In 1329, King Robert the Bruce of Scots (1306-1329), on his death bed,
insisted that after his death, his friend the 'Good
Sir James' Douglas should cut out his heart and carry it in a casket on a
pilgrimage to the holy lands. Douglas did as he was commanded and, in 1330, he,
along with the Sinclairs of Roslin and Keith the Marishal with several other
Lords of note, set sail for the holy lands.
Unfortunately they only got as far as southern Spain, where they became
embroiled in the battle of Teba besieging the Moorish castle of the Star on
behalf of their new found Spanish allies. During the battle the Moors feinted a
retreat drawing Douglas and his knights into an ambush. The Spanish were wise to
such tactics and did not follow Douglas into the trap. Somehow, Douglas was able
to fight his way clear but turned back into the fray on seeing Sinclair
encircled by the Moors and about to be slain.
Historians have debated as to why the Moors picked on Sinclair as a prime
target rather than Douglas who was certainly the most important Scottish knight
present. It appears the Moors, though an extremely intelligent society, were
totally ignorant to the significance of western heraldry. They were used to
fighting English knights with red crosses on their surcoats and shields and
French knights with white crosses. So when Douglas came along with three stars
on his coat this meant nothing to them, whereas Sinclair had a great black cross
on his surcoat and shield. He must be a really important leader.
As Sinclair fell under many blows, Douglas, realising he too was about to
die, tore the casket containing Bruce's heart from around his neck and threw it
at the Moors, following his king into battle for one last time.
Soon after, the Castle of the Star was taken by the Spanish/Scots forces.
Both Douglas and Sinclairs's bodies were recovered, along with Bruce's heart
which was taken home to Scotland and buried at Melrose
Abbey where it remains to this day.
The following comments have been received from Jack Fotune, via
With regard to the account of the battle of Teba on this site, and the
possible significance of William Sinclair's coat of arms, I though I would
offer the observation that during the three hundred years or so that
chivalric heraldry had been evolving in western Christendom, Granadan forces
would have become familiar with the range of heraldic devices worn by
Christian knights in Spain and by the occasional 'Stranger Knights' who,
like Douglas, from time to time joined them from France, England and
elsewhere. They would also have been familiar with the crosses worn by the
various Spanish military Orders. It seems they had even started developing a
heraldic system of their own. It does not seem that wearing a cross for a
blazon excited particular hostility on the part of the Moorish soldiers. It
can't have been a rare sight, although the Berber 'Volunteers of the Faith'
from Morocco, who possibly formed the principal part of the relief force
brought up to Teba by the emir Uthman, appear to have been particularly
militant defenders of Muslim territory against the encroaching Christians.
In any case, there is no suggestion in our one C14th source that includes
the incident (John Barbour's 'Brus,' Book 20) that Sir William Sinclair was
singled out by the Moors. He may simply have been hindmost in the hasty
withdrawal back to the main body of Christian troops, or just unlucky. The
story of the thrown heart is a literary invention that appeared much later.
According to the earliest version ('Buk of the Howlatt', Richard Holland)
Douglas is shown repeating this stunt during a succession of battles before
he is killed, as Holland tells the story, fighting in Palestine (He makes no
mention of Spain). It was later adapted and inserted into Barbour's 'Brus'
as a gesture Douglas made to encourage his men at the start of the battle in
Spain. It appears to have been Walter Scott who in 'Tales of A Grandfather'
added the final embellishment of Douglas throwing the Heart in extremis,
although the story appeared anonymously ten years previously in Encyclopedia
Brittanica, (5th Edition) published in Scotland in 1817. Since the Scots
died fighting the Granadan relief force from Malaga, their bodies were
recovered almost immediately. There was no need to wait till the castle
fell. With only one named knight left alive, Sir William Keith of Galston
who had been kept from the fatal battle by a broken arm, it would seem that
the survivors may even have left before the castle fell a few days later. In
any case they would have been occupied in preparing the dead knights'
remains for transport home (See 'Brus' Book 20). By the way, the 'Castle of
the Star' is a name that appears to have evolved after the Reconquista.
Nobody seems to be able to say when (research needed), and sadly, the fine
castle keep included in Andrew Spratt's paintings is now thought, according
to the museum at Teba Castle, to date from the Christian occupation period
Jack Fotune makes additional suggestions, which can be
fifteenth century depiction of the Battle between Alphonse XI and Muhammad