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Robert the Bruce

Bruce's first wife Isabel of Mar died giving birth to a daughter Marjorie. Marjorie married a Stewart, and gave birth to the first of the Stewart line of kings. Bruce was also very close to Isabel's brother and her sister-in-law. The Mar's had a house in Aberdeen. Some say that Bruce had more Celtic leanings than Norman, perhaps because he had been fostered to a Celtic family on his father's estate when young. (A tale of he and his "foster brother" being attacked by three assassins when he had taken to the heather, gave rise to this. Bruce's "foster brother" was murdered, and Bruce killed all three of the assassins. Celtic Chiefs often fostered their sons to respected men of the clan, to teach them qualities they needed, and remove delusions of grandeur.)

The Braemar area figured large for Bruce. Aberdeen's support of him during the War of Independence was rewarded with the legacy for the common good. By contrast, Buchan was totally destroyed of all domestic animal and human life, for the Earl of Buchan siding with the English. Other than the financial benefits of Victoria beginning the tourist trade in Deeside, It is doubted if any other Scottish king was as generous to Aberdeen as Bruce was. He figured large in Aberdeen's history.

One of his descendant kings wondered what Bruce & Wallace looked like. His courtiers found a woman, remarkably still alive, who had seen both Robert the Bruce and William Wallace as a young girl. A visit to her was hastily made before she snuffed it of old age. Asked about the appearance of the two, she said something along the lines of "Wallace was a magnificent man and handsome, but The Bruce was beautiful." Those are the only recorded remarks ever made about their appearance while they were alive, and no likenesses were ever made in their lifetimes. Bruce's skeleton as I've remarked before, showed he had such powerful shoulder and back muscles that doctors from Edinburgh spotted the muscles had bent the bones. Bruce had obviously been trained from a young age with weapons, no doubt the 40 lb knight's sword in particular. This training had developed his upper body muscles to an unusual degree.  It has been interpreted from his Celtic blood lines, that any Norman physical inheritance was well watered down, and that he had more than likely been quite dark haired, even sallow skinned.  So, in appearance, his face is more likely to be closer to that of Bruce's statue at Bannockburn. His upper body physique would have been closer to a body builder. A knight's sword is nothing like the one sported by statues.  A battle axe would have been more appropriate, recalling his duel with his distant relative, Henry de Bohun at Bannockburn who was astride an armoured shire horse, whilst surprised Bruce was  on a pony touring his outer defences.   The Shire Horses of English Knights taken at Bannockburn, nor the ponies of Scotland befit such portrayals. When Wallace was taken to England for his so-called trial, his ankles were tied together under the horse: he obviously was very long legged, and astride a pony.

The Bruce in Retirement
His retirement home at Cardross was long ago flattened by Victorian civil engineering works in the area, even to history forgetting where it once stood, and his exact burial spot at Dunfermline Abbey was also forgotten until Victorian times, when renovations uncovered his skeleton, shows a strange attitude by Scots towards the hero King. The myths are revered, but his real memory has been forgotten. Could that have been deliberately fostered? Post Union madness?

” ‘Sirs,’ he said, ‘my day is far gone and there remains but one thing, to meet Death without fear, as every man must do. I thank God he has given me the space to repent in this life, for through me and my wars, there has been a great spilling of blood and many an innocent man has been slain. Therefore I take this sickness and this pain as a penance for my sins.’ ”

Bruce and Leprosy

The first mention of the possibility that Robert I might have suffered from leprosy appears in the Chronicon de Lanercost, a general history of England and Scotland from 1210 to 1346 which has been attributed to an unknown Franciscan friar at Carlisle. This states that Bruce deputed the command of the army during the Weardale campaign in 1327 because he had developed leprosy - "Dominus autem Robertus de Brus, quia factus fuerat leprosus, ilia vice cum eis Angliam non intravit".  However, in spite of this contemporary assertion, there has always been some doubt as to whether Bruce, who died in 1329, did suffer from leprosy. It has suggested that his condition could have resulted from "sporadic syphilis", which in the Middle Ages was commonly confused with leprosy.

