Robert the Bruce and the Spider

Bruce statue at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle.

The story about Robert the Bruce, the cave and the spider is well known to all English or Scottish school pupils. However, outside the Isles it may not be this well known, so here is the story.

King Robert the Bruce I was born at Lochmaben Castle in 1274. He was Knight and Overlord of Annandale. In 1306 he was crowned King of Scotland and henceforth tried to free Scotland from the English enemy.

After being defeated at a battle, Bruce escaped and found a hideout in a cave. Hiding in a cave for three months, Bruce was at the lowest point of his life. He thought about leaving the country and never coming back.

While waiting, he watched a spider building a web in the cave's entrance. The spider fell down time after time, but finally he succeeded with his web. So Bruce decided also to retry his fight and told his men: "If at first you don't succeed, try try and try again".

Old legend.

However, it is just a legend, and many facts about the story are not very clear. It is not even sure, in which year this story happened. Most likely it was 1306, after having been defeated by the Lord of Lorn at the battle in Strath-Fillan in 1306. After this battle, three of his four brothers were executed by the English, his sister was captured. Some sources tell it happended after being defeated at the battles of Methven and Dalry in the winter of 1313. He came back and won the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, even though his men were outnumbered ten to one.

Also it is not clear, where this story happened! The place was a hideout, so it was not well known, and later the story was told without telling the place. And in the coming centuries, several towns claimed to be the place. Robert the Bruce left the battlefields to go to Dunvarty and then to Rathlin. Along this route are several caves to be found.

The Bruce family favours the cave on Rathlin Island, off the north Antrim coast, because in the 14th century it was owned by his Irish mother.

At the end the story is partly historic reality, partly legend, the border is vague and much stays unclear. In general it is interpreted as a story of keeping faith confronted with overwhelming odds and thus finally being rewarded by success.

But one thing is absolutely sure about the whole story: to leave the cave, Bruce must have destroyed the web across the cave's entrance... So all the try, try and try again was futile in the end, as it was in Scotish history.