Bruce’s Spider
How a spider helped win a war

It was Aug. 3, 1305, just outside Glasgow, Scotland. William Wallace had just been captured, and he was taken to London to face a torturous death.

Many know of this story because of the movie Braveheart. But historically speaking, William Wallace was only the precursor to another man—a man who created the enduring kingdom of Scotland out of the chaos of defeat.

This man was Robert the Bruce. His perseverance and courage in the face of adversity is an amazing example for us all.

At the time, Scotland was under England’s control, functioning as basically a territory of the English monarch. Six months after William Wallace’s death, Robert the Bruce took a historic step: Even though he knew the consequences of going against England’s King Edward i—“the Hammer of the Scots”—Robert crowned himself as the king of Scotland in the town of Scone on March 25, 1306.

When he heard the news, Edward i sent the order that anyone who took up arms against England would be hanged or beheaded. But Robert the Bruce gathered his army, ignoring the warnings of the king of England. Despite his determination, however, Robert was defeated when he met Edward’s troops in battle.

After that first battle, Robert escaped with a few hundred men. His family was taken captive and imprisoned. Simon Fraser, a loyal follower who had fought with Wallace, was tortured and executed. Robert barely escaped from Scotland with his life and a defeated spirit. He was depressed by his defeat—but not for long. He rallied and fought back five more times—but to no avail.

After the sixth battle, Robert was beginning to think that resistance was futile. He was lying in a bed in a wretched hut, thinking about his many defeats, when he saw a spider hanging by one of its threads of silk on the roof above him. The spider was trying to swing itself from one beam to another. Six times the spider tried, and six times the spider failed.

While watching this tiny spider struggle in vain, Bruce realized that he had fought the same number of battles against the English—and failed. He decided that if the spider tried a seventh time and succeeded, he would also try again.

The spider’s seventh attempt was successful, and Robert the Bruce went on to try again. In the decisive battle of Bannockburn on June 24, 1314, Robert the Bruce faced the English again, outnumbered. He had 40,000 men to England’s 60,000. But inspired by the success of the spider, Robert the Bruce stirred his men with a speech and then led them to battle. He rode ahead of his army, armed with only an ax.

When an impetuous English knight charged at him, hoping to gain a decisive victory by killing the Scottish leader, Robert the Bruce pulled his horse to the side, rose in his stirrups, and struck a tremendous blow with his battle ax. The force of the blow snapped the ax, leaving Robert with only the broken handle in his hand. With the first blow struck, the rest of his army charged, fired with zeal by their leader’s courage.

During this battle, the English lost 10,200 men while the Scots only lost 4,000 men. This battle was the turning point in Scotland’s struggle against England. The Treaty of Northampton was Robert the Bruce’s stamp of victory. Scotland now belonged to the Scots.

To this day, there is a saying that a Scotsman never kills a spider.

In Mark 4:3-8, Christ gave the parable of the sower: “Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.”

In The Seven Laws of Success, Mr. Armstrong wrote about this parable in the context of perseverance:

“The Maker’s instruction book seems full of this. Jesus’s parable of the sower and the seed showed the four classes. All heard God’s message. All were given the opportunity. Three classes gave up. One never really got started. Two started out with joy and a great flourish, but let former friends, the cares of this material life, pleasures, choke them off and discourage them. The other class of quitters simply did not have the depth of strength of character within themselves to stay with anything. They were just naturally quitters. Even of those who went on and endured, some were more diligent, more resourceful, better prepared, more careful of health, and consequently developed farther in accomplishment than others. Theirs will be the greater reward!”

How hard are we striving and persevering for that greater reward? Do we have Robert the Bruce-level perseverance?

Matthew 24:13 tells us, “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

Remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. … Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” We are striving to obtain that incorruptible crown. That is a goal far higher than what Robert the Bruce was seeking.

As we face our daily battles, we should remind ourselves of the spider that just kept going, and of Robert the Bruce, who was inspired by that spider’s perseverance. And every time you see a spider or a spider’s web, think of this story and remember to battle on until you receive the greatest reward: your incorruptible crown.