In 1817, the Magistrates of the Burgh of Dunfermline resolved to rebuild a new church on the site of the nave of the ruined ancient Cathedral Church of Dunfermline. During the clearance of the site, workmen accidentally came across what appeared to be a royal tomb located at the very centre of the ancient cathedral in front of where the high altar had formerly stood. This was protected by two large stones, a headstone and a much larger stone (6 feet in length) into which 6 iron rings had been fixed by lead. When these stones were removed, they found the complete skeletal remains of an individual entirely enclosed in 2 layers of lead, with what remained of an embroidered linen cloth shroud over it, the fine linen material being interwoven with threads of gold. Over the head of the individual, the lead was formed into the shape of a crude crown. The find was reported to their Lordships, who directed the Sheriff to secure the tomb. The skeleton, formally exhumed in 1819, was attributed to Robert I on the basis of the sawn sternum; a procedure carried out after death to remove his heart in accordance to Robert’s wish to have it carried by Sir James Douglas during a Crusade against Saracens. Douglas obeyed his king’s wishes but died en route in Spain. The heart was returned to Scotland and was buried at Melrose Abbey, the most important Cistercian house in Scotland. The exhumed skeleton was studied by a number of medical specialists including Dr Alexander Monro tertius, Professor of Anatomy at Edinburgh University. An accurate Plaster-of-Paris cast was made of the skull and mandible by W. Scoular.

All available evidence suggests that the original copy of the cast is now located in the Anatomy Museum of the University of Edinburgh. Copies of this cast have been used to produce the portrait head of Robert I that was displayed in the Royal Scottish Academy in 1958; and more recently the reconstruction of the facial features by George Buchanan and computer-aided reconstruction prepared by Professor Vanesis of the Forensic Medicine Department of the University of Glasgow. The cast confirms that Robert I suffered the loss of his upper incisors and associated alveolar maxillary bone. These features have been interpreted by V. Moller-Christiansen and R.G. Inkster, authorities on the osteological appearance of leprosy, as typical of facies leprosa, and not those of calvaria syphilitica (syphylitic osteitis). According to the latter authors, the cast displays "antemortem loss of the central and right lateral incisors, and possibly the left lateral incisor". The authors continue: “There are no signs of loss of teeth caused by trauma in vivo. But the most important component of the facies leprosa, the inflammatory changes in the hard palate, cannot be verified in this case because the plaster cast does not show the hard palate, and so does not allow investigation. ….. The plaster cast of Robert the Bruce shows clear signs of facies leprosa, but to be one hundred percent sure of the diagnosis of leprosy, we would have to unearth his skeleton once more and make a proper examination.” 

Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, resigned into the hands of the King, Robert I., a plough of land of Cardross (modern day Renton), getting in compensation the half of the lands of Lekkie in Stirlingshire. The King, about 1322, gave over the lands of Hoyden, within the Barony of Cardross, to Adam son of Alan, and he had a specific object in view in acquiring land in the parish. For upon a bank overhanging the river Leven, near its junction with the Clyde, the hero of Bannockburn built a Manor House, and surrounded it with a park, which was called the King's Park of Cardross. At the first milestone out of Dunbarton, along the Cardross road there is a wooded knoll, which bears the name of Castlehill although there are no traces of any ruined buildings to be seen.

Having divested himself of the cares and vexations of government, the monarch found relief in the chase, and indulged in hunting excursions, and made short voyages along the neighbouring waters of the Gareloch and Loch Long, and the broad estuary of the Clyde, while he was kept in security by the neighbouring castle of Dunbarton. Within the walls of his residence, in view of the fine hills, which throw their dark shadows over the placid waters of the River Leven at Renton, the patriot King breathed his last on 7th June, 1329.

By the advice of his physicians he had retired to Cardross, a beautiful retreat situated upon the Clyde, about six miles from Dunbarton, where, amid the intervals from pain and sickness, his time appears to have been much occupied in making experiments in the construction and sailing of vessels, with a view, probably, towards the establishment of a more effective naval force in Scotland. We learn this fact from the accounts of his High Chamberlain, which are yet preserved, and the same records acquaint us that in these kingly amusements he often enjoyed the society of Randolph.

The King's Expenses at Cardross

The following are a few of the entries from the "Cardross Kings Park Household Book",—Items:
Wood for the scaffolding of the new chalmer, 3s.; making a door for do., 6d.
To 100 large boards, 3s. 4d.
To Giles the huntsman for his allowance for one year, six weeks, three days, 1 chalder 35 bolls meal.
Grant to do by the King's command, 26s. 8d. To a net for taking large and small fish, 40s. To two masts for the ship, 8s.
To persons employed in raising the masts three times, 3s.
To working 80 tons of iron for the use of the ships and the castle at 4d. per stone, 26s. 8d.
To bringing the King's great ship from the Firth into the river near the castle, and carrying the rigging to the castle, 3s.
To twelve men sent from Dunbarton to  Tarbet to bring back the King's great ship, 28s.
To thirty loads of firing to be used in the work of the windows, 22s. 6d.
To conveying Peter the fool to Target (on Loch Fyne), 1s. 6d.
The house for the falcons cost 2s.; a fishing net, 40s.; seeds for the orchard, Is. 6d.; green olive oil for painting the royal chamber, 10s.; chalk for the same, 6d.; a chalder of lime for whitewashing it, 8s.; and tin nails and glass for the windows, 3s. 4d."

