King Robert the Bruce saves the life of a mother and her new born infant on a battlefield in Ireland. Engraving by J. Burnet, 1842, after W. Allan, 1840.

  • Allan, William, 1782-1850.
  • Pictures

About this work


"This painting illustrates an incident in the life of Robert the Bruce (1274–1329). The Scottish king and his brother Edward, while campaigning against the English in Ireland, were retreating before a powerful pro-English army in Ireland. Bruce halted the army and prepared to fight in order to save a laundress, weak after childbirth, rather than abandon her to his pursuers. Bruce is the embodiment of compassion and, as the title indicates, humanity and the incident has been referenced in literature from John Barbour's poem 'The Brus' (completed in 1376) to Sir Walter Scott's 'The Lord of the Isles' (1815) and novel, 'Tales of a grandfather' (1828)" (ArtUK website)

"I have often told you, that King Robert the Bruce was a wise and a good prince. But a circumstance happened during this retreat, which showed he was also a kind and humane man. It was one morning, when the English, and their Irish auxiliaries, were pressing hard upon Bruce, who had given his army orders to continue a hasty retreat; for to have risked a battle with a much more numerous army, and in the midst of a country which favoured his enemies, would have been extremely imprudent. On a sudden, just as King Robert was about to mount his horse, he heard a woman shrieking in despair. "What is the matter?" said the King; and he was informed by his attendants, that a poor woman, a laundress, or washerwoman, mother of an infant who had just been born, was about to be left behind the army, as being too weak to travel. The mother was shrieking for fear of falling into the hands of the Irish, who were accounted very cruel, and there were no carriages nor means of sending the woman and her infant on in safety. They must needs be abandoned if the army retreated. King Robert was silent for a moment when he heard this story, being divided betwixt the feelings of humanity, occasioned by the poor woman's distress, and the danger to which a halt would expose his army. At last be looked round on his officers, with eyes which kindled like fire. "Ah, gentlemen," he said, "never let it be said that a man who was born of a woman, and nursed by a woman's tenderness, should leave a mother and an infant to the mercy of barbarians! In the name of God, let the odds and the risk be what they will, I will fight Edmund Butler rather than leave these poor creatures behind me. Let the army, therefore, draw up in line of battle, instead of retreating." The story had a singular conclusion; for the English general, seeing that Robert the Bruce halted and offered him battle, and knowing that the Scottish King was one of the best generals then living, conceived that he must have received some large supply of forces, and was afraid to attack him. "--Walter Scott, Tales of a grandfather, chapter 11


(Edin.r [Edinburgh] : Printed by A. Mc.Glashon), [1842]

Physical description

1 print : line engraving


Heroism and humanity. An incident in the life of Robert the Bruce. Engraved exclusively for members of the Association for the promotion of the fine arts in Scotland for the year 1842. Painted by William Allan R.A., P.R.S.A. ; Engraved by John Burnet H.R.S.A.

References note

The art journal, 1840, pp. 42, 155


Wellcome Collection 3223724i

Reproduction note

After: a painting in the same direction by Allan completed in 1840 and subsequently acquired by Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow



Where to find it

  • LocationStatusAccess
    Closed stores

Permanent link