Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is Robert the Bruce's 1310 sword in an attic in Fermanagh?

HEN M 282 1933 1 Above: an Edwarded Prins Anglie sword, from the collection of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

In 1696, William Montgomery, author/compiler of The Montgomery Manuscripts, was visiting his relative Hugh Montgomery at Derrygonnelly in County Fermanagh. The house had previously belonged to Sir John Dunbar, the high sheriff of County Fermanagh, who had settled in the county in 1615. Hugh Montgomery (1651–1722) was a captain in the army of William III, and had married Dunbar's granddaughter and heiress, Katherine. One of Sir John Dunbar's ancestors, Patrick III, Earl of Dunbar (1213–1289) had married Christiana Bruce (1246–1275), aunt of King Robert the Bruce. So the Dunbars were Scottish aristocracy with a Bruce connection. Here's where it gets interesting… During his three night visit in 1696, William Montgomery wrote that he had seen:

"… a rarity att that house, to witt, a two-edged sword of excellent metall (which this Hugh never caused to be made) … I am of the opinion that no smith in Ireland can forge soe good a blade … the sword is inscribed on ye right hand side of ye blade thus – Robert Bruscius, Scotorus Rex, 1310, and on ye reverse side Pro Christo et Patria D:ER …"
In the mid 1800s a search for the sword was carried out but with no success, and in 1867 a letter appeared in The Scotsman and The Northern Whig, appealing for its whereabouts. In 1899, the sword surfaced and was brought to the Society of Antiquaries in London, but they cast doubt on its authenticity. Charles Alexander, the Baron de Cosson, and a Fellow of the Society, thought that the sword wasn't old enough to be from the time of Bruce. He thought it closely resembled 17th century swords inscribed by Edwardus Prins Anglie. I can't find any other record of the sword since then. I think that folklore is often more valuable that verifiable history, in that folklore reveals what people want to believe and is an insight into their values and aspirations. Forgery or not, presumably the sword is out there somewhere and whoever owns it today is the custodian of an important Ulster-Scots artefact.  

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