The Royal Mile is a long cobbled street that runs down from Edinburgh castle to the palace of Holyrood. When Edinburgh castle was first established this was the only accessible route, the castle’s situation on the dark rocky plug of an extinct volcano made it impregnable from all but the east where the weather battered remains of the old volcano formed a natural ramp.
With the establishment of Holyrood palace, or rather the original monastery in the 12th century the route between the two became an important thoroughfare. Businesses and government offices sprang up as well as several churches and the magnificent St Giles Cathedral.
By the 16th century many parts of this route became dedicated to markets and the wide area running down from St Giles towards the Canongate featured some of the city’s first permanent shops. Many of these housed small trade people who made and sold their wares and among the most popular were the jewellers. The shops themselves were very small and were called ‘Locked Booths’. From this we get the word ‘Luckenbooth.
The Luckenbooth brooch became a very popular item in 16th century Scotland. It featured the heart and crown – the ‘Heart & Crown of Scotland’ and was romantically linked to the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots as it was the brooch she had given to Lord Darnley.
The tradition was that the young man would give his lady the brooch on their wedding day. When their first child arrived the brooch would then be pinned to the babies shawl to protect it from “evil spirits”. As such it had very similar connotations to the Irish ‘Claddagh’ ring especially with the similar heart shaped theme.
The style of the Luckenbooth brooch became very popular throughout the UK. By the 18th century the trade in silver to the new world featured the little brooch and many ended up traded with Native Americans, particularly the Iroquois of the Six Nations. As a result of this the Luckenbooth became a popular decorative symbol in their costumes.
Today Luckenbooth can still be purchased from small traders on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile as well as online!