2 min read

Robert the Bruce didn’t have leprosy and here’s his face to prove it 2

a clay reconstruction of a medieval man

The Bruce reconstructed. Courtesy Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

The Stirling Smith Art Gallery has unveiled a reconstructed head of King Robert the Bruce, victor of Bannockburn, which they say proves he didn’t suffer from leprosy

Ever since his victory at the Battle of Bannockburn and his reign as the first King of Scotland independent from England, the life and legend of King Robert the Bruce, (1274 – 1329), has been picked over and debated.

One of the more contentious propositions has been the suggestion that the Scottish national hero may have had the disfiguring, contagious disease, leprosy.

Now a Canadian bio-archaeologist Andrew Nelson and trained forensic sculptor Christian Corbet from Western University have united to rest the persistent 700-year-old burr in Scotland’s thistle.

With the blessing of the great King’s descendants and based on evidence taken from a cast of the King’s skull the pair have worked on a clay bust of the Bruce that they say proves the skull shows no signs of leprosy, despite contemporary and later rumours Robert the Bruce had the disease.

Leprosy may have lost some of its stigma in recent years and is curable with medications, but it was a different story in the 1300s.

“In those days, if you wanted to come up with the worst thing you could say to someone, it was, ‘you leper,’” says Prof. Nelson. “With just that word, you could besmirch a person and his legacy.”

But in his examination, Nelson has determined King Robert I did not show the tell-tale suite of signs of the disease. “That ‘leprosy’ diagnosis was made on the basis of something that wasn’t there during his life,” he says.

a photo of a man in a potters linen coat using a sculpting tool on a bust of a man with a medieval haircut

Robert the Bruce reconstructed by Christian Corbet.

Robert the Bruce died in 1329 after 23 years as king. His remains were accidentally exhumed in 1818 and, before being re-interred forever in a thick tar, officials made a plaster cast of his skull.

Nelson examined a plaster cast of a skull the family had lent to sculptor Christian Corbet to explore whether previous depictions of King Robert that showed him disfigured by leprosy were based on forensic evidence or were based merely on centuries-old rivals’ rumours.

Nelson notes that the bone around the nose area, the anterior nasal spine, is teardrop-shaped as it would be in a healthy person. In someone with leprosy, that bone would have eroded to a more circular shape.

He also examined images of a metatarsal bone, which should have been pencil-shaped at one end if Robert the Bruce suffered from leprosy. It was normal.

The exhumed skull, even 490 years after his death, was whole and as healthy-looking as anyone’s.

Some analysts have speculated that four missing front teeth as shown in the cast would suggest a deformation that was common in leprosy. But contemporary reports say the exhumed skull, even 490 years after his death, was whole and as healthy-looking as anyone’s. Nelson believes the plaster-casting process broke teeth already decayed by periodontal disease.

Nelson also worked with internationally recognized paleo-pathologist and leprosy expert Dr. Olivier Dutour of France and Dr. Stan Kogon, a professor specializing in forensic dentistry at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, on the analysis. The report is under review by the International Journal of Paleopathology.

The analysis has enabled Corbet to shape a bust that shows King Robert without the skin lesions common in leprosy. The bust, on a plinth made of an oak believed to have been planted by Robert the Bruce himself, was unveiled at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery in March near where the small forces of Robert the Bruce routed the larger and better-equipped English army at Bannockburn in 1314.

stdClass Object
(
    [name] => Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum
    [otherNames] => Array
        (
            [0] => Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum
            [1] => The Stirling Smith
            [2] => The Smith
            [3] => The Smith Institute
        )

    [description] => Founded with the Bequest of Thomas Stuart Smith (1814-1869), the Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum opened in 1874.
Built in the Italianate style & designed by John Lessels, the museum stands within its own grounds below Stirling Castle.
The Smith provides Stirling with a museum service and a focus for the historical & cultural life of its people.
    [legalStatus] => Charitable
    [url] => Array
        (
            [0] => stdClass Object
                (
                    [qualifier] => Web Site
                    [url] => www.smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk
                    [description] => 
                )

        )

    [email] => Array
        (
            [0] => stdClass Object
                (
                    [address] => museum@smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk
                    [description] => 
                )

        )

    [telephone] => Array
        (
            [0] => stdClass Object
                (
                    [number] => 01786 471917
                    [description] => 
                )

        )

    [fax] => Array
        (
        )

    [addressStreet] => 40 Albert Place
Dumbarton Road
    [addressTown] => Stirling
    [addressCounty] => Stirling and Falkirk
    [addressPostcode] => FK8 2RQ
    [addressCountry] => Scotland
    [latitude] => 56.118944494025556
    [longitude] => -3.9461936759186074
    [openingHours] => Tues-Sat 10.30-17.00
Sun 14.00-17.00

Closed: Mondays
    [charges] => Admission Free
    [discounts] => Array
        (
        )

    [facility] => Array
        (
            [0] => Auditorium
            [1] => Baby changing facilities
            [2] => Cafeteria
            [3] => Children's play area
            [4] => Education facilities available
            [5] => Facilities for private functions and events
            [6] => Gardens open to public
            [7] => Mail order service available
            [8] => Meeting room available
            [9] => Object study facilities available (enquire in advance)
            [10] => Picnic area
            [11] => Reception and lunch facilities for educational groups
            [12] => Refreshments
            [13] => Shop
            [14] => Toilets for disabled
            [15] => Wheelchair access to all public areas
            [16] => Wheelchairs available for loan
        )

