorsteps we have a story that Hollywood screenwriters would give their right arm for. Yet so far nothing has been done about it.
“As with everything, cash is not in abundance. We are in the process of seeking whatever grant assistance is available whether it be from the National Lottery, Europe or wherever.
“The idea behind the website was one of simple identification. It says, ‘We are the Bruce Trust. This is what we are about’ and we hope it will bring in lots of support.”
The Centre itself is a long way off but the Trust aims to make it as educationally attractive as possible within a visitor context. It will also don the mantle of a living museum with visitors able to meet and talk to characters from the time and get a good idea of what their lives were like.
“We want to tell the whole story,” added Archibald. “It’s not a one side hero affair. Views on Bruce were different just a few miles from here at Carlisle.
“You also have to remember that the family were often in the service of Edward I and changed sides frequently. It’s even been suggested that Bruce fought alongside Edward at Falkirk when William Wallace was defeated.
“The man certainly put family interests first when he walked into the Greyfriars Church that morning in February. His actions there unveiled a whole new dimension to mediaeval society.”