Did You Know?
- Robert the Bruce's Heart


On his deathbed in 1329, Robert the Bruce asked that his heart should be carried into battle against the "Infidels" because he himself had not been able to go on a Crusade. (Removing internal organs after death was a common practice in those days). Bruce's body was buried in Dunfermline Abbey and when it was exhumed in 1818 it was found that his ribs had been sawn through, indicating that his heart had indeed been taken from his body.

Sir James Douglas is said to have taken Bruce's heart in a casket with him to Spain in 1330 but, in a battle against the Moors, Douglas was killed. Sir William Keith brought Bruce's heart back to Scotland and it was buried in Melrose Abbey.

In 1921, during excavations beneath the Chapter House at Melrose Abbey, a conical leaden casket was discovered. It measured 10 inches high and was 4 inches in diameter at the base but tapering towards the top (see illustration above, right). It was pitted but otherwise in good condition.

The casket was reburied but in 1996, it was removed again from beneath the Chapter House floor and examined once more. Historic Scotland said "It is not possible to prove absolutely that it is Bruce's heart. But it is reasonable to assume that it is".

On 22 June 1998 it was reburied at Melrose Abbey. On 24 June (the anniversary of Bruce's victory at Bannockburn in 1314) the Scottish Secretary of State unveiled a plaque on the ground at the place where the heart now lies. The design for the stone slab was created by Victoria Oswald a BBC sound engineer. The inscription on the stone, from Barbour's "The Brus" reads "A noble hart may have no ease, gif freedom failye" Translated, this reads "A noble heart cannot be at peace if freedom is lacking" It incorporates a carving of a heart entwined in the Saltire, the basis of Scotland's national flag.

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