His lighter pleasures consisted in hunting and hawking, when his health permitted; in sailing upon the Clyde, and superintending his mariners and shipwrights in their occupations; in enlarging and enclosing his park, and making additions to his palace. As even the most trivial circumstances are interesting when they regard so eminent a man, it may be mentioned that he kept a lion, the expense of whose maintenance forms an item in the chamberlain's accounts; and that his active mind, even under the pressure of increasing disease, seems to have taken an interest in the labours of the architects, painters, goldsmiths, and inferior artists, who belonged to his establishment. In compliance with the manners of the times, he maintained a fool, for whose comfort he was solicitous, and in whose society he took delight.

He entertained his clergy and his barons, who visited him from time to time, at his rural palace, in a style of noble and abundant hospitality. The minutest parts of his expenditure appear to have been arranged with the greatest order, and his lowest officers and servants, his huntsmen, falconers, dog-keepers, gardeners, and park-stewards, provided for in rude but regular abundance. His gifts to the officers of his household, to his nurse and other old servants, and to the most favourite amongst his nobles, were frequent and ample; his charity in the support of many indigent persons, by small annual salaries or regular allowances of meat and flour, was extensive, and well directed; whilst a pleasing view of his generosity, combined with his love of letters, is presented by his presents to `poor clerks' for the purpose of enabling them to carry on their education "at the schools." 

File:Robert de Bruce Deadhmask.jpg

Rosslyn Chapel - the death mask of Robert the Bruce.
The St. Clair family are said to have fought with Bruce, and honoured him within the Chapel with this carving.


The scene has been often described when the King, feeling his last hour drawing near, charged his old friend and companion in arms,
Sir James Douglas, to take, as soon as he was dead, his embalmed heart and deposit it in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. This was done, and Sir James Douglas duly set out with a body of chosen companions for the Holy Land, with his precious charge enclosed in a silver casket, but being attacked by the Saracens, and surrounded by overwhelming numbers, he flung the casket before him, exclaiming, "Pass onward as thou was wont, and Douglas will follow thee or die."

Bruce's Heart
In the aftermath of the battle a Scot, one
William Keith of Galston, who had earlier suffered a broken arm and had took no part in the current fight, took to searching the battlefield with the remaining Scots. They found Douglas's body, with five fatal wounds, surrounded by many bodies of the enemy. On retrieving Douglas's body the silver casket containing Bruce's heart was discovered underneath him. A few days later the Castle fell to the Christian forces.

Douglas's men would not hear of him being buried on foreign soil, so in line with current practices his body was boiled in a cauldron until the flesh fell from the bones, This was buried in hallowed ground at Teba, his skeleton and heart were taken back to Scotland and interred in St Brides church in Douglas village. Bruce's heart was conveyed to Melrose Abbey and there buried.

In 1920 the heart was discovered by archaeologists and was reburied, but the location was not marked.  In 1996, a casket was unearthed during construction work.  Scientific study by AOC archaeologists in Edinburgh, demonstrated that it did indeed contain a human heart and it was of appropriate age. It was reburied in Melrose Abbey in 1998, pursuant to the dying wishes of the King.

George Combe in 1836George Combe frequently reproduced the skull of Robert the Bruce, although he failed to explain the mystery of its existence in plaster. The skeletons of Bruce and his queen were discovered early in the 18th century by a party of workmen who were making certain repairs in the Abbey Church of Dunfermline. The bones of the hero of Bannockburn were identified from the description of the interment in contemporary records, and from the fact that the ribs on the left side had been roughly sawn away when the heart was delivered to Sir James Douglas, and sent off on its pious and romantic, but unsuccessful, pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The skull of Bruce, in an excellent state of preservation, was examined carefully by the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh, then in the highest tide of its enthusiasm and prosperity; and with the consent of the Crown, this cast of it was made. A gentleman who wrote anonymously to ‘Notes and Queries’, August 7. 1859, some forty years later, said that he remembered distinctly seeing and handling the skull, and the great sensation its discovery created. It was reinterred in its original resting-place a 'tiny or two' later.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013