Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh castle may have been the central castle of Scotland as far back as the 11th century, although little if any of the current castle dates to that time.  The castle rock was formed 70 million years ago, while recent archaeological excavations within the fortress have uncovered evidence that Bronze Age man was living here 850BC.  Some 2,000 years ago, during the Iron Age, there was apparently a settlement on its summit.  Presumably the rock was still inhabited throughout the Dark Ages, but the linking of Edinburgh with Din Eidyn is probably fantastic as is the suggestion that Catraeth - the battle on the beach - was fought at Catterick over 30 miles from the sea!  Similarly the siege of Etin in the Annales of Ulster might relate to Edinburgh, but much more research into the matter is truly desirable.

History
Despite the early confusion, a settlement may have stood on castle rock by 1093.  A 14th 
century chronicle states that Margaret, the wife of King Malcolm III, was seriously ill there when she was brought news of her husband and son having been killed at Alnwick in Northumberland - the news of which is said to have killed her.  Her biographer, working before 1112 gives the story, but does not name the place where she lived and died.  A rectangular chapel, built on the summit of the castle rock, is dedicated to her memory and is the oldest extant building in Edinburgh castle.  A few years after her death, in January 1107, Malcolm and Margaret's son, King Edgar, is ‘said' by Wikipedia to have died in the castle, though no early source, Simon Durham, Florence Worcester, the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, or the Annales Cambriae, actually mentions the place of his death, or indeed agree on which day in January he died.

It would appear that King Malcolm's youngest son, King David I (1124–1153), developed Edinburgh as a military seat, though whether he was following in his predecessors' footsteps or not is a moot point.  Presumably his work included improvements to any fortifications on the castle rock.  At some point between 1139 and 1150, David is said to have held an assembly of nobles and churchmen at the castle.  His successor, King Malcolm IV (1153–1165), reportedly stayed at Edinburgh more than at any other location.  His successor, King William the Lion (1165–1214), was captured at the battle of Alnwick in 1174 and by the treaty of Falaise, made to secure his release, he surrendered Edinburgh castle, along with those of Berwick, Roxburgh and Stirling, to King Henry II of England (1154-89).  This is the first certain reference as Edinburgh as a fortress.  The castle was subsequently occupied by Henry's men for twelve years.  In 1186 it was returned to William as the dowry of his Norman bride, Ermengarde Beaumont.  It is apparent from this that Edinburgh was one of the major fortresses of the relatively small state of Scotland, which at this time occupied little more than the SE seaboard of what is now thought of as Scotland.  To the N were the Highlanders and Danes, while to the W lay more Highlanders, Islesmen and Norwegians.  Even to the SW lay often hostile territory in the form of the old ‘British' kingdom of Cumbria, by this time known as Galloway.

A century later, on the death of King Alexander III (1249-86), the lands owned by the Scottish kings had expanded powerfully into these previously hostile districts.  In 1251 Alexander's queen, Margaret, the daughter of King Henry III of England, had found the castle ‘a sad and solitary place without verdure, and by reason of its vicinity to the sea, unwholesome'.  However Alexander left no heirs of his body and the decision of who should be the next king of Scots passed to King Edward I of England (1272-1307) by feudal right.  Edward had assured this by asking the barons to Scotland to pay fealty to him as their overlord and as had happened infrequently in the relationship between the kings of England and Scotland since the 10th century.  Consequently, on 8 July 1291, Abbot Adam of Holyrood and Sir Richard Fraser paid the king homage in Edinburgh castle chapel while the king was staying within the fortress.

After the revolt of the king of Scots chosen under Edward's watchful eye, King John Balliol (1292-96), the English king declared the kingdom of Scots forfeit to himself as feudal overlord.  In March 1296, Edward I moved his forces into Scotland and, following the battle of Dunbar, soon took Edinburgh castle after a three days long bombardment.  Following the siege, Edward had many of the Scottish legal records and royal treasures moved from the castle to England.  By 1300 a large garrison of 347 men were theoretically within the fortress.  This figure included knights, serjeants, priests, clerks and servants as well as soldiers.

