The “Tomb” of Marjory Bruce

Today withing the Choir of Paisley Abbey sits the “Tomb” of Marjory Bruce, daughter of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland and wife of Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland.

While researching a Walter Stewart for a chapter in ‘Conquered by No One’ on the Declaration of Arbroath, my attention was once again drawn to Marjory.

Marjory was Robert Bruce’s only daughter of Robert Bruce and Isabella of Mar. She was born around 1296. In 1306, Robert sent his wife, daughter and other female members of his family to the North of Scotland for safety. Unfortunatly they were captured and sent South to Edward of England, who was then at Lanercost Priory in Cumberland.    Elizabeth de Burgh , Bruce’s second wife, was placed under house arrest in a manor house in Yorkshire along and Marjory was sent to the Gilbertine Nunnery at Watton.

Following the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Walter Stewart was sent to England to negotiate for the released of Elizabeth de Burgh, Marjory, and others including the Bishop of Glasgow. Walter was successful, and he escorted the group back to Scotland.

Within a year Marjory had married Walter, gaining her hand no doubt due to his actions at the Battle of Bannockburn and in the successful release of the prisoners from England.

Spending a lot of time with Walter in the Castle of Renfrew, Marjory fell pregnant. At this point in time in Medieval Europe it would be common for a lady of her status to be confined to here rooms within the Castle, or within quarters at the local Monastery for her own safety during pregnancy. So the story I’m about to tell must be taken as local folklore –

It is said that while out hunting or riding near the ‘Knock’ what was a low hill between Paisley and Renfrew, (now the site of Gallowhill Housing Estate) Marjory fell from her horse, possibly breaking bones in her neck. It is said that Monks from Paisley Abbey tended her, and seeing that her life was in danger, performed a cesarean birth, bringing her son Robert Stewart, later to be King Robert II of Scotland, into the world. Within a few hours, Marjory had died of her injuries. Her body was buried within the Monastery of Paisley along with the remains of all of the other High Stewards of Scotland and their families.

Burials of the Fitz Alans

All of the High Stewards of Scotland from the founder of Abbey were buried withing the Monastery of Paisley. Today we have two memorials within the Choir of the Abbey, one for Marjory Bruce and one for King Robert III, her grandson. But it is most likely that they were not buried within the Priory/ Abbey building at all.

The earliest burial recorded for the family is c.1177, 15 years after the foundation charter was signed at Fotheringhay Castle. By 1177 the initial monastic buildings (built of timber) would have been constructed. these would most likely have included a chapel, hospital, dormitory and kitchens – enough to keep the community of 13 monks sheltered while construction of the main Priory buildings proceeded.

A charter of 1177 by Eschina, Walter Fitz Alan, 1st High Steward of Scotland’s wife says :

… Margaret, the daughter to my soul, and such as they Paisley in the chapter lies, and was buried…

Register of the Monastery of Paisley, p74 forgive my crude translation. See end for the full charter in Latin

It would appear that Walter & Eschina’s daughter, Margaret had died at a young age and was buried within the Monastery of Paisley. The charter refers to the Chapter of Paisley. This could refer to the Chapter House, roughly where the shop is today within the Abbey. It is more likely though the early Chapter House would have been elsewhere, maybe not even constructed by then. It is fairly possible that Margaret’s burial may have taken place in the Lady Chapel which would have been close to the Hospital. I’ve included a map produced by the late Philip Edward McWilliams in 1988 as part of his PhD, and highlighted the position of the Hospital and Lady Chapel below. Today the location of the Lady Chapel would be under Cotton St., close to the entrance of the Council Offices car park.

Hospital is G – Lady chapel is N (Purple)

The monument in the choir to Marjory, as pictured below, has had a chequered history. Rev Cameron Lees in his definative history of the Abbey in 1878 states:

There has been considerable controversy as to the credibility of the
tradition which assigns this tomb to Marjory Bruce

Lees, Abbey of Paisley, p221

a lot has been written about the ‘tomb’ in the Society of Antiqaries ‘Archaeologia Scotica’ published in 1822 (see link below)

http://journals.socantscot.org/index.php/arch-scot/article/view/183/181

The tomb was said to reside in the St Mirin Chapel but sometime after the reformation it was dismantled and placed within the cloister garden. The Rev Boag, then found the architectural fragments and proceeded to ‘restore’ Marjory’s tomb. It is most likely that he found fragments of architectural stonework deemed to be important that had been discovered post collapse of the tower of the Abbey, creating the tomb we know today.

In 1956 the ‘tomb’ was moved from the St Mirin chapel to the Choir of the Abbey. Images taken at the time show the scale of the stones used to create the tomb. The effigy which sits on top of the tomb, is later than the 14th Century, and probably is of another person of note in Paisley.

The surrounding stones are very reminiscent of the timber rood screen of Glasgow Cathedral the screen is shown below. In Marjory’s tomb at Paisley are we actually seeing the remains of a stone rood screen that would have divided the Nave from the Choir? I believe this may well be the case. The images below that of Glasgow Cathedral are of the tomb being De-Constructed in 1956 – the stones are more than decorative from their size – They are more structural, and would have made an impressive rood screen within Paisley Abbey.

Glasgow Cathedral. Choir, looking West (Interior) (3611637698)
De-construction of the Tomb in 1956
De-construction of the Tomb in 1956
De-construction of the Tomb in 1956
De-construction of the Tomb in 1956

1177 Charter

Register of the Monastery of Paisley, p74-75