    [facilitiesInformation] => Bona fide researchers may make appointments to view works or artefacts not on public display.
    [keyArtistOrExhibit] => Array
        (
            [0] => Thomas Stuart Smith (1814-1869): The Pipe of Freedom
            [1] => Johannes Vosterman (1643-1699) : Stirling in the Time of the Stuarts
            [2] => Hugh Howard(1675-1737): Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli
            [3] => Cosmo Alexander (1742-1772): Portrait of Charles Edward Stuart
            [4] => Sir Joshua Reynolds(1723-92): Portrait of Harriet Dutens
            [5] => Collection of English watercolours 18th-19th centuries.
            [6] => Collection of oil studies by Sir George Harvey (1806-1876)
            [7] => Collection of topographical views of Stirling
            [8] => Representative works by the founders of the Scottish School, Glasgow Boys, Cambuskenneth artists and other local artists.
            [9] => Pre-historic whale bones
            [10] => Medieval pottery
            [11] => Rare 15th century Figure of Justice
            [12] => Jacobite collections
            [13] => The Stirling Jug - standard Scots measure
            [14] => Cloak & axe of the Stirling Hangman (19th century)
            [15] => World War 2 Dolls House
        )

    [collections] => Array
        (
            [0] => Agriculture
            [1] => Archaeology
            [2] => Archives
            [3] => Aviation
            [4] => Coins and Medals
            [5] => Costume and Textiles
            [6] => Decorative and Applied Art
            [7] => Fine Art
            [8] => Industry
            [9] => Land Transport
            [10] => Law and Order
            [11] => Literature
            [12] => Maritime
            [13] => Medicine
            [14] => Music
            [15] => Natural Sciences
            [16] => Performing Arts
            [17] => Personalities
            [18] => Photography
            [19] => Religion
            [20] => Science and Technology
            [21] => Social History
            [22] => Sport
            [23] => Toys and Hobbies
            [24] => Trade and Commerce
            [25] => Weapons and War
            [26] => World Cultures
        )

    [collectionsDescription] => The original Bequest includes paintings by British & European artists of the 19th centuries, as well as a major collection of works by the founder T.S. Smith.
The fine art collection has been enhanced by gifts, donations & purchases since 1874, and now includes work by Scottish artists from 19th century to the present.
Other aspects of the collection are Scottish & local history, archaeology, costume, numismatics, ethnography & natural history.
    [collectionsDescriptionGraphic] => 
    [constituentInstitution] => Array
        (
        )

    [lea] => Stirling
    [regionalAgency] => Scotland
    [service] => Array
        (
            [0] => Academic publications and resources available
            [1] => Activities for pre-school children
            [2] => Adult lectures and courses held
            [3] => Brochure or leaflet available with directions to museum
            [4] => Events and resources for children and families
            [5] => Foreign language leaflet or brochure available
            [6] => General guide to collections available
            [7] => Induction loops in lecture theatres
            [8] => Information point provided
            [9] => Loan service
            [10] => Object identification and/or written enquiry service
            [11] => Pre-booking service for groups
            [12] => Specialist publications on collections available
            [13] => Touch exhibits
        )

    [travelDirections] => From junction 10 on the M9 follow the signs for Stirling Castle which will be on your left. You will pass the museum as you enter the built up area of the city.
    [contentTag] => Array
        (
            [0] => Your Paintings (52)
            [1] => Handmade in Britain (29)
            [2] => Stirling and Falkirk
            [3] => local history
            [4] => medals
            [5] => pottery
            [6] => zoology
            [7] => order
            [8] => law
            [9] => arms and armour
            [10] => World War II
            [11] => textile
            [12] => watercolour
            [13] => oil
            [14] => portrait
            [15] => costume
            [16] => Gallery & Museum
            [17] => sport
            [18] => religion
            [19] => agriculture
            [20] => Music (art)
            [21] => textile (Craft)
            [22] => medieval
            [23] => Transport
            [24] => Literary History
            [25] => Archaeology
            [26] => Scotland
            [27] => Archives
            [28] => Air transport
            [29] => insignia
            [30] => Art
            [31] => Industrial History
            [32] => Road transport
            [33] => Water transport
            [34] => medicine
            [35] => Earth sciences
            [36] => Performing Arts
            [37] => Personalities
            [38] => Photography
            [39] => Science and Nature
            [40] => Social History
            [41] => recreation
            [42] => Trade and Commerce
            [43] => Military History
            [44] => World Cultures
            [45] => Countryfile (7)
            [46] => Hands on History (3)
            [47] => Springwatch/Autumnwatch (5)
            [48] => Your Paintings PCF
            [49] => Genius of Invention (54)
            [50] => Harvest (56)
            [51] => Stargazing LIVE 2014 (27)
            [52] => World War One (62)
            [53] => KIMM
            [54] => Show Me
            [55] => Bang Goes the Theory (9)
            [56] => Great British Sewing Bee (44)
            [57] => The Sky at Night (72)
            [58] => Nature
            [59] => First World War Centenary
            [60] => Accredited Museum
            [61] => Mu_Cr
        )

    [type] => Array
        (
            [0] => Museum
            [1] => Gallery
            [2] => Library
            [3] => Garden, parklands or rural site
        )

    [link] => http://www.culture24.org.uk/sc000192
    [graphicUrl] => http://www.culture24.org.uk/asset_arena/9/83/95/559389/v0_thumb.jpg
    [priorityNumber] => 2001051100
    [modificationDate] => 20/09/2016
    [publicationDate] => 11/05/2001
    [relevance] => 10
    [uniqueID] => SC000192
)

venue

Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

Stirling, Stirling and Falkirk

Founded with the Bequest of Thomas Stuart Smith (1814-1869), the Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum opened in 1874. Built in the Italianate style & designed by John Lessels, the museum stands within its own grounds below Stirling Castle. The Smith provides Stirling with a museum service and a focus…

Save

Save

popular on Museum Crush

2 comments on “Robert the Bruce didn’t have leprosy and here’s his face to prove it

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *