Glasgow III – Glasgow Cathedral, Provand’s Lordship, and the Antonine Wall

We’ll finish with Glasgow by showcasing the really old.  The Glasgow Cathedral and nearby Provand’s Lordship are among the very few surviving buildings from Glasgow’s medieval period.  The Cathedral is the oldest building; Provand’s Lordship is the oldest house.  And the Antonine Wall?  Never heard of it?  We hadn’t either; it was the real northernmost wall (at least for awhile) that separated Roman Britain from those pesky Scots.


The Glasgow Cathedral is a superb example of Scottish Gothic architecture, and the most complete medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland.  The first picture below shows the Cathedral as it looked in 1820 (from a watercolor, “The Saving of the Cathedral”); the following picture shows how it looks today (the front towers seen in the watercolor were

demolished in 1840 as part of a grand restoration scheme that was never completed).

The history of the Cathedral begins with the construction of a small wooden church around 550 AD when St. Mungo started a religious community.  That structure was replaced by a stone church which was subsequently badly damaged by fire in 1136.  The walls of the nave in today’s church, up to the windows, are from the rebuilding that took place in the early 1200’s; the rest of the Cathedral was built in the mid 1200’s.  The Cathedral survived the Protestant Reformation relatively unscathed (as depicted in the first picture) not because the reforming mobs of 1560 were less zealous in Glasgow but because the organized trades of the city took up arms to protect it, the defenders outnumbering the attackers.  The title “cathedral” is now historic, dating from the period before the Scottish Reformation.

The cathedral interior is impressive, with a roof made mostly of wood.

Below are more views of the interior.

The many ceiling bosses of carved wood are all different, beautifully done, and colorful (and difficult to get in focus), as shown below.

There are lots of interesting carvings in nooks and crannies throughout the cathedral (see below).

Another fascinating feature is the lower church beneath the Cathedral.  The land on which the Cathedral was built slopes, which allowed a lower church containing a crypt to be built beneath the choir; the crypt contains the tomb of St. Mungo.  It’s a large area, and

beautiful in a very different way than the soaring upper Cathedral.  The stone bosses are also pretty cool, each one different.

Finally, there’s the beautiful Blackadder Aisle, built around 1500 on the site of  St Mungo’s original church and designed to be part of a transept that was never completed (it’s hard to tell from the introductory pictures, but the cathedral has no true transepts).  The beautiful,

stately, arching white ceiling is highlighted at intersections with very interesting and brightly painted carved stone bosses.


Provand's Lordship, near the Glasgow CathedralThis house, the oldest in Glasgow, was built by (and near) the Glasgow Cathedral in 1471.  It likely reflects “the lifestyles of the rich and famous” for that time.  It was originally the home of one of the 32 canons who managed a part of the Cathedral’s vast diocese – in this case the land at Provan (the other 31 canons were similarly housed).  By the 1600’s it had become a private home; by the 1700’s, and for the next 200 years, it was used as an inn, with rooms on the upper floors and a wide range of shops on the ground floor.  A small extension housed the city’s hangman.  It’s a pretty cool place, all stone with massive, rough-hewn, low-hanging beams and fireplaces everywhere.  The entrance opens into the

kitchen – where it’s very obvious that cooking was not a big production!  And of course a

dining room.  The rooms upstairs are old-time, rustic gorgeous.  The room shown below belonged to a canon from 1501 – 1513; he was both a priest and a lawyer.  The room would have served as a living room, bedroom and office.

Other rooms are shown below.

Provand’s Lordship houses one of Scotland’s best collections of furniture from the 1600’s. The chairs below are examples.

Provand’s Lordship also had medieval stained glass windows (now obtained from elsewhere).  The windows below were from England in the 1600’s and commemorate marriages between notable families.

The window below shows 3 saints: St. Nicholas, St. Paul and St. Peter.  It was made in the Netherlands in the 1500’s; the trefoil and 2 quarterfoil panels at the top are from England, made in the 1300’s.

The windows below are from the 1300’s.  The left window has panels depicting an angel, St. John the Baptist (from France) and an unidentified female saint (from England).  The second window depicts an unidentified male saint (from England).  Strangely, there were no stained glass windows from Scotland.



What?  Never heard of it?  Interesting how history does that to us.  Yet you’ve heard of Hadrian’s Wall, right?  That northern-most demarcation of Rome keeping those pesky Scots at bay?  Actually, that northern-most border was the Antonine Wall.

We discovered the little-publicized Antonine Wall when we visited a museum at the University of Glasgow; it’s a gorgeous university, as shown below.

Just for review, as noted in our Hadrian’s Wall post (Hadrian’s Wall), that wall was built in 122 AD; it was 73 miles long, went from coast to coast, and was built 15 – 20 feet tall from quarried stone (in the middle of nowhere), with 80 stone forts along its length.  Probably as a result of continued attacks from Location of Antonine Wallthe unconquered north, in AD 142 Hadrian’s successor Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered a new wall built about 70 miles further north of the existing wall.  Again these clever Romans somehow knew where the shortest distance would be, and the wall was built from the river Clyde just above present-day Glasgow to the Firth of Forth just west of present-day Edinburgh.  The wall was 39 miles long, about 13 feet high, and 16 feet wide; it took 12 years to complete.  It was built of turf and earth on a stone foundation.  Like Hadrian’s Wall it had a deep ditch on the north side and a military road on the south.  A wooden palisade is thought to have been on top.  It was protected by 17 forts with about 10The Antonine Wall and forts “fortlets”, very likely on (Roman) mile spacings.  In spite of the effort it took to build the wall, it was abandoned only 8 years after completion (162 AD), the garrisons being relocated back to Hadrian’s Wall.  Following a series of attacks in 197 AD, the emperor Septimius Severus arrived in Scotland in 208 to secure the frontier.  He ordered repairs and re-established legions at Antonine’s Wall (after which the wall also became known as the Severan Wall).  Only a few years later the wall was  abandoned for the second time and never fortified again.

Apparently the ruins are not much to see; the turf and wood wall have largely weathered away.  Still, the various legions that built the wall commemorated their finished construction and their victorious struggles with the natives (called the Caledonians) in decorative local limestone slabs, called “Distance Slabs”.  The slabs were set into stone frames along the length of the wall.  Dedicated to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, they identify the legion, the length of the wall they built, and with symbolic imagery they depict the might of the Roman army and the native population in defeat.  In the largest known slab (shown below), the inscription reads: “For the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, Father of his Country, the Second Augustan Legion built this over a distance of 4652 paces.”

Other examples are shown below.

A number of stone statuary items from the bath houses and fort buildings attest to the Romans’ love of art even at their furthest outposts.

Other artifacts like coins and leather shoes were of course also plentiful.

That’s enough on Glasgow!  Next post is a change of pace, on England’s Lake District.


Glasgow II – Art Museums

Glasgow has 2 fabulous art museums, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery (and Museum) and the Burrell Collection from a wealthy shipping baron.


As you can see from the pictures below, the Kelvingrove is big!  To the point of overwhelming.  We spent a couple of days there.

The grand 100-yr-old Spanish Baroque building is sort of a condensed version of our Smithsonian.  It has a Spitfire fighter plane hanging from the ceiling, stuffed animals (elephants, giraffe, kangaroo, moose), the Mackintosh exhibits we showed in the last post, exhibits from ancient Egypt, “Scotland’s First Peoples”,  etc.  I’m going to show some of its amazing artwork, starting with Impressionists.  Below are different treatments of still life – it’s always fun to compare!  The first picture (alas, slightly out-of-focus – all of the lighting was really dim!) is by Francois Bonvin, a mostly self-taught French painter with whom I was unfamiliar.  The rest are by artists we all know.

