Robert III was born around 1337 as the eldest son of Robert Stewart. Christened John, the future king descended from King Robert I through his maternal grandmother, Marjorie. In 1362, John joined his father in a rebellion against his great-uncle, King David II. The revolt failed, and the king imprisoned John. Despite John’s attempt to overthrow him, David created his grand-nephew the earl of Carrick in 1368. The king later reconciled with Robert and named him his heir.
Upon the childless David II’s death in 1371, Robert succeeded him as Robert II. Over the following decade, Robert increasingly delegated ruling to his heir. By 1384, John actively ruled on behalf of his aging father. Despite John’s increased importance, his political rise proved short-lived. In 1388, the prince suffered a kick from a horse. The injury crippled John and his brother, Robert, earl of Fife, replaced him at court.
King of Scotland
On April 19, 1390, the elderly Robert II died. Despite losing his standing after being crippled, John succeeded his father. Although named John, the new king sought to avoid association with a past king named John Balliol. During the Scottish Wars of Independence, Balliol had been a puppet ruler for King Edward I of England. In turn, the Scots viewed Balliol as a traitor. To prevent any connection to Balliol, John took the regnal name Robert III.
Although king, Robert III was content to let others rule for him. The king’s disability never improved and caused him to experience depression. In turn, Robert increasingly allowed the earl of Fife to govern without interference. By the late 1390s, the king had withdrawn from the public and become a recluse. In recognition of his service, the earl of Fife became the duke of Albany in 1398.
During Robert III’s reign, the duke of Albany served as his primary regent. However, the king’s heir, David, would rule from 1399 – 1402. The prince proved to a reckless and impulsive man. Due to his behavior, David quickly became an ineffective and unpopular ruler. Seeking his arrogant nephew’s downfall, Albany began a propaganda campaign against David. The duke later imprisoned his nephew and neglected David until he starved to death in March 1402.
Due to Albany’s growing power, the king couldn’t punish him. Alarmed by his son’s death, Robert III feared for his younger son’s safety. To prevent James from being harmed, the king had his son sent to King Charles VI of France’s court. Aware of Robert’s plan, Albany attempted to capture his nephew. However, English pirates would intercept James’ ship before it could make it to France. The captured prince would be handed over to King Henry IV of England and imprisoned.
Robert III eventually learned of his son’s capture by the English. Shocked by the news, the king’s depression worsen. Robert’s insecurities, his lackluster reign, and crippling depression took a significant toll on his health. Over the next two years, the king’s physical health gradually declined. On his deathbed in 1406, a bitter Robert requested that he not be buried beside other Scottish kings. Finally, on April 4, the pitiful king died.
Robert III had an ineffective reign. Although king, Robert’s disability forced him to rely on others to govern for him. As a result, the nobility’s power increased at the monarchy’s expense. The king also failed to prevent his son David’s death and couldn’t keep his son James safe. Aware of his short-comings, Robert summed up his reign with his epitaph, “Here lies the worst of kings and the most miserable of men.”
Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus.
Rattle, A., & Vale, A. (2008). Mad Kings & Queens: History’s Most Famous Raving Royals. New York, NY: Sterling.
Robert III. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-III