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Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots [Hardcover]

Michael Penman
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Jun 2014
Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) was the famous unifier of Scotland and defeater of the English at Bannockburn - the legendary hero responsible for Scottish independence. In this new biography, Michael Penman retells the story of Robert's rise - his part in William Wallace's revolt against Edward I, his seizing of the Scottish throne after murdering his great rival John Comyn, his excommunication, guerilla war against the English, and devastating battles against an enemy Scottish coalition - climaxing in his victory over Edward II's forces in June 1314. He then draws attention to the second part of the king's life after the victory that made his name. These fifteen years were crucial. Robert faced a slow and often troubled process of legitimating his authority, rewarding his supporters, accommodating former enemies and controlling the various regions of his kingdom, none of which was achieved overnight. Penman investigates Robert's resettlement of lands and offices, the development of Scotland's parliaments, his handling of plots to overthrow him, his relations with his family and allies, his piety and court ethos, and his cultivation of an image of kingship through the use of ceremony and symbol. In doing so, Penman repositions Robert within the context of wider European political change, religion, culture and national identity, showing how great a monarch, as well as military man, Robert actually was.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (3 Jun 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300148720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300148725
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.8 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 26,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I have a wide range of Scottish historical interests having taken my MA in Scottish History at the University of St Andrews (1995) followed by a PhD (1999) there on one of the major historiographical gaps in medieval Scottish history, the reign of David II (1329-71), son of Robert the Bruce. This work was heavily influenced by the detailed political studies-in-the round of Dr Norman Macdougall and other St Andrews historians.
However, in the course of this research my interests have branched out and I have become particularly fascinated by the topic of medieval lay piety in Scotland, especially the patterns of worship of late medieval Scottish kings and their subjects. This has drawn me in turn to themes such as saints' cults and images, liturgy, pilgrimage, monastic identity and cartulary records, and commemoration. I have tried to explore many of these topics for Scottish history by making direct comparisons with contemporary England, Ireland and continental Europe (helping me 'fill-in-the-gaps' by analogy in the often patchy Scottish evidence): this is an approach I hope to encourage in my postgraduate students.
But I have also returned to a number of my earlier historical loves: national identity and the (de-)construction of iconic reputations, late 18th/early 19th century civic society, and above all the Great War, the latter first inspired by a visit to the battlefields while in High School and a 14th birthday gift of the Illustrated Press History of the Great War (13 volumes, £20 from Oxfam, with school certificates from someone named Haig from the 1920s left inside!).
Finally, I am also a member of a number of academy bodies, including the Scottish Medievalists and the Scottish History Society, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Product Description

Review

"Robert Bruce's piety is one of the fascinating themes that characterise Michael Penman's full and definitive account of the king's life and reign. A magesterial study."--Michael Prestwich, author of "Edward I"

About the Author

Michael Penman is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Stirling, and author of The Scottish Civil War (2002) and David II, 1329-71 (2004). He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great story poorly told 8 Sep 2014
By Peter Durward Harris #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Robert the Bruce was always one of my heroes and I was delighted to eventually learn that he is an ancestor of mine, although I also have plenty of ancestors to be ashamed of, including some of his close relatives and enemies that are mentioned in this book.

I also knew, before reading this book, that the period from 1286 (the year King Alexander III died) to 1314 (Bannockburn) and for some time afterwards was a turbulent period in Scottish history, therefore a great story. Unfortunately, this particular book makes for difficult reading. Maybe somebody who has already read the story from other sources will find it easier than I did, but I can only review as I experienced it.

The first problem is that the author mentions King Alexander III's death plenty of times, but does not cover the cause. Wikipedia (not always a reliable source, but probably believable on this) covers the topic, and a reading of that suggests that King Alexander III was capable of poor judgement just like everybody else. That wouldn't fit the author's attempt to portray him as a saintly figure.

However, the real problem I have is that the author mentions all sorts of irrelevant details including long lists of names, not forgetting endless details of land transfers (caused by various lords falling out with the royal family having their land transferred to those lords who the royal family approve of. All these details, if thought important, could have been put in an Appendix. As it is, they disrupt the flow of the story and by the time the story gets going again I've already become bored.

I knew the genealogy from other sources, but they do not include the descent from King Donald III to the Comyn family, which is crucial to understanding the Comyn claim to the Scottish throne.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An engaging and informative academic study of Robert 1 and his life as King of Scots. Essential reading for anyone interested in this period of History.
Michael is an excellent Lecturer and brings his considerable communication skills to this very enjoyable book
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For those who like Scottish history 13 Aug 2014
By Christine N. Ethier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.

It’s all Braveheart’s fault. Totally. Mel Gibson’s movie about Scotland’s Freedom Fight, William Wallace, might be one of the reasons why there is shortly going to be a vote about the dissolution of the union, but it sure as hell played fast and loose with history.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if, when asked about Robert the Bruce, most Americans said something like “you mean that guy who sold out Braveheart?”

