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castle, church and Pyramid
"There was a favourite royal castle here from at least the twelfth century - and possibly for long before then - and its role in both peace and war is central to much of the story of medieval Scotland. Without the castle, for example, there would have been no need for William Wallace to fight the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, or for Robert I (the Bruce) to fight at Bannockburn in 1314.
However, the buildings are all later than that, dating mainly from the late 1400s and the 1500s, when the castle was perhaps the most ambitiously planned of the settings for the court of James IV, James V and James VI. Despite several centuries of adaptation to military use after James VI moved south to become James I of England in 1603, the buildings raised for those monarchs survive remarkably well. They offer an unequalled impression of the architectural backdrop against which a dynasty of medieval and Renaissance monarchs both governed their kingdom and made their mark on the European scene.
Mosses have been drained over the last two centuries, and the resultant rich farmland now presents no barrier to movement. But throughout the Middle Ages the combination of marshes, high hills and a major river restricted communication routes. Until recently many of the main land and water routes running both north-south and eastwest through central Scotland had to pass directly below the castle rock, and whoever controlled Stirling controlled much of the country. The combination of an almost impregnable rock site and a location of such high strategic significance made Stirling an irresistible situation for a major castle.
It is not known when the castle rock was first occupied and defended. Since prehistoric forts have been found on a number of other hills in the vicinity it is possible there was also an early fort here, though no evidence of this has vet been found. The rock could have been a stronghold of a northern enclave of the British people known as the Gododdin, the successors of the tribe called the Votadini by the Romans. But by the seventh century the area had come under the control of the Anglians of Northumbria, and in 654 Penda, King of Mercia (in what is now central England) is said to have chased the Anglian King Oswy as far as a place called Iudeu. Some historians have suggested that Iudeu was Stirling. With the defeat of the Anglian King Ecgfrith by the Pictish King Brude at Nechtansmere, near Forfar, in 685, the area presumably came under Pictish control, until both Picts and Scots were progressively forged into a single state from around the mid-ninth century onwards. As part of this process, it was said in the later Middle Ages that a stronghold here was besieged by Kenneth mac Alpin, who had become King of the Scots in 842.
It is only from the early twelfth century that things become more certain. The first definite pointer to the existence of a castle comes at a date between 1107 and 1115, when Alexander I arranged for a castle chapel to be dedicated and endowed. The castle was presumably one of his favourite residences, because he died within it in 1124.
A royal castle like Stirling had to meet a wide range of requirements. Apart from being a place of defence, it was a residence for the king and his court, with a need for both accommodation and entertainment. It also had to house the administrative officers who travelled with the king to assist him in governing the kingdom from wherever he chose to base himself. However, we know little about the layout or appearance of the castle at this date. With the possible exception of the chapel, it is likely that most of the buildings and defensive walls were of timber, earth and thatch.
Later in the century Stirling's continuing importance was demonstrated when, following King William the Lion's capture on a raid into England in 1174, it was one of five castles surrendered to Henry 11 of England under the Treaty of Falaise as the price of William's freedom. The terms of that humiliating treaty were eventually overturned in 1189, and it was at Stirling Castle that William died in 1214.
Nevertheless, the Scots were again besieging the castle in 1299, and the English constable, John Sampson, was forced to surrender when no relief appeared. But by 1303 the wheel of fortune had turned yet again, and Stirling was the only significant stronghold remaining in Scottish hands, making Edward I more determined than ever to retake it. He had floating bridges made at King's Lynn, in Norfolk, to allow him to cross the Forth below Stirling and, once at Dunfermline, he started building at least 17 great siege engines. The siege began in April 1304, and eventually the castle's captain, Sir William Oliphant, offered surrender on 20 July, though Edward I insisted that some of the garrison remain within the castle until he had tried out his most favoured siege engine, 'the war wolf', which probably fired heavy stones.
As so often, Scottish good fortune was not sustained. Robert I's heir at his death in 1329 was his five year-old son, David II, and in 1332 the son of John Balliol, Edward, took advantage of the new king's youth to invade the kingdom, with the support of Edward III of England and those Scottish nobles earlier dispossessed for disloyalty by Robert I. Stirling was again under English control from at least 1336, when its warden was Sir Thomas Rokeby, and much building and strengthening work was then carried out. Andrew Murray (whose father, also Andrew Murray, was Wallace's co-leader at Stirling Bridge) laid an abortive siege in 1337, though it was only in 1342 that it was eventually retaken for the Scots, by Robert the Steward.
