Heroism and Humanity

Image credit: Glasgow Life Museums

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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). Allan's dramatic image would have had immediate appeal for a public already familiar with Scott's colourful account of the event from that novel, '… just as King Robert was about to mount his horse, he heard a woman shrieking in despair … 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 by the army … the mother was shrieking for fear of falling into the hands of the Irish ….

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum


Heroism and Humanity




oil on canvas


H 127 x W 196.9 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

gift from William S. Steel, 1909

Work type


Inscription description


Normally on display at

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AG Scotland

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