First of the Stuart (or Stewart) dynasty of Scotland, Robert (ruled 1371-90) was the grandson of Robert Bruce. Lynch argues that, because of the lack of evidence, many previous historians have rushed to a critical judgement of the first Stewart king. DONALDSON provides a bleak picture of these 19 years. He points out that Robert II's right to the crown rested on the basis of statute: this legal enactment supposedly settled the question concerning the legitimacy of Robert's first three sons, whose mother, Elizabeth, was related within prohibited degrees to her husband. He emphasizes the dissent against Stewart rule, which was manifested in a demonstration, described by Boardman as a display of “political disaffection”, by William, first Earl of Douglas. Donaldson castigates Robert for an undistinguished life, and thinks very little of his reign: he argues that powerful magnates ignored a king increasingly prone to physical and mental collapse; ambitious subjects, as he writes, concealed, from an unadventurous king, their intentions to renew Anglo-Scottish warfare. Donaldson finishes his appraisal of the reign by analysing the association in government of Robert's eldest son, the Earl of Carrick, due to the inadequacies of the monarch.
NICHOLSON also sees the first Stewart king as a failure: he considers that Robert II lacked the masterful political touch, and this absence of determination led to bad government and subsequent internal problems. He stresses how Robert bought off the opposition of the Douglas family after the “royd harsk begynnyng” of the staged protest mounted by the Douglases at Linlithgow. Nicholson links this to the question of the legitimacy of Robert II's eldest sons; indeed, he argues that the French court expected future troubles concerning the succession.
The financial difficulties of the 1380s are studied by Nicholson; he emphasizes, as did Donaldson, the lawless state of the kingdom. Nicholson considers that this drift was also evident in royal conduct of Anglo-Scottish relations. He diminishes the importance of the king; the peace-loving Robert could in no measure control the warlike propensities of the nobility. In this view the king made no contribution to the Scottish victory, in 1388, over the English at Otterburn in Redesdale - the first substantial military success at the expense of the English since the late 1320s.
Grant, Lynch, and to a lesser extent Barrell, give more considered and balanced assessments of the reign of Robert II. GRANT, in his analysis, can discern a reign “not so unsuccessful”; political tension had decreased, and he argues that the demonstration by the Douglas family was aimed at winning patronage, rather than the crown, and the majority of the nobility continued to support Robert. Moreover, as he narrates, after this fracas all sides were rewarded and satisfied, a considerable political trick. As Grant maintains, Robert used his sons to dominate the nobility: 8 out of 15 earldoms were in their hands, and no crown lands were used to endow his sons; Lynch describes this process as creating a “family consortium”. Overall, as analysed by Grant, Robert II's patronage was handled in a more tactful fashion, when compared to the deeds of David II (ruled 1329-71). And unlike Nicholson, Grant considers that Robert was financially secure, although not rich when compared to his English and French counterparts.
Grant suggests a coup d'état in 1384 on Carrick's part, and downplays the supposed senility of the king. He sees a faction fight within the royal family as the reason for the events of that year; Grant goes further and suggests that the king, in moving against an injured Carrick in 1388 (the earl had been incapacitated by a kick from his horse), and in personally arranging Scotland's participation in the Anglo-French truce of 1389, was no mere “spectator” of events. LYNCH stresses little break, in the years 1371-84, with the continuity established by the previous reign. Like Grant, he thinks there was no dislocation in government or finance. Moreover, Lynch sees Robert's policy of allowing the consolidation of the territorial power base of the Black Douglases, the origin of political troubles in the 1450s, not as a weakness, but an example of the laissez-faire policy followed by David II, to the applause of historians. Finally, Lynch agrees with Grant in seeing 1384 as a coup. BARRELL does not go so far in rescuing this reign: he thinks Robert's personality lacked consistency of purpose, and argues that he ruined his inheritance from David II. He admits, however, that the position of David was better than Robert's, because he had no brothers or children to cause dissent, and the Stewart dynasty was new and needed to establish itself.
BOARDMAN has recently completely reassessed the reign of Robert II, and in so doing he goes beyond the position of Lynch and Grant. He sees that Robert's pre-royal career was one of ruthlessness in the consolidation of his own and family's interests, often in the teeth of opposition from the court favourites of David II. As king, he argues, his propaganda was adept: the 14th-century history of the family was rewritten; and an attempt was made to trace the family's descent from legendary Scottish figures. Boardman argues for the importance placed on the figure of Robert I (ruled 1306-29): he collects evidence from books of arms which suggest the linkage in the period of 1378 of the Stewart/Bruce arms; John Barbour's epic The Bruce, although not necessarily the product of Robert's patronage, certainly reflected a state of affairs, including baronial unity, desired by the crown. Like Grant, Boardman argues for the successful outcome of Robert's handling of the nobility; a non-interventionist policy was the best-suited strategy to adopt.
Boardman explodes many of the myths surrounding Anglo-Scottish relations in the 1370s and 1380s. Many of the contemporary writings of the Scottish literary tradition, in his analysis, describe Robert as a successful inheritor of Robert I's anti-English stance; rather than a king who desired peace, Robert was in agreement in committing the Scots to an English invasion in the early 1380s. Boardman also argues it was Carrick who, on gaining power in 1384, spread the picture of Robert as a king unwilling to face the English. Like Grant, Boardman sees Carrick's ascent in that year as a coup; historians like Donaldson, in his view, believe Carrick's propaganda, which was actually designed to discredit his father. Boardman does think, however, that Robert should have been more menacing.