‘Peace was made where war had been’: The wedding of David Bruce and Joan of the Tower, 17 July 1328: a guest post by Ethan Gould.

Ethan Gould is a member of the Mortimer History Society. His entry into the MHS Essay Prize Competition for 2016, ‘Heartless, Witless, Graceless, Thriftless: Roger Mortimer and the Scots 1326-1328,’ received a commendation, and will be published in the Journal of the MHS later in 2017. He lives and works in Canberra, Australia, and is hoping to begin postgraduate study in the near future, undertaking a research Masters with a thesis focusing on the career of Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray.


Marriages amongst members of the nobility during the middle ages were often arranged for political reasons, but few were as politically charged as that of David Bruce and Joan of the Tower in 1328. Intended as a physical manifestation of the recently concluded peace between England and Scotland, the match was widely resented by the English political community, who saw it as symptomatic of the disregard that those who had assented to the marriage held for the good of the realm, the dignity of King Edward III, and the welfare of the young bride. This group of individuals who were eager to see peace established between England and Scotland were led by Roger Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore, and Queen Isabella.

Mortimer had been the driving force behind the peace negotiations with the Scots. His experiences during the Weardale Campaign of 1327 and the subsequent Scottish threats to annex parts of Northumberland were enough to convince him that further continuation of the Scottish War was futile.[1] Amidst plots to free and restore the deposed Edward II to power, Mortimer sought to negotiate with the Scots to remove the threat so that he could secure his unofficial rule over England alongside Isabella. The Scottish King, Robert Bruce, had always been open to negotiation with the English if it gave him what he wanted, namely the recognition of his kingdom’s independence and his right to rule that kingdom, but in his negotiations with Mortimer he spelled out other conditions which would have to be accepted if he were to contemplate peace. Amongst these was the arrangement of a marriage between his son and heir David to the sister of Edward III, Joan of the Tower.[2]

Bruce’s motivations for securing such a marriage are readily understandable. Joan was, after all, the daughter of Edward II and Isabella of France, both of whom were of impeccable royal pedigree and had familial connections to royal houses across Christendom. Such an illustrious marriage for his son would therefore provide the some much needed legitimacy to his rule, and that of his son. Most of the English considered Bruce himself to be a sacrilegious murderer, a forsworn traitor, and an upstart usurper with no right to Scotland’s crown.[3] The marriage of his son to the queen of England’s sister would inject some undeniably royal English blood into the Bruce dynasty, and would also, Bruce hoped, forge a fraternal bond between David and Edward III that may avert future conflict between the Royal houses of England and Scotland, which would be linked by blood.[4] The fact that Joan was only seven and David just four was no impediment. The two children would be married to cement the peace between their respective kingdoms. Mortimer, along with the bride-to-be’s mother, Queen Isabella, agreed to the marriage and Bruce’s other terms, forcing the ratification of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in May 1328.[5] In early July that year they would travel north to the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed to fulfil their obligations and witness the marriage of Joan to David Bruce. They journeyed with an entourage of their supporters including John de Warrene Earl of Surrey, William de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, and the Bishops of Lincoln, Ely and Norwich.[6] Notably absent was Edward III, sullen and resentful of the peace with the Scots, which had been arranged in his name but not with his assent. He refused to attend, making it clear that his sister’s marriage to David Bruce had been agreed to by Mortimer and his mother, but not by him.[7]

Robert Bruce, despite his eagerness for the wedding, also declined to attend. While his health was questionable, his reluctance to attend seems less related to his health and more related to his sense of honour.[8] If the boy-king would not attend, neither would he. In his stead, Bruce left his nephew, Thomas Randolph Earl of Moray, an accomplished statesman and diplomat, to greet the English at Berwick and oversee the celebrations. Randolph was joined by his comrade-in-arms James Douglas, a man who had earned a fearful reputation amongst the English.[9] Both these men had personal history with Mortimer and Isabella, which would have made their supervision of the wedding somewhat uncomfortable for the English rulers. Each had been present at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where Mortimer had been captured and released through Bruce’s benevolence, and Randolph had been part of the force which defeated Mortimer in Ireland the following year at the Battle of Kells.[10] During their raids into England in 1319 and 1322, Douglas had been tasked with attempting to capture Isabella to use as a bargaining chip, and though he had failed both times these efforts had added to Douglas’ aura of menace.[11] More recently, Randolph had negotiated with the pair in good faith whilst they had been exiles in France in 1326, and when the pair had successfully invaded England and overthrown Edward II they had broken their side of the bargain they had made with Randolph and failed to acknowledge Scottish independence.[12] Following this, Randolph and Douglas had been the leaders of the Scottish army which had humiliated the English under Mortimer in the Weardale Campaign, running rings around the English force and twisting its tail.[13] Though these two men were the most prominent lords in Scotland and therefore the natural choice for Bruce to supervise the wedding, their history with Mortimer and Isabella made their appointment a provocative reminder of the English rulers’ failings in directing English policy towards Scotland. Despite the potential friction between the hosts and their guests, Mortimer and Isabella took steps to ensure that the proceedings went smoothly. They brought with them extravagant gifts for their hosts, including a lion from the Tower of London.[14] They may also have brought with them the Black Rood of St. Margaret, a relic associated with the saintly English princess who married King Malcolm Canmore in the eleventh century that was reputed to be part of the True Cross. What was not brought north, however, was the Stone of Destiny, another relic of national importance to the Scots. Traditionally used in the enthronement of Scottish Kings, the stone had been installed in Westminster Abbey after the Scottish defeat in 1296, where it had been encased in Edward I’s coronation chair. Mortimer and Isabella had intended to bring it, but when the Abbot of Westminster had attempted to remove it a mob had gathered and prevented him from completing his charge.[15]

