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Robert the Bruce and Leprosy

Robert the Bruce and Leprosy


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Robert the Bruce and Leprosy

By M.H. Kaufman and W.J. MacLennan

Dental Research Group Newsletter, No.8 (2001)

Introduction: The inspiration to write the review was the inspection of the most recent facial reconstruction of Robert the Bruce. This gave the impression of a fearsome, ruthless and cunning warlord: the type of individual required to defeat opposition in Scotland, keep Edward I at bay, and hammer his pleasant but less effective son into the ground. Another feature was that loss of his upper incisors and associated alveolar maxillary bone indicated that he might have suffered from leprosy, a condition rare among medieval royalty.

There has always been some doubt as to whether Bruce, who died in 1329, did suffer from leprosy. Pearson, for example, has suggested that his condition could have resulted from “sporadic syphilis”, which in the Middle Ages was commonly confused with leprosy. While no direct analysis of his skeletal remains has been carried out to establish unequivocally that he suffered from leprosy, there is evidence in favour of this from the analysis of what is believed to be the extremely accurate plaster of paris cast of his skull and mandible prepared by W. Scoular when Bruce’s skeleton was formally exhumed in 1819. This took place in the presence of the King’s Remembrancer, Sir Henry Jardine, several Barons of the Exchequer, Dr Alexander Monro tertius, Professor of Anatomy at Edinburgh University and His Majesty’s first Physician for Scotland, and other gentlemen of science. The contemporary description of the exhumation, and the events that led up to it, are described by Jardine.

During 1817, the Magistrates of the Burgh of Dunfermline resolved to build a new church, as the parish church that occupied the nave of the ancient cathedral was in ruins and could no longer be used as a place of worship. During clearance of the site the workmen came by accident on what appeared to be a royal tomb. This was located at the very centre of the ancient cathedral in front of where the high altar had formerly stood, and was protected by two large stones, a headstone and a much larger stone (six feet in length) into which six iron rings had been fixed by lead.

When these stones were removed, they found the complete skeletal remains of an individual entirely enclosed in two layers of lead, with what remained of an embroidered linen cloth shroud over it, the fine linen material being interwoven with threads of gold. Over the head of the individual, the lead was formed into the shape of a crude crown. The find was reported to their Lordships, who directed the Sheriff to secure the tomb.


Watch the video: Redefining Robert the Bruce - No longer a leper (July 2022).


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