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The de Brus Project


There is an extremely important local, regional and national artefact lying in St. Nicholas' Parish Church, Guisborough. This Cenotaph is a large black marble edifice dating from the 16th century which has intricate carvings, including English Knights on one side and Scottish Knights on the other, with many specific iconographic references in between. It was possibly given by Queen Margaret, wife of James VI of Scotland and sister of Henry VIII of England as a gesture of reconciliation between the warring kingdoms.

The De Brus family were powerful Norman nobles - Robert de Brus I came over from France soon after the Norman Conquest. He was given enormous amounts of land in the North of England and Southern Scotland, and chose to make Skelton in Cleveland and Guisborough his home. Guisborough Priory was founded about 1119 by Robert de Brus ll, and was the spiritual home of the family. All important members of the family were buried there, including the Scottish Bruces. The last to be buried there was Robert the Competitor, grandfather of Scottish King Robert the Bruce. The present Queen Elizabeth is descended from the De Brus family through the Stuart line.

The Cenotaph was brought into the Church for safekeeping at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but broken up and used in mock ruins in the 18th century, and reassembled in 1907. The end piece, thought to be King Robert the Bruce, is missing, hence our local “Quest for the King”, by which we hope to galvanize the local population into taking more interest in their unique history and heritage.

The English Knights


The Scottish Knights

The De Brus Trail

As part of our campaign we have joined forces with Prior Pursglove College to develop a Trail to link all local sites of De Brus importance for the 700th anniversary of the Clan Bruce in 2014.

The Trail starts at St. Hilda’s Church on the Headland at Hartlepool where the Scottish Bruces were given land. Next comes Yarm which was an important medieval trading port for the de Brus lands, exporting large amounts of wool, an important source of wealth for the Family. 

Guisborough and its magnificent Priory, built in 1119, is the next stop and the spiritual heart of the story with the Cenotaph and its mysterious missing end piece and our 'Quest for a King'. 

Then on to Skelton in Cleveland which was the site of the main De Brus stronghold and while most of the Castle is now gone the view across the De Brus lands and Tees Bay is  definitely worth a visit. Castleton in the North York Moors is the site of the first temporary castle and Danby with its Castle is still of great significance within the De Brus lands. From there the Trail returns to the coast to the picturesque village of Staithes where the story again unites the Scottish and English branches of the family in the tales of the De Seatons, servants to both sides, saving the life of a Bruce in battle. For more information on the De Brus Trail click here

As well as local work in schools, giving talks and attending local events we are building contacts with interested academics such as Dr. Julian Luxford and Ruth Blakely, who has written an outstanding book on the De Brus dynasty. Representatives of the De Brus Project Group will be attending the 2014 700th anniversary of the Clan Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn. We hope to be part of the itinerary for Bruce Clan visitors from all over the country and abroad, particularly America. The Bruce Trail from Dumfries takes in the Scottish side of the story and we have their blessing to develop the North of England side of the Trail.

A new pamphlet has been produced to support the de Brus Trail website. It has been designed by Prior Pursglove students with the help of Hannah Clarke of the MVDA. We also feature in the North Yorks Moors National Park 'Out and About' booklet which is a free download from their website. Other contacts include the Leeds Armouries, Durham and Teesside Universities, Dunfermline with its famous Bruce Festival and last, but not least, Bruce Castle in Tottenham, London.

Our links to North Yorkshire are strong but we are seeking to develop this further by developing ‘loops’ to the Trail to include the Helmsley, York and Scarborough areas where so much of the De Brus story is played out although the Guisborough area remains at the centre of the tale as the base of the dynasty. As an example, the Battle of Byland in 1322 was where history was nearly overturned when King Edward II was almost captured by King Robert the Bruce and after fleeing Rievaulx and Bridlington sought sanctuary in York. According to Lord Elgin who is Chief of the Clan Bruce and Lord of Skelton, this battle should rank alongside Bannockburn as one of the most decisive battles in history.

Guisborough's position, geographically, economically and historically dictates that it should be recognised as "The Northern Gateway to the North Yorks Moors".  We would be very grateful if you would help us to spread our “Quest for the King “ and help us in our aim of bringing this story of the medieval world to life.


Sheila Atherton (Chair of the De Brus Project- Guisborough).


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