ECR Case Study: Robert Bruce’s impact on the Scottish landscape

Philippa Johnston, University of St Andrews

During the Scottish Wars of Independence, Robert Bruce developed a policy of systematically dismantling his own castles to impede the English from later using them against him. Referred to as slighting, this policy involved the damage of high-status structures and their associated landscape and contents. Whilst this policy degraded the value of the castles, it also instilled fear in the English nobles and was a successful wartime strategy (Nevell 2019). By analysing primary sources in conjunction with archaeological evidence, it is possible to assess what type of damage Bruce did and the sites in which he impacted. My research will aim to understand why he slighted castles, how he slighted them and the overall impact on the landscape his policy had.

By using archaeological evidence, I aim to form a picture of the features which Bruce targeted, with primary sources helping to contextualise why these features were targeted. The research will address multiple sites Bruce impacted, including major high-status sites like Roxburgh, Edinburgh and Stirling Castle. This research will also attempt to uncover if Bruce had a planned scheme of destruction. Archaeological evidence collected from Bruce’s sites reveals a highly visible nature of displacement, whilst our primary sources evidence which sites were affected and how Bruce impacted them. The discussion will thus be divided into two sections: one which primarily focuses on textual evidence and one which focuses on archaeological evidence. By comparing these, I intend to show his impact and how his prolonged campaign operated. The archaeological evidence appears to back up the textual evidence we hold and may enable a picture to be formed of what the Castles looked like Pre-Bruce (Brown 2008; Cornell 2009).  

Stirling Castle © Historic Environment Scotland
This figure presents the multi-period nature of Stirling Castle and provides us with a glimpse into the structures that existed when Robert Bruce was at Stirling. By looking at the image, fragments of the original curtain wall and turret can be seen – features which are likely to have been impacted by Bruce.

A key example of Bruce’s slighting and its impact can be found in Stirling Castle. Written evidence of Bruce’s slighting can be found in English chronicles which discuss his dismantling of numerous royal castles like Stirling (Nevell 2019). Moreover, it is recorded that Bruce destroyed the castle after its surrendering by Mowbray following Bannockburn (Cornell 2009). The impact of Bruce’s actions on this building has led to little remaining of the pre-14th century castle, with assumptions being made that Stirling Castle once possessed a large curtain wall which can now only be seen partially within the building’s new additions (Brown 2008). These remains of the once daunting curtain wall and castle of Stirling provide us with an insight into how the landscape of Scotland may have looked pre-Bruce and provide us with a glimpse of how he impacted it.  

My research project will approach this topic from both a textual and archaeological stance. By using evidence, as in the example above, and through further research surrounding the buildings Bruce is known to have slighted and deployed in his fight against the English. It aims to uncover how the infamous Robert Bruce impacted Scotland’s landscape and will attempt to understand what it may have looked like Pre-Bruce.  


Brown, M 2008 Bannockburn: The Scottish War and the British Isles 1307-1323, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Cornell, D 2009 Bannockburn: The Triumph of Robert the Bruce, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Nevell, R 2019 ‘The Archaeology of Slighting: a methodological framework for interpreting castle destruction in the Middle Ages’, The Archaeological Journal 177, 99-139.