Discovering a “new” (to us) artist whose work we enjoy is always a special treat, and the Kelvingrove held several nice surprises hidden among the “masters”; maybe we should know these artists, but don’t?  Henri Le Sidaner, Othon Friesz, Armand Guillaumin?    Pictures of some of the paintings are shown below, pretty much arranged chronologically.

Another day and a change of pace – Flemish and Dutch Masters.  What a treat!  Below is a collaboration between Rubens and Brueghel (Rubens, of course, did the nudes).

Although we really like this period of art, we haven’t been very good students; there are a lot of painters here that we aren’t familiar with – like Pickenoy, below.

Another unfamiliar artist was the landscape painter Jan van Goyen; he was very poor, but became very influential.  In order to sell his paintings cheaply, he painted thinly and quickly with a limited palette of inexpensive pigments, sometimes churning out a painting a day.  His limited tonal range ended up being widely copied.  Impressive!

Yet another artist new to us was Jacob van Es.  Not much is known about this guy, but his paintings were in many collections of the times – Rubens owned two of his paintings.

OK, time for somebody we do know!  Rembrandt’s painting of his wife, pregnant with their first child, is shown below.  She’s dressed as Flora, Roman Goddess of flowers.  It’s fabulous.

Two other artists we weren’t familiar with are Egbert van der Poel and Willem Kalf; their paintings are shown below.  That last picture is by David Teniers the Younger; we didn’t know him either, but apparently he was considered one of the greatest painters in Europe

in his day, and hundreds of his pictures are in the museums of major cities.  Live and learn!

We discovered Rachel Ruysch earlier in our travels, and we consistently find her work in major cities.  She’s the daughter of a botanist (who had an insect collection and was, himself, an amateur painter); the rest, as they say, is history.  She was selling her still-life

paintings at the age of 18, and enjoyed great fame and reputation in her lifetime.

The last picture we’ll show from the Kelvingrove is one they’re very proud of.  Spoiler alert, it’s a bit more modern than the ones I’ve been showing you!  I’m sure you’re familiar with

it.  It’s a big painting, and very impressive.


Sir William Burrell was a Glaswegian shipping magnate who collected every conceivable form of art – including fireplaces and doorways.  The collection is incredible; the stunning amount of beauty would put most museums to shame, and it was hard to decide what to photograph.  The collection includes medieval The Warwick Vase, 100-200 AD, found in Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli; reconstructedart (stained glass, tapestries), Egyptian, Islamic and Chinese art, French Impressionist paintings, sculpture, armor, architecture, furniture….  Be prepared for ecclectic!  So where to start, eh?  How about this vase, found in Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, from 100-200 AD (restoration in the 1700’s).  Fill it with wine and take a bath?

Next let’s visit one of my addictions, stained glass.  The Burrell Collection has over 700

medieval stained glass panels from across Europe, one of the greatest collections in the 3 panels from a French cathedral, ~1280world.  The 3 panels shown on the left came from a French cathedral from about 1280 (!), showing a wedding party in the center, with kitchen scenes above and below that referenced the trade guild that paid for the window.  The only paint on the glass is a brown metal oxide that defines the faces, hair and folds of the clothes.  The individual pieces of colored glass are small, and therefore the many lead canes holding them together made the panels strong.  There are few restorations, and the window looks almost exactly like it did 750 years ago.

Below are a few more really old panels.

The panels that follow are still from the 1400’s, although the late 1400’s.  In the first picture below, the floor pattern and the L-shaped table create good perspective.  Details of

the faces, clothes and food were added using metal oxide paint.  The yellow hair and musical instruments were painted on the glass using silver stain.  Below are a few more glass panels, from the early 1500’s.

We’ll end this medieval glass section with 3 (composite) windows.

We’re switching now to tapestries, and then embroidered clothes.  The pictures below are just two of many very impressive tapestries.   Both are wool and silk.  Gorgeous, aren’t they?

The early 1600’s were a period of peace and prosperity in Britain, and a time when aristocrats used clothing to flaunt their wealth.  Linen and silk garments were richly decorated with silk, silver, and gold threads – as you can see below.

The last set of pictures shows a “petticoat”.  It’s a lot of cloth, as you’ll notice below!  Then

again, dress fashion in the 1600’s was designed to display a lot of cloth.  The museum states that the prominent placing of thistles (Scottish emblem) at the top of the embroidered border suggests it was created for the wife of King James VI (of Scotland; alias James I of Great Britain – see previous post “Stirling Castle” for James’ history).

As mentioned earlier, there are fireplaces and doorways in the collection ….

There’s Burrell’s dining room, where the walls are carved wood.

Statues of course – here are some bronzes from Rodin –

And the pottery!  It was fabulous stuff.  I’ll just show a bit of old Chinese pottery (and some carved jade), shown below.

The pottery below is porcelain from China’s Qing Dynasty, Kangxi period (1662 – 1722) – with the exception of the last item that’s carved ivory.

There were of course the high-tech weapons of the middle ages ….

And now the paintings!  Oh my!  What a collection!  There are over 600 paintings in the Burrell collection.  Considering the length of this post, you’ll be relieved to know I won’t show them all.  The paintings from earlier centuries are sometimes from a famous painter’s workshop rather than from the artist himself, as illustrated by the first painting below.  Many others are from the masters themselves; the Bellini (!) is exquisite, as is the painting by Giovanni Battista Moroni, one of the great portrait painters (Italian) in the

Late Renaissance period.  I’ve separated out paintings from my favorite period, the masters of the 1600’s, shown below.

One of the strengths of this collection is French Impression painters, one of our favorite periods.  Some examples below.


We’ll finish this oh-so-long post with paintings by Degas.  The Burrell has one of the finest Degas collections in Europe, with 22 paintings, pastels and drawings.  The pictures below are of his dancers, all but the first being pastels – and that picture is one of Degas’ first paintings of the ballet.

Well, we generally exhaust the patience of anyone who accompanies us to a museum.  If any of you have made it aaall the way through this post, our congratulations!

The next post (and last on Glasgow) is on Glasgow’s churches.

Glasgow I, The City

Glasgow lives in the shadow of its royal, history-ladened neighbor, Edinburgh (post Edinburgh II).  However, we liked Glasgow better, for several reasons:

  • Glasgow is a “real”city –  it’s not a big tourist destination, so you won’t find costumed sales folk hawking tours, and souvenir shops on every corner.
  • the architecture is fascinating – Victorian, playful facades, visionary Art Nouveau, and modern riffs off the latter.
  • There’s a lot of the incredible art and architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his  less-well-known wife, Margaret MacDonald.
  • And the museums aren’t bad either!

Let’s begin with some pictures of the streets and buildings of this interesting city.  Glasgow is a port city;  in its heyday (1800’s) it was a wealthy industrial powerhouse and Europe’s 6th biggest city.  Going into the 1900’s, while the rest of the UK was enthralled with Victorianism, working-class Glasgow veered into the modern, incorporating aspects of Minimalism, Art Nouveau, and even some Asian influence.  Today it’s an intriguing city that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  For example, look at the neoclassical Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art in the first picture below, with its Grecian columns; notice that the

equestrian statue (far left) sports a guy wearing an orange road hazard cone, and that the building’s mirrored mosaic is anything but neoclassical!  Or how about this building with the funky ironwork, from Glasgow’s days of iron forges?  Here, Glaswegians call sanded and polished concrete “Glasgow marble”.  There’s a lot of quirk and fun here.  More of the city is shown below.  OK, “more” is a lot of pictures, but then again the city is fascinating!

