Stirling Castle

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Stirling Castle, located in Stirling, is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland, both historically and architecturally. The castle sits atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag, which forms part of the Stirling Sill geological formation. It is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Its strategic location, guarding what was, until the 1890s, the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth, has made it an important fortification in the region from the earliest times.

Most of the principal buildings of the castle date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A few structures of the fourteenth century remain, while the outer defences fronting the town date from the early eighteenth century.

Before the union with England, Stirling Castle was also one of the most used of the many Scottish royal residences, very much a palace as well as a fortress. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1542, and others were born or died there.

There have been at least eight sieges of Stirling Castle, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle. Stirling Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and is now a tourist attraction managed by Historic Environment Scotland.

Castle Hill, on which Stirling Castle is built, forms part of the Stirling Sill, a formation of quartz-dolerite around 350 million years old, which was subsequently modified by glaciation to form a 'crag and tail'. It is likely that this natural feature was occupied at an early date, as a hill fort is located on Gowan Hill, immediately to the east.

The Romans bypassed Stirling, building a fort at Doune instead, but the rock may have been occupied by the Maeatae at this time. It may later have been a stronghold of the Manaw Gododdin, and has also been identified with a settlement recorded in the 7th and 8th centuries as Iudeu, where King Penda of Mercia besieged King Oswy of Bernicia in 655. The area came under Pictish control after the defeat of the Northumbrians at the Battle of Dun Nechtain thirty years later. However, there is no archaeological evidence for occupation of Castle Hill before the late medieval period.

Other legends have been associated with Stirling, or 'Snowdoun' as it was more poetically known. The 16th-century historian Hector Boece claims in his Historia Gentis Scotorum that the Romans, under Agricola, fortified Stirling, and that Kenneth MacAlpin, traditionally the first King of Scotland, besieged a castle at Stirling during his takeover of the Pictish kingdom in the 9th century. Boece is, however, considered an unreliable historian.

Another chronicler, William Worcester, associated Stirling with the court of the legendary King Arthur. Tradition suggests that St Monenna founded a chapel here, as she is said to have done at Edinburgh Castle, although it is now thought that the legend of Monenna results from a later confusion of early Christian figures, including Modwenna and Moninne.

The first record of Stirling Castle dates from around 1110, when King Alexander I dedicated a chapel there. It appears to have been an established royal centre by this time, as Alexander died here in 1124. During the reign of his successor David I, Stirling became a royal burgh, and the castle an important administration centre. King William I formed a deer park to the south-west of the castle, but after his capture by the English in 1174, he was forced to surrender several castles, including Stirling and Edinburgh Castle, under the Treaty of Falaise. There is no evidence that the English actually occupied the castle, and it was formally handed back by Richard I of England in 1189. Stirling continued to be a favoured royal residence, with William himself dying there in 1214, and Alexander III laying out the New Park, for deer hunting, in the 1260s.

Stirling remained a centre of royal administration until the death of Alexander III in 1286. His passing triggered a succession crisis, with Edward I of England invited to arbitrate between competing claimants. Edward came north in 1291, demanding that Stirling, along with the other royal castles, be put under his control during the arbitration. Edward gave judgement in favour of John Balliol, hoping he would be a 'puppet' ruler, but John refused to obey Edward's demands.

In 1296, Edward invaded Scotland, beginning the Wars of Scottish Independence, which would last for the next 60 years. The English found Stirling Castle abandoned and empty, and set about occupying this key site. They were dislodged the following year, after the victory of Andrew Moray and William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Many of the garrison were killed during the battle, after which the English commanders William FitzWarin and Marmaduke Thweng retreated into the castle. However, they were quickly starved into surrender by the Scots.

Next summer, the castle changed hands again, being abandoned by the Scots after the English victory at Falkirk. Edward strengthened the castle, but it was besieged in 1299 by forces including Robert Bruce. King Edward failed to relieve the garrison, who were forced to surrender.

