Robert II

Robert II (1316-1390) was king of Scotland from 1371 to 1390. For many years heir presumptive to David II and frequently regent of the kingdom, Robert is important primarily for his role in Scottish affairs before he came to the throne.

Robert Steward (or Stewart) was the son of Walter Steward (the third of that name in a line stretching back to Walter "the Steward," ca. 1158) and Marjorie Bruce (daughter of Robert Bruce, who had become Robert I of Scotland in 1306). As early as 1318 the Scottish Parliament declared Robert Steward heir presumptive if the male line of Bruce should die out.

Robert first came to prominence at the battle of Halidon in 1333, where he was one of the commanders of the losing Scottish side and was in consequence dispossessed of his estates by Edward Balliol, the English-supported rival to Robert Bruce's son David II (born 1324; reigned 1329-1371). Robert Steward was among the leaders of the successful resistance to the puppet regime of Balliol and, as principal regent from 1338, paved the way for David's return 3 years later.

However, no love was lost between the two men (Robert being David's nephew and heir presumptive as well as being older and having controlled the regency), and contemporaries suspected that Robert treacherously fled the field at the crucial battle of Neville's Cross in 1346, at which David was taken prisoner by the English. Robert was again regent, for 11 years, but David's release in 1357 (obtained by a promise to pay a crushing ransom to the English) put him out of power, and in 1363 Steward joined a conspiracy against the King. This was unsuccessful, however, and David's attempt to get his ransom lowered by settling the Scottish crown on the English royal family (thus effectively disinheriting Robert) sealed the enmity between the two. Parliament rejected David's proposal, and on the King's death in 1371 Robert succeeded to the throne as Robert II.

The new king seems to have played very little part in the important events of his reign, being overshadowed by two of his many sons, first the Earl of Carrick (the future Robert III) and then the Earl of Fife. Robert was uninterested in, and powerless to stop, the renewed and increasingly bitter hostilities between the English and the Scots (the latter egged on by the French) culminating in the burning of Edinburgh in 1385 and the Scottish victory at Otterburn 3 years later. It is conjectured that Robert, now an old man, suffered physical, and perhaps mental, decline; and he had been put under a guardianship, tantamount to deposition, a few months before his death in 1390. He left a troubled succession, a quarrelsome and turbulent nobility, and a tradition of weak and largely ineffective kingship, all of which were to plague his country during the subsequent century.

Further Reading on Robert II

There is no work solely on Robert II or his reign. The standard histories of Scotland give background information about his times: P. Hume Brown, History of Scotland, vol. 1 (1899), and William Croft Dickinson, A New History of Scotland, vol. 1 (1961; 2d ed. 1965).

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