In the later Middle Ages there are many records of major building work, and there is more than ever a sense that Stirling and its castle were at the heart of the nation's affairs. Robert the Steward succeeded David II to the throne in 1371, as Robert II, and during his time much attention was paid to the castle's defences. Indeed, the earliest part of the castle to survive above ground, the core of the North Gate, was probably under construction during his reign, in 1381.
A role which was to become increasingly important for the castle was that of royal nursery. After James I returned from England in 1424 (he had been a captive there since 1406), he granted the castle to his queen as part of her marriage settlement, and this was also to be done by many of his successors on the throne. Less attractively, Stirling was where James I settled some of his scores against those he felt had done too little to obtain his release. The main culprit was his uncle, Robert Duke of Albany, who had been Governor of the kingdom in his absence, but as he had died at Stirling Castle in 1420, James' wrath was instead directed against his son, Murdoch Duke of Albany. Following a session of parliament at Stirling on 24 May 1425, Murdoch and two of his sons were beheaded on the castle hill. James I's continuing high-handed behaviour was a factor in his assassination in 1437, after which there is a tradition that Queen Joan smuggled the six-year old James II to Stirling in a chest. However, she herself was to undergo a period of undignified imprisonment within her castle after her second marriage two years later.
Although little building is recorded during the reign of James II, Stirling was still a much-used royal residence. In 1449, the year of the King's marriage to Mary of Guelders, a niece of the Duke of Burgundy, the castle was the setting for a tournament in which the main protagonists were two Burgundian knights, Simon and Jacques de Lalain, and two members of the Douglas family. Three years later, however, the head of the Douglas family, William, eighth Earl of Douglas, was murdered by James II's own hand within the castle. This act was regarded as particularly reprehensible since the Earl had been invited to the castle under the King's special protection, in order to persuade him to break alliances felt to be against the royal interest. The King was unable to control his anger when Douglas refused to comply. Traditionally this murder is located in the King's Old Building, which in fact had not been built by then.
James III commissioned more building than his father. Accounts show he was at work on an unidentified 'white tower' in 1463 and on the castle walls in 1467, and there were major works on the Chapel between 1467 and 1469. In addition, he was enlarging the royal collection of artillery, some of which was cast within the castle gun house in 1475. None of his building work survives in identifiable form.
James III was on poor terms with his wife, Margaret of Denmark, in the later years of their marriage, and she spent the last three years of her life at the castle, largely apart from her husband. With her at Stirling was the young Duke of Rothesay, the future James IV, and he remained there after his mother's death in 1486. Two years later he was persuaded to leave the castle to join the magnates who had risen against his father, and this was probably the most important factor in James III's defeat at Sauchieburn and his subsequent assassination. When James IV succeeded to the throne, he confessed his part in his father's death to the head of the castle's chapel. From then on he is said to have worn an iron belt around his waist as penance and evidence of his deep remorse.
Burgh of Stirling
A royal castle did not exist in isolation. Many people were required to service the needs of its occupants, though not all of those lived within the castle itself. Additionally, the protection afforded by a major stronghold, particularly when it was set at the junction of important trade routes, acted as a magnet to craftsmen and those who wished to sell their goods in peace. Consequently, urban settlements grew up around castles, and at Stirling the natural place for this burgh was along the sloping main approach to the castle. As early as the reign of David I (1124-53), the developing settlement here was given the privilege of royal protection, and during his reign - if not before - there was a parish
church to meet the spiritual needs of its people.
Stirling has retained many fine buildings from before the time of its modern expansion. Grandest of all is the parish church of the Holy Rude, which was rebuilt in two principal campaigns starting around 1414 and 1507, resulting in one of the most imposing of Scotland's great late medieval burgh churches. The burgh also had several other churches, including friaries for the Dominicans and Observant Franciscans, the chapels of at least five hospitals, and the Augustinian abbey of Cambuskenneth in the valley to the east.
Of these churches only Holy Rude and Cambuskenneth Abbey still have visible remains, though something of the Dominican church is known from excavations. Other partly pre-Reformation buildings include the four-arched bridge over the Forth, and parts of the town wall. The present bridge is probably largely of the sixteenth century, though we know that the earliest bridges here were of timber, and a short way upstream. The remaining parts of the wall along the south and west sides of the burgh date mainly from a decision by the burgh council to provide defences in 1547.