By 1303, the English again held the upper hand, and Stirling was the last remaining castle in Scottish hands. Edward's army arrived in April 1304, with at least 17 siege engines. The Scots, under William Oliphant, surrendered on 20 July, but part of the garrison were ordered back into the castle by Edward, as he had not yet deployed his latest engine, 'Warwolf'. Warwolf is believed to have been a large trebuchet, which destroyed the castle's gatehouse. Although Edward's victory seemed complete, he was dead by 1307, and Robert Bruce was now King of Scots. By 1313, only Stirling, Roxburgh, Edinburgh and Berwick castles were held by the English. Edward Bruce, the king's brother, laid siege to Stirling, which was held by Sir Philip Mowbray. Mowbray proposed a bargain: that he would surrender the castle, if it were not relieved by 24 June 1314. Bruce agreed, and withdrew. The following summer, the English duly headed north, led by Edward II, to save the castle. On 23–24 June, King Robert's forces met the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, within sight of the castle walls. The resulting English defeat was decisive. King Edward attempted to take refuge in the castle, but Mowbray was determined to keep to his word, and the English were forced to flee. Mowbray handed over the castle, changing sides himself in the process. King Robert ordered the castle to be slighted; its defences destroyed to prevent reoccupation by the English.

The war was not over, however. The second War of Scottish Independence saw the English in control of Stirling Castle by 1336, when Thomas Rokeby was the commander, and extensive works were carried out, still largely in timber rather than stone. Andrew Murray attempted a siege in 1337, when guns may have been used for one of the first times in Scotland. Robert Stewart, the future King Robert II, retook Stirling in a siege during 1341–1342. Maurice Murray was appointed as its keeper, who in the words of Andrew of Wyntoun 'inforsyt it grettumly, for riche he was and full mychty' (enforced it greatly, for rich he was and full mighty). In 1360, Robert de Forsyth was appointed governor of Stirling Castle, an office he passed on to his son John and grandson William, who was governor in 1399.

Under the early Stewart kings Robert II (reigned 1371–1390) and Robert III (reigned 1390–1406), the earliest surviving parts of the castle were built. Robert Stewart, Earl of Menteith, Regent of Scotland as brother of Robert III, undertook works on the north and south gates. The present north gate is built on these foundations of the 1380s...

  • English: Aerial view of Stirling CastleWikidata has entry Q756268 with data related to this item.
  • English: Part of the restored ceiling incorporating replicas of the 16thC carved oak roundels known as the Stirling Head
  • English: Henry VIII with a lion sitting on his shoulders.One of 37 replica 'Stirling Heads' on the ceiling of the King's
  • English: Mary of Guise, James V’s second wife and mother of Mary Queen of Scots. One of 37 replica 'Stirling Heads' on t
  • English: A roman emperors in Stirling Castle, wearing a paludamentum cloak. His identity is unknown. One of 37 replica '
  • English: A Putto in Stirling castle, showing a naked child from the Renaissance era representing playfulness, love and h
  • English: One of the 16thC carved oak heads which adorned the ceiling of the King's Chamber in Stirling Castle.
  • Statue of Robert the Bruce on the castle esplanade
  • Mowbray refuses to let Edward II into the castle
  • The north gate of the castle, at the lower left, is probably the oldest part of the castle, dating partly from the 1380s
  • James V, builder of the Royal Palace, by Corneille de Lyon
  • Stirling Castle, drawn by John Slezer in 1693, and showing James IV's now-demolished Forework
  • Stirling Castle in 1900
  • English: Replica Unicorn tapestry in the Queen's Presence Chamber, Stirling Castle
  • English: Aerial view of Stirling Castle, Great HallWikidata has entry Q17572172 with data related to this item.
  • English: Part of the Outer Defences of Stirling Castle, Stirling, Scotland, that were built following the attempted Jaco
  • The Forework, entry to the main part of the castle
  • The arms of the Earl of Douglas stained glass in the King's Old Building
  • English: Stirling Castle Great Hall.
  • East façade of the Royal Palace with Renaissance-period statues
  • The Royal Palace and the Queen Anne walled garden
  • English: Chapel Royal, Stirling Castle
  • Stirling Castle in 2017
  • Castle gardens in front of the Prince's Tower
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Stirling Castle
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