Article which features in Hearse and Rider Magazine.
Funeral Procession of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.
The Kingdom of Scotland fell into a state of mourning on hearing the news that their hero king was dead. Robert the Bruce died peacefully in his Manor House at Pillanflat, near the banks of the River Leven, near present day Renton on June 7, 1329 at the age of 55.
The king’s body was prepared for the journey to his final resting place in Dunfermline. His chest was opened and his heart and internal organs removed. Sir James Douglas was given his heart in an enamelled silver casket to be taken on a pilgrimage to the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. His breast bone and other internal organs were made ready to be buried in Saint Serfs Chapel which is located in present day Levengrove Park in Dumbarton. It was very fashionable at the time for kings and queens to have two or three different burial places.
Bruce’s body was embalmed and made ready to make the journey to Dunfermline to be buried beside his queen Elizabeth de Burgh who had died two years previously. It was a great honour at that time to be the embalmer of the king’s body. After Bruce’s body was prepared the embalmer would have taken part in a sacred ceremony; he would have taken a bath in scented water and been presented with new and expensive robes, he would have been offered the best of food and wine and been given the hefty sum of £2.
The distance to Dunfermline would have been about 60 miles and would have passed through many key places in Scotland. After leaving the manor house his body would pass through Saint Serfs Chapel, then to Old Kilpatrick and then Duntocher, then transported via Kirkintilloch to Dunipace where the entourage stopped for the night. The next day they would have made for Stirling crossing the field of Bannockburn, where the king had his greatest victory, and then to Cambuskenneth Abbey to spend the night. The next day they would travel through Kincardine and Culross before finally reaching Dunfermline.
The king would have been transported in a gilded hearse surmounted by a shield, a sword, and a royal crown. The hearse would have been pulled by plumed horses and everything decked in black and gold cloth. When making journeys across water the boats would have hoisted golden sails. Behind the king would have ridden his son, David II and his grandson the future Robert II fitted with expensive funeral garments, they would have ridden between his two greatest friends Sir Thomas Randolph and Sir James Douglas. Many other famous knights of Scotland would have been present wearing robes of mourning and decked in new shining armour paid for by the Scots Exchequer. The king was carried through the towns and villages and past churches where people openly moaned and wailed when they witnessed the progress of their hero king’s body to his final rest. The coffin itself would have had a painted wooden effigy of the king on top of it, known as a catafalque; again this was painted in black and gold. The Scots really excelled at this type of funeral heraldry, an upside down funeral crest would also have been carried at all times in front of the moving hearse as was customary at the time.
On reaching Dunfermline Abbey he was laid under a chapel of gilded timber where great candles burned around the bier which was covered by a great gold cloth. It was said the light fell through the windows of the abbey upon the gorgeous garments of the abbot and the bishop. The voices of these holy men rang clear and strong with comforting words as the chants of the congregation rose and fell as Robert the Bruce King of Scots was finally laid to rest in his most holy and revered tomb.