On 14 March 1314, the castle finally fell to a surprise night attack by Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray.  The historically dubious narrative poem of John Barbour (d.1395), The Brus, relates how a party of 30 men were guided by one William Francis, a traitorous member of the garrison, who knew of a route along the N face of the Castle Rock and a place where the wall might be scaled.  Making the difficult ascent, Randolph's men are alleged to have scaled the wall, surprised the garrison and taken control of the fortress.  Whether the story is true or not, Robert the Bruce immediately ordered the destruction of the castle's defences to prevent its re-occupation.  Three months later, on 24 June 1314, near Stirling, Bruce's army defeated King Edward II (1307-27) at the battle of Bannockburn, when that king attempted to relieve the siege of Stirling castle.

King Robert the Bruce died in 1329.  Shortly before this he had ordered the repair of the castle chapel.  After his death, Edward Balliol, the son of the former King John Balliol, claimed the Scottish throne against the claim of Bruce's young son, David Bruce.  Edward invaded in 1332, destroyed the Brucian army at Dupplin Moor and was crowned king of Scots.  He reoccupied and refortified Edinburgh castle in 1335, the works of which included 4 glass windows for St Margaret's chapel.  Edinburgh remained a Balliol stronghold until the castle was taken by William Douglas of Liddesdale on 17 April 1341.  According to Wyntoun, Douglas' party disguised themselves as merchants from Leith bringing supplies to the garrison and stopped a cart in the castle gateway, preventing the gates from closing and the portcullis from dropping.  A larger force hidden nearby rushed to join them and seized the castle.  Modern ‘histories' state that the Balliol garrison of 100 men were all killed, despite the fact that not even Wyntoun claims this.

In 1357 the treaty of Berwick brought a halt to the wars for a while.  King David II then set about rebuilding Edinburgh castle which again became a principal seat of government.  David's tower, a new keep, was begun around 1367, and was incomplete when David died at the castle in 1371.  It was completed by his successor, King Robert II, in the 1370s.  The remains of the tower are still partially under the present Half Moon Battery.  The keep was connected by a section of curtain wall to the smaller Constable's tower, a round tower built between 1375 and 1379, where the Portcullis gate now stands.  In 1384 the first artillery piece was purchased for the castle.

In the early 15th 
century King Henry IV reached Edinburgh castle and began a siege, but eventually withdrew, mainly due to lack of supplies.  From 1437, William Crichton was keeper of Edinburgh castle and as chancellor sought to break the power of the Douglases.  To this end the 16 year old William Douglas, 6th earl of Douglas, together with his younger brother David, were summoned to the castle in November 1440.  After the so-called Black Dinner had been eaten in David's tower, both boys were summarily executed on trumped-up charges in the presence of the 10 year old King James II (1437–1460).  Douglas' supporters subsequently besieged the castle, inflicting damage, but not taking it.  Construction and reconstruction continued throughout this period, with the area now known as Crown Square being laid out over various vaults in the 1430s.

By  1449 Edinburgh castle had become the home of the Scottish artillery.  Royal apartments were built, forming the nucleus of the later palace block, and a great hall was in existence by 1458.  In 1464, access to the castle was improved when the current approach road up the NE side of the rock was created to allow easier movement of the royal artillery train in and out of the upper ward.  One such gun of the era was Mons Meg, made at Mons in Belgium and housed at Edinburgh since 1457.  She was kept with the rest of the royal guns in the castle, but her enormous bulk, weighing in at over 6 tons, soon made her obsolete for all but ceremonial salutes.  In 1681, during a birthday salute for the duke of Albany, later King James VII of Scotland and James II of England, her barrel burst open and she was unceremoniously dumped beside Foog's Gate in the castle.  The restored gun can still be viewed in the castle today.  By 1474 the fortress had become the site of manufacture of artillery and bronze guns were being cast within the castle by 1498.  In 1541 the castle contained 413 guns.

