Set upon its mighty rock, Edinburgh Castle’s strategic advantage is clear. Seeing the site’s military potential, Iron Age people built a hill fort on the rock. Early medieval poetry tells of a war band that feasted here for a year before riding to their deaths in battle.
As well as guarding great moments in history, the castle has suffered many sieges. During the Wars of Independence it changed hands many times. In 1314, the Scots retook the castle from the English in a daring night raid led by Thomas Randolph, nephew of Robert the Bruce. The castle defences have evolved over hundreds of years. Mons Meg, one of the greatest medieval cannons ever made, was given to King James II in 1457. The Half Moon Battery, built in the aftermath of the Lang Siege of 1573, was armed for 200 years by bronze guns known as the Seven Sisters. Six more guns defend the Argyle Battery, with its open outlook to the north.
Edinburgh Castle: History of the castle
Edinburgh Castle and the Esplanade
On the back:
The Castle, which stands at a height of 443 feet above sea level, has an area at the top of about 7 acres. The records show that the Picts took possesion of it in the 7th century, and in the year 1004 Malcolm Canmore occupied it as a royal residence. In 1174 the castle was taken by the English, but was restored after 12 years.
Argyle Tower, Edinburgh Castle
On the back:
The Argyle Tower
The upper portion has been rebuilt, but the lower part, directly over the Gateway, is the prison in the which the two “Argylls”, father and son, were in succession detained until being led forward to execution.
The Portcullis Gate was begun by the Regent Morton after the Lang Siege of 1571–73 to replace the round Constable’s Tower, which was destroyed in the siege. In 1584 the upper parts of the Gatehouse were completed by William Schaw, and these were further modified in 1750. In 1886–1887 this plain building was replaced with a Scots Baronial tower, designed by the architect Hippolyte Blanc, although the original Portcullis Gate remains below. The new structure was named the Argyle Tower, from the fact that the 9th Earl of Argyll had been held here prior to his execution in 1685. Described as “restoration in an extreme form”, the rebuilding of the Argyle Tower was the first in a series of works funded by the publisher William Nelson.
This great flight of stairs once formed the original entrance to the castle. The gentler alternative route that winds up and around the cobbled hill was created in the 1600s for moving heavy guns.
Kings and queens lived amidst the comfort and splendour of the Royal Palace. Crown Square took shape over time, with King James IV completing the quadrangle in the early 1500s.
The Royal Palace comprises the former royal apartments, which were the residence of the later Stewart monarchs. It was begun in the mid 15th century, during the reign of James IV, and it originally communicated with David’s Tower. The building was extensively remodelled for the visit of James VI to the castle in 1617, when state apartments for the King and Queen were built. On the ground floor is the Laich (low) Hall, now called the King’s Dining Room, and a small room, known as the Birth Chamber or Mary Room, where James VI was born to Mary, Queen of Scots, in June 1566. The commemorative painted ceiling and other decorations were added in 1617. On the first floor is the vaulted Crown Room, built in 1615 to house the Honours of Scotland: the crown, the sceptre and the sword of state. The Stone of Scone, upon which the monarchs of Scotland were traditionally crowned, has been kept in the Crown Room since its return to Scotland in 1996. To the south of the palace is the Register House, built in the 1540s to accommodate state archives.
Banquetting Hall, Edinburgh Castle
Publisher: Alex. A. Inglis, Edinburgh
A wonder of medieval Scotland, the Great Hall was completed in 1511 for King James IV. Its wooden roof is one of the most superb in Britain. Giant beams rest on stones carved with heads and symbols such as the thistle – a badge of Scotland.
Edinburh Castle: The Great Hall