For his part, Bruce had gone to great lengths to ensure that the ceremony was a suitably lavish and decadent affair, as befitted a royal wedding. He had charged a Flemish trader called Peter the machinist with obtaining luxury items for the wedding on the continent, and the extent of Peter’s efforts are revealed by the surviving Exchequer Rolls of Scotland.[16]  He purchased vast quantities of luxuries including cloth, canvas, linen, fruits, almonds, rice, various spices, sugar, wax, and wine, which were transported to Berwick in preparation for the celebrations. Bruce had also delegated a clerk of the Royal Exchequer named Thomas Charteris to travel to Bruges to purchase other, unnamed luxuries for the event. Bruce’s purchases totalled well over £1,500, and reveal his determination that the wedding reflect his majesty and bounty. The wedding was apparently a genial affair at which Scot and Englishman mixed happily enough. The ceremony itself was presumably conducted on 17 July 1328, presumably in the Church of the Holy Trinity where a churchyard wall was thrown down in some unexplained way by the revellers.[17] After the young pair was married the subsequent feast was probably held in the great hall of Berwick Castle. Barbour notes that ‘the wedding took place right there with great feasting and solemnity; you could see joy and gladness there, for they had very long festivities there [when] English and Scots were together in joy and relaxation, with no harsh words between them.’[18] The poet remarked happily that with the wedding ‘peace was made where war had been.’[19]

The conclusion of hostilities, however, brought its own problems, and Mortimer and Isabella had other business to discuss with Randolph and Douglas during the celebrations. The vexed question of restoration of ‘the Disinherited’ – Anglo-Scottish lords who had been dispossessed of their lands in Scotland because of Bruce’s policies during the war – was a pressing issue for Mortimer and Isabella, whose most notable supporters such as Henry Beaumont and Thomas Wake had been prominent members of this quarrelsome faction. Queen Isabella had been specifically empowered by her son’s council to treat with the Scots regarding the restoration process, which had begun with the acknowledgement of the claims of their associate Henry Percy prior to the wedding. While the matter of Percy was likely discussed at the wedding and further tentative agreements reached, Mortimer and Isabella had little leverage with which to force the Scots to acquiesce to their requests on behalf of men such as Beaumont or Wake, and they could not let the matter impede the peace or the wedding. This was a sore point which would sour Anglo-Scottish relations in the following years.[20] Another matter which was likely discussed at the wedding was the situation of William de Burgh, the young nephew of Robert Bruce’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh. With Ireland in some turmoil, the young heir to the important Irish Earldom had travelled to Berwick with Mortimer and Isabella, who were eager to see his rule in the Earldom established. De Burgh’s support for their regime would allow them to stabilise their rule in Ireland, which remained tenuous. It is highly likely that Mortimer and Isabella discussed the safeguarding of de Burgh’s inheritance with Randolph, who was experienced in Irish affairs, and probably even sought Scottish assistance in the matter. This would bear fruit after the wedding, when Bruce travelled to Carrickfergus in August 1328 to oversee de Burgh’s return to his Earldom, an outcome beneficial to both parties.[21]

