Throughout this period, key figures emerged that have remained popular within Scottish myth and historical study, such as Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. Moreover, the century witnessed the beginning of the royal Stewart dynasty, which would hold the throne for the next 300 years and be central to constitutional changes across the British Isles. For such a dramatic century of foundational change, it is remarkable that the contributions of elite women in this period have been largely forgotten. This article will attempt to rectify this by examining the political influence of the five forgotten queens consort of 14th century Scotland: Elizabeth de Burgh, Joan of the Tower, Margaret Drummond, Euphemia Ross, and Annabella Drummond.
The opening queen consort of this century is Elizabeth de Burgh, wife and queen to Scotland’s most famous king – Robert the Bruce. Despite her well-known husband, there has been little interest in Elizabeth’s role in this period in Scottish history. Elizabeth became Robert’s queen in March 1306 when he controversially seized the Scottish throne. Facing significant opposition in Scotland as well as the impending wrath of Edward I of England, Elizabeth was said to have denounced the whole event by saying “alas, we are but king and queen of the May”. She was not wrong - by June she and her husband were on the run from their Scottish and English opponents. While Robert fled west, Elizabeth fled north with Robert’s female supporters but was captured by the Earl of Ross in late 1306. They were promptly handed into English custody and taken to England, where Elizabeth spent the next eight years under a strict house arrest.
Elizabeth was finally released from captivity in September 1314 in a prisoner exchange after the Scots’ victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314. A year later, Robert invaded her homeland of Ireland in order to pressure Edward II’s English administration there. This invasion may point to Elizabeth’s role as a potential political advisor for her husband. Born c.1289 to Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, Elizabeth’s Anglo-Irish upbringing means that she was likely familiar with the families and politics of the Irish Sea world. This invasion was a direct attack on Elizabeth’s father – a key adherent of the English crown – who was defeated by the Bruce forces in 1315 and was only able to claw his power back after the major Bruce defeat at Foughart in 1318. Elizabeth, as the daughter of the Earl of Ulster, must have shared some part in her husband’s invasion. It is interesting to consider where her potential motives to support the invasion came from: did her father abandon her during her years of imprisonment, making this a personal event for Elizabeth?
Elizabeth died in 1327 at the age of thirty-eight, having fallen from her horse at Cullen in the north-east of Scotland. Since she was to be buried at Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, the parishioners of Cullen took great care to prepare her body for the long journey south and held Masses to pray for her soul. Grateful for the treatment of his late queen, Robert established a chaplaincy at Cullen and annually paid in perpetuity for prayers for Elizabeth’s soul. Still to this day (besides a brief interlude from 1975-2011) this sum is paid to the church at Cullen, and a prayer is said in Elizabeth’s honour at an annual memorial service for those in the community who have passed. This is a sure testament of Elizabeth’s legacy as queen and is a fitting practise to remember the trials and triumphs of the life of a woman who was key in shaping Scotland’s history.
Scotland’s next queen consort, Joan Plantagenet, faced significant challenges during her marriage to David II of Scotland, which muted her potential political role. Seven-year-old Joan married four-year-old David in July 1328 as a condition of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which sought peace between Scotland and England. Less than a year later in June 1329, David became king at the death of his father, Robert I, but he and Joan were not crowned until November 1331 due to the unsteady political situation in Scotland in the wake of Robert’s death. With warfare soon erupting during the second stage of the Scottish Wars of Independence, Joan and David fled to France for safety. There they were welcomed by Philip VI, spending the next eight years at Château Gaillard. Upon their return to Scotland in 1341, David took control of his government and began to operate a staunchly anti-English approach to ruling. While this was likely a form of pressure from Philip VI after sheltering the couple for so long, it cannot have been popular with Joan and points to her place as an English outsider in the world of Anglo-Scottish warfare. In October 1346, David was captured at the disastrous Battle of Neville’s Cross; he would remain in English captivity for the next 11 years. This left Joan without political or financial protection in Scotland, and she quickly became reliant on her mother for financial support and security. Even her brother, Edward III of England, appears to have shown little interest in the struggles of his youngest sibling.