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Master of Scaremonies
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The Scottish Lord with the elixir of life

SIR SIMON Loccard of the Lee had an impressive family history even before he distinguished himself as one of Robert the Bruce's most loyal followers. His grandfather, Stephen Loccard, had the town of Stevenson in Ayrshire named after him and his father, also Simon, gave his name to the village of Symington.

But Loccard's prolific involvement in a crusade against the Saracens in 1329 not only boosted the reputation of his family, it also provided them with a new name. In addition he returned from the fields of southern Spain with an amulet which contained mysterious healing qualities. It became known as the Lee Penny and has been an object of superstition and fascination for more than six centuries.
The box that houses the Lee Penny was gifted to the family in 1789.
Picture: Angus Lockhart

The box that houses the Lee Penny was gifted to the family in 1789.Picture: Angus Lockhart

The band of Scots who embarked on the crusade was led by Sir James Douglas. He carried the heart of Robert the Bruce in a casket, of which Loccard held the key. When Douglas was killed at the Battle of Teba in Spain, and the party returned to Scotland, Loccard's family name was changed to Lockheart, shortened to Lockhart. The family motto includes the words Corda Serrata Pando - I open locked hearts.

It was, however, Loccard's capture of a Moorish emir - one of the Saracens of Granada - that yielded what was to become the Lee Penny. The prince's mother - or wife in some versions of the story - offered the Scottish knight a large sum of money in return for his freedom. She dropped what looked like a pebble, but Loccard could tell by her haste in picking it up that it was a valuable gem and demanded it as part of the ransom.

The woman not only agreed but proceeded to tell Loccard the story of its healing powers and how they should be administered. It could, she said, cure all diseases known to man and beast. The stone had to be dipped into water, with no words of incantation uttered, while the affected or diseased part was washed. No money was to be taken from those afflicted and seeking cure.

On Loccard's return to his home at Lee, near Lanark, the stone attracted huge interest from the superstitious country folk. They flocked to Lee for its curative powers and watched transfixed as the stone was held by a chain and dipped twice into pure spring water then given one swirl, a practice that became known as "twa dips and a swirl".
Further reading

Print off the words to an Ayrshire poem about the amulet. (The file can be opened with Acrobat Reader.)

The Lee Penny appeared to be an especially worthwhile remedy in cases of hydrophobia or rabies. When the plague visited Newcastle in the early 17th century the city borrowed the amulet, putting down a deposit of £6,000 for its safe return.

A member of the Edinburgh gentry, Lady Baird of Sauchtonhall, was bitten by a mad dog and began to show signs of rabies. Her husband was loaned the penny and the woman, after drinking and bathing in the medicated water, recovered her health. The Bairds considered it a "miracle" and entertained the Laird of Lee in a "sumptuous manner" for years afterwards.

In 1638 an attempt was made by strict Presbyterians to charge Sir James Lockhart with sorcery but it was thrown out by the Synod of the Church of Scotland on the grounds that no magical words were used while the process was carried out.

Gradually, however, the belief in the powers of the Lee Penny waned and there has been no instance of it being used since the middle of the 19th century. Sir Walter Scott based his book The Talisman on the story of the penny and it remains in the Lockhart family to this day, kept in a gold and enamel snuffbox given to Sir James Lockhart by Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria, in 1789.

Despite its name it is not a penny at all, but a dark red, semi-transparent, triangular gemstone set in a groat - or fourpenny coin - dating from the reign of Edward I of England. It remains a precious family heirloom and the most famous and mysterious amulet of its kind in Scottish history.
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