Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

The lost tomb of Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce died in 1329 and was laid to rest in Dunfermline Abbey. His elaborate tomb was destroyed in the Protestant Reformation of 1560 along with those of his predecessors.

Dunfermline Abbey Church

In 1818 workmen breaking ground for a new parish church uncovered a body which was then claimed to be that of the King. A cast was made of the skull and the body ceremonially reinterred.

This cast was used in 1964 to provide the likeness of Bruce for his statue at Bannockburn.

LEFT: A 19th century brass memorial in Dunfermline Abbey
RIGHT: Robert the Bruce statue at Bannockburn

This attribution has been challenged in a recent project led by Dr Michael Penman of the University of Stirling whose ground penetrating survey of Dunfermline Abbey had revealed the medieval layout of the choir.

Penman claims that the present location of the tomb is unlikely to have been the original as it would have been too close to the chancel screen and would have impeded the chancel steps. Instead he suggest that the bones could have been reburied by monks who remained after the destruction.

He even suggests instead that the bones could be those of David I and that Robert was buried in a double tomb alongside his queen, Elizabeth de Burgh.

In conclusion he states: “We know so little about the 1560 to early 19th century period, that you’ve got to be careful”.

A 3D reconstruction of Robert the Bruce's tomb will be permanently on display at Dunfermline Abbey Church.

A close up of the brass memorial*

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

* Otter, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Added: 19 May 2021 Updated: 22 Jul 2021
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