Wearing the Crown Takes a Lot of Heart


Robert the Bruce Coat of Arms

Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) reigned as King of Scots from 1306 to 1329. He led a ragtag bunch of Scottish farmers to defeat England’s Edward II’s professional army that was four times the size of Scotland’s. He unified the Scots and secured their freedom from England and is remembered as the greatest of Scotland’s monarchs. Such a man would have to have a lot of heart.

As it turns out, the heart of the Bruce has a story of its own.

As the king faced his own mortality, he asked that upon his death, his heart be removed and taken on a Crusade. He had always aspired to go fight for the advance of Christianity, but his fight for Scottish independence prevented that from happening. His heart was never far from the cause, however.

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The tomb of Robert the Bruce in Dunfermline Abbey. The words, in Latin, surrounding his image, ” Hic jacet invictus Robertus Rex benedictus qui sua gesta legit repetit quot bella peregit ad libertatem perduxit per probitatem regnum scottorum: nunc vivat in arce polorum,” translate as “Here lies the invincible blessed King Robert / Whoever reads about his feats will repeat the many battles he fought / By his integrity he guided to liberty the Kingdom of the Scots: May he now live in Heaven.

Most of the king’s body was buried in Dunfermline Abbey, but his heart — well — followed his heart. According to the king’s wishes, Sir James Douglas placed the king’s heart in a lead coffin, wore it around his neck, and took it with him to fight against the Moors in Spain. Douglas was killed in battle, and the Bruce’s heart was returned to Scotland by Sir William Keith. It was buried in Melrose Abbey, Roxburghshire. The heart’s precise location fell from memory until 1920, when archeologists found it. It was reburied, but the location was not marked, so it once again faded into legend. Construction work in 1996 unearthed again, and this time it was reburied with appropriate identification of the site.

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The original lead container of Robert the Bruce’s heart (right) and the new coffin in which it has been interred (left).

The heart, in its original lead container, was placed inside a lead container with a heart entwined in the St. Andrew’s Cross, the basis of Scotland’s national flag. It was buried beneath a stone marker with an excerpt from John Barbour’s poem, “The Brus“: “A Noble Hart May Have nane Ease Gif Freedom Failye.” Translated, it reads, “A noble heart cannot be at peace if freedom is lacking.”

Robert the Bruce heart
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 St. Andrew’s Cross, the basis of Scotland’s national flag.
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