Despite the inauspicious start to his reign, James IV was perhaps the most attractive member of the Stewart dynasty, and Stirling was a principal centre for the brilliant court which he assembled around himself. Through the buildings he erected we see how a fortress of formidable strength could also accommodate a sumptuous royal residence, and it was against this background that he was able to show himself to the rest of Europe as a prince of the Renaissance. Rather unfairly, however, his encouragement of learning within the castle is often best remembered for his patronage of the Italian scholar, John Damian, who undertook alchemical experiments to turn base metals into gold. Damian is also said to have tried to fly to France from the walls of Stirling in 1507, using wings of his own making, and to have concluded that the inevitable result was because the hen feathers he used had a more natural affinity with the midden than with the skies!
James IV was Scotland's greatest builder of palatial architecture, carrying out major works at Holyrood, Edinburgh, Falkland, Linlithgow and Rothesay, though it is at Stirling that we see the most complete expression of his architectural ambitions. It was probably James IV who started to have the main royal enclave of the castle, the Inner Close, laid out to the plan we still see. He built his own residence, the King's Old Building, on the west side of the Close, with the Great Hall facing it on the east, and he established a college of priests as Scotland's Chapel Royal, probably within the chapel his father had improved on the north side of the Close. He also built the Forework, a great frontispiece containing the main entrance to the castle. In addition, he may have remodelled an earlier range as a residence for his queen, Margaret Tudor, around the time of their marriage in 1503, and we must assume that he would have built much else if he had not been killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 aged 40.
James V was crowned in the Chapel at Stirling 12 days after his father's death, on 21 September 1513. He was only 17 months old. His subsequent upbringing cannot have been a happy time for him, as various magnates squabbled over control of the royal person. By the age of 16 he had effectively established his own authority and, perhaps partly in reaction against his English mother, his own horizons were distinctly European. As early as 1517 it had been agreed in the Treaty of Rouen that he was to have a French bride, though François I of France was less enthusiastic when the time came to honour his agreement. Eventually, in 1536, James V went in person to France to claim a bride, and was rewarded with the Princess Madeleine, who was to die within six months of the marriage. For his second wife he took the more robust daughter of the Duke of Guise-Lorrainc, Mary of Guise. For his second French queen, James V built the magnificent Palace at Stirling. A number of French details show that James had taken a close interest in the buildings of his first father-in-law whilst visiting France, and we also know that he had several French masons in his service. James V's court at Stirling must have been as vibrant as that of his father, and it is particularly pleasing to think that at least some of the exquisite church music of Robert Carver was composed for the Chapel Royal. But the fifth James's life was even briefer than his father's, since he died in 1542 at the age of 30, broken by the disastrous defeat of his army by the English at Solway Moss, leaving a female baby to succeed him.
Mary was crowned as Queen of Scots on 9 September 1543 within the Chapel Royal, a ceremony said dismissively by Henry VIII of England's representative to have been carried out with 'not very costlie' ceremonial. Henry VIII saw the marriage of his own son, Prince Edward, to the infant queen as his best hope of reviving English claims to Scotland, and the marriage was agreed under the Treaty of Greenwich in 1543. But many in Scotland doubted English assurances that Scottish independence would be respected and by 1548, after two further phases of warfare with England, it was decided to send the infant queen to France for marriage to the heir to the French throne, who succeeded as François II in 1559.
During Mary's absence in France, Scotland was frequently a battleground between those who wished the country to move towards a closer alliance with Protestant England, and those who preferred a relationship with Catholic France. Various major artillery fortifications were raised by both sides, and at Stirling we now realise that, embodied within later structures, there are significant remains of a particularly important system of outer defences, (including the French Spur) which were almost certainly built for Mary of Guise in the 1550s.
Mary Queen of Scots returned to her Scottish kingdom in 1561, after the death of both her mother and her French husband, and found a country that had become Protestant while she remained Catholic. The Chapel Royal at Stirling was apparently the only palace chapel still fitted out for Catholic worship; even so, at her first service within the castle her half-brother, Lord James Stewart, together with the Earl of Argyll, physically attacked the officiating clergy. Soon afterwards the Queen had another misfortune at Stirling, narrowly escaping death when her bed curtains caught fire.
