Robert I de Brus, 1st Lord of Annandale: The Founder of a Dynasty

Robert I de Brus, 1st Lord of Annandale, was a significant figure in the history of England and Scotland during the 12th century.

He was the first member of the Bruce dynasty to acquire land in Scotland and had a lasting impact on the region. In this article, we will delve into his life and legacy.

Early Life and Family

Robert’s parentage is a topic of debate among historians, with some antiquarians giving conflicting information. However, what is known for sure is that he was an Anglo-Norman lord who lived during the early 12th century. He was likely born around 1070 and died in 1141.

Robert’s first son, Adam, mentioned his father as church’s founder founded by an Adam de Bruis in Normandy, to the abbey of Saint Saviour le Vicomte, on the death of their father. Adam’s grant was later confirmed by a Peter, son of William the Forester de Bruis, who claimed Adam, 2nd Lord of Skelton, as their kinsman and overlord, making Peter the nephew and younger brother of Robert I, respectively.

The family name is derived from the place name Bruis, now Brix, Manche, in the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy. The Bruces arrived in England after King Henry I of England’s campaign in Normandy.

Early Career

Robert de Brus first appears in historical records as a witness to a charter granted by Hugh, Earl of Chester, in Yorkshire, to Whitby Abbey. From 1109 to 1114, he appears in charters possessing various manors and lands in Yorkshire, and he attested a charter of Henry I issued at Woodstock, Oxfordshire, during the same period.

He appears in the Lindsey Survey, made from 1115 to 1118, possessing even more lands. There is strong evidence that the King had given Robert his Yorkshire fee shortly after the battle of Tinchebrai.

Robert’s career continued to flourish in the coming years. He was present at the great gathering of northern magnates at Durham in 1121 and was with King Henry I at Brampton between 1124 and 1130.

About 1131, he was in the retinue of Henry I at Lions in Eure. At around the same time, he confirmed a charter with Alan de Percy to the monks of Whitby. It is said that Robert was given around 80 manors in Yorkshire by King Henry, and he kept up connections with other Normans as well.


The friendship between Robert de Brus and David FitzMalcolm (later King David I of Scotland) may have begun in France with King Henry, at least as early as 1120. When David became king, he granted Robert the Lordship of Annandale in 1124. However, there is scant evidence that Robert ever took up residence on his Scottish estates.

After King Henry’s death, David refused to recognize Henry’s successor, King Stephen and instead supported his niece Empress Matilda’s claim to the English throne. Taking advantage of the chaos in England due to the disputed succession there, David seized the opportunity to realize his son’s claim to Northumberland.

Robert de Brus of Annandale could not accept these actions, and he and King David parted ways, with Robert renouncing his homage to David before taking the English side at the Battle of the Standard in 1138.

Marriage and Children

Robert de Brus married a woman named Agnes, and they had several children. His eldest son and heir was Adam I de Brus, to whom devolved, under feudal law, all the English estates.

Adam I de Brus only survived his father by 22 months, and his wife’s name is not recorded in the records. He had a son named Adam, whose recorded male line ended with Peter III de Brus in 1272. However, his daughter Isabel married Henry de Percy, son of Joscelin of Louvain, and became the ancestress of all the Percy Earls and Dukes of Northumberland.

Robert de Brus’s younger son, Robert II de Brus, was given the Scottish Lordship of Annandale, plus several wheat-producing ploughlands at Skelton, Yorkshire, during his father’s lifetime. Robert II de Brus would eventually become the ancestor of Robert the Bruce and all subsequent monarchs of Scotland. Robert de Brus also had a daughter named Agatha, who married Ralph FitzRibald of Middleham.

Death and Legacy

Robert de Brus founded the Augustinian Monastery of Gisborough Priory in 1119 and installed his younger brother William de Brus as the first prior there. The priory would serve as a family mausoleum for generations of the Brus family.

Robert de Brus died on 11 May 1141 at Skelton Castle in Yorkshire, England. As the founder of Gisborough Priory, he was buried inside the church, in the place of honour between the Canon’s stalls in the Quire. The priory histories record his death and his burial there. He was survived by his wife Agnes and his children.

Robert’s son Adam de Brus, Second Lord of Skelton, was buried there in 1143, and his son Robert, Second Lord of Annandale, was buried there after his death in 1194. Both the Scottish and English sides of the family were laid to rest there, with the last being Robert de Brus, Fifth Lord of Annandale in 1295.

A great cenotaph was eventually placed there honouring the Brus family and commemorating its most famous descendant, King Robert Bruce (Brus) of Scotland.


Robert I de Brus, 1st Lord of Annandale, was an important figure in the early history of England and Scotland. As the first member of the Bruce dynasty to acquire land in Scotland, he had a lasting impact on the region. He was a witness to several charters and possessed many manors and lands in Yorkshire.

He was granted the Lordship of Annandale by King David I of Scotland but later renounced his homage to David before taking the English side at the Battle of the Standard. He founded Gisborough Priory and was buried there alongside generations of his family. Robert de Brus’s legacy lives on today through his descendants, including the famous King Robert Bruce of Scotland.

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