This is a shame because, in many ways, it is because of The Bruce that Scotland became Scotland, yet outside of the United Kingdom he is not as well known as he should be. Michael Penman does go some way in changing this.

The book, in terms of style, is not perfect. It borders on being dry at times. The scholarship seems good (I am not an expert in the field) and everything is footnoted. If a reader does not have any background knowledge about the period, the reader might be a little lost. Knowing about Edward I and II is a benefit as is being away of the politics. Penman does not include much background material.

Those criticisms aside, reading the book is a learning experience, even for those who know who Bruce was. It is comprehensive as it can be in terms of Bruce’s life, focusing, in particular, on his relationship with his father and brothers. Areas of debate are examined and when the facts are unclear, Penman makes sure that the reader knows that. It seems a common thing to point but considering how many authors make jumps based on little evidence, a writer who doesn’t does deserve some praise.

Recommended highly for those interested in Scottish history.
4.0 out of 5 stars Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots 12 Sep 2014
By Nancy Goldberg Wilks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots is a detailed biography of the famous Scottish king written by Historian Michael Penman. As I am an amateur armchair historian, I feel ill-equipped to review this massive, detailed, professional work.

Before reading the book, I was aware of Bannockburn and fascinated by Robert the Bruce – but, I was aware of little else. This immense historical tome has changed that.

Although Penman claims that Robert the Bruce focuses on Robert’s fifteen year rule after Bannockburn, the book, like the story, begins much earlier. Penman describes the climate into which the Bruces claimed rights as heir to the Scottish throne, as well as the contrary rights claimed by others. We learn of the complex machinations, the political climate of both England and Scotland, and the competing claims that led up to Robert Bruce being crowned king of Scotland. We see how masterful Robert was at reading and handling the politics around him, as well as at dealing with adverse natural conditions that challenged the country. Penman explains how Bruce handled these difficult situations, conspiracies, and changing political and religious climates, both within and without Scotland. Bannockburn was a turning point, and Robert’s method of rule also changed. The book continues through – and beyond – Robert’s death, resulting perhaps from leprosy.

I was amazed to learn how “hands-on” and “down in the trenches” a ruler Robert was. In addition, he appears to have been very savvy and sophisticated. But, as I have already admitted, I am no Historian.

I enjoyed Robert the Bruce, and I learned a great deal. I did not, however, particularly care for the writing style. Although the book is informative, insightful, and appears to be well documented, it is not an easy read. While reading it, I frequently wished that I could sit down and do some rewriting of it.

In addition to the writing, I was most frustrated by the organization. Penman would be progressing through time and then suddenly the book would seem to jump backwards in time. Though the book appears to progress chronologically, it jumps around so much that I quite honestly cannot understand the organizational understructure. Perhaps this is simply the bane of the discipline.

Nonetheless, to chronicle Robert the Bruce’s rule is a massive undertaking, and the result is chocked full of much detailed information. Penman should be commended for his masterful reconstruction of the life of Scotland’s beloved hero.

RECOMMENDED
2.0 out of 5 stars Great story poorly told 8 Sep 2014
By Peter Durward Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Robert the Bruce was always one of my heroes and I was delighted to eventually learn that he is an ancestor of mine, although I also have plenty of ancestors to be ashamed of, including some of his close relatives and enemies that are mentioned in this book.

I also knew, before reading this book, that the period from 1286 (the year King Alexander III died) to 1314 (Bannockburn) and for some time afterwards was a turbulent period in Scottish history, therefore a great story. Unfortunately, this particular book makes for difficult reading. Maybe somebody who has already read the story from other sources will find it easier than I did, but I can only review as I experienced it.

The first problem is that the author mentions King Alexander III's death plenty of times, but does not cover the cause. Wikipedia (not always a reliable source, but probably believable on this) covers the topic, and a reading of that suggests that King Alexander III was capable of poor judgement just like everybody else. That wouldn't fit the author's attempt to portray him as a saintly figure.

However, the real problem I have is that the author mentions all sorts of irrelevant details including long lists of names, not forgetting endless details of land transfers (caused by various lords falling out with the royal family having their land transferred to those lords who the royal family approve of. All these details, if thought important, could have been put in an Appendix. As it is, they disrupt the flow of the story and by the time the story gets going again I've already become bored.

I knew the genealogy from other sources, but they do not include the descent from King Donald III to the Comyn family, which is crucial to understanding the Comyn claim to the Scottish throne. That descent is mentioned somewhere in the main text, but it's not good enough.

It may be that when I return to studying my genealogy, some of the tedious long lists and land transfers may help me, though I doubt it. The point is that this book was a very difficult read and I'll have to buy another book to read what should be a fascinating story if told properly.

This author clearly knows his subject but cannot communicate that knowledge effectively.
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