In 1479, Duke Alexander Stewart of Albany was imprisoned in David's tower for plotting against his brother, King James III (1460–1488).  He escaped by getting his guards drunk, then lowering himself from a window on a rope.  Albany fled to France, then England, where he allied himself with King Edward IV.  In 1482, Albany marched into Scotland with Duke Richard of Gloucester (later King Richard III) and an English army.  James III was trapped in the castle from 22 July to 29 September 1482 until he successfully negotiated a settlement.

A change in function of the castle began with the new century when King James IV (1488–1513) built Holyrood house, by the nearby abbey, as his principal Edinburgh residence.  As a result the castle's role as a royal home declined.  Despite this, James did construct another great hall at the fortress.  This was completed in the early 16th 
century before James IV was killed at the battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513.  As a consequence his regents hastily constructed a town wall around Edinburgh and attempted to augment the castle's defences.  Robert Borthwick, the royal master gunner of Edinburgh, and Antoine d'Arces were involved in designing new artillery defences and fortifications in 1514, though it appears from lack of evidence that little of the planned work was carried out.  Three years later, King James V (1513–1542), still only 5 years old, was brought to the castle for safety.  Upon his death, 25 years later, the crown passed to his week old daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.  In the ensuing wars King Henry VIII attempted to force a dynastic marriage on Scotland.  This led to the refortification of Edinburgh castle.  New defences were added including an earthen angle-bastion called the Spur.  This was of a type known as trace italienne and is one of the earliest examples in Britain.  It may have been designed by Migiliorino Ubaldini, an Italian engineer from the court of Henry II of France and is said to have had the arms of France carved on it.  James V's widow, Mary of Guise, acted as regent from 1554 until her death at the castle in 1560.

The following year, 1561, the Catholic, Mary, Queen of Scots, the widow of King Henry II, returned from France to begin her reign.  In July 1565, the queen made an unpopular marriage with Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and the following year, on 19 June 1566, in a small room of the palace at Edinburgh castle, gave birth to their son James, later to be James VI of Scotland and I England.  Two years later Darnley was murdered at Kirk o' Field and within 3 months Mary married James Hepburn, 4th earl of Bothwell, one of the chief murder suspects.  A large proportion of the nobility rebelled, resulting ultimately in the imprisonment and forced abdication of Mary at Loch Leven castle.  She escaped and fled to England, but some of the nobility remained faithful to her cause.  Edinburgh castle was initially handed by its captain, James Balfour, to the Regent Moray, who had forced Mary's abdication and now held power in the name of the infant King James VI.  Shortly after the battle of Langside, in May 1568 and Mary's flight to England, Moray appointed William Kirkcaldy of Grange as keeper of the castle.

Moray was murdered in January 1570 and next year Sir William decided to come out openly in support of the exiled queen after the fall of Dumbarton castle to Mary's supporters in April 1571.  Government forces under the new regent, the earl of Lennox, immediately laid siege to the castle that May, but since the best artillery was inside the castle, it proceeded inconclusively for two years - hence its name - the Lang Siege.  The town was unsuccessfully besieged in May and again in October.  After the regent appealed to Elizabeth I a truce was declared in July 1572 by English ambassadors which effectively abandoned the town to Lennox.

