King Robert the Bruce of Scotland

Angus McFadyen as King Robert the Bruce in the film "Braveheart"

A 20th Century Image of Bruce

Angus McFadyen portrayed Robert the Bruce in Braveheart as a confused young man, over-influenced by his scheming father. It is true that Bruce wanted to fight for Scotland but politics put him and Wallace on the opposite sides of a feud over the succession. Wallace supported the Balliol claim to the Scottish throne, whereas Bruce was convinced that his father was the rightful king.

What Still Remains -- The Heart of Robert the Bruce

Just before he died (the possible cause was leprosy), in 1329, Bruce asked that his heart should be taken out of his body, and that Sir James Douglas should carry it with him to fight against the Saracens in Spain. Douglas obeyed the king, and the heart was enclosed in a silver casket. Sir James died in battle, and the casket found under his body on the battlefield. The heart was returned to Scotland, where it was buried at Melrose Abbey.

In the archeological excavations of the Chapter House floor of Melrose Abbey, undertaken by Historic Scotland in the summer of 1996, the team investigated a lead container thought to contain King Robert the Bruce's heart which had been removed from beneath the Chapter House floor.

Under laboratory conditions a small hole was drilled into the casket and the interior investigated by a fibre-optic cable. This larger casket was then carefully opened: inside was another small conical lead casket, and an engraved copper plaque inscribed;

"The enclosed leaden casket containing a heart was found beneath Chapter House floor, March 1921, by His Majesty's Office of Works"

The smaller conical casket is about 10 inches high and 4 inches in diameter at the base tapering to a flat top about one and a half inches in diameter. Despite being pitted with age it was in remarkably good condition.

One of the investigating team from Historic Scotland, Richard Welander, said that although it was not possible to prove absolutely that it is Bruce's heart, "We can say that it is reasonable to assume that it is". There are no records of anyone else's heart being buried at Melrose.

The casket containing the heart was not opened, and remained in Edinburgh until it was buried again during a private ceremony at Melrose Abbey on 22 June 1998. On the 24th June, coinciding with the anniversary of the victory of Bruce's army over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Scottish Secretary of State, Donald Dewar, unveiled a plinth over the place in the abbey grounds where the heart is now buried.

The following item appeared in 1998 in the Scotsman newspaper:

There is a Mr. Mathews who wants a DNA check of Robert the Bruce's heart, because he believes he is the illegitimate son of the late John Talbot Fletcher, whose East Lothian estate has been reported to be valued at 300 million. After time-consuming genealogical research he is convinced that the Talbot Fletchers are descendants of the Scottish king.

The heart could be the only genetic link between Mr Matthews and the fortune. Lawyers acting for Mr Matthews have told him that if DNA testing confirmed his lineage he could be entitled to a share of the family's wealth.

Mr Matthews, 61, a car plant personnel officer from Swansea, has traced the Talbot Fletchers back to a 17th century nobleman, Sir Robert Bruce, who was said to be a direct descendant of the 14th century monarch. A local historian is now helping him to trace earlier links.

Mr Matthews said yesterday: "There still needs to be a lot of research done but this is a positive lead and I have a solicitor working for me who has proved a paternity case using DNA techniques on a body.

"The case is still continuing and I won't rest until I have proved the claim. I want recognition that I am John Talbot Fletcher's son and entitled to any rightful share of the inheritance.

"I am not going away, I am sticking with this.

All I have had from the Fletchers are threats, and I am sick of it."

Mr Matthews was born in a workhouse and was adopted soon afterwards. He later discovered that his real mother was Ivy Pinn, a maid who worked at Margam Castle, near Port Talbot, in the 1930s.

According to anecdotal evidence from local people Miss Pinn had a 12-year affair with Talbot Fletcher - known as Jock - the married master of Margam and the 11th Laird of Saltoun.

Mr Matthews believes the landowner was his father although records of his adoption have gone missing. His birth certificate stated "father unknown".

Talbot Fletcher inherited the family estates when he was 30 from his great aunt, Lady Emily Charlotte Talbot, who said in her will that he should hand over the legacy to his eldest son when he died.

However, there was no legitimate child.

A month before he died in 1995, Talbot Fletcher refused to discuss any inheritance with Mr Matthews. He also refused a blood sample and was cremated three days after his death.

Miss Pinn, who was moved to a workhouse when she became pregnant, was also cremated when she died nine years ago. Mr Matthews and his wife, Penny, of Llansamlet, Swansea, believe a DNA test on the heart is the only way to prove his inheritance.

Robert the Bruce died in 1329, a hero of the Scottish War of Independence. A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland, which has custody of the heart, said: "Any request for exhumation of the heart would be dealt with by the Secretary of State for Scotland but obviously this is a sacred piece of Scottish history and a lot of thought would have to go into moving it, let alone subjecting it to any detailed analysis."

Paul Heron, a researcher at the School of Microbiological Sciences at Swansea University, said the test was feasible: "An organ which has been kept in a lead lined casket could well be a useful subject for analysis.

"There was an exercise carried out recently in which it was proved that a man living in a village in Suffolk was a direct descendant of Bronze Age people who had been living there. This was carried out after DNA was taken from bones dating back to that time."

Mr Matthews has so far failed in an attempt to have the remains of other members of the Talbot Fletcher family exhumed from a tomb in Saltoun.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has estimated the family's holdings at over 300 million, the bulk of which are tied up in East Lothian and in Sussex.

The dynasty gave its name to the South Wales steel town of Port Talbot and derived much of its wealth from William Henry Fox Talbot, the physicist credited with pioneering photography.

Angela Fletcher, the estranged wife of the current Laird of Saltoun, said yesterday: "As far as I understand there are no links with Mr Matthews."

The Fletcher family's firm of solicitors, Mills & Reeve of Cambridge, said yesterday: "We cannot confirm or deny any family link with Robert the Bruce. Mr Matthews has so far been unsuccessful with his claim of a direct link with the family, which the family deny."

Novelist Dame Barbara Cartland might be called upon for a DNA sample. She also claims to be a descendant of Bruce.

The present clan chief of the Bruces is The Rt Hon Earl of Elgin and Kincardine.

According to Who's Who the Earl's full name is Andrew Douglas Alexander Thomas Bruce. He's the 37th Chief of the Name of Bruce, the 11th Earl of Elgin (created 1633) and the 15th Earl of Kincardine (created 1647). Date of birth 17 February 1924, which makes him 75. He has 3 sons and 2 daughters.

His address is Broomhall, Dunfermline , Scotland KY11 3DV.

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