Face of Robert the Bruce reconstructed by scientists

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He is Scotland’s most famous king, celebrated seven centuries after his death for leading an army to victory at Bannockburn and securing the independence of his realm.

But despite his heroic status, no contemporary portrait of Robert the Bruce survives.

Modern depictions of Robert the Bruce, such as this statue at Bannockburn, are not based on historical record. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

Modern depictions of Robert the Bruce, such as this statue at Bannockburn, are not based on historical record. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

Now scientists and historians have revealed detailed visual images of what could be the head of Bruce. They were reconstructed from a cast of a skull, widely thought to be that of the king, belonging to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

The images are the result of a collaboration between Glasgow and Liverpool John Moores universities and were unveiled at the Hunterian’s new wing at Kelvin Hall yesterday.

The plan to put a face to the Hunterian skull was led by Dr Martin MacGregor, a senior lecturer in Scottish history at the University of Glasgow, and took inspiration from a similar project in which the face of Richard III of England was reconstructed.

“I followed the story of Richard III and was captivated by it,” said Dr MacGregor.

The virtual image was reconstructed from a skull widely thought to belong to Robert the Bruce. Picture: Contributed

The virtual image was reconstructed from a skull widely thought to belong to Robert the Bruce. Picture: Contributed

“I was conscious we had the cast of the Bruce skull and it occurred to me there was an opportunity to take advantage of technology to try and put a face to Robert I, King of Scots.

“We lack any contemporary visual record of Robert, someone. I have long had an interest in. I think he was a remarkable king and a remarkable human being.

“I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that without Bruce, there would not be a Scotland in a political sense today.”

Professor Caroline Wilkinson, a craniofacial identification expert, was commissioned to carry out the reconstruction.

The grave of Robert the Bruce was rediscovered in Dunfermline Abbey in 1818. Picture Lisa Ferguson/TSPL

The grave of Robert the Bruce was rediscovered in Dunfermline Abbey in 1818. Picture Lisa Ferguson/TSPL

“Using the skull cast, we could accurately establish the muscle formation from the positions of the skull bones to determine the shape and structure of the face,” she said.

“In the absence of any DNA, we relied on statistical evaluation of the probability of certain hair and eye colours, conducted by Dr MacGregor and his team, to determine that Robert the Bruce most likely had brown hair and light eyes.”

Bruce’s original tomb was destroyed during the Reformation in 1560. The location of his body was presumed lost until workmen chanced upon a lead-lined grave while building a parish church from the ruins of Dunfermline Abbey in 1818.

A cast was taken of the skull by the Huntertian, then the only public museum in Scotland.

Professor David Gaimster, director of the museum, told The Scotsman all available evidence suggested it was the final resting place of Bruce.

“Fragments tell us this was the most spectacular medieval tomb in Scotland,” he said. “It was of the right date and would have resembled the tombs of the French monarchs at Saint Denis. Everything about it fits.

“We can all respond to the visualisation of Bruce in different ways.

“He was in his 50s when he died. He had been through fantastic struggles in his life, which you can see, and withstood significant diseases, which were commonplace in the Middle Ages.

“Bruce lived to a decent age - not many kings reached 55. Examination of the skull, and contemporary records, suggest it was leprosy that killed him in the end.”

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