With the expiry of the truce on 1 January 1573, Grange began bombarding the town although his supplies of powder and shot, not to mention gunners, were running low.  The king's forces now began digging trenches around the castle, while St Margaret's well was poisoned.  By February only Edinburgh castle remained fighting for Mary despite the water shortage within the fortress.  The garrison continued to bombard the town, killing a number of citizens and making sorties to set fires, burning 100 houses in the town and then firing on anyone attempting to put out the flames.  In April, a force of around 1,000 English troops, led by William Drury, arrived in Edinburgh. They were followed by 27 cannon from Berwick, including one that had been cast within Edinburgh castle and captured at Flodden.  The English troops built an artillery emplacement on Castle Hill, immediately facing the E walls of the castle, and five others to the N, S & W.  By 17 May these batteries began a bombardment. Over the next 12 days the gunners fired around 3,000 shots at the castle.  On 22 May, the S wall of David's tower collapsed, and the next day the Constable's tower came down.  This debris blocked the castle entrance, as well as the Fore Well, although this had already run dry.  On 26 May, the English attacked and captured the Spur, the outer fortification of the castle, which had been isolated by the collapse.  The following day Grange emerged from the castle by a ladder after calling for a ceasefire to allow negotiations for a surrender to take place.  When it was made clear that he would not be allowed to go free even if he ended the siege, Grange resolved to continue the resistance, but the garrison threatened to mutiny.  He therefore arranged for Drury and his men to enter the castle on 28 May, preferring to surrender to the English rather than to Regent Morton.  Edinburgh castle was handed over to George Douglas of Parkhead, the Regent's brother, and the garrison were allowed to go free while Grange, his brother James and two jewellers, who had been minting coins in Mary's name inside the castle, were hanged at the Cross in Edinburgh on 3 August.

Subsequent to the siege much of the castle was rebuilt by Regent Morton, including the Spur, a new Half Moon battery and the Portcullis gate.  The Half Moon battery, while impressive in size, is considered by historians to have been an ineffective and outdated artillery fortification.  The battered palace block remained unused, particularly after James VI departed to become king of England in 1603, although some repairs had been carried out in 1584, while in 1615–1616 more extensive repairs were undertaken in preparation for his return visit to Scotland.  The principal external features were the three, 3 storey oriel windows on the E facade.  These faced the town and emphasised that this was a palace rather than a castle.  During his visit in 1617, James I held court in the refurbished palace block, but still preferred to sleep at Holyrood.

James' successor, King Charles I, visited Edinburgh castle only once, hosting a feast in the great hall and staying the night before his Scottish coronation in 1633 - the last occasion that a reigning monarch resided in the castle.  In 1639, in response to Charles' attempts to impose episcopacy on the Scottish church, civil war broke out between the royalists and the Presbyterian Covenanters.  The Covenanters, led by Alexander Leslie, captured Edinburgh castle after a short siege, although it was restored to Charles after the peace of Berwick in June of the same year.  The peace was short-lived, however, and the following year the Covenanters took the castle again, this time after a three-month siege, during which the garrison ran out of supplies.  The Spur was badly damaged, and was subsequently demolished in the 1640s.

In May 1650 the Covenanters signed the treaty of Breda, allying themselves with the exiled Charles II against the English Parliamentarians, who had executed Charles I the previous year.  In response to the Scots proclaiming Charles king, Oliver Cromwell launched an invasion of Scotland, defeating the Covenanter army at Dunbar in September.  Edinburgh castle was taken after another damaging 3 month siege.  After his Restoration in 1660, Charles II maintained a full-time standing army, part of which was continuously maintained at the castle.  Thus the medieval royal castle was transformed into a garrison fortress until 1923. 

During 1688 the Protestant William of Orange landed in England and the more Catholic James VII of Scotland and II of England, the last Stewart king, fled into exile.  William and his wife, Mary (James's elder daughter), were proclaimed joint sovereigns of England, while the governor of Edinburgh castle, the duke of Gordon, prepared the fortress for defence.  The siege began in March 1689 and lasted for three months, with initially 160 men holding off 7,000.  Gordon eventually surrendered on 14 June, due to dwindling supplies and having lost 70 men during the siege.  By this time William and Mary had been offered and accepted the Scottish Crown.  Under the terms of the Acts of Union, which joined England and Scotland in 1707, Edinburgh was one of the four Scottish castles to be maintained and permanently garrisoned by the new British Army, the others being Stirling, Dumbarton and Blackness.

The castle was almost taken in the first Jacobite rising in support of James Stuart, the Old Pretender, in 1715.  On 8 September, just two days after the rising began, a party of around 100 Jacobite Highlanders, led by Lord Drummond, attempted to scale the walls with the assistance of members of the garrison, but the assault failed.  In 1728, General Wade reported that the castle's defences were decayed and inadequate, and a major strengthening was carried out into the 1730s.  This saw the completion of the Argyle battery, Mills Mount battery, the Low Defences and the Western Defences.