Even better, most of these buildings are covered with very artsy detail.  It pays to look up as you walk – a bit hazardous, but worth it; as shown below, the building facades are full of sculptures and friezes.

The people have fun too – one often encounters parties, sometimes bizarre, going on.

Not to mention, of course, the pervasive and wonderful Scotch bars!

It’s time for a little (a very little) art history.  In the late 1800’s a backlash against industrialization led to the “Arts and Crafts” movement, featuring hand-made objects with simple designs from nature.  With the new century approaching there was a creative energy for new styles for the new age.  In painting, one expression of new style was Impressionism.  In the design world the new style was “Art Nouveau”, which extended the Arts and Crafts emphasis on nature, incorporating  female figures and embracing modern manufacturing technologies to create flowing, linear, and abstract forms.

In Glasgow during this time, the Glasgow School of Art became one of the most successful art schools in the UK, with one of its students, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, winning many awards.  Staff and students developed their own approach to Art Nouveau, known as the “Glasgow Style”, that incorporated stylized, linear motifs based on nature.  A decade after Mackintosh graduated he was given a commission to build a new home for the Glasgow School of Art, with the freedom to design every detail.  It’s a pinnacle of artistic and architectural achievement.  A model is shown in the first picture below; well, I was

underwhelmed at first look, but this is a 1909 building, remember, and much here is actually new for the times.  The over-riding theme is ‘letting in the light’.  As you can see in the picture on the right, there are protruding iron arms at the base of the multi-paned windows with stylized roses at their ends (a Mackintosh trademark).  The arms were a new invention that reinforced those very large, fragile glass windows and allowed natural light to pour into the studios.  Throughout the building the lines are Modernist, with Asian

influences and Art Nouveau flourishes; examples shown above.  Alas, it’s a working school, without free access; the pictures above are pictures of pictures.  I can, however, show you tea rooms that Mackintosh designed.

When in 1875 a tea dealer placed table and chair in his shop and sold cups of freshly brewed tea, the tea room was born.  The idea quickly caught on.  Many city-center buildings were converted to tea rooms for meeting, relaxing and doing business – and they were a much better option than a bar for unescorted women.  The face of Glasgow tea rooms was Miss Cranston, who owned 4 of the largest; she favored modern design and unique decoration.  In 1896 Mackintosh was asked to design murals for one of her tea rooms, and his daring designs became a public talking point.  From 1900 on he was the sole designer of every aspect of her tea rooms.  1900 also marked Charles Mackintosh’s marriage to Margaret Macdonald, another graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, and together they collaborated on interior designs and artwork.  The pictures below are from

the “Ladies’ Luncheon Room” that Charles designed in 1900 (now in a museum); pay particular attention to the decorative panel that he did with Margaret (mostly Margaret’s style).  I think it’s fascinating – made with oil-painted gesso plaster on burlap and scrim, twine, glass beads, thread, mother-of-pearl & tin leaf.  There is more art that came from the tea room, of course; the related panel shown below, and beaten tin panels shown


just above.  In “The Dew”, the first picture above, Margaret drew the women’s hair, clothes and plant forms as one continuous looped line, broken only by small cascading circles and droplets – the title’s “Dew”.  Nice.

Mackintosh's Willow Tea Rooms, todayOur final look at a Mackintosh tea room is “The Willow TeaRooms and Gift Shop”.  These rooms are not in a museum – they constitute a 1903 Mackintosh building that is still serving food and tea to the public.  Below are pictures of these rooms as they looked in 1905;

and here is how those first two rooms above – the Front (ladies’) and Back (men’s) rooms – look today.

That last archival picture from 1905 (3rd picture, above) shows the “Room de Luxe” that overlooked the street below; it was the more extravagant and exclusive ladies’ room – a “fantasy for afternoon tea”.  Below is how it looks today; the chairs are reproductions, but

the decoration is original.  It really is exquisite – I don’t think I captured it so well – but it is missing at least one of its artistic highlights, one of Margaret Mackintosh’s more famous works, a gesso panel inspired by a sonnet (Rossetti’s O Ye, all ye that walk in Willow Wood).  It’s currently in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery that we’ll visit in the next post, but I’ll include it here where it belongs.  I think it’s gorgeous.  The story of Willowwood

is as follows:  A man sits by a well in Willowwood.  As he looks into the green waters, his reflection changes into that of his dead beloved.  As his beloved’s gray image fades, he scoops at the water with his hand to drink and grieves over his loss.

One last topic – the Tenement House.  Urban working-class Glaswegians lived in tenements, multi-storied flats often consisting of just 2 rooms and a shared outhouse. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that landlords were finally required by law to supply water to the houses.  The Tenement House was built in 1892 and was designed for the slightly better-off, with 4 rooms and the added luxury of its own toilet.  In 1911 a Miss Townsend

and her mother moved in, and for 64 years she changed nothing.  When Miss Townsend died, a relative came to collect a set of chairs from the will, and “felt like Pip on witnessing the room of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations“.  Ultimately the National Trust of Scotland bought this otherwise ordinary row home as a time-warp display of life back then.  Alas, photos were not allowed; these pictures come from their booklet.

Heating and cooking were done with coal, and the all-purpose kitchen shared laundry duties – notice the wringer on the sink in the first picture below.   Clothes were

dried overhead in this, the warmest room.  Ironing was done on the kitchen table using the flatirons heated on the range, as shown above.  Larger laundry loads were washed in the communal wash house outside.

That’s enough for now, don’t you think?  Next post: Glasgow II, Kelvingrove Art Gallery.


Edinburgh II – the castle, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and the Hogmanay

Edinburgh Castle (and Ginger posing)We’re off to tour Edinburgh Castle.  From the craggy heights of Castle Rock, this mighty fortress dominates Edinburgh’s skyline.  It is believed that a stronghold existed atop this volcanic rock since 600 AD; there has been a royal castle on the site since at least 1100.  As one of the more important strongholds in Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in numerous historical conflicts, suffering through 26 known sieges in its long history.  It claims to be the most besieged place in Great Britain (and one of the most attacked in the world).  I’ll illustrate by covering just 45 years.  In 1296 English King Edward I invaded Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence, capturing the castle when it surrendered after 3 days of bombardment.  Nearly two decades later in 1314 it was recaptured in a surprise night attack by the Scots, who scaled the near-vertical north cliff face; the castle’s defenses were destroyed to prevent re-occupation by the English.  Twenty years later in 1333 the English King Edward III occupied and refortified the castle during the Second War of Scottish Independence.  In 1341 the Scots, disguised as merchants bringing in supplies, retook the castle and killed the garrison of 100.  And so it went.

