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The Story of Edinburgh Castle
Chapter VII. The Coronation of Charles the First


REGENT MORTON committed the keeping of the Castle to his brother George Douglas of Parkhead, one of Rizzio’s assassins, who lost no time in putting the fortress and royal palace into complete repair, adding the famous half-moon battery which now forms so characteristic a feature in the sky-line of Edinburgh. The battlements previous to the siege presented a series of towers armed by forty pieces of cannon, connected with curtain walls ; but they were demolished by the assailants, who used in their assaults u hundred-pounders ” loaded by a crane.

Over the gateway of the restored portcullis tower the Regent placed the royal arms surmounted by hearts and mullets, the cognizance of his own family; these still remain in the entablature. The Scottish lion was removed during the Commonwealth, but has recently been replaced. Morton’s government became so objectionable that the nobles implored the King, then only twelve years old, to consider the possibility of inducing the Regent to resign. They represented to him, in a lengthy oration, the miserable condition to which the country was reduced by the extortion and misgovernment of the Regent, and his insolent and haughty bearing to the nobility. This intrigue must have come to the ears of Morton, for we find a letter sent by him to the King, in which he requests to be relieved from the cares of office. A Convention met in 1578 and the Regent’s letter was laid before them, when they unanimously resolved that his resignation should be accepted, and that the King should take the government into his own hands. The joy of the people of all ranks on hearing the news of his resignation, which was proclaimed by heralds at the Cross, was excessive, and the deafening acclamations by which it was testified convinced Morton that he had utterly forfeited the affections of his countrymen. The King commanded Morton to deliver up the Castle of Edinburgh, which he still continued to hold; but he showed some unwillingness to surrender a fortress the possession of which might have helped in his ambitious designs. His brother, the captain, was in the meantime actively engaged in storing the place with provisions, which looked as if Morton really contemplated defending it.

The inhabitants of the town suspecting his purpose, rose in arms and intercepted a convoy of stores on their way to the Castle; whereupon George Douglas of Parkhead came out with a party of soldiers, who, discharging their pieces among the people, killed many of them and wounded others. The population, enraged and alarmed, so strictly watched all the avenues of the Castle that ingress and egress became impossible. Under those circumstances, Morton, without any show of resistance, surrendered the fortress to Lords Ruthven and Lindsay, who took possession of the royal apartments and the Crown jewels while the keys of the gates were delivered to Seton of Touch and Cunningham of Drumwhassel.

The influence of Morton with the young King was now gone, and the hatred of him by the nobles culminated at the end of the year 1580 in his arrest. His trial commenced five months later, on June 1, 1581, for the murder of Darnley, for which crime he had put others to death. On the following day, amidst the great rejoicings of an antagonistic crowd, he was executed by a guillotine called the “Maiden,” which he had himself invented. Calder-wood relates that when Morton was being taken as prisoner to the Castle, “a woman whose husband he had put to death cursed him aloud on her knees at the Butter Tron.” His head was stuck on a spike at the Tolbooth, and his body buried at the Burghmuir, the burial-place for the worst type of criminal.

During the reign of James VI the King’s visits to the Castle were few, and few noteworthy incidents occurred there. Under the guidance of his tutor, George Buchanan, he resided at Stirling and Holyrood in a homely way until his accession to the English throne. The Castle, however, is mentioned in the record of James’ State entry into Edinburgh with his bride Queen Anne of Denmark. The procession approaching from the palace came in sight of the old fortress, which gave her “thence a great voley of shot, with their banners and ancient displays upon the walls.”

On June 19, 1616, his fifty-third birthday, James feasted the Scottish and English nobles in the Banqueting Hall, and thereafter went to Holyrood to witness a grand display of fireworks.

State prisoners continued to be committed to the dungeons in the rocky foundations of the old fortress, from which few if any escaped with their lives.

George Kerr, however, through the clemency of the King, was an exception. On a charge of Popery he had been confined in those death holes for some time when he was permitted to make his escape. An apparent attempt was made to recapture him, but this was purposely rendered ineffective by sending out pursuers in one direction while he was conveyed away in another. This artifice was so palpable that on the following Sunday it was publicly exposed from the pulpit and condemned as a “mockery.”

James’ association with the Castle was not entirely to end at his accession to the Throne of England, upon the death of Elizabeth; on April 5, 1603, accompanied by a splendid retinue of noblemen, barons, and gentlemen, he set out from the land of his birth on his journey south amid the tears of the citizens, who, though they sincerely rejoiced at his exaltation, which they fondly hoped would conduce to the peace of the country, could not witness his departure without regret. Fourteen years later he paid the only visit between his leave-taking and his death, and in preparation for it much work was done in the restoration and repair of the Castle building.