Within a few years of the completion of these works the last military action at the castle took place during the second Jacobite rising of 1745.  The Jacobite army, under Bonnie Prince Charlie, captured Edinburgh town without a fight in September 1745, but the castle remained in the hands of General George Preston.  After their victory over the government army at Prestonpans on 21 September, the Jacobites attempted to blockade the castle, which brought them under the fire of the garrison guns.  The Jacobites had no heavy guns with which to respond so they withdrew, leaving Edinburgh to invade England.

With no more attacks on the castle it became useful for holding prisoners of war, although upkeep included building powder magazines, stores, the Governor's house in 1742 and the New Barracks (1796–1799).  The use of the castle as a prison ended in 1814 after 49 prisoners of war had escaped through a hole in the S wall.  In 1818, Sir Walter Scott discovered the Crown of Scotland, believed lost after the union of Scotland and England in 1707, in a sealed room, now known as the Crown room. The Honours of Scotland are still on public display within the castle.

Description
The castle stands upon the plug of an extinct volcano, which is thought to have risen about 350 million years ago during the lower Carboniferous period.  Subsequent glacial erosion was resisted by the basaltic dolerite, which protected the softer rock to the E, leaving a crag and tail formation.  The summit of the rock is 430' above sea level, with rocky cliffs to the N, S & W, rising some 260' above the surrounding landscape.  This means that the only readily accessible route to the castle lies to the E, where the ridge slopes more gently.  The defensive advantage of such a site is self-evident, but the geology of the rock also presents difficulties, since basalt is extremely impermeable.  Providing water to the upper ward of the castle was problematic, and despite the sinking of a 92' deep well, the water supply often ran out during a drought or siege, as occurred during the Lang Siege in 1573.

Archaeological investigation has yet to establish when the castle rock was first used as a place of human habitation. The fortress was initially referred to as the castle of the girls, slavegirls, young wives, maidens, or ladies (Castellum Puellarum).  This name was in use from the time of King David I (1124–1153) up until the 16th 
century, although its real meaning has been lost.  As can be seen from the above, the name Maidens' castle is merely one possible translation of many.  It is logical that the early castle was contained on the highest point of the rock and that the only approach, from the town to the E, therefore contained the bulk of the defences and a series of fortified gates, each physically lower down the rock tail than its predecessor as the approach circled up around the citadel to the N via the lower and middle ward.

In front of the castle to the E of the lower ward is a long sloping forecourt known as the Esplanade. The was originally the 16th 
century hornwork known as The Spur.  The gatehouse at the head of the Esplanade was built in only 1888.  The dry ditch that protects this gate was only completed in its present form in 1742.  Within the lower ward the road, built by James III in 1464 for the transport of cannon, leads upward and around to the N of the Half Moon Battery and the Forewall Battery, to the Portcullis Gate.  This was begun by the Regent Morton after the Lang Siege of 1571–73 to replace the destroyed round Constable's Tower.  The upper parts of the gatehouse were only completed in 1584 and these were further modified in 1750.  Just inside the gate is the Argyle Battery, overlooking Princes Street, with Mills Mount Battery, the location of the One O'Clock Gun, to the W.  Below these is the Low Defence, while at the base of the rock is the ruined wellhouse tower, built in 1362 to guard St. Margaret's well.  This natural spring provided an important secondary source of water for the castle, the water being lifted up by a crane mounted on a platform known as the Crane Bastion.

The area of the middle ward, to the N and W of the portcullis gate, is largely occupied by military buildings erected after the castle became a major garrison in the early 18th 
century.  Behind these buildings is Butts Battery, named after the archery butts formerly standing here.  Below this are the Western Defences, where a postern, named the West Sally Port, gives access to the W slope of the rock.  Entered from the W, the upper ward or citadel occupies the highest part of the Castle Rock, and is entered via the late 17th century Foog's Gate.  The origin of this name is unknown, although it was formerly known as the Foggy Gate, which may relate to the dense sea-fogs, known as haars, which commonly affect Edinburgh.  Adjacent to the gates are the large cisterns built to reduce the castle's dependency on well water and a former fire station, now used as a shop.