The castle was both royal residence and fortress, but beginning in the 1400’s it was increasingly used as an arsenal and armaments factory.  The The monster cannon, Mons Megmonster cannon Mons Meg was delivered to Edinburgh in 1457, and by 1541 the castle had a stock of 413 guns.  Increasingly the royal family stayed not at the Castle but at the Holyrood Abbey. In 1501 King James IV built the Holyroodhouse palace by the abbey at the end of the Royal Mile (see the previous post Edinburgh I) and made it his principal Edinburgh residence.  Edinburgh Castle was then used by royalty only for safety or state functions.  Pertinent to what the Castle looks like today was the Lang (long) Siege of 1571, precipitated by the reign of Catholic Queen Mary – a reign opposed by many of the Protestant Scottish nobility.  A year after giving birth to King James VI at Edinburgh Castle, Mary was forced to abdicate and fled to England (well, not only was she a Catholic, but soon after her husband’s murder she did marry the chief murder suspect …).  Her infant son was now King, but Scottish loyalties were divided; some supported the Catholic Queen, others the Protestant Regency that ruled for the infant King James.  The Keeper of the Castle, Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, switched sides to support Mary and occupied the Castle and the town for the Queen.  The town was put under siege by forces loyal to the King over the course of a year (for a month here and there), with occasional skirmishes; the castle was blockaded, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse was garrisoned by the King’s men.  Grange destroyed homes outside the castle to create a “killing ground”.  The King’s supporters, lacking resources and fearing that Grange would get help from the French, petitioned English Queen Elizabeth I for aid (Queen Elizabeth I ultimately had Mary Queen of Scots executed).  A truce was negotiated that lifted the blockade, gave Edinburgh to King James and confined Grange to the castle.  However, when the truce expired the following year, Grange began bombarding the town.  The King’s men responded by laying siege to the castle.  Grange’s  supplies of powder and shot were running low, there were only seven gunners available to man the 40 cannon, and the castle’s well had been poisoned.  All other supporters of Queen Mary had surrendered, yet Grange continued to resist and the garrison continued to bombard the town, killing a number of citizens.  Sorties were made from the castle to set fires, 100 houses were burned, and anyone attempting to put out the flames was fired on.  Finally 1,000 English troops arrived with 27 cannon and, over a 12 day period, 3000 rounds hit the Castle.  Walls and towers collapsed.  Grange finally sued for peace, but when informed he would not be freed, he resolved to continue resistance; the garrison had other ideas, and threatened mutiny unless he surrendered.  He and several others were subsequently hanged (at the Mercat Cross described in the Edinburgh I post).  The Castle suffered considerable damage; only a few buildings remain from the period before the Lang Siege, the most notable being St. Margaret’s Chapel from the early 1100’s (the oldest building in Edinburgh), the Royal Palace, and the Great Hall from the early 1500’s.  From the 1600’s on the Castle was principally used as military barracks with a large garrison.

OK!  Into the Castle!  In typical castle fashion, once you get past the gate, there is a long,

walled, and exposed corridor to another gate, in this case the Portcullis Gate built in 1574 as the main entrance to the castle after the Lang Siege (that different-colored top Heading up to the buildingsstory added later).  And then of course there’s another gate, Foog’s Gate from the 1600’s.  It leads to the highest point and heart of the old castle, Crown Square, laid out in the 1400’s (James III) and formed by Scotland’s National War Memorial, the Royal Palace, Great Hall, and Queen Anne Building (previously the site of kitchens for the Great Hall, now a 1700’s building, extensively remodeled).  They’re shown below.

Below is a peek at the Royal Palace interior.  Scottish royalty lived here until James IV built the Palace of Holyroodhouse – and thereafter whenever safety or protocol was

required.  That last room is Laich Hall, created in its present form in 1617 to serve as an outer reception room and dining chamber for James VI.  Also at the Royal Palace were Scotland’s crown jewels consisting of crown, scepter and sword.  Joining a long line, we weaved past replicas (poorly made) where we could take pictures, and then (keep walking) zipped past the originals, no pictures allowed.  I should note that Scotland’s crown, scepter and sword of antiquity were taken by England and melted down when Edward I captured Scotland in 1296 (noted above); the current crown jewels are from two centuries later, and only survive because they were hidden from Oliver Cromwell when he defeated Scotland in 1652.

Below are pictures of the replicas.  The first is a silver-gilt scepter; the original was given to

King James IV by the pope in 1494; it was refashioned for James V in 1536.  The sword is also a papal gift, presented to James IV in 1507; the handle is silver gilt.  The origin of the crown is uncertain; it was refashioned for James V in 1540.  It’s made of Scottish gold, engraved and enameled, and ornamented with diamonds, garnets, amethysts, quartz and  pearls.  The bonnet is velvet and ermine.

The Great Hall was the castle’s ceremonial meeting place, built by James IV beginning in 1503.  Following Cromwell’s seizure of the castle in 1650, the Great Hall was converted into a barracks for his troops, and after more conversions it became a military hospital. Restored in 1897 as medieval (with Victorian sensibilities), it nevertheless has it’s original

hammerbeam roof, one of only two in a medieval hall in Scotland.

St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest building not only in the castle but in all of Edinburgh.  It was built in 1130 by King David I as a private chapel for the royal family, dedicated to his mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland, who died in the castle.  It is wonderfully simple, in

classic Norman style such as the zigzags decorating the arch between nave and sacristy.  The chapel was used as a gunpowder store from the 1500’s – it is well positioned near the cannon batteries.  The small windows feature St. Margaret and St. Columba who brought Christianity to Scotland from Iona.

In order to build the Crown Square in the 1400’s, a foundation had to be laid that took the form of vaults.  These vaults were used to hold prisoners of war during a number of conflicts from the mid 1700’s through WWII.  They have been re-created to look as they

would have in 1781.  Objects made by prisoners at that time were also on display.

Finally, a look over Edinburgh from the castle heights, and a look back at the castle.

St. Giles’ Cathedral

St. Giles CathedralSt. Giles’ Cathedral is Scotland’s most important church, functioning similar to that of England’s Westminster Abbey.  Its oldest part dates from 1124; much of the current interior was built in the very late 1300’s after the English set it on fire in 1385.  Subsequently many chapels were added, enlarging the church but giving it an irregular plan.  The Scottish crown steeple, a proud part of Edinburgh’s skyline, was added in 1495.

In 1559 at the height of the Scottish Reformation, the firebrand John Knox was chosen to be minister at St Giles.  In addition to founding an austere Scottish Presbyterianism, Knox was also a great reformer.  His insistence that every person should be able to read the Bible forced Scotland’s education system to be 3 centuries ahead of Europe (Subsequently Scotland led the way in math, science, engineering and medicine).   Under Knox the

church was simplified, with an emphasis on sermons rather than rituals.  He replaced the medieval stained glass with clear glass windows (darn it!) – to allow people outside the packed church to participate in the service.  The last picture above, a new window from the 1800’s, shows Knox preaching to a standing-room-only congregation.

In subsequent centuries St Giles Cathedral was subdivided into as many as 4 separate churches, and by the 1800’s it was in poor condition.  Extensive renovation in the 1800’s, including installing its beautiful stained glass windows, gave us the church we see today.  Pictures of the impressive interior are shown below.

In the center of the nave are 4 massive pillars from 1124, shown below.

Stained glass windows are everywhere, and gorgeous.  Beginning with the restoration in the 1800’s, the clear windows of the Reformation were replaced by what we see today – involving considerable controversy.  Stained glass was a radical move for a Presbyterian church abhorring flippant decoration; they were finally allowed if they illustrated Bible stories.  You know that I love stained glass windows, so I’m going to show off a bunch (there are many many more I’m not showing!).  So feel free to skip forward if you – ah –

don’t do windows.  Above are three examples, along with a panel detail from the 2nd and 3rd windows.  The gorgeous window below is from the end of the nave.

