of Edinburgh Castle Chapter 1: Once Upon A Time
the few who have an eye for the beauty of townscapes, Edinburgh is still
the loveliest thing in Scotland. The grey city of the North, mantled in
her delicate mists, and lifting proudly her rude spears of rock, flings
her fierce head against the sky, brooding always as men come and go in
the busy streets and the narrow closes beneath. About her beaten stones
cling many shadowy tales of laughter and of tears, of love and desire
and hate ; of mail-clad chivalry and lurking crime. Tier on tier it
rises from the estuary of the river to its crowning pridethe gaunt rock
on which stands its Castle. u The rude, rough fortress, of
which Burns sang:
Like some bold vet'ran, grey in arms, And mark'd with
many a seamy scar;
The pond'rous wall and massy bar, Grim-rising o'er
the rugged rock, Have oft
withstood assailing war, And oft repell'
th' invader's shock.
now its rooms are drab and tenantless. The colour is gone from themthe
flush of passionate life, the ring of song and merry-making, the murmur
of soft voices, and the odour of wine and roses, are no more.
its infancy, far removed in the twilight of the ages, there is nothing
more than conjecture. Before the Roman invasion the rock reared a vastly
greater bulk amidst a wilderness of forest. The wandering tribesmen of
early Caledonia fought hard for the majestic rampart as a site for their
capitalnow triumphant, now repulsed. Geologists state that the rock is
believed to have been a molten mass which cooled in the throat of a
volcano. Hugh Miller gives a vivid picture of the time when the waters
once swept down in two channels, to right and left of the rock, leaving
a long ridge down the eastern side which forms Castle Hill and the High
more modern geologists show that the rock is the plug of the old
Edinburgh volcanothe mass of lava that cooled and solidified within the
throat when there was no longer eruptive force sufficient to eject it.
plug has been left standing aloft when the softer surrounding material
was removed by the grinding action of the great ice-sheet that covered
Scotland during the ice-age.
the west, south, and north of the rock are hollows scoured out by the
moving ice, and to the east is the long height on which the High Street
is built, left as a ridge because protected by the hard volcanic rock.
Various theories are current concerning the remote history of this
natural fortress at one time almost inaccessible. According to that
genial and invaluable chronicler, Thomas stow, the Castle was supposed
to have been built by the designer of Bamburgh Castle. In his Summarie of Engles he
Chronicles he says:
Ebranke, the sonne of Mempricius, was made ruler of Britayne; he had,
as testifieth Policronica, Ganfride, and others, twenty-one wyves, of
whom he received twenty sonnes and thirty daughters; whyche he sente
into Italye, there to be maryed to the blood of the Trojans. In Albanye
(now called Scotlande) he edified the castell of Alclude which is
Dumbritayn (Dumbarton) ; he made the castell of Maydens, now called
Edinbrough; he made also the castell of Banburgh in the 23rd yere of his
reign. He buylded Yorke citie, wherein he made a temple to Diana, and
set there an Arch-flame; and there was buried when he had reigned 49
most ancient name of which we have a record is Castelh-Mynyd Agned,
signifying the fortress on the hill of Agnes but it was known to the
Ancient Britons as Castel Mynedh Agnedh, the maidens or virgins
castle, since it was used by the Pictish kings and nobles as a place of
safe keeping for their daughters. From the fifth century to the reign of
Malcolm there seem to have been continuous struggles for the fortress
between the Picts and the Saxons of Northumbria, each being alternately
victorious. But in the seventh century, the Saxons, under the leadership
of Edwin, the most powerful of the petty kings of Northumbria,
decisively repulsed the Picts. The Castle was then rebuilt, according to
tradition, with stones from a quarry at Craigmillar, and the name
Edwinsburgh affixed itself to the settlement existing on the ridge. Thus
both it and the Castle became known as Edinburgh, though the Celts
moulded the name into a closer affinity with their language, and called
it Dun Edinthe face of the hill.
settlement formed a nucleus around which the town has gradually arisen.
