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Favourite stories from Scottish History
Since this is the year of Heritage, History and Archaeology, what are your favourite tales from Scottish history? I'll start the ball rolling with the tale of Bruce's Heart.
I was born in Dunfermline, and people there are proud that it is the resting place of King Robert I The Bruce. His grave can be found in the parish church attached to Dunfermline Abbey, under an impressive 19th Century bronze. But Bruce's tomb had been lost for centuries before it was re-discovered in 1818. While the new parish church was under construction, a skeleton was found covered in lead and wrapped in cloth of gold. On examination, it was determined that this must be the skeleton of Robert the Bruce, because a hole had been cut in his chest to remove his heart.
Bruce had won the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and as one of the most famous and greatest knights in Christendom he swore that when Scotland was secure he would go on crusade to the Holy Land. However war continued against Edward II of England and it was only when the king of England was deposed and his son crowned as Edward III that a peace treaty was finally signed, the Treaty of Edinburgh - Northampton in 1328. By this time King Robert was very ill, and in 1329 he died. However to keep his promise, his heart was cut out and placed in a casket. This was given to his most famous knight, Sir James Douglas, also known as the Black Douglas and a commander of part of the Scottish forces at Bannockburn. With a group of knights, he planned to join an international crusade. When this failed to materialise, they instead sailed to Spain to fight against the Moors in the Reconquista.
Douglas and his party joined the army led by King Alfonso XI of Castile. They became part of the Christian forces attacking the castle at Teba. During the siege, the Scottish knights became involved in a fight with part of the Moorish army. At first the Moors fled, but Sir James and about 10 companions got too far ahead of the Christian forces. The Moors noticed this and turned, surrounding and cutting off the Scottish knights. This is where legend sets in, because we can't know what happened now, but it is said that Douglas took the casket on its chain from around his neck. He swirled it above his head and threw it into the heart of the Moorish forces, shouting "Go before us in battle as you have always done before". The Scots party charged into the battle, and were slain to a man.
The surviving Scottish knights retrieved the bodies and the heart. They boiled the flesh from the bones and returned the skeletons and the heart to Scotland for burial. The skeletons were interred in churches on the properties of the nobles families, Sir James in the St. Brides Kirk in Douglas, but Bruce's heart was buried beneath the High Altar in Melrose Abbey. It was lost along with many other religious artefacts during the Scottish Reformation but was rediscovered in the 1920's and reburied, though the location was not marked. In 1996 during construction work a casket was discovered and scientific enquiry showed that it contained human tissue of the appropriate age. In 1998 it was finally laid to rest under a marker in Melrose Abbey as the King himself had wished.
I have always enjoyed the real history around this, and the fact that it helped to inspire one of the great works of Scottish literature, "The Bruce" by John Barbour. It also lets more people know about Sir James Douglas, one of the heroes of the Wars of Independence, as well as a very nice beer under the name "The Black Douglas".