–––––– Castle of the Month December 2016 ––––––
Stirling Castle is an awesome royal stronghold and residence, built on a rock above the historic burgh of Stirling, one of the premier tourist attractions in Scotland, with highlights including the restored magnificent palace of James V, the cavernous great hall, the chapel royal, the tapestries, wallwalk, old kitchen, and much much more.
Stirling & Clackmannanshire: In Stirling, on minor roads west of A872, south of A84, at Stirling Castle.
HES NS 790940 OS: 57 FK8 1EJ
OPEN: Open all year: Apr-Sep daily 9.30-18.00; Oct-Mar daily 9.30-17.00; closed 25/26 Dec; 1 Jan from 11.00; last entry 45 mins before closing. Shops, Cafe. Weddings.
Tel: 01786 450000 Web: www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum
One of the most important and powerful castles in Scotland, Stirling Castle stands on a high rock, and consists of a courtyard castle, which dates in part from the 12th century. The castle gets around 460,000 visitors a year, and was voted the best visitor attraction in the Scottish Outdoor and Leisure Awards in 2016.
The castle is entered through the 18th-century outer defences and 16th-century forework of which the Prince’s Tower of the Royal Palace and the gatehouse survive, but the Elphinstone Tower has been reduced to its base. Queen Anne's Garden lies to the left and has an old beech tree, some 200 years old. This area was used as a bowling green and there are introductory exhibitions in the vaults adjoining the garden. This part of the defences were built in the 18th century to strengthen the castle.
The gatehouse leads to the Lower Square, which is bordered on one side by the Royal Palace, and on another by the gable of the Great Hall.
The Royal Palace has been refurbished as it might have been in the reign of James V in the 1540s and has four blocks arranged around an inner courtyard, the exterior adorned with stone carving and many statues. In the vaults below the Royal Palace are a series of exhibitions with the Musicians', Painters'. Carvers', Tailors' and Jesters' Vaults.
This Royal Palace housed the royal apartments, which have been recreated in their magnificence, including the king's inner hall, presence chamber with the ceiling adorned by painted Stirling heads, bedchamber, and queen's presence chamber and queen's inner hall with the Stirling Tapestries, seven tapestries depicting the Hunt of the Unicorn, which took 13 years to weave and cost £2 million – there is an exhibition showing how the tapestries were recreated in the nether bailey. The walls of the Royal Palace have murals including depicting the royal coats of arms and other decoration, and there are fine carved fireplaces.
The Great Hall, which was completed during the reign of James IV in 1503, was built for feasting and state events, and is the largest of its kind in Scotland. The walls are harled and washed in Royal Gold colour. The Great Hall has five fireplaces, a minstrels' gallery and has a modern but magnificent hammer-beam ceiling – the original had not survived. The chamber has been restored from an 18th-century barrack conversion, and is an impressive chamber. In 1594 James VI held a great banquet and the fish course was served from a large model wooden ship which had working cannon. A bridge connects the Great Hall to the Royal Palace.
The Chapel Royal stands on one side of the square. This was rebuilt as a protestant kirk in 1594 for the baptism of James VI's heir Prince Henry (who died at the age of 18 from typhoid fever in 1612). It is an imposing and cavernous church, and was the last royal building at the castle. The walls have painted decoration from 1628.
The King’s Old Building contained royal chambers over a vaulted basement, reached by a turnpike stair.
Other features of interest include the old kitchens, the wall walk and the nearby King’s Knot and Queen’s Knot, ornamental gardens dating from the 16th century of which only the earthwork survive and which once had a pleasure canal.
The earliest recorded castle at Stirling was used by Malcolm Canmore in the 11th century. Alexander I died here in 1124, as did William the Lyon in 1214. Edward I of England captured the castle in 1304 when he used – after the garrison had surrendered – a siege engine called the ‘War Wolf’: he wanted to see if it would have worked. William Wallace took the castle for the Scots, but it was retaken by the English until the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Robert the Bruce had the castle slighted, but it was rebuilt by Edward III of England, after his victory of Halidon Hill in 1333, in support of Edward Balliol. The English garrison was besieged in 1337 by Andrew Moray, but it was not until 1342 that the Scots recovered the castle.
James I had Murdoch Duke of Albany and his sons executed at the castle in 1425, James II was born here in 1430, as was James III in 1451. James II lured William, the 8th Earl of Douglas, to it in 1452, murdered him, and had his body tossed out of one of the windows, despite promising him safe conduct.
Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned in the old chapel in 1543, and James VI was baptised here in 1566. He also stayed here in 1617, as did Charles I in 1633, and Charles II in 1650. In 1651 the castle was besieged by Monck for Cromwell, but it surrendered after a few days because of a mutiny in the garrison.
It was in a poor state of repair in the 18th century, but the garrison harried the Jacobites during both the 1715 and 1745 Risings, and the Jacobites besieged the castle after the Battle of Falkirk in 1746, although not very successfully. After 1745, the castle was subdivided to be used as a barracks. In 1964 the army left, and the building is now in the care of HES. The interior of the Royal Palace is has been refurbished to return it to how it would have looked in the medieval period.
Other features include, exhibition of life in the royal palace, introductory display, and medieval kitchen display.
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum tells the story of the regiment from 1794 to the present day, and features uniforms, silver, paintings, colours, pipe banners and commentaries (www.argylls.co.uk).
The castle has been used as a location in several movies, including Tunes of Glory (1960), Kidnapped (1971) with Michael Caine, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Gregory’s Two Girls (1999), the sequel to the 1981 movie Gregory’s Girl.
The ‘Pink Lady’, the apparition of a beautiful woman, has reputedly been seen at the castle, and may be the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots. Another story is that she is the ghost of a woman searching for her husband, who was killed when the castle was captured by Edward I of England in 1303. The ‘Green Lady’s’ appearance is a harbinger of ill news, often associated with fire. She may have been one of the ladies of Mary, Queen of Scots, and has reportedly been seen in recent times. There are also reports of a kilted apparition, photographed in 1935 and, on another occasion, observed by soldiers walk from the Douglas Gardens, move along the wall of the King’s Old Building, and thereafter vanish.