The happiest event associated with Mary at the castle was the baptism of her son, Prince James, on 17 December 1566, although she was by then estranged from her husband, Lord Darnley. After the ceremony, which was carried out with Catholic ritual, using a golden font provided by Elizabeth I of England, the celebrations lasted for a further two days. The second day was largely taken up with audiences for ambassadors, while on the third there was a lavish banquet with an Arthurian theme. The high point of the celebrations was the allegorical siege of an enchanted castle on the open ground in front of the castle, followed by a display of fireworks and artillery. In all of this Mary was determined to show that Scotland could rival the most ambitious celebrations to be seen at any of the European courts, even if she had to borrow from the merchants of Edinburgh to pay for it.
Mary was forced to abdicate on 24 July 1567. She was succeeded by the year-old James VI, who was crowned in Stirling parish church five days later. Much of James' childhood was passed within Stirling Castle, where he was taught by the formidable scholar, George Buchanan, who did not scruple to advise the King what James thought about his mother. As usual with royal minorities, James became a focus for rival factions. There were attacks on the castle while the king was in residence in 1571 and 1578; he was taken there as a virtual prisoner after the Ruthven Raid in 1582, and there was a further siege in 1585.
Reports on the structural state of the castle from James VI's reign suggest that lack of maintenance had led to some buildings being in a state of pending collapse. One of these was the Chapel Royal, which was both in a poor state and in an inconvenient position, and James VI's chief architectural contribution to the castle was its rebuilding to an elegant design in 1594. The reason for this was the baptism of Prince Henry, the first son born to James and Queen Anne of Denmark. By this stage it was certain that the 60-year-old Elizabeth I of England would have no children, and it was now the turn of a monarch of Scotland to have claims on the English throne. In producing a son, and giving him a name favoured by the English royal house, James was therefore offering the prospect of continuity to both England and Scotland. The celebrations were duly magnificent. One of the centrepieces of the banquet held afterwards in the Great Hall was a splendid ship which brought in a variety of fish, and which was apparently such a fine piece that it was preserved into the eighteenth century.
With such a reduced royal presence there was little need for major building works at the Scottish palaces, and from this period onwards it is the military aspect of the castle which once again became paramount. Little was done at the time of Charles I's second visit to Scotland in 1641, when he was at loggerheads with the Covenanting party in Scotland, and England was on the verge of civil war. Following his execution in 1649, his son was declared king in Scotland, as Charles II, and the English parliamentary army came north on a punitive campaign in 1650. As part of this, General Monk took the castle by siege in 1651, and the marks made by his artillery are still to be seen on some buildings.
After his restoration to the English throne in 1660, Charles II had little inclination to revisit Scotland, but did agree to rebuild Holyrood as the Scottish royal palace in the 1670s. He also sent his brother, James Duke of Albany and York, to Scotland at a time when his open Catholicism was causing offence in England. James visited the castle on 3-4 February 1681, but its buildings were in no fit state for him to stay there. The Duke succeeded to the Scottish and English thrones as James VII and II in 1685, but was forced to flee in 1688, being succeeded by his daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange. However, James VII never abdicated, and he and his son and grandsons were to provide a focus of rival loyalty for over a century. Their supporters were known as Jacobites, from the Latin Jacobus meaning James.
No sooner had a Scottish convention proclaimed William and Mary as joint monarchs in March 1689 than rebellion broke out under the leadership of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee. Although this was eventually suppressed, it created concern about the weakness of the Scottish castles, and improvements were made to Stirling by closing
off two lesser entrances, and by providing artillery mountings on the more vulnerable east side. Naturally enough, such emergency measures paid little respect to the castle's architectural qualities, and from this point onwards military needs were increasingly given greater weight than aesthetic considerations.
If many Scots felt they had no part in the deposition of James VII, they felt even more alienated after the childless Queen Anne came to the throne in 1702 and the English parliament decided that the children of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, were to succeed her. A further incentive to disloyalty was the Union of the Kingdoms. Under James VI, Charles I, Charles II, James VII and William and Mary, Scotland and England were only united by the fact that they had the same monarch; but in 1707 it was decided that the kingdoms should be themselves united, and the last session of the Scottish parliament was closed on 28 April. Although James VII had died in 1701, his son, Prince James, known as the Old Pretender, continued his family's claim to the throne, and following the Act of Union he persuaded Louis XIV of France to provide a fleet and army to invade Scotland. This fleet sailed into the Firth of Forth on 23 March 1708 and, despite the fact that the anticipated popular rising did not materialise, it was decided that the principal castles had to be strengthened.
At Stirling the strengthening was carried out between 1708 and 1714, to the designs of Captain Theodore Duty, the military engineer for Scotland. His first proposals, for simply enclosing the area in front of the castle, were criticised by Captain Obryan, a fellow engineer, and their superior, Talbot Edwards, was called on to arbitrate. The scheme eventually adopted incorporated parts of the outworks built for Mary of Guise in the 1550s. The progress of work may have been interrupted by John, sixth Earl of Mar, the governor of the castle and a keen architectural connoisseur, who wished to improve both the royal lodgings and his own accommodation. However, Mar's involvement with the castle was soon to be ended. Following what he regarded as a snub by the new Hanoverian dynasty, in 1715 he instigated a rising on behalf of the deposed Stewart line, raising the standard of the Old Pretender at Braemar on 6 September. Owing to his own inadequacies as a general - he lost the Battle of Sheriffmuir when he should have won it - he was soon in exile in Paris, and while there he found some solace drawing up more elaborate schemes for remodelling the Palace for a restored Stewart dynasty.
The new defences of the castle were tested as part of the last major Jacobite rising, in 1745-6, led by Prince Charles Edward Stewart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) on behalf of his father, the Old Pretender. A few shots were fired as his army marched southwards in 1745, but on his return north in 1746 he laid siege to the castle from the adjacent Gowan Hill, only to find that the commander of the castle, General Blakeney, made short work of his artillery emplacements once he opened fire from the batteries created on that side of the castle in 1689.
Stirling Castle was rapidly becoming a military back-water. There was no reason to carry out more than minimal maintenance of its great buildings, and in 1777, for example, when part of a fine ceiling in the king's lodging fell, the rest was simply removed. Such architecture was no longer greatly valued, and there was little money to pay for work which was not militarily necessary. While this may now be deemed regrettable, the more positive aspect of the situation is that lack of interest meant there were no great schemes of rebuilding, and adaptations were kept to the essential minimum.
The situation changed at the end of the century, on the outbreak of warfare with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. In 1794 Stirling was the rendezvous for Campbell of Lochnell's mustering of the Duke of Argyll's Highland regiment [one of the two component elements of what was to become the regiment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and which was eventually to have the castle as its base after the two elements were united in 1881]. Soon afterwards, there was a drive to provide accommodation at all of the major castles, which at Stirling was achieved by inserting floors and walls in the Great Hall to create barrack rooms. From then on, Stirling was to be home to varying numbers of soldiers, and the castle was increasingly adapted to meet their needs. The royal buildings - and many lesser buildings as well - had to respond to these changed requirements, though this did at least ensure that they were preserved. Additionally, several new buildings were raised, from the Main Guard House and Fort Major's House in the Outer Close, to the magazines in the Nether Bailey, and these are now valued as an integral part of the castle's architectural history. But even while military requirements were met, there was growing appreciation of the castle's architectural qualities during the nineteenth century. By 1849 it was felt to be worth a visit by Queen Victoria, who thought it was 'extremely grand'. It was also admired by Robert Billings, who included views in his influential publication on the Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland, published between 1845 and 1852. Billings was himself called on to rebuild the damaged parts of the King's Old Building after a fire in 1855. Nevertheless, the army's priority still had to be the accommodation of its soldiers, though there was a shift of emphasis after 1906, when King Edward VII asked that maintenance of the buildings he transferred from the War Office to the Office of Works.
With the co-operation of the War Office, the change of responsibility in 1906 encouraged a more sympathetic climate for the care of the castle's historic structures and, where possible, works were carried out in a way that allowed their inherent qualities to be appreciated. Yet further changes became possible when the castle ceased to be the military depot for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1964, though some might have felt that, with the loss of both its monarchs and its permanent complement of soldiers, there was a risk of the castle forfeiting something of its raison d'etre. However, in recent years, major works of improvement have been instigated, including the restoration of the Great Hall, and continue with the ongoing refurbishment of the Palace.