The Pringles and the heart of Bruce

The Pringles and the heart of Bruce

by Alex Pringle, July, 1909.

In my article under this heading in the last number of the magazine I made reference to the armorial bearings of the Pringles. I should now like to quote what the Rev. S. B. James, M.A., in his book, ”Morals of Mottoes,” London, 1874, has to say on the subject. In chapter xxxv., which treats of the motto of the Pringles, he writes : —

“The Pringles of Whytbank do not tell us how the word “Sursum” came to be their motto. The word “Sursum,” I said—the sentiment “Sursum” I ought rather to have said —even although it is so decidedly a practical and so little of a sentimental motto, according to the accepted idea of the word sentimental. The Pringles translate the Latin word ”Sursum,” correctly enough, into the English word “upwards,” or “upward,” with a capital U, to denote its substantive position and signification….

The Pringle [of Whytbank] “bearings” are: —

“Arms,” on a field argent a saltier engrailed sable, charged with five scallops or; “crest,” a  man’s heart proper, winged or; “supporters.,” two pilgrims proper; motto, “Sursum.”…

The Pringles contest with the Lockharts the distinction of having guarded homeward the heart of Robert the Bruce. King Robert had designed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Laud, and having been prevented from carrying out this purposed pilgrimage, enjoined with dying breath that his heart should be thither conveyed. The leader of this high emprise

—one catches, in speaking of chivalric days, the quaint and noble language of the olden time—was “the good Lord James Douglas,” to whom the ancestor of the Pringles bore the office of “Scutifer.” On their way the Scottish warriors to whose care the precious relic was entrusted stopped awhile, at the request of Alphonso of Spain, to assist him against those Moors whose dark and somewhat mystic shadow has now and again fallen athwart the track of our British history. Bravely fought the Scottish pilgrims and soldiers, and bravely were they led by the gallant Lord James, who fell at the head of his dauntless band, leaving his mission unfulfilled, in spite of the indomitable courage with which lie had so far conducted it. The heart was, thereupon, carried home by his mourning and distressed followers, and by them deposited in Melrose Abbey.

The Pringle legend is that a Pringle was the homeward custodian of the royal heart; while Sir Walter Scott, naturally enough, assigns the guardianship to his grandson’s ancestor, Sir Simon Lockhart, both Lockharts and Pringles bearing the heart; the former as part of the arms “within a fetterlock sable,” and also pendent (gules) from a gold chain about the dexter supporter’s neck, and the latter, as aforesaid, for their crest, winged or. There is surely no reason why the two families should not divide the honour between themselves in due subordination to the bleeding heart of the Douglases.

And now for my belief, or conjecture, if that “be the more humble term, about the origin of the motto. The “sursum corda” is so well known and ancient a part of the Anglican Holy Communion Office that the connection between it and the Pringle motto, joined to the Pringle crest, seems quite an irresistible conclusion. “Lift up your hearts,” says the minister, after reading the “comfortable words” that “our Saviour Christ saith to all that truly turn to Him;” and to this “sursum corda,” this “Lift up your hearts,” the people reply, “We lift them up unto the Lord.” Now here are the wings, the heart, the “sursum.” What is the meaning of the wings, so curiously out spread from the golden heart, if they are not intended to signify “a lifting up of the heart?” Says the motto and crest, “Lift up your hearts;” and the Pringles doubtless reply, “We lift them up—to the Lord.”

Ay, that’s it. We do not merely lay them down in storied and historied Melrose, or any other abbey, church, cathedral, cloister, or cemetery. We lift them up on high. When an enquirer looks at the winged heart, and asks, ”What does it mean?” the fine old Latin at the top replies, “Why, it’s the Sursum, to be sure. Look at the heart, and look at the wings, and then lift up your heart, O stranger!”

Yes, ye Pringles of Whytbank, if any still survive, pardon the hand that would forge a holier link, holier than any link that links you to the brave Bruce’s sepulchre, or the ensanguined heart of the good Douglas, so truly loved by your faithful ancestor. Your right to the golden heart crested above the silver field may be as truly Bruce-derived as the sable fetterlock that closes upon the heart of your friendly rivals in this antique claimancy. It may be that to your ancestor, mourning with a twofold grief for sovereign and chief—for Bruce and Douglas—the thought was sent, after some devout and comfortable communion time, “Cease to busy thy heart in Melrose— lift it up, lift it up on high.” And that then it was decided to commemorate the earthly loyalty and the heavenly aspiration by the field argent, the saltier sable, the scallops or, and the golden heart. “Sursum corda.” . . .

Chapter xix. of the book is devoted to, “Jamais arriere,” “Never too late,” the motto of the Douglases, and chapter xliii. to “Corda serrata pando,” “I lay open locked hearts,” the motto of the Lockharts; and similar moral applications are deduced from them.

Alex Pringle, July, 1909.,_Lord_of_Douglas


Note by James Bruce Pringle:

I also agree that  the Pringles were Douglas supporters, being squires to the nine successive Earls of Douglas and that George Hoppringill, Douglas squire from 1425 until 1455, continued his support for the attainted Earl into the 1460s and lost both his lands and his office as Master Ranger of the Tweed Ward as a result of his continuing loyalty.

Robert Hoppringill, Douglas squire, who was killed at Verneuil in 1424 obtained from Douglas the lands of Pilmuir, Blackchester and roughly half of the Barony of Smailholm from Douglas in 1408 and despite his son and heir, David’s plea in 1432/3 ‘on bended knee’ to be confirmed in the lands of Smailholm in the presence of George Hoppringill, the Earl deferred his decision ‘for a while’ and later confirmed David in the lands in 1450, some 26 years after David’s father was killed at Verneuil.