The Lee Penny by Unknown

The story of the Lee Penny is full of historic interest, and the legends respecting it furnished Sir Walter Scott with some incidents for his novel the “Talisman.”

This amulet is a stone of a deep red colour and triangular shape, in size about half-an-inch on each side, and is set in a silver coin. The various accounts which have come under our notice are agreed that this curious relic of antiquity has been in the Lee family since a period immediately after the death of King Robert the Bruce.

The monarch was nearing his end, and as he lay on his death-bed, he was much troubled for having failed to visit in person the Holy Land to assist in the Crusade. His long war with the English had rendered it impossible for him to leave his kingdom to fight in a foreign land, even in the cause of religion.

Sir James Douglas, his tried and trusty friend, stood beside the bed of his king, and was in sore distress. As a last request the king implored that as soon as possible after his soul had left his body Douglas would take his heart to Jerusalem. On the honour of a knight, Sir James faithfully promised to discharge the trust.

The king died in 1329, and his heart was enclosed in a silver case. Sir James suspended it from his neck with a chain, and without delay gathered round him a suitable retinue, and made his way towards the Holy Land. He was not destined to reach that country, for on his route the intelligence reached him that Alphonso, King of Leon and Castile, was waging war with the Moorish chief, Osmyn of Granada. To assist the Christians, he felt it was his duty, and in accordance with the dying charge of his king. With courage he engaged in the fray, but was soon surrounded by horsemen, and he who had fought so long and bravely, realised that he must meet his doom far from the country he loved so well. He made a desperate effort to escape. The precious casket he took from his neck and threw it before him, saying, “Onward, as thou were wont, thou noble heart! Douglas will follow thee.” He followed it and was slain. After the battle was over the brave knight was found resting on the heart of Bruce. The mortal remains of the valiant knight were carried back to his home and buried in his church of St. Bride, at Douglas.

The heart of Bruce was entrusted to Sir Simon Locard, and by him borne back to Scotland, and at last found a resting-place beneath the high altar of Melrose Abbey, and its site is still pointed out. Mrs. Hemans wrote a charming poem on Bruce’s heart in Melrose Abbey, commencing:—

“Heart! that did’st press forward still,
Where the trumpet’s note rang shrill;
Where the knightly swords are crossing,
And the plumes like sea-foam tossing,
Leader of the charging spear,
Fiery heart! and liest thou here?
May this narrow spot inurn
Aught that could so beat and burn?”

We are told the family name of Locard was changed to Lockheart, or Lockhart, from the circumstance of Sir Simon having carried the key of the casket, and was granted as armorial insignia, heart with a fetter-lock, with the motto, “Corda serrata pando.” According to a contributor to Chambers’s “Book of Days,” v., 2, p. 415, from the same incident, the Douglases bear a human heart, imperially crowned, and have in their possession an ancient sword, emblazoned with two hands holding a heart, and dated 1329, the year Bruce died.

Lockhart was not daunted at the failure of the first attempt to reach Jerusalem, and, in company with such Scottish knights as escaped the fate of their leader, they once more proceeded, and arrived in the Holy Land, and for some time fought in the wars against the Saracens.

The following adventure is said to have befallen him. He made prisoner in battle an Emir of wealth and note. The aged mother of his captive came to the Christian camp to save her son from his captivity. Lockhart fixed the price at which his prisoner should ransom himself; and the lady, pulling out a large embroidered purse, proceeded to tell down the amount. In this operation, a pebble inserted in a coin, some say of the lower empire, fell out of the purse, and the Saracen matron testified so much haste to recover it as to give the Scottish knight a high idea of its value. “I will not consent,” he said, “to grant your son’s liberty unless the amulet be added to the ransom.” The lady not only consented to this, but explained to Sir Simon the mode in which the talisman was to be used. The water in which it was dipped operated as a styptic, or a febrifuge, and the amulet possessed several other properties as a medical talisman.

Sir Simon Lockhart, after much experience of the wonders which it wrought, brought it to his own country, and left it to his heirs, by whom, and by Clyde side in general, it was, and is still, distinguished by the name of the Lee Penny, from the name of his native seat of Lee.

Its virtues were brought into operation by dropping the stone in water which was afterwards given to the diseased to drink, washing at the same time the part affected. No words were used in dipping the stone, or money permitted to be taken by the servants of Lee. People came from all parts of Scotland, and many places in England, to carry away the water to give to their cattle.

Some interesting information respecting this amulet appears in an account of the Sack and Siege of Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1644. “As one of the natural sequences,” says the writer, “of prolonged distress, caused by this brave but foolhardy defence against overwhelming odds, the plague broke out with fatal violence in Newcastle and Gateshead, as well as Tynemouth and Shields, during the following year. Great numbers of poor people were carried off by it; while tents were erected on Bensham Common, to which those infected were removed; and the famous Lee Penny was brought out of Scotland to be dipped in water for the diseased persons to drink, and the result said to be a perfect cure. The inhabitants (that is to say, the Corporation, we presume), gave a bond for a large sum in trust for the loan; and they thought the charm did so much good, that they offered to pay the money down, and keep the marvellous penny with a stone in which it is inserted; but the proprietor, Lockhart of Lee, would not part with it.”

We are told that many years ago a remarkable cure is alleged to have been performed on Lady Baird of Sauchton Hall, near Edinburgh, who, having been bitten by a mad dog, was seized with hydrophobia. The Lee Penny was sent for, and she used it for some weeks, drinking and bathing in the water it had been dipped in, and she quite recovered.

“The most remarkable part of the history,” as Sir Walter Scott says, “perhaps was, that it so especially escaped condemnation when the Church of Scotland chose to impeach many other cures which savoured of the miraculous, as occasioned by sorcery, and censured the appeal of them, ‘excepting only the amulet called the Lee Penny, to which it pleased God to annex certain healing virtues, which the Church did not presume to condemn.’”

The Lee Penny is preserved at Lee House, in Lanarkshire, the residence of the present representative of the family.