Marriage of David II and Joan of the Tower

Dr Callum Watson, Battle Coordinator

17 Jul 2018

Thus Peace Was Made Where War Had Been’: The Wedding of David Bruce and Joan of the Tower


On this day (17th July) in 1328 David Bruce, son of King Robert I, married Joan of the Tower, daughter of the late Edward II and sister of King Edward III of England. Joan had celebrated her seventh birthday only one week earlier, while her new husband was only four years old. This marriage – unusual even by the standards of the time – had been arranged as part of the peace negotiations between Scotland and England that was intended to bring thirty-two long and bloody years of conflict to an end.



David II And Joan 1
David II and Joan of the Tower as they appear in the Seton Armorial, 1591. David is shown holding a banner bearing the royal arms of Scotland, while Joan is presented wearing a dress decorated with the royal arms of England. Image:


A great deal had happened in 14 years between the Battle of Bannockburn and the marriage of David and Joan. English ambitions in Scotland had been dealt a devastating blow by Bruce’s victory in 1314, but England’s resources were such that they could always absorb the occasional military reversal and Edward II was in no rush to concede a favourable peace deal to the Scots. However, the Scots continued to apply pressure both in northern England and in Ireland, gradually sapping both English military resources and the will of Edward’s subjects to keep fighting. In 1322 King Robert inflicted another humiliating defeat on the English, this time at Byland in Yorkshire, and this at least convinced the English to accept a thirteen-year truce to give both kingdoms time to recover their strength. This truce seems to have been envisaged as being the precursor to a more lasting peace settlement, but it would be the Scots themselves who broke the truce, after only three and a half years, in 1327. The justification – such as it was - for this provocative act was that in the interim England’s internal political divisions had resulted in Edward II’s wife Isabella seizing power in favour of her son, Edward III, an act that seriously destabilised the English royal administration. Sensing weakness, Bruce resumed his campaign of causing widespread devastation in the northern counties of England, and following another embarrassing military performance in Weardale in the summer of 1327 Isabella’s government finally agreed to formally recognise Bruce as the rightful King of Scots and end the war.


David II And Joan 2
The Bute Mazer, a communal drinking vessel probably made for the wedding of Bruce’s daughter Marjory to Walter Stewart c. 1315. On the gilded boss in the centre of the mazer can be seen the coats of arms of various individuals associated with the groom, all with their chiefs facing in towards the lion (which almost certainly represented the king himself). A similar drinking vessel may well have been created for David and Joan’s wedding in 1328. Image:


The marriage of David and Joan was a key stipulation of the so-called Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which formally brought the conflict to an end. Intermarriage between the royal dynasties of Scotland and England had been seen as a means of ensuring peaceful relations between the two kingdoms in the past; for instance, Alexander III of Scotland had married Henry III’s daughter in 1251. Thus it was apparently hoped that the marriage of David and Joan would restore the relationship of the two kingdoms as they had been in earlier centuries. Fortunately for us, financial records for the Scottish crown from the end of Bruce’s reign have survived fairly well, and so we have a reasonable idea of how lavish the festivities were. The food provided by the crown even included pastries decorated with coats of arms – presumably at least those of David and Joan, but perhaps others as well. King Robert was sadly absent from the festivities, as was the teenaged Edward III. In the case of the young King of England, this may have been a deliberate rebuke, reflecting his distaste at having to make such an agreement with the Scottish king. On Bruce’s part, his absence is probably best explained by the late fourteenth-century Scottish poet Barbour, who states that the king was by now too sick to travel to Berwick (certainly, Bruce would be dead within a year of the wedding). Instead, Edward was represented by his mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, who had been governing England on the young king’s behalf since 1327. Bruce was represented by his nephew Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray, and Sir James Douglas, both of whom had already been selected by the king for prestigious roles in the event that Bruce died while David was still a minor. Despite the absence of the two kings, the festivities were apparently quite raucous; afterwards, Bruce paid for the repair of a churchyard wall that had been knocked down by rowdy guests! 


David II And Joan 3
David II and Joan being received by King Philip VI of France from a fifteenth-century manuscript of Jean Froissart’s Chroniques. David and Joan were forced to flee Scotland following the disastrous Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, and David would not be able to return to his kingdom until 1341. Image: Wikimedia


As it turned out, the union did not guarantee peace between Scotland and England. Within a year King Robert was dead and his son had become David II, a child king reliant on the acumen of his most senior councillors to govern the kingdom until he was old enough to take over. In 1330 Sir James Douglas, perhaps the most formidable war leader Scotland had known, had been killed while taking the late king’s heart on crusade. Two years later Thomas Randolph, King Robert’s nephew and guardian of the kingdom on behalf of the young King David, was also dead, poisoned by the English according to contemporary Scottish accusations (but more likely of liver cancer). This left Scotland in an intensely vulnerable position, one quickly exploited by the so-called ‘Disinherited’ – men who had lost lands in Scotland when Bruce carved up the kingdom after Bannockburn. The Scots were able to resist the initial attempts by the Disinherited to interfere in Scottish politics, but the small success the Disinherited had convinced Edward III that the time was right to redress what he saw as the humiliating peace settlement forced on him by his mother’s now long overthrown regime. In 1333 Edward III crushed a Scottish army at the Battle of Halidon Hill near Berwick, a victory so devastating that David and Joan were compelled to flee to France to avoid falling into Edward’s hands. The Second War of Scottish Independence had begun, and peace would continue to elude the Scots and the English for a further two centuries or more. 

Share this: