The black rood of Scotland: A social and political life

Julianna Grigg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The Black Rood of Scotland was a Christian royal reliquary intimately connected to the secular realm of medieval warfare and the bitter skirmishes between the Scots and English. While no longer extant, the palm-sized gold cross with its relic of the True Cross has left a documentary presence that details a rich and active biography. Imbued with the identities of its owners, the Black Rood began its documented life in the pseudo-hagiographies of Queen Margaret and King David of Scotland. It was appropriated by Edward I of England, returned to the Scots, and finally taken from David II on a Durham battlefield. It participated in some of the most fraught periods of medieval Scottish and English relations during which it was transformed from miracle-worker to a symbol of oppression. Over the course of its “life,” it became an actor in the performance of royal virtue, communal identity, and the negotiation of sovereignty. In its afterlife it remains identified with concepts of nationhood which continue to resonate and define the way royal artefacts like the Black Rood are memorialized. The documentary records of the Rood provide a rare opportunity to observe a medieval relic in action within its social and cultural space. This paper examines how and in what ways the Black Rood acquired and exhibited agency and displayed its capacity to affect, provoke and evoke social and political meaning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-78
Number of pages26
JournalViator - Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Black rood
  • David of Scotland
  • Edward I
  • England
  • Life of St Margaret
  • Materiality
  • Relics
  • Robert Wishart
  • Scotland
  • True cross

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