Scotland 7: Day 27

03.28.19 | Edinburgh, Scotland | 23:55

One thing I failed to mention about yesterday’s visit to Aberdour Castle: When the girl sold me that ticket to get into the castle, she actually talked me into buying a five-day pass. This means that even though you may be sick of learning about castles or seeing pictures of castles, I chose to take a quick trip up to Stirling so that I could see that castle as well. Yes, I did see it three years ago, but it was time for another visit.

I happen to be enjoying learning about all these old kings and queens at the moment. I am finally at a place in my life where I am starting to remember historical facts. It’s not by any means a photographic memory or anything like that, but at least I have a desire to figure all this stuff out. It’s fascinating to learn about the rise and fall of these people!

Stirling is one of the towns that I feel like I could totally be happy living in. There are a few places like this- I visit and it just has an “at-home” feel. How cool would it be to relocate to Scotland? I probably shouldn’t hold my breath while waiting for my airline to start flying here. Still- a guy can dream, can’t he?

It is now time for you daily history lesson! If it’s too much to bear, feel free to just skip down to the castle picture.

The rock of Stirling was the key to medieval Scotland. Sitting astride the narrow waist of the Central Belt, it commanded the upper reaches of the Forth as well as guarding access to the Central Highlands. In medieval times, Stirling Bridge was the lowest practical crossing point over the Forth. All invading armies had to come to the rock of Stirling if they wanted to enter Scotland’s hinterlands; Stirling Castle was rightly described as ‘a huge brooch that clasps Highlands and Lowlands together’. It suffered sixteen major sieges as a result. Legends link a citadel it’s Stirling with King Arthur but the first records of a castle there date from the reign of Alexander I who died there in 1124. Control of Stirling Castle was also demanded by Henry II before he would release the captive William the Lion in 1174.

William regained the castle before his death there in 1214, but Stirling fell into English hands again in 1295-96 when Edward I tried to annex Scotland. William Wallace briefly liberated the castle following his decisive victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 but an English governor, Sir John Simpson, was back in command in 1298. Simpson found himself besieged in turn the following year and called on Edward to send reinforcements. When these failed to arrive, the castle was surrendered and its Scots constable, Sir William Oliphant, raised the lion rampart over its battlements once again. Edward finally arrived in force in July 1304 having crossed the Forth downstream using a fleet of pontoons. At this point in the Wars for Scottish Independence, Stirling was the last major stronghold in Scotland still under patriot control. After three months of siege, Oliphant and his starving men marched out. Edward accepted their surrender but ordered the garrison back into the castle while he bombarded it with stones from his siege engine, the War Wolf. 

Stirling was still in English hands in 1314, when it was among the few fortresses not under Bruce control. Failing to take the castle by siege, the King’s younger brother, Edward Bruce, parleyed with the English castellan Sir Phillip Mowbray. They  agreed that the castle would be handed over to the Scots if it had not been relieved by Mid Summer Day. This committed both Robert the Bruce and Edward II to the climactic battle that was fought on the plain below the castle along the Bannockburn that summer. Once back in Scottish hands, Bruce damaged Stirling severely so it could not be held up by future invaders. Despite this, after Bruce’s death in 1329, the forces of the puppet King Edward Balliol and his sponsor Edward III captured and rebuilt Stirling on 1333, and held it until 1342. 

With is the stability of the Stewart Age, Stirling flourished. Money was lavished upon the castle, to turn it into a symbol of royal authority. The Great Hall of 1500 and Gatehouse of 1510 built by James IV, and the Royal Palace of James V of 1540, were designed to protect the dynastic identity of the Stewart kings. The exterior of the Great Hall Who is even painted in a bright golden wash so that it could be seen for miles around. Stirling was the effective capital of Stewart Scotland, where the family preferred to hold court and carry out their business. The infant monarchs James V and Mary were both crowned in the Chapel Royal. The baptism of Prince Henry Stewart in 1594 was celebrated by a banquet of gargantuan proportions, even by Renaissance standards. The highlight of the feast was procession into the Great Hall of an eighteen foot galleon with masts forty feet high from which servants dispensed seafood to the guests.  Darker deeds were done at Stirling too. In 1452 James II took the first step towards bringing the power of the house of Black Douglas whose wealth and privileges rivalled those of the Crown. Negotiations between James II and the Earl of Douglas came to a sudden end when the king plunged his dagger into the throat of the magnate. Douglas had been promised a safe conduct but his corpse ended up being thrown out of a castle window onto the rocks below. The Scottish Parliament exonerated the king and put the entire blame for the incident upon the dead noble who had some clearly been guilty of treason.

Stirling was little used by royalty after 1603 but it witnessed blood again in 1651 during a siege by Monck’s Roundheads which badly damaged the castle. Its continuing strategic value was highlighted by the devastating Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie less than sixty miles to the north in 1689. Stirling became an important base for the Hanoverian army and its defenses were stiffened by modern artillery platforms. More was done to strengthen Stirling after the aborted invasion of 1708 when the Old Pretender sailed into the Forth with a French Fleet. In 1745, Jacobite forces bypassed the castle and only fired a few desultory shots at in on their way back north. The castle suffered badly in its years as an army base; the Great Hall was converted into a barracks and the Chapel Royal was used as a store. The army finally left in 1964 and after over thirty years of conservation work, Stirling Castle has now been restored to its Renaissance grandeur and magnificence.

Scottish Castles & Fortifications – Richard Dargie

When I got back to Edinburgh, I went to the cinema to see Mary, Queen of Scots and it was quite fascinating, especially because she is one of the people that I’ve been learning about on these castle visits.

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