After the wedding was concluded, Mortimer, Isabella and the other guests were escorted across the Tweed on 22 July 1328 before Randolph and Douglas conducted the newlyweds to Bruce’s residence at Cardross to meet the king.[22] It had been Mortimer’s third venture into Scotland, and it would prove his last. While in Scotland the wedding between Joan and David was considered a triumph and a peaceable conclusion to a war they had at long last won, the wedding was not well received by contemporary English commentators. Seen as a particularly unseemly part of the ‘shameful peace,’ it was viewed as a mark of national disgrace and humiliation which besmirched the honour of the king and of Joan herself.[23] Several English chronicles poked fun at the young groom, relating the defamatory story that as a baby, David Bruce had fouled the altar at his baptism, earning him the name ‘defecator’ or ‘altar-shitter.’[24] When discussing the bride, the English chroniclers were more sympathetic. The Brut Chronicle, written by a commentator hostile towards Mortimer and Isabella, reported the rumour that the Scots had given Joan the derogatory nickname of ‘makepeace,’ and noted how the wedding was ‘disparaging’ to both Joan and to her brother, stating that the princess had been ‘taken into our enemy’s hands.’[25] Another chronicler remarked dramatically how the marriage was ‘greatly harmful and imperilling to all the King’s blood from which that gentle lady had come.’[26] That Mortimer and Isabella had so blatantly disregarded public opinion and approved the marriage as part of the widely detested peace with the Scots contributed to their growing unpopularity, which would ultimately lead to their downfall. The wedding was intended as a tangible demonstration of the peace between the two kingdoms, though this peace would prove fragile and temporary, collapsing in 1332 after only four years.


[1] Ian Mortimer, The Greatest Traitor, The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer Ruler of England 1327-1330 (London, 2003) 174-184, 199-200, Ranald Nicholson ‘The Last Campaign of Robert Bruce,’ The English Historical Review Vol. 77, No. 303, (April 1962) 233-246

[2] E. L. G. Stones, (ed.) Anglo-Scottish Relations,1174-1328: Some Selected Documents (London, 1965) no. 40, Michael Penman, Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots (London, 2014) 239-240, 283-287

[3] The attitudes of the Brut Chronicler are typical of English views of Bruce. See, for example, Friedrich W. D. Brie (ed.), The Brut or Chronicles of England part I. (London, 1906) 259

[4] E. L. G. Stones ‘The Anglo-Scottish Negotiations of 1327,’ The Scottish Historical Review Vol. 30 No. 109 (April 1951) 49-54

[5] Mortimer, The Greatest Traitor, 204-206, Penman, Robert the Bruce, 282-294

[6] David Anthony Harding, ‘The regime of Isabella and Mortimer 1326-1330’ (M. Phil Thesis, University of Durham, 1985) 230-232, Ranald Nicholson, Edward III and the Scots, The Formative Years of a Military Career 1327-1335 (London 1965) 53

[7] Thomas Gray, Scalacronica ed. by Herbert Maxwell. (Glasgow 1907) 83, Herbert Maxwell (ed.), The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346 (Glasgow, 1913) 259

[8] The Scottish  poet John Barbour notes that Bruce’s health was the reason for his non-attendance, stating that ‘an illness afflicted him so badly that in no way could he be there,’ a convenient cover for his pride. John Barbour The Bruce ed. by A. A. M Duncan (Edinburgh, 1999) 744

[9] Barbour, The Bruce, 744. For Douglas’ fearful reputation, see Barbour, The Bruce, 578

[10] Mortimer, The Greatest Traitor, 70-71, Barbour, The Bruce, 230-237

[11] Alison Weir, Queen Isabella, Treachery, Adultery and Murder in Medieval England (New York, 2007) 321.

[12] Paul C. Doherty, ‘Isabella, Queen of England 1296-1330’ (PhD Thesis, University of Oxford, 1978) 214-215,

[13] Nicholson, Edward III and he Scots, 27-41

[14] E.W.M. Balfour Melville, Edward III and David II, Historical Association Pamphlet, G.27 (1954), 5

[15] Maxwell ed., The Chronicle of Lanercost, 260

[16] For a discussion of Bruce’s expenses, see George Burnett & John Stuart (eds.) The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland Vol. I A.D. 1264-1359 (Edinburgh, 1878) cxiii-cxviii

[17] Burnett & Stuart (eds.) Exchequer Rolls, cxviii

[18] Barbour, The Bruce, 746

[19] Vrabour, The Bruce, 744

[20] Sonja Cameron and Alasdair Ross ‘The Treaty of Edinburgh and the Disinherited (1328-1332)’ in History Vol. 84, No. 274 (1999) 237-256

[21] Penman, Robert the Bruce, 294

[22] Barbour, The Bruce, 746, Weir, Queen Isabella, 320

[23]  David Preest (ed.), The Chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker, (Woodbridge, 2012) 36, Brie, The Brut, 257

[24] Preest (ed.), le Baker, 37, Brie, The Brut, 255, Maxwell ed., The Chronicle of Lanercost, 333

[25] Brie (ed.), The Brut [author’s translation from Middle English] 259, 257

[26] B.M. MS. Galba E. VIII, f. 101v. {author’s translation from Middle English]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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