“I give Thee my Heart”…..
Not words to be spoken lightly?
Scotland’s “Holy Trinity.”
The three great heroes of the Wars of Independence.
(Keeping it brief!)
William Wallace, Robert Bruce, and Sir James “The Good” or if you prefer it Sir James “The Black” Douglas.
As we all know, Wallace died at the hands of the English in 1305.
Bruce united Scotland, became it’s King, and died of leprosy on June 7th 1329.
His last wish, spoken directly to his friend and lieutenant, Sir James Douglas, was that after death, his heart be removed, and taken by Douglas to the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.
The elaborate preparations for the journey took around nine months, but in the spring of 1330, Douglas set out in the company of a group of knights including a certain St Clair of Rosslyn.
It has been commented that the progress was carried out with full pomp and ceremony. A Royal Progress, just as if King Robert himself was actually present.
Unfortunately, in August of 1330, whilst travelling through Spain, the group decided to join forces with King Alfonso in his campaign against the Moorish emirate of Granada, and Sir James, still carrying the heart of Bruce in a casket around his neck, was cut off from the main body of troops, surrounded, and killed.
His last action before his death was to remove the casket, and throw it forward over the heads of his enemies, with the immortal words “Forward Brave Heart.”
Douglas was found after Alfonso’s victory, dead upon the field of battle, with the heart lying beneath his body. Although some authorities claim that it was not the physical heart, but a device emblazoned upon his shield.
(If this was so…. then why would the heart not also be inlaid upon the blade of his sword… after all he did have nine months to prepare….)
Whatever… Bruce’s heart was recovered…
Douglas’s heart was removed…. his body was rendered down… the flesh was buried in Teba, and his bones together with his own heart, and the heart of Bruce were returned to Scotland.
Heart casket of Sir James Douglas,.
St Brides Church, Douglas.
Douglas’s heart and bones were buried at St Brides Church, Douglas, South Lanarkshire where they remain, whilst Bruce’s heart lies buried at Melrose.
The story is well known.
Now for those who may think I went a little far with the last posting…..
The death of Sir James Douglas whilst carrying the heart of Bruce to the Holy Land, was to Scotland, to put it in modern terms, the equivalent of the death of Princess Diana, and “911” rolled into one.
The Nation was devastated.
The last great hero of the Wars of Independence, killed, whilst carrying the heart of the King to the Holy Land….
And it is my contention, that it was at this moment in history… that Scotland took up the image of the heart, as the iconic image of both fidelity, and of the Nation’s Independence.
Heart brooches, later to be known as “Luckenbooths” or “witches brooches” first make their appearance in Scotland at almost the exact time of the death of Douglas.
They appear to have been exchanged by lovers as symbols of fidelity, performing much the same function as the modern engagement ring, but they also had a second function, of warding off the “evil eye,” (hence “witches brooches,” not because witches actually wore them, but to keep them away.)
Many were passed down, generation to generation, and often bear more than one set of initials on the reverse.
Heart Brooch circa 1400 found in Fife.
And all of this, goes very much further…..
In 1274, John Balliol of Barnard Castle, died. (no, not the “Puppet King of Scotland”… his Dad!)
John’s wife Devorgilla, “The Lady of Galloway,” had his heart removed… embalmed… and carried it about with her, in an ivory and silver casket for the remainder of her life.
Upon her death, it was buried with her at Sweetheart Abbey, in Dumfries and Galloway… and yes… that is where the name came from.
Sweetheart Abbey, New Abbey, Dumfries.
(Don’t get many days like this one… fine, light angles just right, and no visitors wandering all over in front of the camera!)
(That little figure, centre frame, is my Maureen, taking a photo of me, taking a photo of her, taking a photo of me…. daft aren’t we?)
And here it is looking the other way.
This is Sunday morning in the Borders in high summer on one of the major “Tourist Trails”, but there are no folk in the frame….. Probably because you have to pay to get in…. and that can get expensive…
So a lot of visitors, particularly those with a couple of kids, simply take a couple of “snaps” over the fence, then make do with sitting in the sunshine in the little cafe opposite with a coffee and a sandwich.
But “empty” places have far more atmosphere… And so, for us, it was worth it, just to be able to stand alone, and undisturbed in that side chamber with Devorgilla’s tomb, (see below,) and to be able to take these photo’s….
(Note:- If you insist upon doing the whole “Official Scotland Trip,” particularly with the family, you would be well advised ask about buying season tickets… it will save you a fortune.
Or… better still, do your research well in advance and look out all of the marvellous, free, and virtually unadvertised history that the Borders has in abundance.)
Tomb of Devorgilla.
Severely damaged, head missing but still she clutches her husband’s heart to her breast.