Tradition has it that Edwin succeeded in conquering Scotland as far
north as the Forth, while his territory extended as far south as the
Humber. His successor, Egfrid, was not so fortunate, for in a great
battle with the Picts, under Brude, he was himself killed, and the
remnants of his army, with terrific slaughter, were driven across the
border, never to return again. This decisive battle, which was fought in
685, was the finish of the Saxon monarchy. Thereafter, the defeated
Northumbrians were confined to their country south of the Tweed; and
Dunedin became once more the stronghold and the capital of the Scots and
hamlet of a sort had already begun to show itself, and the Church of St.
Giles, a structure of primitive type, became a chaplainry of the ancient
see of Lindisfarne. The church was built of wood because it was
popularly believed that in the year 1000 the world would come to an end.
Scotch caution, even in religious matters, showed itself thus early in
this frugality in the use of less easily wrought material for the
raising of an edifice whose permanence was by no means assured.
Caution in erecting expensive buildings as the year iooo approached was
not, however, confined to Scotlandthe belief was universal throughout
Europe, and it had a considerable effect on architecture.
this point occurs a hiatus in the history of Edinburgh and its Castle.
For a period of four hundred years, dating from the regaining of Dunedin
by the British, nothing is known. It is not until the reign of Malcolm
II is reached that the historian can catch up the threads of its story.
Owing to the destruction of the national records by Edward I, and again
by Cromwell, one has to attempt to fill the gaps from casual tradition,
and by research in other quarters. According to Buchanan, Grime the
usurper, in 996, waged a series of bloodthirsty sea-fights with the
Danes who attempted to invade the country, and totally destroyed their
galleys. After this effort he seems to have wearied of blood and toil,
and to have changed from a hardy warrior to a self-indulgent man of
peace. His Queen, it appears, took up her residence at the Castle, and
Grime seems to have been well contented that she should do so.
left her to her own devices, and pursued the pleasures of the chase
among the woods of Polmood. Like many another hunter, he caught a finer
game than he set out to seek. Fate laid a snare for him, and brought to
his notice here, by a chance meeting, a beautiful maiden named Bertha of
Badlieu. (The very name lends itself to a ballad of love and adventure
and high endeavour.) He forgot his lady in the castleout of sight, out
of mind. The charms of chasing the white bull seemed suddenly to pall
not so the life of the joyous greenwood. His men sought him, and sought
in vain ; he had found a new quarry, and a new zest for the chase.
course of time a son was born to the hapless pair ; and to the Queen,
isolated in the Castle, came news of it. Whereat she wasand
justlymoved to queenly fury, and vowed vengeance on the beautiful
Bertha. Fate guided her hand. In due time Grime seems to have found that
even the fair Bertha and the infant son were pleasures whose capacity to
satisfy was not unlimited ; or else the man within him urged him to
action against his old enemies, who had recommenced their forays. In any
case, it wasup and away and to war again ! News of this came to the
Queen, and a band of low fellows was at once dispatched to Badlieu.
Bertha and her infant son were slain. Into one grave they were thrown,
and over their bodies the murderers heaped a cairn. Then, the thirst for
vengeance being slaked, the Queen took to her bed and diedfortunately
for herbefore the return of her lord. He had inflicted a crushing blow
on the Danes, and came, flushed with victory, to Bertha, carrying to his
love the first story of the fight. He found only the cairn!
with despair, he commanded that the grave be opened that he might gaze
upon the remains of his loved ones. With them he seems to have buried
his heart and his fortune ; for, after this unhappy love-venture, his
story becomes a tragic and terrifying moral lesson. The way of the
transgressor is hard, and Grime paid dearly for his false step. The
subsequent narrative is not clear, and rests only on tradition, but it
is fitting. It runs to the effect that his love-sickness lay so
grievously upon him that he lost all interest in living, and plunged
madly into war with Malcolm. At the crucial battle he was deserted by
his army, and taken prisoner by Malcolm. His eyes were torn out;
prolonged tortures were inflicted on him ; and he died in the deepest
misery in the eighth year of his reign.
Thereafter commences the authentic history of the Castle, with the story
of Malcolm III, and Margaret, his beautiful and pious Queen.
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