Thursday 13 May 2010

Stirling Castle – with all its history, defences, wall paintings and tapestries .. and the Museum of Modern Art, NYC

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 ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Jannie Funster said...

Um -- castles, places my heart would love to explore every nook and cranny of. Do you think they'd let me run free to see all in these three? :)

Wow -- 13 months is a young age to be king! :)

Would love to visit the Met Museum too. Perhaps this summer, we are planning to get away for a few nights to somewhere. So much to do in NY! No specific trip plans yet, tho.

Loads of hugs and best wishes.

(And an envelope arrived from across the pond yesterday!)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. I know things were a mix then .. that's why I had to put some of the history in here .. I suspect it won't be so necessary in the next posts - but Scottish English history needs to be clarified ..

I thin you can wander around quite happily - but you might be in the car and off to the next castle - they are so different and quite amazing!

That sounds brilliant a visit to the Met .. with the young man!? .. As you say there is no much to do in NYC ..

Yay for the postal service - hope the child is holding her one arm own .. my favourite tale is Peter Pan .. Kelly'd be a good Captain Hook?! Good hook needed .. the cheese is a bit much - though it's probably gone now?!

Yuo too & BB .. loads of hugs to all .. Hils

Davina said...

Hilary, I too would love to explore every nook and cranny of these castles.

I love hearing this kind of history -- movies in these periods are one of my favourites to see. It reminds me that life existed before me, lol. So much of this can just sound like a fictitious story but it's good to sit and think about what lives were lived before ours. What and who shaped the world before we came into it.

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary. Castles bring up mixed feelings for me. They are always related to battles and imprisonment and death and yet they also have their beauty as well. Castles in Scotland, they must have been sooooo cold. Those tapestries are such work of art, unbelievable. Interesting that under a king who was brought up with the love for literature writers flourished. Love to you both, Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. the wonders of these huge structures .. and they even had hidden passages etc .. just quite difficult to imagine life at that time; now that they’re recreating rooms as they were at a particular time – makes it easier to understand.

The new Robin Hood movie seems to be more realistic and true to the times .. living to survive. They travelled so much between the great houses and countries .. there was lots of comings and goings between France and the Netherlands, as well as Ireland. Certainly those times shaped us .. and the geography determined certain boundaries .. outcrops, mountain ranges and rivers ..

Good to see you – you’ll enjoy the next castles .. a bit more about life .. enjoy the weekend ... Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. I know – we think of the lives lost over time in and around the battlements or on the fields nearby .. unfortunately it was life. They are always so well positioned and strategically placed .. castles cannot be missed! This year it must have been freezing up there .. but then it was a lot colder back in the Middle Ages – you ate to burn the fuel and keep warm! Somehow... makes me cold thinking about it!

These Tapestries - they think started in Holland .. so I’ll do a post on them sometime .. so interesting to read about them and learn a little more about colours, threads etc – let alone the craft work involved.

The influences on a country are dependent on the court – still are to a point .. Prince Charles is very ecologically aware, keeping rare breeds, organic farming, saving rare plants etc etc .. so even now – the erudite kings of the past ensured we had literature, art, science etc .. – they were very keen to be first in all things .. exploration, discovery etc

Thanks Wilma .. good to see you & thanks for your love to us .. – have a happy weekend - Hilary

Cath Lawson said...

Hi Hilary - I've been wanting to visit Stirling Castle for ages and this has made me want to go even more. Edinburgh Castle is awesome too - I've been there a few times.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Cath .. glad I've stirred your heart .. once you visit would you come back and tell us what it's like .. will you get there before you leave these shores?

Thanks - I'll get to do a post on Edinburgh! sometime .. but it'll certainly be interesting to know more - and the Edinburgh Festival looks lots of fun now-a-days.

Thanks for coming by .. it's really good to see you .. have a great weekend .. Hilary

Jannie Funster said...

I LOVE the history part, Hilary! It is always fascinating, and takes me away to the olden times. Oh, I'd love to have a travel machine. I bet the meals were great.

Funny you mention Peter Pan, we took Kelly to Disneyland and she and I rode the Peter Pan ride maybe 6 times -- WONDERFUL!!

Hope you are having a good weekend??


Blue Bunny said...

deer hillree!!

hi -- its me -- yor frend blue bunny. yoo remembir me??

i bin to the kapitil bilding heer in texis, but not yet to a big castil. maybe someday!!

well, i haz 47 mor bloggs on my list today, of off i goes.

wit love,


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. good to know you can travel back in time! I hate to disappoint you – but I suspect the meals were pretty basic – whatever they could catch and not many vegetables, not a lot of seasoning ... and very hard work to make!!

