Tess, of The Bold Life, came up with Scotland – perhaps Stirling is a castle her sister visited? .. but I knew little about – I know more now, and something about Scottish history .. so we start this journey of three castles, three very different fortresses, which were established for very different reasons in Scotland, here at Stirling Castle.
I started with Stirling Castle, but it has such an amazing history, and having been restored there is so much to tell you about – the next two castles, Dumbarton & Corgarff, will follow shortly!
Balmoral and Edinburgh – possibly the most well-known castles in Scotland will come later – I have a snippet about Balmoral & I need to ‘trawl’ to find it! Dutch and English (perhaps European) castles next – after Wilma’s request, then Welsh castles ... and English .. and, and .. soooo many beautiful and majestic buildings to tour with you, with perhaps a different twist to the tale.
Stirling Castle has sat crowning the precipitous volcanic crag at the narrowing of the Forth Valley, the Gateway to the Highlands, since the Dark Ages. Its strategic position has always ensured its importance.
Stirling is situated round about the "t" of Central .. The Firth of Forth cuts right in to the heart of the country from the North Sea.
During the sixty year Wars of Scottish Independence, Stirling Castle was recognised as a key Scottish command post being was successfully held against the English King – Edward I of England, 1239 – 1307, who was also known as Edward Longshanks (a tall man for his times) or the Hammer of the Scots.
William Wallace (1272 – 1305), who was to some extent the inspiration for the film “Braveheart”, led resistances during these Wars, including at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where the English were defeated, leading to Wallace becoming the Guardian of Scotland. Robert the Bruce, became Guardian of Scotland after Wallace, and reclaimed the castle for the Scots in 1314 after the Battle of Bannockburn.
Historically Stirling Castle is of great importance: Mary, Queen of Scots, having been brought up in Stirling during her early years, had her Coronation here in 1543. However she was forced to abdicate in 1567 in favour of her young son, James IV of Scotland, who at the Union with England became James VI of Britain in 1603.
Mary sought refuge in England with her ‘cousin’ Queen Elizabeth, but as Mary was Catholic she was seen as a threat as a legitimate heir to the English throne, so Elizabeth had her tried and executed for treason in 1587.
James, having been born in Edinburgh Castle, was brought up in the security of Stirling Castle, where he was crowned King of Scots at age 13 months at the Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling – where the sermon was preached by John Knox.
The young King’s tutor instilled in him a lifelong passion for literature and learning becoming competent in Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Spanish – as well as his native Scots and English. Under James, the “Golden Age” of Elizabethan literature and drama continued, with writers such as Shakespeare, Donne, Johnson and Bacon contributing to a flourishing literary culture, in which James played a major part.
Beyond the North Gate, from the Nether Bailey looking northwards.
James smoothly succeeded Elizabeth I as King of England in 1603, after negotiations had been taking place during Elizabeth’s last years; he rode south to London staying in The Tower of London – another place we will visit. It was at this time that Stirling Castle ceased to be a royal palace.
This great castle has and is in the process of being restored to its former glory. It has however seen occupation from the Bronze and Iron ages of pre-Roman times, the Romans avoided it originally, but eventually Agricola captured and fortified it.
After the Dark Ages, the Scottish Kings at the beginning of the first millennium established a royal centre, which remained, despite the changes of ownership because of the warring factions, as a royal palace until James became King of Britain.
When visiting Stirling, apart from the wonderful views atop this towering rock, the building and grounds show ‘a castle’ at it s best: there’s a deer park laid out in the 1260s; William Wallace and Robert the Bruce have towering memorials erected to them nearby; the early chapel burnt down and was replaced by the Church of the Holy Rude, one of only two places in Britain (still in use to this day) to have been the sites of Coronations – the other being Westminster Abbey.
The Great Hall following restoration.
The Outer Defences with its artillery fortifications, the gatehouse, the Outer Close, the King’s Old Building – the oldest part of the Inner Close, the Great Hall, the Royal Palace – with its Renaissance architecture, and exuberant late-gothic detail – is one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in Scotland, covered with unique carved stonework, a Chapel Royal – with some wall paintings dating back to the early 1600s.
Beyond the North Gate, the Nether Bailey, containing the modern tapestry studio, and finally the two gardens within the castle grounds – one of which is a 16th century formal garden, known as the King’s Knot, now sadly only visible as earthworks, but once including hedges and knot-patterned parterres. The gardens were built on the site of a medieval jousting arena known as the Round Table, in imitation of the legendary court of King Arthur.
Stirling Castle remains the headquarters of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and although the regiment is no longer garrisoned there, the regimental museum is located within the castle.
The tapestry studios are being used to recreate The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, a series of seven tapestries believed to be part of the royal collection in the reign of James IV, which on completion in 2014 will be hung in the restored Queen’s Presence Chamber at the Royal Palace. The team of weavers visited The Cloisters, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, to inspect the 15th century originals and research medieval weaving techniques, colour palettes and materials.
The second of the seven tapestries, often called "The Unicorn is Found"
A castle with it all – a magnificent setting, most of its defences and buildings still in situ, a history to match across the millennia ... leaving our imaginations to wander as we conjure up scenes from yesteryear, the way of life, the battles fought – while remembering some of the reasons why we are where we are today – united as Great Britain .. which then spread its knowledge to territories new.
The Biking Architect asked me to do a guest post .. so I've added a little to the history of Stirling Castle - called Castle Buildings and Hammer Beams, which can be viewed here .. lots about architecture and biking routes too ..
Dear Mr Postman – so much history .. I learnt quite a lot; my mother continues on but cannot hear yet; the weather, I hope!, is warming up a little ..
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