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Wars of Independence

Robert (I) the Bruce

Robert the Bruce, top of his femur and section of his foot

Period:
Medieval
Description:

This bone material is part of a bone from the foot and part of the lower end of a thigh bone.  The cast of a skull, along with these fragments of bone material said to have been taken from the skeleton of Robert the Bruce in 1818, were presented to Dumfries Museum in 1996.  They had belonged to Wallace Black, a Dumfries man.  Family tradition has it that he was given the cast and the bone material by a friend who was present when the skeleton was discovered.

 

Bone fragments and teeth from the skeleton of Robert the Bruce are held by other organisations and individuals in Scotland.  In the past such relics were treated with great respect and were believed to have special powers.  Perhaps today is seems more appropriate that they should be reburied?

 

After his death in 1329 Bruce’s body was interred in Dunfermline Abbey. The site of the tomb was lost, possibly when the abbey was damaged by Protestant religious demonstrations in the 1500s. In 1818 workmen making repairs to the Abbey discovered a skeleton that had been wrapped in gold cloth within a stone tomb. This was examined by Robert Liston, an Edinburgh surgeon. Bruce had wanted his heart to be taken to the Holy Lands, or Palestine, in order to fulfill his ambition to take part in the Crusades. After his death his breastbone had been sawn away so that the heart could be removed. Liston identified the skeleton as that of Bruce because of damage to the breastbone.

 

A cast of the skull was made by the sculptor, William Scoular, and is now kept in the Anatomy Department of the University of Edinburgh. Further casts were taken from this original cast. No portraits were made of Robert the Bruce during his lifetime. Perhaps the most accurate likeness of him can be reconstructed from his skull? Recently this was attempted by a team of forensic scientists. The skull shows damage to the left eye socket and cheek bone, possibly from injuries received in battle. There is bone missing from the upper jaw and nose. It has long been suggested that Bruce suffered from leprosy, although there is no evidence for this in historical records. However, the erosion of the bone of the skull supports this conclusion. It could be that Bruce's status as king meant that his illness was not made public. People with leprosy had to live apart from others and this would not have been possible for a king.

Materials/Media:
bone
Dimensions:
(left) height 105mm, diameter 45mm; (right) height 55mm, width 30mm
Source:
Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura
Digital Number:
DMBC002n
Copyright:
Dumfries & Galloway Council