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Now… Time for a word from our Sponsors….
(Yep!…. that’s me as well folks…. Feel free to take a coffee break.)
(C) The Celtic Goldsmith. Teviothead. 2015.
Inspired by all of this, here is the most recent addition to our Jewellery Collection.
The Saltire Heart Cross.
Silver and Rose Gold.
Designed by Brian Moffatt.
Made by Kenneth Erik Moffatt.
And available only from
The Celtic Goldsmith. Teviothead
by Hawick. TD9 0LF.
St Andrew’s Cross in rose gold.
The hearts, are symbols of both love, and fidelity.
Each individual heart represents one of the Gospels, and the design further reflects the use in early Border jewellery, of the heraldic four petalled primrose, which is also an emblem of both Resurrection, and the renewal of Nature in Spring.
* * * * *
Now back to history…..
And….. here is another proposal…
What if the words “I give thee my heart,” meant much more than just sentiment?
What if… it meant the gift of ones living physical heart?
And what if the exchange of heart brooches indicated that ones heart truly became the property of ones partner.
What a fine way to ward off the “evil eye” of would be molesters.
Would not an evil minded lecher think twice before groping a comely young lady if he thought some big hairy knight with a sharp little blade, may take exception, and remove his credentials….
All fantasy you say….
Then just have a look at this….
This casket contains a human heart… it was found March 2014, in the the Convent of the Jacobins, in the city of Rennes, Northwestern France, and dates from the 17th century…. it was found with the body of a Lady buried in a lead coffin.
She was dressed in a nun’s habit…. but she was not a nun.
The heart belonged to her husband, and she appears to have entered a Convent after his death…
But that is not all… her own heart had been removed… and speculation is that that organ is buried elsewhere along with her husbands remains.
Gruesome? …. or…..The ultimate act of Love and Fidelity…. an example of the actual physical exchange of hearts.
Four other similar burials were found in the same location, all containing heart caskets.
Makes all of that modern nonsense of stag and hen nights with the surrounding misbehaviour look just a bit frivolous don’t you think?
I mean if you didn’t keep that vow…. then oops… sorry, but there goes your heart!
(Probably preceded by your swanicles!)
Here is a link to the article….
When did it all start? When did it end..?
Lots of opportunity for more research here surely?
Three heart burials, Balliol, Bruce and Douglas, all occurring within a relatively short period of time, all of folk whose origins were in a very small area….
I mean, just how old was this practice? Are we looking at a very old tradition indeed? Perhaps with origins way back into prehistory.
It also raises the question of whether or not Devorgilla’s heart was removed after death and perhaps… buried with her husband? ….. Now I don’t know the answer to that one… But what a tradition that would be.
Come on.. get going…
There is a good PhD. in all of this if anyone fancies a go….
1828 pattern Scottish basket hilted sword.
Whatever…. the heart motif continues to be a principal element of the decoration of Scottish weapons and can be found on dirks, targes, and swords, right through to today.
(A note for anyone wishing to follow this line of research… the “modern” concept of the Sacred Heart of Christ, does not really come into being until the 16th century.)
Heart brooches in Scotland have never received the research they deserve, and the majority lie undisturbed in the basements of our major museums. (I know because I have seen them!)
The full history remains to be written. But the secret world of Museum Basements is very difficult to access, and even if you can… it is impossible to tell if you have really been shown the entire collections.
Secretive lot are “curators,” well worth a study all of their own…
Another fascinating aside with regard to the Scottish “Luckenbooth” heart brooch, is that the early settlers in what is now the USA, “traded” heart brooches with the Native Americans, who liked them so much that they began copying the designs, and so successful were they, that it is often difficult to distinguish “replica” from original.
Many Scottish men intermarried with the “Indians”(sic) and so a number of the makers of such “copies” had Scottish surnames.
This also occurred way up there in Canada, and quite a few of the old time carvers of “totem poles” were also of half Scottish descent.
The influence of Scots, and Anglo-Scottish Borderers on the early (in some cases very early indeed) development of the United States, is a subject worthy of much more serious study than it is currently receiving….
It certainly wasn’t all kilts, tartans, bagpipes and broadswords……
Unfortunately academic interest on the side of “the pond” is at an all time low… so perhaps it is up to you guys over there to rekindle the torch…
I’ll continue doing my best…..
But Hey…. While you’re waiting… Why not read my book!
29th July 1500 hrs.
Just came across this one from a “dig” up in Aberdeen…
“Heart brooch on the breast of a young man.”
Pity, but it seems to be undated as yet. Looks 17th or 18th century to me…. If it’s earlier, then that would be even more interesting.
But a male burial with a heart brooch…
It comes from the excavation of the”Mither Kirk.”