Really, almost all of them are pretty spectacular, another example shown below.

There are just an amazing number of beautiful windows here.  I’m going to simply dump a bunch of pictures into one large grouping showing windows with their panel details.  I hope you’ll agree they’re fabulous.

Finally, the Thistle Chapel within St. Giles is relatively new (1911), built for Scotland’s “Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle” (the order founded by King James VII in 1687).  The chapel is exquisite, as shown below.

We’ll end this looooooong post with the finale, the Hogmanay.  This is Scotland’s celebration of the New Year that lasts until the morning of Jan 1, and in some cases Jan 2 (grin).  It goes back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, along with Gaelic celebrations.  Hogmanay is more traditional than Christmas, which was not celebrated here as a festival – likely for being “too Papist” during the Protestant People on a bridge, waiting to join the paradeRevolution.  The Edinburgh Hogmanay is BIG – its celebrations are among the largest in the world; the Guinness Book lists it as the world’s largest New Year’s party in ’96-’97 (approx. 400,000 people).  That picture on the left shows people on a bridge (center of picture), waiting for the line to move in a parade that has been going on for some time by now.  We’ve left that parade for the comfort of our hotel’s roof.  So here we go, back to the start.  It all begins with bands and a Viking parade – torches are always a part – and

continues with a lot (LOT) of Vikings.  You can get a better experience of this parade from the following link – Hogmanay Parade (son Brian showed me how to do this; we have a lot to learn from our kids!).  And then come the people.  LOTS of people.  The river of people is hard to capture from our vantage points.  Most of the people are going up to Calton Hill (previous post) for the overview of fireworks both at the castle across the

city and at this hill (overhead).  And here we go!  Happy 2015!  (Note that I am a year

behind in writing these blogs!  Hey, quit your bitchin’.  I’m still doing it, right?).  And then the fireworks start.  They are spectacular, and we’re between the two sites; the castle in the distance, and Calton hill nearby on our other side.  Below are some shots, both directions.

So we’re off by a year, but it’s almost timely!  Happy 2016, everybody!

Next post – back to the Highlands!

Edinburgh I

We went to Edinburgh twice, once a quick in-and-out to catch the Scottish Ballet, and once at Christmas to explore this city more fully and, wonderfully, to share it at New Year’s with the kids, who came to visit.  So this is Edinburgh in two parts; Part I will include all our first visit and a bit of the second.

Edinburgh castle looms over the city

Edinburgh Castle looms over the city

Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland since the 1400’s.  With a commanding 10th century castle, it was a medieval powerhouse in its time.  It was once the most crowded city in Europe; with rich and poor living on top of each other, it was famed for its medieval skyscrapers – and for its filth and stench (its nickname was “Auld Reekie”).  In the 1700’s it expanded into “New Town”, an area of magnificent Georgian buildings where the upper crust could separate themselves from the rabble.  The Old and New Towns are both listed as World Heritage Sites.  Today Edinburgh is the home of the Scottish Parliament and is the second most popular tourist destination in the UK after London.

In our whirlwind 1st trip we barely saw the city, but we were impressed; impressed not only by the city itself, but also by the number of tourists there in October!  Below are pictures of New Town and Old Town (on the Royal Mile, which goes from Edinburgh

Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse).  The Royal Mile in particular is lined with historic buildings, including St. Giles’ Cathedral, Scotland’s most important church.

That impressive crown steeple is from 1495; the exterior is Neo-Gothic from the 1800’s.  We didn’t go inside this time – but just wait, we’ll visit it later!

Interior, National Museum of ScotlandWhat we did take in was the National Museum of Scotland (interior shown on the left), which had some really cool stuff.  Its primary focus is Scottish arts and history, but there are amazing things from other places, such as those shown below.  On the left is a relief from Assyria – gorgeous, isn’t it?  It’s from the late 800’s BC, from the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II, showing the King as a bearded high priest facing a court official and listing some of his military victories.  It was excavated in 1840 and owned by a Scottish obstetrician.  On the right is a fabulous Chinese vessel depicting a battle scene – alas, I don’t know it’s age.

OK, back to Scotland’s history.  At the beginning of the first century AD, much of Britain was occupied by Celtic Britons; and above them in Scotland, the Picts.  When the Romans invaded in 43 AD, they pushed the Britons west but had little success against the northern folk they called “Picti”, or “painted people”.  Thwarted, they instead built Hadrian’s Wall to keep the Picts out (post of Feb 1o, “Hadrian’s Wall“).  In the AD 5oo’s, Angles from northern Europe invaded and pushed the Britons further west (eg, Wales), but the Angles also had no luck against the Picts.  It would take centuries of warfare before the Picts and the descendants of the Britons and Angles would form a more or less united kingdom.

Pict symbols from the 600's or 700's.Not much remains of the Picts.  Their language survives only in the names of places, but evidence of a developed culture can be seen in their art, which consists of symbols (of unknown meaning) engraved on metalwork or carved on stone (shown on the left).  The purpose and meaning of the carved stones are poorly understood.  Earlier stones may have served as personal memorials or territorial markers; after Christianity spread to the Picts, the stones fell more easily into categories like gravestones.  In the AD 800’s, stone markers were commonplace in Scotland (examples shown below).

And now my favorite from the museum, the Lewis Chessmen.  They were carved from walrus ivory in the 1100’s, and they’re fabulous.  They were found (700 years later) on the Isle of Lewis, one of Scotland’s Hebrides islands that was still under Norse rule in the

1100’s (it had been captured by Vikings in the 800’s).  When found, the hoard contained 78 chess pieces; 10 are here, the rest are owned by the British Museum.  Aren’t the pieces gorgeous??!  I love them!

I’m going to group these next items due to their similar age.  The distinctive tall cross from the 1300’s is from the Argyll Islands of Scotland, where Gaelic tradition held fast.  The middle picture is called “The Declaration of Arbroath”, from the “Letter of the Barons of

Scotland” to Pope John XXII, 132o, “in the name of the whole community of the Realm”, declaring their determination to maintain Scottish independence and support King Robert Bruce.  It reads “As long as only one hundred of us remain alive we will never on any conditions be brought under English rule.”  This sentence is written in big letters on a wall of the museum!  No hand-written letter under a glass case here!  There is definitely an undercurrent of Scottish nationalism that we encounter in many small ways.  The last picture shows a two-handed sword from the early 1500’s called a claymore (from the Gaelic for “great sword”); its distinctive hilt was used only by the Highlanders.

I’ll close our museum trip with 3 more pictures.  The first is a painted ceiling from Rossend Castle, done in 1617 in honor of a visit by King James VI (post August 4, 2015, “Stirling Castle“).  The clothes are a doublet and trunk hose, in silk and silver, from 1660.

The last is actually relatively modern – 1904 – a harp case with Celtic designs carved in Art Nouveau style.

I should also mention the museum had the stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, the first successful clone of a mammal from an adult cell.  But y’know what?  It looked like a sheep.

These next few pictures are from our return trip in December.  We’re staying at the edge of New Town (Princess Street), and from our apartment window we can see into this

fascinating, really old cemetery at the base of Calton Hill – so off we go to visit.  One of the finds is the resting place of David Hume, an extremely influential  Scottish philosopher (eg, his “A Treatise of Human Nature”, 1739, written at age 23, is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of Western Philosophy).  Actually born David Home, he got tired of the English screwing up the Scottish pronunciation of his name and so had it changed.  Also visible is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, parts of it dating from the 1300’s.  Scottish royalty preferred it over the blustery castle on the hill.  The last picture shows a view of Calton Hill from below.

