The Imprisonment of the Bruce Women

bruce women
Screenshot/Fair Use (Outlaw King)

During the First War of Scottish Independence, the female relatives of King Robert (I) the Bruce of Scotland were particularly bad off.

Mary Bruce (a sister of Robert), Christina Bruce (a sister of Robert), Marjorie Bruce (the daughter of Robert), Elizabeth de Burgh (the second wife of Robert) and Isabella MacDuff (a supporter but not a relative) were captured and betrayed to the English by William, 3rd Earl of Ross. They had taken sanctuary in the Chapel of St. Duthac at Tain while on their way to the safety of Orkney. William violated their sanctuary, and they were arrested and handed over.

Mary Bruce was held prisoner in an iron or wooden cage exposed to the public at Roxburgh Castle. She would spend four years in the cage being humiliated. The same fate was suffered by Isabella MacDuff. Edward I had sent the following instructions for her:

‘Let her be closely confined in an abode of stone and iron made in the shape of a cross, and let her be hung up out of doors in the open air at Berwick, that both in life and after her death, she may be a spectacle and eternal reproach to travellers.’

Mary was eventually released in 1314. She married twice and had a single son, John Campbell, Earl of Atholl. She died around 1323.

"Marjorie Bruce Paisley Abbey" by Asste - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
“Marjorie Bruce at Paisley Abbey” by Asste – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Isabella was sent to Berwick-upon-Tweed where she indeed spent four years in a cage before being moved to a Carmelite friary. By the end of the four years, they were considered valuable hostages and Edward did not want them to die of things like exposure. However, Isabella appears to be the only one who didn’t survive the ordeal. No mention is made of her during prisoner exchanges, so she had probably died by 1313.

Christina Bruce suffered a less harsh fate and was sent to a Gilbertine nunnery at Sixhills in Lincolnshire. Her niece Marjorie was sent to a convent in Watton, though she had also been ordered to imprisonment in a cage at the Tower of London. Edward I had changed his mind just in time. Marjorie and Christina were released in 1314.

Christina married her second husband in 1326, but it appears they had no children and she died around 1356. Marjorie Bruce married not soon after to Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland. On 2 March 1316, Marjorie was pregnant when she was thrown from her horse. She delivered the child at Paisley Abbey and died a few hours later. Her son would become the first Stuart monarch as Robert II. Marjorie was just 19 years old. Elizabeth de Burgh was held under house arrest in not ideal conditions. She was imprisoned for eight years. She was moved around a lot, before being moved to Carlisle where a prisoner exchange took place, and she was able to return to Scotland at the end of 1314.

It appears not much is known of the time during their imprisonment, though I imagine it must have been a trying time. I found some information in this book1 but it’s limited information. I wish we knew more about how their imprisonment affected their lives!

  1. Imprisoning Medieval Women: The Non-Judicial Confinement and Abduction of Women in England, c.1170-1509. Seabourne, Gwen, Dr.

About Moniek Bloks 2591 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Moniek, I must thank you for this valuable website that focuses on the female heros of historic events, many of whom do not get a screen play written about them for the silver screen as Robert the Bruce has, with that movie release on April 24, 2020. I am a descendant of Mary Bruce, sister of Robert the Bruce, and her second husband Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser, and this is the line that leads to the lairds of the Gordons of Hunly. My great grandfather was born in Scotland before emigrating to New Jersey, USA. Good luck with this site, Victoria Mary Sharp.

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