Kirkpatrick family researchers have read the story many times about how Sir Roger Kirkpatrick aided Robert the Bruce in killing Comyn in Greyfriars Church. But could we have spun the story just a little? Could it be that the great Bruce was in fact an opportunist and that things didn’t happen exactly the way we have handed the story down through the ages?
The records are pretty explicit about how our family crest was given to us by the Bruce in gratitude for our loyalty (the Kirkpatrick and Bruce families had been close for generations), and perhaps the words “Mak siccar” were actually uttered by Sir Roger, but what about the circumstances surrounding the murder itself?
Undiscovered Scotland, in its article on Robert the Bruce, paints a slightly less than flattering picture:
By the end of 1305 there were signs that Edward I believed that Bruce was plotting against him: but Bruce’s repeated switching of sides meant he was also little trusted by many in Scotland. Bruce, it seems, was planning to seize the arguably vacant crown of Scotland for himself. His main obstacle in Scotland was John III Comyn. On 10 February 1306 the two met to discuss their differences in the safe and neutral Church of the Grey Friars in Dumfries. It seems they disagreed, either because both wanted the Scottish crown for themselves, or because Comyn refused to lend his support to Bruce’s planned uprising against the English. Robert Bruce drew a dagger and stabbed Comyn in front of the high altar of the church. Bruce fled the church, telling waiting comrades outside what had happened. One of them, Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, went back in and finished off the seriously wounded Comyn.
It is unlikely that Bruce had gone to the meeting intending to murder the leading member of the most powerful family in Scotland: and certainly not in a place that caused revulsion in an age well used to savagery. But the die was cast and Bruce had no choice but to press on with his plans, in very different circumstances to those he had hoped for. His first move was to take the strongholds of the Comyns in Southern Scotland. His second was to confess his crime to the Bishop of Glasgow and receive absolution, on condition that as King he would be suitably respectful of the church. There is strong evidence that Bruce’s plans – the murder of Comyn aside – were supported in advance by many in the Church in Scotland.
And this segment from the fabulous A History of Scotland series from BBC tells a similar story.
So, which is it? Did Sir Roger voluntarily and impulsively state “I make sure” before finishing off Comyn? Or did the Bruce send him in afterward, possibly at the urging of the clergy, to do the dastardly deed? And does it really matter? After a faulty start, Robert the Bruce went on to become one of Scotland’s great heroes who did much to garner her independence from England.