The legend of Bruce’s brooch

The Brooch of Lorn. Photograph: National Museums Scotland

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King Robert Bruce’s brooch has become legendary in the area around Oban.

For many years it has been in the safe keeping of the MacDougall family. John MacDougall, Lord of Lorne, was related by marriage to John Comyn, or Red Comyn, the Guardian of Scotland.

In February 1306, Bruce murdered Comyn at Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, causing the MacDougalls to join sides with the English forces. Alexander of Lorne and Bruce fought at Dalrigh, the king’s field near Tyndrum, in August that same year.

A short, fierce battle ensued and, legend has it, it was during this time Bruce’s brooch was snatched. It was torn from his breast by a MacDougall when they were engaged in hand to hand combat.

However, he lost his footing and would have been killed had it not been for two clansmen. They grabbed the king’s plaid and dragged him off him.

Bruce turned his attention to them and killed them, but MacDougall survived as Bruce retreated, having seen more men coming towards him.

During the Civil War in the mid-17th century, Gylen Castle on the island of Kerarra was plundered, burned and seized by a detachment of the Cromwellian army sent to Argyllshire in 1647 under General Leslie. At this time Bruce’s brooch was held at Gylen and fell into the hands of Campbell of Inverawe, then serving in the unit of Colonel James Montgomery’s Regiment of Foot.

The brooch remained in the care of the Campbells until the 1820s when it was sold at auction in London by family members of the Campbells of Bragleen to General Duncan Campbell of Lochnell. He had it restored and presented it back to the MacDougalls in October 1824.

It is said to be the finest specimen of Scottish-Scandinavian art in Britain and is one of Scotland’s most important historical artefacts.