A tiny drill and a fibre-optic cable get to the heart of the mystery of Robert the Bruce

A lead container found during excavations at Melrose Abbey in Scotland almost certainly holds the heart of King Robert the Bruce inside another lead casket, archaeologists confirmed yesterday.

With the world's press anxious for a simple heart-or-no-heart confirmation from the team of conservationists, yesterday's conclusion would not have impressed a Hollywood producer. After drilling tiny holes in the cylindrical lead container and inserting a fibre-optic cable to look inside, the team from Historic Scotland discovered a small second, cone-shaped, casket. Inside they also found packaging paper and a small copper plaque from 1921. The plaque confirmed that in that year the cone-shaped container had been found in the floor of the abbey's chapter house "containing a heart". The casket was reburied.

Richard Welander from Historic Scotland said that absolute verification of the contents of the cone container as being the heart of the king of Scotland who had led his army to victory over the English at Bannockburn in 1314 "was not possible". However he added: "Although we cannot say with certainty this is Bruce's heart, we can say that it is reasonable to assume it is Bruce's heart." Such semantic precision will not worry the Scottish Tourist Board. If it can sell a monster in Loch Ness no one has seen, it can sell the homecoming of the heart of the Bruce.

What is inside the medieval cone-shaped casket will remain a mystery. There are no plans to delve further to analyse what may be a mummified heart or a pile of dust. As was common when casket burials of parts of the famous took place in the 14th century - such as heads - the lead containers were dipped in pitch or tar to help prevent deterioration. From appearance it would seem the cone-shaped casket has survived remarkably well.

Crowned king in 1304, Bruce died in 1329 at Cardross, Dumbarton, possibly of leprosy. He asked for his heart to be buried at Melrose because of his devotion to the abbey. He was buried at Dunfermline but in line with his orders his heart was taken to the Crusades by James Douglas, knighted after Bannockburn. Douglas died en route, fighting the Moors in Spain, but the heart, according to legend, was eventually buried at Melrose Abbey.

Although the excavations at Melrose may have solved one mystery, they have also considerably improved the knowledge of the Chapter House, effectively the business centre of the premier Cistercian home in Scotland at the time. The austere Benedictine order were influential theologians, wealthy and well respected in royal circles.

With Scotland having no defined capital, the court moving to wherever the monarch spent the night, knowledge of the abbey's chapter house is regarded as important. Doreen Grove, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Historic Scotland, said: "Our understanding has been greatly improved by the excavations. The Bruce casket was just a by-product of our other work."

Although Bruce is reputed to have died of leprosy, DNA tests are being conducted on bone fragments excavated some years ago from Dunfermline to establish a possible cause.

A kinsman of Robert the Bruce, who had no male descendants, is Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrat-held seat of Fife North East. Adam Bruce, 28, a solicitor, claims kinship through the king's brother.

However, he has no truck with talk of home rule for Scotland. "If we were talking in 1314, I know what side I would be fighting on - Scotland's," he said. "But this is 1996. The Union is sacrosanct, and I am prepared to fight for that with as much vigour as King Robert fought for what he believed in."

He and his relations were pleased with the recent developments, he said. "The family has been very happy to see the huge interest there has been in the whole project," he added. "We are glad the casket will be reinterred with due dignity. We hope all this will redress the balance after the unflattering picture that was painted of him in Braveheart, where he was depicted as grasping and ambitious and prepared to sell out."

Life of the legend

t His patience and determination are said to have been inspired by watching a spider spinning its web

t He was born in 1274 and crowned in 1306

t Viewed as a traitor by King Edward I, he was twice defeated in battle in 1306 and three of his brothers were executed

t His greatest triumph came in 1314 when an English army heading for Stirling was defeated outside the town at the Battle of Bannockburn

t The 1328 Treaty of Northampton recognised him as king - and Scotland's independence

t He died, possibly of leprosy, at Cardross, in 1329

t He was buried at Dunfermline but his heart was taken to the Crusades by James Douglas, knighted after Bannockburn

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Financial Services, SQL, Stored Procedure

£55000 - £65000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: One of the mos...

Senior UNIX Engineer (UNIX, Linux, Solaris, IBM MQ Server)

£62000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior UNIX Engineer (UNIX, Linux, Solaris...

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice