On this day in 1330: ‘Black Douglas’ died while carrying Robert the Bruce’s heart to Jerusalem

The monument which marks the spot of Robert the Bruce's interred heart at Melrose Abbey. PIC Crown Copyright/ Historic Environment Scotland.

The monument which marks the spot of Robert the Bruce's interred heart at Melrose Abbey. PIC Crown Copyright/ Historic Environment Scotland.

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It was the last request of Robert the Bruce that his heart be carried to Jerusalem by his most esteemed companion following his death.

On this day. Sir James Douglas - also known as Black Douglas - died on this day in 1330 while carrying out his friend’s final wish.

Black Douglas was a Scottish knight and feudal lord who rose to become one of the most revered commanders during the Wars of Scottish Independence.

King Robert, who died in 1329, requested that Black Douglas carry his heart to the Holy Land, and deposit it in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.

Placed in a silver casket, King Robert’s embalmed heart was hung around his friend’s neck as Black Douglas set sail on the mission with an entourage of knights, squires and gentlemen.

It was a journey of peace that was to take a tragic, fatal turn.

READ MORE: Robert the Bruce: myths busted

The men, who were joined by more supporters in Flanders, incorporated a stop in Spain after hearing of a crusade by Alfonso XI of Castile against Muslims of Granada.

Black Douglas and his men joined Alfonso’s army after arriving in Seville and were to soon come into contact with the Moors near Teba, a castle on the frontier of Andalucia.

The battle came to a swift, satisfactory conclusion for Alfonso but, not being fully aware of the mode of warfare, Black Douglas found himself deserted by his men.

READ MORE: Robert the Bruce’s cooking pan ‘found’ at Bannockburn

After attempting to rescue another comrade who had become separated, Black Douglas was surrounded by a rallying cluster of Moors.

He tossed the silver casket and heart into the thick of the battle and shouted: ‘Now pass thou onward before us, as thou wast wont, and I will follow thee or die.’

Black Douglas was slain with his body and King Robert’s heart later found on the battlefield and brought back to Scotland.

The heart was finally interred under the high altar of Melrose Abbey, where it remains today.

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