Address: The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1, UK

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Edinburgh Castle History

The castle stands on a rock where there is evidence of the hill-fort that was built on the summit two thousand years ago. In 638, the castle was captured by the Angles and the area was renamed Edinburgh, having previously been called Din Eidyn. In 1130, King David I built a castle on the rock, which included a chapel dedicated to his mother, Queen Margaret.

Edward I captured the castle in 1296 and in 1314, three months before the infamous battle of Bannockburn in which the Scots defeated the English, the castle was taken by Sir Thomas Randolph, nephew of Robert the Bruce.

The castle was captured by the English in 1334 and retaken again by the Scots in 1341. In 1356, David II ordered the rebuilding of the castle, with David’s Tower named after him.

The great cannon ‘Mons Meg’ arrived in 1457 as a gift to James II and during the early 16th century, the Sceptre and Sword of State arrived, having been presented to James IV. The Crown then completed the ‘Honours of Scotland’. They are recognised today as probably the oldest crown jewels in Europe.

Mary Queen of Scots gave birth in the castle to the future James VI of Scotland – he was also James I of England. In 1568 she fled to England where her son became king. Sir William Kirkcaldy was keeper of the castle at the time and declared loyalty to the exiled Queen.

In 1571, those loyal to the king tried to take the castle, but such were the strength of the defences and the artillery stored inside, they were repelled. What happened next went down in history as the ‘Lang Siege’, as the supporters of the king began a siege that lasted about three years. They eventually overcame the castle with much damage occurring. It was rebuilt soon after and much of what is seen today dates from this time.

In 1688, William of Orange landed in England and James VII went into exile. The castle was surrendered and William and Mary took the crown of Scotland. The taking of the castle was the last real action seen here. The Jacobite rebellion saw a failed attempt by Bonnie Prince Charlie, but it was more of a picketing action than warfare.

When the Act of Union was passed in 1707, which united the crowns of England and Scotland, the Honours were brought back to the castle and locked away.

From this time to the present day, peace ensued, and in 1753 construction started on the esplanade, a parade ground at the front of the castle.

In building the castle, security and impregnability were of such importance that it became the ideal place to hold prisoners of war. So between 1757 and 1814 foreign prisoners from wars with, most notably, France and America were kept here.

In 1818, the whereabouts of the ‘Honours of Scotland’ were questioned and with the permission of the Prince Regent, novelist Sir Walter Scott began a search of the castle. He found them in a box, covered in linen, having been untouched for over a century. They were immediately put on display.

The end of the 19th century saw a fair amount of construction work as the castle became used more and more as a tourist attraction and landmark, with the Scottish War Memorial being opened in 1927.

During the Second World War, the Honours of Scotland were removed and buried in case of invasion.

The Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland in 1996 and is now on display.

 

Edinburgh Castle Visit

Most castles tend to have good vantage points and Edinburgh Castle is no exception, and not only is it high up, it’s in the middle of the city which makes for great city views and easy access when visiting.

As castles go, this is a good one to visit. It’s had the normal castle history of building, destruction, rebuilding etc, but what you see now is pretty much a full building and it provides a great spectacle. There are free tours that take groups every half an hour or so and give a talk about the various castle points and general history. This is well worth the time, with the starting point being on the right hand side, shortly after you enter the inner area near the Argyle Battery.

After the usual turmoil, the castle became a jail or holding place for foreign prisoners captured in the wars of around the 18th century. It was also a military prison for UK personnel and areas in the castle are preserved to show conditions at the time and have on display various original items.

Following the era of foreign prisoner holding, the castle became a tourist attraction. Much construction work then took place to rebuild damaged areas and to present the castle in its former glory.

For tourists today, the castle is well organised, with each area having a separate number and information available on that particular area. Audio equipment is available for hire and this gives information when the relevant area number is keyed into the headphones given to you.

As far as the various areas go, there are about twenty numbered ones. They range from the usual castle areas that are simply rooms made out of stone to the more lavish and decorated areas of modern times. There are a couple of areas used by the military today which are off limits to tourists, but they don’t detract from the visit as there is so much to see elsewhere.

The moat that is crossed initially has always been dry due to the high location of the castle, but it’s impressive nonetheless. On entering through the castle gates, you’ll come across the Argyll Battery on the right hand side. This is an area with about half a dozen cannons and views over the Firth of Forth, the local river. The story goes that Queen Victoria visited what had then become a tourist attraction and remarked that it was no good having cannon points, but no cannons, so when told the only cannons available were the recently redundant naval cannons from the ships, she ordered that they be put on display here. And they’ve been here ever since. The largest on display is the medieval siege gun ‘Mons Meg’.

On the subject of cannons, if visiting, make sure that you see the spectacle of the ‘One O’Clock Gun’. This follows the tradition of a single shot being fired at this time of the day for the benefit of ships in the area to be informed of the time of day. This was useful in the days before proper timepieces, but is now simply ceremonial. The charge is fired from a modern military gun and is surprisingly loud! It takes place on the Mills Mount Battery, next to the Argyll Battery.

The museums give a wonderful view of Scottish military history over centuries, showing all manner of medals, regalia and artefacts. They are places that are well worth spending a few hours exploring.

The Scottish National War Memorial is in the castle and is a wonderful display. The National Shrine shows the names of all Scottish soldiers who have fallen in battles from the First World War on.

Elsewhere, there is the Royal Palace, one of a group of buildings around the square and a place of huge historical significance. This is where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland and James I of England. The Great Hall is a grand place and shows signs of the rebuilding. The display of weaponry is fairly spectacular with dozens of spears and swords on display with supervisors allowing tourists to handle a couple of chosen items.

The Honours of Scotland are housed next to the Royal Palace. They consist of the Crown, Sceptre and Sword of State and are displayed alongside the Stone of Destiny, a stone that has been used to inaugurate British monarchs for 1,000 years.

The oldest building in the castle, indeed the oldest in Edinburgh, is St Margaret’s Chapel. This was the only building left standing when the rest of the castle was destroyed centuries ago. It was built around 1130 by David I in memory of his mother, the wife of Malcolm III.

Of note is the annual Military Tattoo which is held at the Castle in August each year.