Peter Pan .. my best! Six times on a Disney ride .. I have yet to go once! How fantastic I bet she loved it ...

So far – like you .. a little work! Blue Bunny’s busy I see .. it is warming up they tell us .. ??!! & the ash cloud’s coming again .. life’s fun here .. but at least we don’t have oil – so perhaps I’ll stay here & I’m not going on holiday .. boo hoo .. Mum sleeping mostly ..

You too .. live today the food and vino are better ... have a great rest of weekend .. Hils xo

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hey BB .. tiz U .. I kan zee Ur avatar .. wiv Ur karrit – lucky boy! U hav veg! How cud I forgets U?
Too hard rocksee fer U to burro underneaf .. you’d hav to com in wiv us .. we cans carries U soms of the way .. too far 4 little paws ..

47 blogsees to go .. ooh er .. lots of readings and intelligentsia commenting to do .. hugs to U .. from us heres near the Channel .. wit luv .. H & Mum & Hardwick xxooxx

Patricia said...

This is a fine post and a good start to our Castles education.
I saw the tapestries of the unicorn at the cloisters in New York City. I think I went there at least 6 times and to the Met every trip into the city while in Grad School. I knew I would not be living there after graduation so I wanted to enjoy every moment I could.
We were in Scotland during the Homecoming August 2009 - we could not get anywhere close to the castle for all the people ( 5 million visitors) I really must revisit and see them all.
I am watching the Canadian Series about the Tudor family right now...not sure I would like to live in a castle during those hard times, so much politics, but it was so wonderful to visit and explore.

The US has many fine mansions in the East and we have the Hearst Castle in CA It is a bit hard to get to but just a fabulous trip

Glad to here that your weather is improving. And you mum is holding her own.

Great Post - looking forward to more info.

Unknown said...

Hi Hilary, Incredible post. It was more than 15 years ago when I visited England. In reading your article, I felt like going back to track Scottish history. Thank you for your sharing.

Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia – many thanks, good to hear you enjoyed it.

Lucky you to see the Tapestries in NYC – I’ll write about them, as they are so interesting & to think that such fine work could be woven all those years ago.

Hey hey Patricia .. a good goal – but an unattainable one I suspect .. there have been over 2,000 castles in Scotland .. some are known only through historical records .. plenty still to visit ... that number might test you?!

Five million Scots came home last year .. celebrating the birth of Robert Burns .. amazing – no wonder you struggled looking round!

Glad you’re enjoying the Tudor history .. there’s plenty of that too .. Castles were probably better to live in than anywhere else .. except you were ruled .. and I guess you followed your masters – nobility and the Crown .. or King/Queen to be .. while your support might come from your religion – Catholic or Protestant in simple terms.

I’m sure there are plenty of extraordinary mansions in the States – when Mum and I stayed in Canada we were at the Fairmont at Lake Louise , Banff.. very castle like ..

Looks like the weather’s slowly improving – I’m happy to say .. Have a good Sunday .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shaw .. thank you! There’ve been a few changes in the last 15 years .. but glad you feel that you want to come back to look round more – there’s so much of our history here still obvious and here for all to see. It’ll be good to see you.

Have a lovely Sunday now it’s warming up - Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Castles often have sacred engies and hidden labryinths that exist to teach us much about ourselves. Castle stories shared as legends and myths are actally grounded in truth. One version of history can be explored through many dimensions and perspectives. Be a time traveller and discover for yourself what you find.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. I'm sure there must be lots of energies and there are definitely hidden labyrinths .. in and around ancient settlements.

I'm sure legends are based on truths .. and as you say we can explore our yesterdays, or travel with our future .. seeing what we find.

Thanks for your insightful comments - Hilary

J.D. Meier said...

Each of your pictures tells an interesting story. I especially like the castle on the rock, and the hunt for the Unicorn. They're evocative and an interesting blend of history and imagination -- with artifacts right in front of us.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. thanks ..the pictures seem to bring the stories to life - the map isn't brilliant, but I'm not clever like Jannie (yet) and able to draw on my photos - to point things out!

Glad you enjoy the photos .. they do seem to show a great deal of life over the centuries .. Stirling Castle has a long historical record, which is reflected in its buildings, grounds, and art.

Good to see you & thanks for visiting .. Hilary