Calton Hill also gives a nice overview of this part of town, as shown below.  The picture

on the left shows how hilly this city is.  From Edinburgh castle on the top of the hill, the (obscured) Royal Mile in Old Town moves off the picture to the left.  New Town starts with Princess Street, angling down to the lower right corner.  Between them is a valley, now the Princess Street Gardens.  Previously this valley was a lake – the town’s water reservoir, sewer, and place to drown witches (~17,000 in 250 years; if you survived the tied-to-a-chair dunking, you were clearly a witch and were burned at the stake).  The clock tower in the picture on the right (above) is a historical building, now a (very) expensive hotel.  The triangular building behind it is the impressive Sir Walter Looking up at Princess StreetScott Monument.  And behind that, perhaps you can see the very large Ferris wheel, part of the holiday celebrations at the Princess Street Gardens.  Now let me show you hilly!  Doesn’t Princess Street look like “street level”?  It certainly seems to be when you’re on it, but remember earlier in talking about Edinburgh I said “… rich and poor living on top of each other …”?  That was literal!  There’s another whole city below your feet, as shown by the picture to the left.  It’s taken near our apartment – that’s Princess Street up above, with the columns!  The poor lived in underground warrens – often without windows – accessible down (literally down) alleys (where chamber pots were emptied).

Today Edinburgh is quite a delightful city, full of life (and tourists).  The pictures below

give you a feel for its architecture.  Below are some interesting buildings, including the

purported “John Knox house” from 1490.  Given the city’s age, there are of course a lot of historical structures, such as the ones below.  The first picture is the Mercat Cross,

where royal proclamations were read since the 1300’s (and many an execution was held).  This structure is actually from the later 1800’s, but is close to the original site.  The Scots do love their traditions – in 1952 a town crier proclaimed from here that Britain had a new queen, 3 days after the event took place – (traditionally it took 3 days for a horse to gallop here from London).  The other two pictures are of a neighborhood wellhead, no longer used.  Before buildings had plumbing, citizens got their water from these wells, piped from a reservoir near the castle.

Embellishment over an alley ("close") built in 1861Our last historical picture is an embellishment over a “close” (tiny alley between buildings).  Here, just off the Royal Mile, in one of the worst slums in 1861, several 250-year-old houses collapsed, killing 35.  As the debris was being cleared away, came a shout from a young lad underneath: “Heave awa’ chaps, I’m no’ dead yet”.


I haven’t mentioned Scottish cuisine yet.  It is very good!  Scotland is everywhere close to the sea, and we took advantage of that, as shown below.

To finish, this last picture St. Giles' Cathedral spires at sunsetshows the top of the beautiful St. Giles’ Cathedral off in the distance, kissed farewell by a beautiful sunset.

Next post: Edinburgh’s Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, and the Hogmanay, Scotland’s world-famous New Year’s festival.





Doune Castle

Doune CastleWe loved Doune Castle, not because it’s grand – it isn’t – but because it’s “real”.  Yes, it’s ruined, but it’s still one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Scotland.  By escaping restorations in later years, particularly those done with Victorian trimmings in the late 1800’s, it has remained true to its original plan, and thus allows us to see what “home life” was like for a very important man in the late 1300’s.  We should note that we are not the only ones enamored of the “realness” of this castle.  Back in 1975, the famous British comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed here; more recently, exterior and interior shots of the castle were used for Winterfell during the Game of Thrones’  first season.

Although Doune Castle is only about 5 miles from Stirling Castle (the “crossroads of Scotland”; see the Stirling Castle post), it’s nowhere close in terms of historical importance.  Still, history swirled around Doune Castle.  The castle is thought to have been built in the 1260’s but damaged during the Scottish Wars of Independence (also described in the Stirling Castle post).  It was rebuilt in its present form by Robert Stewart, the second son of Scottish King Robert II and great-grandson of Robert the Bruce.  The castle was at least partially complete by 1381.  Set on steeply sloping ground and surrounded on three sides by two rivers, the castle was strong and defensible, yet it was also built with luxurious accommodation. In an age when the conspicuous display of wealth and status were seen as vital in maintaining authority, no expense was spared on Doune.

The early Stewart history is pretty interesting, so I’ll share a bit of it here.  King Robert II, an aging and unpopular king, was removed from direct rule in 1386; his eldest son was politically weak, so his second son, Robert Stewart, became Regent (Guardian of Scotland), making him basically King of Scotland in all but name.  Doune thus became a virtual royal castle.  Then the intrigue began!  With Robert II’s death in 1390, Stewart’s older brother ascended the throne as King Robert III.  However, Stewart’s astute (read: ruthless) political maneuvering allowed him to retain his role as Regent.  In 1393 power was returned to King Robert III, who was to rule with the assistance of his eldest son, David.  In 1399, owing to the King’s “sickness of his person”, young David was appointed Guardian of Scotland in his own right for a period of 3 years; but, due to his youth (did you guess it?), he was supervised by a special parliamentary group dominated by Robert Stewart.  David, however, did his own thing, including circumventing proper procedures and confiscating various revenues in different parts of Scotland.  As soon as David’s Guardianship expired in 1402, he was arrested and imprisoned in Stewart’s Falkland Castle where he died from neglect and starvation; somehow Stewart was cleared of blame in his nephew’s death.  King Robert III feared for the life of his 12-year-old son James, now heir to the throne, and decided to send him to France for safety.  However, before James could reach France his ship was captured by pirates, who delivered him to King Henry IV of England (no, I’m not making this soap opera up!).   Robert III died two weeks after James’ capture, making the imprisoned boy King James I of Scotland; by default Robert Stewart once again became Guardian of Scotland.  James was imprisoned in England for 18 years; Stewart, of course, was not eager to ransom him back to Scotland and thus ruled as “Scotland’s uncrowned king” until his death in 1420.  His son Murdoch Stewart succeeded him as Guardian.  When King James I was finally freed in 1425, he executed Murdoch and Murdoch’s two sons for treason for failing to ransom him earlier.  Doune Castle was forfeit and became a royal possession.

Subsequently the royal family used Doune Castle as a royal retreat from the burdens of state and a pleasant summer residence where they could relax and hunt in the nearby forests.  Later it was also used as a “dower house” for the widowed wives of Kings James II, III and IV.  Both Mary Queen of Scots and King James VI stayed at Doune castle on several occasions in the 1500’s.  However, wars and strife began to take their toll.  Doune was held by forces loyal to Mary during the brief civil war which followed her forced abdication.  The Castle was involved in a number of religion-inspired conflicts with James VI and Charles I, and was the site of plots and captures and imprisonments.  Only when King James VI left for London in 1603, to become James I of England, did Doune’s role as royal retreat effectively come to an end.  Royalists occupied the Castle in 1645 during the English Civil Wars, and a skirmish occurred there against Cromwell’s occupation of Scotland.  Government troops were garrisoned within the Castle during the Jacobite Risings of the late 1600’s and late 1700’s.  The Castle was occupied by Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite Highlanders, and it was used as a prison for captured government troops.  By 1800 Doune Castle was a roofless ruin.  Well!  Hope you enjoyed that brief history of the intrigue that swirled around Doune Castle!  Back to our visit.