The summit of the Castle Rock is occupied by the supposedly 12th 
century St Margaret's chapel.  It is said to have been built as a private chapel for the royal family and dedicated by King David (d.1153) to his mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland, who is alleged to have died in the castle in 1093.  The walls would appear to be made of at least four different builds.  The oldest part would logically be the foundations, although these walls are said to have been built when the bedrock of the castle was lowered in the 1570s rebuildings.  This seems a questionable scenario.  To the S the foundations consist of a rubble laid red sandstone.  This rises some 8-10 feet above the uneven bedrock and then transform into a well laid ashlar, which looks quite black where it has not been cleaned.  This is the main floor of the chapel.  Above the 3 lancet windows - of which only the W one seems original - is a rough and ready rubble build where the roof has been raised.  The same styles can be seen in the short E wall which also has a single lancet.  The W wall has been much altered with a rectangular doorway inserted and a lancet window possibly raised in height when this was done.  The N wall has been much, if not totally rebuilt and shows a modern entrance doorway with a blocked and possibly reset rectangular window beside it.  It has been argued that the chapel as it stands is only one portion of a large building which lay to the N.  This seems likely considering the small size of the chapel and its irregular shape.  Internally there is a fine much restored chancel arch of a 12th century style with carved capitals and chevron moulding.  The apse shaped chancel has an original stone roof, while that of the nave has been added later.  This chapel and the nearby church of St Mary, survived the slighting of 1314, when the castle's defences were destroyed on the orders of Robert the Bruce.  After being used as a gunpowder store from the 16th century it was restored in 1851-52.

E of the chapel, the Lang Stair leads down to the Argyle Battery in the middle ward, where a section of a medieval bastion can still be seen hugging the citadel rock.  The E end of the upper ward is occupied by the Forewall and Half Moon Batteries, with Crown Square and the National War Memorial.  These stands on the site of St Mary's church to the S. 
The Half Moon Battery, perhaps the most prominent feature of the castle, was built as part of the reconstruction works supervised by the Regent Morton between 1573 and 1588.  It was built around and over the ruins of David's Tower, two storeys of which still survive beneath it.  Some of its windows may still be seen facing out onto the interior wall of the battery.  The 14th 
century Tower was built to an L-plan, the main block being 51' by 38', with a wing measuring 21' by 18' to the W.  The entrance was via a pointed arched doorway in the inner angle, although in the 16th century this was filled in to make the tower a solid rectangle.  Prior to the Lang Siege, the tower was recorded as being 60' high.  The remaining portions stand up to 49' high from the rock.  This is the most formidable remnant of the medieval castle.  The tower was only rediscovered during routine maintenance work in 1912.  Several rooms are still accessible to the public, although the lower parts are generally closed.  Outside the tower, but within the battery, is a three-storey room, where large portions of the exterior wall of the tower are still visible, showing shattered masonry caused by the bombardment of 1573.  Beside the tower, a section of the former curtain wall was discovered.  This has a single gun loop remaining of the original six which overlooked the High Street: a recess was made in the outer battery wall to reveal this surviving loop.  Also in 1912–1913, the adjacent Fore Well was cleared and surveyed, and was found to be 110' deep, and mostly hewn through the rock below the castle.

S and W of David's Tower is Crown Square, also known as Palace Yard.  This was laid out in the 15th 
century during the reign of King James III (1460-88).  The foundations were formed by the construction of a series of large stone vaults built onto the uneven Castle Rock in the 1430s.  The great hall, usually ascribed to the reign of King James IV (1488-1513), is thought to have been completed in the early years of the 16th century.  It is one of only two medieval halls in Scotland with an original hammerbeam roof.  To the S of the hall is a section of curtain wall, possibly dating back to the 14th century, complete with a parapet of later date.




 

Copyright©2016 Paul Martin Remfry


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