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Reconstructing the throne of Robert the Bruce

The seal of Robert the Bruce. Picture: Contributed

The seal of Robert the Bruce. Picture: Contributed

  • by JEREMY WATSON
 

THIS will be a seat fit for a fut­ure king or queen of Scotland. Craftsmen are reconstructing the throne of Robert the Bruce as part of the 700th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Bann­ockburn.

An image of the wooden throne which the Bruce is believed to have used during his 23-year reign as king of Scotland in the 14th century is depicted on his official cast-metal seal, which he used to authenticate documents.

Historical group the Strathleven Artizans will now produce an interpretation of the throne based on the seal, which was struck after his victory in 1314. It shows King Robert on an elaborately carved seat with armrests featuring the heads of four mythical beasts, facing north, south, east and west to protect their master from every direction.

It will be constructed using oak from across Scotland, including from Scone Palace, where King Robert was crowned in 1306; Turnberry, where he was born in 1274; and Bannockburn.

The throne will also feature timber from the Bruce Oak – one of the largest and oldest trees in Scotland until it was felled following a fire in 2005 – which stood on the Strathleven estate in Dunbartonshire, owned by the king around the time that the tree would have been a sapling.

The village of Teba, in Spain, has also sent ancient olive wood from the location in which his embalmed heart was cast into a battle with Moorish troops in 1330 by crusader Sir James Douglas en route to the Holy Land.

Douglas famously inspired his heavily outnumbered men with the gesture, shouting that King Robert would lead them into the fight as he had always done.

There will also be a nod towards the influence of one of his most influential contemporaries, William Wallace. The wooden support for the claw-footed throne is to be made from yew from Elderslie, Renfrewshire, believed to be the birthplace of the knight who was Scotland’s military leader during the 13th-century wars of independence.

On completion, the throne could be sited at Historic Scotland’s new Bannockburn visitor centre or at either Stirling or Edinburgh castles. The project is expected to cost more than £10,000, and the Artizans are now looking for financial donors.

Duncan Thomson, chairman of the Strathleven Artizans, said: “Robert the Bruce is one of Scotland’s best-known monarchs, and his story has captivated people for generations.

“The process of reconstructing his throne promises to help bring that story to life. The historical evidence we have to work with is limited, but we hope that the process of researching and building our interpretation of the throne will offer us some insight into the man himself.

“The finished product will be both a celebration of traditional skills and a tool for education.”

Ted Cowan, emeritus professor of history at Glasgow University, said he applauded the Artizans’ efforts to add to the legend of Robert the Bruce on the anniversary of the “greatest victory in Scottish history”.

“The idea of bringing together wood samples from different parts of the independence story is brilliant. This will be an imaginative, permanent 21st-century celebration of Bruce and as such deserves to be supported.”

David Mitchell, director of conservation at Historic Scotland, which is supporting the project with technical expertise, said: “It is fitting that the throne will be unveiled in time for the anniversary of Bruce’s coronation. While minimal historical evidence makes creating a wholly authentic replica very difficult, the process of recreating the throne and highlighting aspects of Bruce’s life are just as important.”

One supporter is Lord Elgin, chief of the Bruce clan and patron of the Strathleven Artisans, who said the reconstruction of the Bruce’s throne was “a project dear to his heart”.

He said: “Undoubtedly the emphasis next year will focus on his record as a warrior. Yet his role as a statesman and lawgiver is equally important. A project to rebalance the perceived identity of King Robert by reconstructing his throne – arguably the most important missing artefact of his reign – is now very welcome.”

Artizans fundraiser Philip Barlow said the project had captured the imagination of a range of people, from craftsmen to aristocrats, politicians and historians. However, the throne may not ever have been situated in a fixed location.

“It could have been carried about from place to place, much like a Roman or Egyptian travelling court, and brought out on occasions when he needed it,” Barlow said.

Donations can be made to the project at www.strathlevenartizans.com

 

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