Happily the castle was structurally still in good shape.  Restorations in 1880 primarily repaired or replaced structural elements (the timber roofs and some internal floors) without adding too many “Victorian” details.   The Castle was originally planned Doune Castle Floor Planas a courtyard with buildings on all sides, but only the buildings on 2 sides were completed.  As shown in the castle floor plans, there was a tower house over the entrance containing the rooms of the Lord and his family, and a Artist's view of Doune Castle in 1407 (ignore the raindrops)separate tower containing the kitchen and guest rooms.  The two were linked by the Great Hall.  An artist’s rendition of what the Castle would have looked like in 1407 is shown to the left.

So let’s go look at this cool castle!


The most striking feature of the castle from the outside is the 100 ft high gatehouse (or The Duone Castle "Lord's tower" (and entrance)“the Lord’s tower”) shown in the first picture of this post and again in this picture.  In addition to being the entrance to the castle, the tower also houses, vertically, the Lord’s Hall and three further stories of chambers that were the duke and duchess’ apartments.

The gatehouse entrance was well defended with 2 solid wooden doors and a massive cross-barred steel gate that could be raised and lowered.  Alas, I missed getting a picture of the entrance, but I cribbed

one from the internet, shown above.  The entrance is quite long and has guardhouses on both sides.  The courtyard picture above shows entrance stairs leading to the kitchen on the left and to the Great Hall on the right; it also shows one of the two wells in the Storage Cellarcastle.  All the ground-floor arched doorways visible in that picture, such as the two at the far right of that image, are storage cellars; an example is shown to the left.  In fact, the entire ground floor of the castle building was taken up by storage cellars.

The stairs from the courtyard lead to a triangular lobby, shown in the first picture below.  On your right is an arched entrance that leads to the cathedral-like Great Hall, the main reception room used for

feasts and large gatherings.  It’s one of the best preserved Great Halls in Scotland.  Heat for this large room was provided by a central “fireplace”, an area in the middle of the floor for burning fuel.  There was no chimney – only a smoke hole in the roof.

From the Great Hall one could enter Robert Stewart’s “Lord’s Hall”, shown below.

It has an unusual double fireplace. The floor tiles and paneling are additions from the 1880 restoration.  This room may have been Robert Stewart’s sleeping quarters, but his

private chamber could also have been the room above (although that room might have belonged to the duchess).  There is another nice room or apartment above this one, including an en suite bathroom.

A really cool kitchen is conveniently located just across the triangular lobby from the Great Hall.  The kitchen is virtually a tower house itself, and was one of the best-appointed castle kitchens in Scotland in its day.  It has two large serving hatches with unusual elliptical arches for passing food from the kitchen to the Great Hall.  In the picture below, you are standing inside the kitchen looking through the lobby into the Great Hall.  Think

big feasts!  The kitchen had an oven and an incredibly wide (18 foot) fireplace, shown

above.  Think REALLY big feasts!  The distance from the fireplace to the serving hatches is just a few feet, so the food would arrive piping hot in the Great Hall, for sure!  A stair turret leads from the lobby to two stories of guest rooms – probably warmed by the kitchen fires on cold winter nights.

Finally, there are cool gargoyles on the castle walls.  The ones below are on the Lord’s Tower, on the courtyard side.

We hope you enjoyed this castle like we did.  Although it is a ruin, there is so much of it left, unchanged from 1381, that we could very much imagine what it was like to live in a castle in those times – secure, but far removed from the comforts of our modern life!

Next post – Edinburgh, Scotland.






Stirling Castle

“He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland”.  The quote refers to Stirling Castle, which was the center of Scottish history for centuries.  The castle was all but impregnable, surrounded on 3 sides by nearly vertical rock cliffs with sweeping “I can see forever” views.  The castle’s importance, however, was due to those sweeping views overlooking a bridge over the River Forth, the primary passage between the Lowlands and Highlands.  Due to its strategic location and  invincible fortifications, it was both a focus for conquest and a safe refuge for royalty.  So much history occurred around this castle that I would be remiss not to mention some.  I promise a rather quick sketch.  In depth, the history reads like a trashy novel – victories, banishment, plotted returns, intrigues, murder, assassinations, a son waging war (and killing) a father, imprisonments, escapes, revolts, beheadings ….  The kings led interesting, if short, lives.  We won’t go there (much), though – just a bit of history of the castle.  This will be a long post, so feel free to skip to the pictures that follow!  However, I think the history provides very useful context.

Stirling Castle’s written history began in 843, when an historian noted that Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of Scotland, besieged Stirling Castle during his successful fight to unite the Picts and Scots into the kingdom now known as Scotland.  At some point it became the home of Scottish royalty; in 1110 King Alexander I dedicated a royal chapel there, and his successor King David I made Stirling itself a royal city.  Skirmishes with England became common, and Stirling Castle was the football.  In 1174 the Scottish King William I invaded England but was captured at Alnwick (Alnwick Castle, February 14, 2015); to gain his freedom he ceded Stirling Castle to English King Henry II.  In 1189 he got it back when English King Richard I came to the throne.  Then came the Wars of Scottish Independence, which lasted for 60 years.  The outline below shows how the war centered around Stirling Castle.  Notice how the castle ping-pongs between the two countries!!

1296 – Stirling Castle was captured by English King Edward I.
1297 – The Scot William Wallace (a.k.a. Braveheart) defeated a superior English force at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (within sight of Stirling Castle) and later that year took back the castle following a siege.
1298 – William Wallace was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk, and the English reclaimed Stirling Castle.
1299 – The English surrendered the castle to the Scots following a siege.
Drawing of the siege1304 – English King Edward I waged war on Scotland for years; Stirling Castle was the last stronghold; it was besieged and bombarded by 17 siege engines for 4 months.  When a massive trebuchet was built (“War Wolf”) capable of hurling missiles weighing 300 lbs, the Scots surrendered and the English controlled it for 10 years.
1314 – King of Scotland Robert the Bruce (Robert I) retook the castle by beating the 3X larger English army of Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn just outside the Stirling Castle walls.
1336 – Stirling Castle was captured by the English
1337 – A siege of Stirling Castle by the Scots was unsuccessful
1342 – The future Scottish King Robert Stewart (Robert II) retook Stirling Castle in a successful siege.  The castle remained Scottish until the end of the war in 1357.

Two of those battles, the victories of the plucky Scots under William Wallace in 1297 and Robert the Bruce in 1314, both against huge odds, remain a source of fierce pride in a Scotland that still questions its English union.

