ONE of the most puzzling aspects of Scotland’s wars of independence is the way that prominent figures often changed allegiances, especially in the period when Robert the Bruce was fighting for – and indeed murdering his enemies for – the throne of Scotland.

When King Edward I made a triumphal journey around Scotland in 1296, Bishop Robert Wishart of Glasgow swore him the following oath: “I shall be true and loyal and I will keep faith and loyalty to the King of England and to his heirs of life and of members and of earthly honour, against all persons who can live or die, and never will I bear arms for any one, nor will I give advice or aid against him, nor against his heirs in any case which can happen, and I will truly acknowledge and truly perform the services which belong to the tenements which I claim to hold of him. So may God help me and the Saints.”

Less than a year later Wishart was sponsoring William Wallace in his uprising against the English. He had renounced his oath because it was done under duress, he is said to have explained at the time.

Last week we saw how Wishart along with Robert the Bruce had made the Capitulation of Irvine in July, 1297, and had promised not to take arms against the English.

Yet by September he was actively assisting the uprising and there seems little doubt that men from Glasgow joined Wallace and Sir Andrew Murray and fought in the great victory over the English at Stirling Bridge on September 11, 1297.

From charters and church records of the time, we know that Wishart surrendered himself to the English sometime around the battle, and was immediately imprisoned in Roxburgh Castle where he was held for three years – the English occupiers suspected he had surrendered in order to obtain information about the castle, and they may well have been right.

After the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, Edward again sought to rule over Scotland and records show he visited Glasgow briefly. Earnest attempts were made by the Scottish clergy to obtain the release of Wishart and the following year Pope Boniface VIII wrote to Longshanks telling him to release the bishop and restore him to his Glasgow see.

Edward complied but Wishart promptly renounced his oath of fealty and Edward duly wrote to the Pope asking for Wishart to be removed from his post. The Pope then wrote to Wishart and didn’t mince his words: “I have heard with astonishment that you, as a rock of offence and a stone of stumbling, have been the prime instigator and promoter of the fatal disputes which prevail between the Scottish nation and Edward, King of England, my dearly-beloved son in Christ, to the displeasing of the divine majesty, to the hazard of your own honour and salvation, and to the inexpressible detriment of the Kingdom of Scotland. If these things are so, you have rendered yourself odious to God and man. It befits you to repent, and, by your most earnest endeavours after peace, to strive to obtain forgiveness.”

Edward came north again in 1303 and visited Glasgow, with Wishart again swearing an oath of loyalty. That was duly renounced once more, and in February, 1304, he was threatened with banishment from Scotland by Edward – but another oath stopped that happening.

Glasgow sprang to prominence in 1305 in a way that neither the townsfolk nor their bishop wanted – Sir William Wallace was captured in the area now known as Robroyston by the Edward-appointed governor of Dumbarton Castle, Sir John de Menteith. Given how close Wallace had been staying to Glasgow Cathedral, it is surely probable that Wishart was sheltering him.

Wallace was taken south to meet his dreadful end, but Longshanks’ cruelty rebounded on him as Robert the Bruce now decided to act.

Wishart had always supported Bruce’s case to be King of Scots – he was, after all, the most powerful lord in Glasgow diocese – but in February, 1306, the bishop had to make a decision which I firmly believe to be one of the most important choices ever made for Glasgow and Scotland.

One can only imagine Wishart’s agony when he heard that Bruce had murdered John Comyn in Greyfriars in Dumfries, an important church in Glasgow diocese. Provoked or not, killing on sacred soil was an offence liable to be punished with excommunication.

Instead, Bruce came north to Glasgow and met Wishart. The bishop could and probably should have excommunicated him on the spot, but instead he chose to give Bruce absolution and then urged everyone in his diocese and beyond to support the new King Robert who would be crowned at Scone on March 25.

Wishart even ordered that some of his own vestments should be used to make the coronation robes, and he joined with the Bishops of Moray and St Andrews in consecrating the new King of Scots a day after his crowning by Countess Isabella of Buchan. Wishart then duly took up arms for the new king, and prepared for war.

As 1306 wore on, disaster struck Bruce and Wishart. The king lost the Battle of Methven while Wishart was captured by the English during the siege of Cupar Castle. Longshanks rejoiced, saying he was as much pleased with the bishop’s capture as he would have been by that of the Bruce himself.

This time there was no intervention by the Pope, and for the next eight long years, Bishop Wishart was held in close confinement in English prisons. The deprivations he suffered were such that he lost

his sight.

After the Battle of Bannockburn, at which many Glaswegians fought, the first prisoner exchanges ordered by King Robert involved the repatriation of his family members – his sister Mary had been held in a cage – and Bishop Wishart.

Now in his 70s, and blind and very frail, the bishop came home to Glasgow and lingered on for another two years, dying on November 26. He was buried in Glasgow Cathedral where a defaced effigy of him can be found.

To this day, Robert Wishart remains the longest-serving Bishop or Archbishop of Glasgow.