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Replica skull of Robert Bruce

  • Replica skull of Robert Bruce

Robert Bruce of Scotland fought many battles against Edward I and Edward II (Dates of Reign 1307 to 1327) of England, such as at the Battle of Bannockburn 1314, where he defeated the English. 

In order for Edward I to wage war against him legally, the Pope’s legate excommunicated Bruce at the Parliament held in Carlisle in 1307. This made it lawful to kill an anointed king.


 A Papal Legate is the personal representative of the Pope. He would have acted like a modern ambassador and what he said would have the authority of the Pope. Excommunication is a religious punishment which means someone is cast out from the Catholic Church and cannot take communion or take an active part in any other Church activity or service. In the medieval period this was very serious. Edward I needed Robert Bruce removed from Christian law because Kings were believed to have their power to rule given to them by God, so to kill a King would be a major sin. In this respect the transnational role of the Church was a little like that of the UN in modern times.

Siege of Carlisle

For Carlisle, Robert Bruce is remembered for the siege of 1315, but the weather was against him and his siege engines were stuck in the mud, allowing Andrew Harclay to defend the castle successfully for Edward II. This event is commemorated on the initial letter of the Carlisle City charter of the time.  

Scottish Independence

Robert Bruce had a claim to the crown of Scotland through his father who was descended from David I. He was one of many claimants, and seized the throne in 1306. He fought the English and was able to regain the independence of Scotland which lasted till the Act of Union in 1707.  Some people see Robert Bruce as a Scottish hero and Scottish independence is still an important political issue.

His skull

When Bruce died in 1329, he was buried in Dunfermline Abbey, while his heart was interred at Melrose. When his tomb was opened in 1818 and studied in 1819, a cast was taken of the skull by the artist William Scoular. Many copies of the skull were made. Sir Walter Scott had one at his house, Abbotsford. A reconstruction of his face has been made by a team of experts led by Sue Black, at the University of Dundee from this cast. It shows an axe scar above one eye and the effects of long-term leprosy. He may have been a hero, but not a handsome one.

Key facts: 
  • Robert the Bruce of Scotland attacked England many times during the reigns of Edward I and Edward II
  • He was excommunicated from the Church at a parliament held at Carlisle in 1307. This made it legal to kill a King
  • Robert the Bruce besieged Carlisle in 1315, but the Castle and City were successfully defended by Andrew Harclay
  • Robert the Bruce successfully re-gained Scottish independence from England, which lasted until the Act of Union in 1707

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