Melrose Abbey
about one hour south of Edinburgh.

Location map

Melrose Abbey and the mystery of Robert the Bruce's heart

The 1996 summer archeological excavations of the Chapter House floor of Melrose Abbey undertaken designed to increase knowledge of this important medieval building. The team from Historic Scotland investigated the lead container said to contain King Robert the Bruce's heart which had been removed from beneath the Chapter House floor.


Under laboratory conditions in Edinburgh they drilled a small hole into the casket and looked inside with a fibre-optic cable. What did they see? What looked like another casket. So they carefully opened the larger one and found a small conical lead conatiner and an engraved copper plaque which said;

"The enclosed leaden casket containing a heart was found beneath Chapter House floor, March 1921, by His Majesty's Office of Works"

The smaller conical casket is about 10 inches high and 4 inches in diameter at the base tapering to a flat top about one and a half inches in diameter. Despite being pitted with age it was in good condition. Richard Welander, one of the investigators, said that although it was not possible to prove absolutely that it is Bruce's heart, "We can say that it is reasonable to assume that it is". There are no records of anyone else's heart being buried at Melrose.

The casket containing the heart was not opened, and remained in Edinburgh until it was buried again during a private ceremony at Melrose Abbey on 22 June 1998. On the 24th June, coinciding with the anniversary of the victory of Bruce's army over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Scottish Secretary of State, Donald Dewar, unveiled a plinth over the place in the abbey grounds where the heart is now buried.

About the life of Robert the Bruce

  • Son of Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick and Annandale, and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick.
  • Born in 1274, was 31 when he became king, he died in 1329 in Cardross (probably of leprosy).
  • Married Isabella of Mar and then Elizabeth de Burgh. Their son was King David II.
  • King Edward I of England regarded him as a traitor.
Bruce spider

Edward's commander in Scotland, the Earl of Pembroke defeated him in 1306 at Methven near Perth and he went into hiding in the hills and forests.

All seemed hopeless. It was at this time while secluded in a cave that he noticed a spider continually remaking its web.

Every time a strand broke, the spider repared it. This was the moment at which he vowed to keep trying to free Scotland from the English.

Three of his brothers were executed by Edward I.

With the help of Edward Bruce, Thomas Randolph and Sir James Douglas (the famous "Black Douglas" whose name was used by English mothers to threaten discipline to their children, thus: "If you dont do such and such, the wicked Black Douglas will come and get you") he gradually and courageously recaptured Scottish castles and land from the English.

Edward II advanced on Bruce's army with 20,000 soldiers.

At Bannockburn, near Stirling, on the 24 June 1314, Bruce's army defeated the English who then fled south of the border.

When he died in 1329 his body was buried at Dunfermline. His heart was removed and taken on the Crusades by the Black Douglas (Sir James), who, just before he was killed in Moorish Spain, hurled it at the enemy.

The heart was recovered and taken back to Melrose Abbey where the new king, David II (Bruce's son), had asked for it to be buried.

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