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The Story of Edinburgh Castle
Chapter 1: Once Upon A Time


FOR 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 pride—the gaunt rock on which stands its Castle. u The rude, rough fortress,” of which Burns sang:

gleams afar
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.

But now its rooms are drab and tenantless. The colour is gone from them—the 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.

Of 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 capital—now 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 Street.

But more modern geologists show that the rock is the plug of the old Edinburgh volcano—the mass of lava that cooled and solidified within the throat when there was no longer eruptive force sufficient to eject it.

This 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.

To 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 yeres.”

The 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 Edin—the face of the hill.

This 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 Britons.

A 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 Scotland—the belief was universal throughout Europe, and it had a considerable effect on architecture.

At 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.

He 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 castle—“out 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.

In 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 was—and justly—moved 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 was—up 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 died—fortunately for her—before 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!

Sick 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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