A Sarcophagus or Cenotaph – if it’s all the same to you?

Have you ever written a blog and then thought, deep in the middle of the night of course, something you wrote was not quite right: well, incorrect to be exact. What was I thinking? Here I am to fess up before some more knowledgeable person corrects me with a generous dollop of glee.

To be sure I did know this fact – tucked away somewhere in a dusty, do-not-delete file in my brain – but the writer in me got carried away, imagining Robert the Bruce, in his sorrow, leaning against his family’s sarcophagus mourning the death of his grandfather. A  touching vision indeed, but it couldn’t have taken place unless he was a time traveler!

For a start it’s not a sarcophagus: it’s a Cenotaph which is more of a memorial and was completed much later in honour of the Bruces.

I’m actually on holiday at present, enjoying the sun and sand of New South Wales glorious coastline and therefore don’t have my normal historical texts to hand. Perhaps I could blame my glitch thus wise – a touch of the sun or too much vino!

So a quick Google search this morning tells me the Cenotaph was constructed in 1521 and it did stand on the floor of the Guisborough Priory. It was removed in 1540 and dismantled but most of its parts were recovered and reassembled in the 19th century where it was displayed in Saint Nicholas’s church, as it is today, next to the ruin. There is more to this story of course, but it is an ongoing  testament to the Bruce family that such a memorial was constructed and that it survived Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.

I stand corrected. Now where’s the sun screen and let’s hit the beach!



Robert the Bruce – His Family’s Origins (cont)

What happened to successive generations of the Bruce family after their arrival in England – but before their move to Scotland in the 12th century? It seems fortune smiled upon them with lands granted in Yorkshire where they prospered, mastering the export trade in wool and iron at Hartlepool.
Many years ago, I set out on my travels to follow the Bruce story and this is a visual record of my adventures. Yorkshire is a glorious place with the likes of Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby to explore. Nearby is Staines, home to Captain Cook, renowned sea-faring explorer of Australia’s vast eastern coastline
My destination was Skelton-in-Cleveland to locate the old moated castle of the Bruce family. Now, a grand manor house sits proudly on the site.


Adjoining the property was an old church, and it was from its grounds that I took the above picture, wondering all the while about the past and

present inhabitants.



Guisborough is another important place connected with the Bruce story in the area. William de Brus established a priory and it is here that successive members of the family were buried: the last being Robert the Bruce’s grandfather, the Old Competitor. The old priory lies in ruins, having been sacked and burnt on a number of occasions, sometimes even by the Scots. The main devastation, however, would have come with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.



The now peaceful grounds show raised outlines of former structures. Off to one side, within a grove of stately trees lies a burial site where the bones of those who had lain in crypts beneath the stone flags of the priory’s floor, have been amassed in a low mound. Perhaps somewhere amidst that jumble lay the bones of William de Brus and other members of the Bruce family.

Beside the priory stood an old church where the Bruce family sarcophagus now rested. Whether the earthly remains of later Bruces resided within was a matter for conjecture but the carvings show a fascinating glimpse into medieval symbolism. A tiny part of me did wonder whether Robert had ever leant against this sarcophagus, perhaps where it stood on the floor of the great priory, mourning the death of his grandfather.


Continuing our story — back in the 12th century, a Scottish prince by the name of David, sought sanctuary with the English court. He made friends with a group of young nobles and when he returned to Scotland, as its king some years later, he took them with him to bring peace to the wilder parts of the country.
It was King David I of Scotland who transported many aspects of Norman feudal life to Scotland: as well he brought in French religious bodies to develop safe refuges for travelers, and hospitals such as Soutra in southern Scotland. To some extent, he was following in his mother’s footsteps: consolidating the power of the Roman Papal church and diminishing the hold of the Celtic church. Margaret Canmore was later canonized to be Scotland’s first saint – St Margaret.
This was how one branch of the Bruce family came to be granted lands in Annandale in south west Scotland in the 12th century. And the rest, as they say, is history …