Before visiting the castle, a little more history (but 400 years worth!) is worthwhile.  The Stewart kings Robert II and III made Stirling Castle their primary residence.  It’s from Robert II’s time that the earliest surviving parts of the castle were built – the foundations of the North Gate, built in the 1380’s.  King James I ascended the throne (then was caught and imprisoned by the English, saw a beautiful lady from his tower prison, wrote a poem about her [The King’s Quair] that we all read in high school, married her [cousin to English King Henry IV], and was released), but was assassinated in 1437, whereupon his queen smuggled son James II into Stirling Castle for safekeeping.  James III was born in Stirling Castle and favored it as his “most pleasant residence” (he was killed in a revolt led by his son James IV).  During the reign of James IV and V, 1490 – 1560 (and beyond), the city entered its golden age; Stirling became the principal royal center.  Almost all the present buildings in the castle were constructed, in grand style, turning the castle into the showpiece of Scotland (i.e., one-upmanship over England).  With James IV’s death, James V was crowned in the royal chapel of Stirling Castle (at age 17 months).  He married the French noblewoman Mary of Guise and had a daughter Mary Queen of Scots.  When James V died, Mary of Guise became Regent of Scotland; with nobles scrambling for power, she brought her daughter Mary to Stirling Castle for safekeeping behind strong walls (she came with 2,500 cavalry, 1,000 infantry, and a baggage train a mile long).  Mary Queen of Scots was crowned (as an infant) in Stirling Castle and spent her early years there, subsequently going to France.  In the face of threats from England, French troops were brought in and the outer defenses of Stirling Castle were built.  Mary Queen of Scots returned to Stirling Castle, wed, and had a son there, James VI (responsible for the King James version of the Bible) in 1567.  The Catholic Mary’s estranged husband was mysteriously murdered, she remarried, there was an uprising, and she was abducted to England and held captive by Queen Elizabeth I.  With various factions plotting for power, Mary was forced to abdicate to James VI, who was crowned king at age 9 months, raised in the safety of Stirling Castle as Protestant, and turned against his Catholic mother.  Stirling Castle became the base for James supporters, Edinburgh for Mary’s.  Attacks were made against Stirling Castle, but failed.  Mary was eventually executed by Queen Elizabeth I.  When Queen Elizabeth died without an heir in 1603, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of a united Scotland and England.  He left for London, returning to Scotland only once, briefly, after 14 years.  With his absence, Stirling’s role as a royal residence declined, and Stirling Castle became principally a military center and a prison.  When James VI died in 1625, the son Charles I inherited a kingdom divided by religion and throne pretenders.  His efforts to impose English liturgy on Scotland led to war – and his beheading, with Scotland choosing son Charles II as their king, who lived in Sterling Castle in 1640, while England got Oliver Cromwell, who turned England into a Republic.  Charles II marched against Cromwell and was defeated; Cromwell’s forces successfully besieged Stirling Castle in 1651, inflicting still-visible shot marks within the Castle.  Charles II fled, but returned as King of England and Scotland a decade later when Cromwell died and the English monarchy was restored.  Religious tension grew, and Charles’ attempted to introduce religious freedom for Catholics was unsuccessful.  When Charles II died and his Catholic brother James VII (English James II) not only ascended the throne but subsequently produced a Catholic heir, war broke out; James, the last Catholic King of England and Scotland, was forced to flee in 1688 and Protestants (William and Mary) assumed the throne.  James continued to claim the thrones of England and Scotland from exile in France and encouraged revolts in his name (Jacobite Rebellions). His grandson the Bonnie Prince Charlie led an ultimately unsuccessful uprising in 1745; the Bonnie Prince bypassed Stirling and captured Edinburgh, but returning to Stirling in 1746 he was unable to capture Stirling Castle.  This was the last time that Stirling Castle was besieged.  The Bonnie Prince’s subsequent defeat ended any chance of Catholicism becoming re-established in England.

Wow!  A lot of history swirled around this castle.  Let’s take a look at it (finally, eh?).  This Depiction of Stirling Castle entrance, 1500picture is an artist’s impression of the grand entrance to James IV castle, based on a detail from a Scottish map done in the late 1500’s; the gate was among the most magnificent in the UK.  When it was constructed, it both strengthened the castle’s defenses and projected the greatness of James himself.  The gate was probably reached by wooden bridge over a moat.  This original gate was higher than the current one; it had 5-story towers capped with conical roofs, and was probably coated in gold limewash, with carved details painted and gilded.

Drawing of Stirling Castle, 1671The first detailed drawing of Stirling Castle comes courtesy of a military engineer in 1671, although the view is not from the gate.

Today the entrance to the castle – the old castle interior – looks like the illustration shown just below, with the buildings built by James IV and Entrance to the Stirling Castle royal buildingsV peeking above the wall.  Comparing this picture with that from the 1500’s above, the current gate is clearly less grand and more military-looking, reflecting its changed role after the departure of James VI (and the impact of siege bombardments!).

The main entrance to Stirling Castle now takes you into the Map of Stirling Castleextensive outer defenses, built by Protestant Queen Anne (daughter of deposed Catholic James VII) in 1708 after her half-brother contested the crown.  This map of the Stirling Castle fortress shown on the left is a good overview.  The original entrance to the castle, now called the “Forework”, is just below the center of the picture.  The current entrance to the outer defenses is at the bottom left.  That entrance is shown in the pictures below.  The entrance takes you to a

courtyard holding pen, with another gate that takes you to the front of the original castle, shown below.  Entrance to the original front of Stirling CastleTurning left after going through that second entrance (the map of Stirling Castle, above, provides a useful overview), one comes to a formal garden/green called the Queen Anne Garden, shown below, although it was already there in the 1400’s for the royal family to enjoy.  You can begin

to see the amazing vista that the castle provides, so let’s take a look around.  It’s

impressive, and many of the important battles of Scotland would have been visible from here.  You will also note, from the map of the Stirling Castle above, that there are a number of cannon that look out over this vista; those cannon were instrumental in blowing up siege towers in later years.

The original entrance to Stirling Castle, much changedOK, in we go through what used to be the grand entrance to the castle.  It definitely looks more military than grand!  The entrance takes us into the “Outer Close” – and mostly to a view of the back ends of the major buildings, the royal palace and the great hall, as well as going downhill to the “Great Kitchens” of the palace.

The Outer Close also had an interesting exhibit on the food of the late 1400’s – as you might imagine, it’s not too different from today.

The Inner Close was the core of Stirling Castle in the 1100’s and continued to be its center (the map of Stirling Castle is again useful).  In its golden age it was surrounded by the trappings of royalty, consisting of the King’s Old Building (private apartments of James IV, 1496), the Great Hall (used for banquets and business, 1503), Royal Palace (built by James V for greater luxury and privacy, 1540), and Chapel Royal (built by James VI for the baptism of his first son, 1594).  These buildings have been restored from their military conversions.

James V built the Royal Palace in grand style, on par with the finest French chateau, in order to impress and “proclaim the peace, prosperity and justice of his reign”.  Here’s what the outside looks like today, and what it would have looked like in 1540:

James V decorated the outside of the palace with over 250 sculptures, including classic gods and goddesses, designed to promote his authority and demonstrate his right to rule.  The statues have weathered (and suffered indignities) over the centuries, but they were clearly nicely done; examples below.  The last picture shows how they would have looked back in the day.

The Great Hall of 1503 was by far the largest banqueting hall ever built in medieval Scotland. Two high windows lit the dais on which the king and queen sat.  Five enormous fireplaces provided heating.  A hammerbeam roof soared above.  It was a grand setting for

the sumptuous banquets of the Renaissance kings, and in particular the two royal baptismal celebrations for the sons of Mary Queen of Scots and James VI.  In the latter, Depiction of the presentation of the fish dish in the Great Hallthe fish dish came on a model ship 15′ long and 36′ high, with a salvo of 36 brass guns.  As you can see from the picture of the Great Hall interior, above, to us the Great Hall really just looked like a big, empty building; it needed the pomp and glitter of tables and tapestry and roaring fires (and roaring cannon) to be impressive.

The Chapel Royal, one of the first Protestant churches built in Scotland, was built for that same baptism for the son of James VI (1594).  The painted frieze in the interior survives from Charles I’s coronation visit to Scotland in 1633.

The King’s Old Building, at the castle’s highest point, was built by James IV for his private residence; the turreted staircase went to his apartment, with spectacular views.  The building has endured 500 years of alterations; the right picture is an artist’s concept of what it might have looked like in the 1500’s.