Bruce’s dead heir

Restenneth’s impressive tower adds grandeur to the modest simplicity of the structure that albeit many additons still feels very much 12th century. It is certainly one of the oldest churches in Scotland.

© Graveyards of Scotland Angus Bruce's dead heir

The Picts

© Graveyards of Scotland Angus Bruce's dead heirAngus is the heart of the land of the Picts. If you know where to look, you’ll find their traces everywhere. On this small knoll might have stood a Pictish place of worship, an earlier church. It is common in Scotland, that Christian buildings were erected at places of ancient worship.

© Graveyards of Scotland Angus Bruce's dead heirThe King of the Picts in the early 8th century was Nechtan mac Derile who soon in his reign lost  power and status to the Northumbrians. Their religious influence on this area that is now known as Angus was considerable. Churches were built, all dedicated to Saint Peter. Nechtan sent a letter to the abbot Ceolfrith of Monkwearmouth in Durham asking for masons who could built in the Roman style. The church of Restenneth was dedicated and also to Saint Peter. Many believe that the foundations of the tower are Pictish masonry. No Pictish symbol stone have been found in the grounds.

© Graveyards of Scotland Angus Bruce's dead heir

The Bruce

Restenneth church became a priory after King Malcom IV dedicated it to the Augustinians of Jedburgh Abbey in 1153. It was destroyed during the early days of the Wars of Independence. The victorious Robert the Bruce, who had destroyed Forfar castle and maybe even the Priory itself, now granted money for its restoration. An act of redemption?

© Graveyards of Scotland Angus Bruce's dead heir


Restenneth is the burial place of a prince. And not just any prince but a possible monarch of Scotland. Robert the Bruce, generous patron of the priory, buried is young son John here. John was his second child by his second wife Elisabeth de Burgh. The baby was born in October 1327 and died in infancy, not long before the death of his father. The rest of Robert the Bruce’s family is buried in Dunfermline Abbey. But not John. Why?

© Graveyards of Scotland Angus Bruce's dead heirSome historians believe that John was the older of two twin sons born to the King. The younger twin David survived and followed his father to the throne. He was the only male heir to a king who was already in his fifties when he was born. Robert the Bruce had several illegitimate sons but by his two wives he had had only daughters.

The son who could have been king was interred here. There are no traces left of his grave.


The destruction

After the reformation Restenneth was turned into a burial place. George Dempster of Dunnichen bought it and turned the choir into a graveyard for his family.

During and after the Jacobite rebellion the priory was partly destroyed by troops using it as barracks, later it was used to house cattle.

The engraving of a smiley on one of the slab stones is probably even older than the Jacobite Risings. A smile in stone, cheery marker of death.

© Graveyards of Scotland Angus Bruce's dead heir

During the last century open air services were conducted in the ruins, access is free.

Liked the read? There’s more here…

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.

© Graveyards of Scotland Angus Bruce's dead heirsources and further reading:

Undiscovered Scotland

Scottish Churches


Richard Oram: The Kings and Queens of Scotland. The Mill, Tempus; 2004 p. 34 ,132


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