James had an interesting personality, and his quaint figure was missed from the walks of the Castle; he looked very stout from the peculiar fashion of his doublet, which was quilted, so as to be stiletto-proof; he walked clumsily, owing to the weakness of his legs, which never seemed to have strength enough to support his body. He kept his heavy eyes continually rolling, and his tongue when he spoke seemed to be too large for his mouth \ his utterance was in consequence thick and indistinct. “Dirty in his habits, he never washed his hands but simply wiped the points of his fingers with a wet napkin. He always fiddled about with his fingers, and as he walked he was often leaning on other men’s shoulders.” So if this picture be correct, James certainly did not inherit any of the elegance ascribed to his mother.

After the birth of James and the dramatic departure of his ill-fated mother the Castle had for a short time little concern in Scottish annals; but with the succession of James’ only surviving son Charles, who succeeded to the Throne in his twenty-fifth year, the historic landmark of Edinburgh once more comes into prominence. Charles had completed ten years of his reign before he made a visit to the birthplace of his father, although he had long felt the desire to revisit the land of his nativity and the kingdom of his ancestors. On May 16, 1633, Charles I entered his Scottish capital, and this was made the occasion of his coronation. Charles is said to have expressed his desire that the Regalia of Scotland should be taken from the Castle and sent up to London for the purpose of being used at his coronation there; but this was esteemed contrary to the independent rights of his Scottish kingdom, and so the King found it necessary to visit Scotland in person.

Charles rode at the head of a splendid retinue which included the officers of the royal household, who formed a bodyguard, and five hundred English noblemen, gentlemen, and ecclesiastics, including the intolerant Laud, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, whose presence was to regulate the forms of devotion of the Scottish Church.

According to old custom, Charles made his public entry into the capital by the west port. He was met outside by Drummond, the poet of Hawthornden, who welcomed him in a long congratulatory address abounding in fulsome adulation which is believed to have done no honour to his poetical genius. The pageantry exceeded in magnificence anything that had ever been seen in Scotland; the reception which the new King met with from all ranks of his northern subjects evinced a depth and fervour of loyalty which it had been well for him and for the country if he had wisely laboured to conserve. Charles rode on horseback, attended by sixteen coaches and the Horse Guards, until at length he reached that noble, stately dome Where Scotia's Kings of other years Famed heroes, had their royal home which thundered from its batteries a salute of fifty-two guns.

Charles remained in the royal lodging attended by his nobles, and the morrow being Sunday he attended the Chapel Royal, where a sermon was preached by the Bishop of Dunblane. The Earl of Mar gave a great banquet in the old hall of the palace in honour of the occasion, and this was attended by all the foremost noblemen of Scotland and England. Next day Charles was enthroned under a velvet canopy in the same hall, attended by the Duke of Lennox, who at that time was Lord High Chamberlain of Scotland.

Then the peers in stately procession, wearing their robes of dark crimson velvet and chains of office, entered, each preceded by his page in full court dress bearing on a velvet cushion his lord’s coronet. After an address by the Chancellor, Viscount Dupplin, Charles was conducted to the square in front of the palace, wherein were waiting his English footguards and others who were about to take part in the State procession to the Abbey.

Edinburgh had perhaps never witnessed such a scene of magnificence and costly grandeur; the extravagance of many of the Scottish nobility on this occasion meant embarrassment and even ruin to some, but the Scots had determined at all cost to efface the impression of poverty with which they had been taunted by their English fellow-subjects.

The procession moved through the Castle square, past the half-moon battery, and down through the inner portcullis gate to the upper reaches of Castle Hill, where every window was crowded with excited faces. Flags and banners floated in the breeze from the housetops, and the windows were decorated with flowers and tapestry. “First,” says Spalding, "came mounted on a roan horse, having a saddle of rich velvet sweeping the ground and massive with pase-ments of gold, Alexander Clark, the provost, at the head of the bailies and council to meet the King, while the long perspective of the crowded street was lined by a brave company of soldiers, all clad in white satin doublets, black velvet breeches and silk stockings, with hats, feathers, scarfs, and bands. These gallants had dainty muskets, pikes, and gilded partisans.”

The procession moved slowly from the Castle gate, preceded by six trumpeters in gold lace and scarlet. Then came the lords in their robes of scarlet, ermined and laced, riding with long foot-mantles; the bishops in their white rochets and lawn sleeves looped with gold ; the York and Norroy English kings-at-arms with their heralds, pursuivants, and trumpeters in tabards blazing with gold and embroidery; Sir James Balfour, the Scottish Lion King, preceding the spurs, sword, sceptre, and crown, borne by earls.

Then rode the Lord High Constable, with his baton, supported by the Great Chamberlain and Earl Marshal, preceding Charles, who was arrayed in a robe of purple velvet once worn by James IV, and had a foot-cloth embroidered with silver and pearls. His long train was borne by the young lords Lorne, Annan, Dalkeith, and Kinfauns.

Then came the Gentlemen Pensioners, marching with partisans uplifted; then the Yeomen of the Guard, clad in doublets of russet velvet, with the royal arms in raised embroidered work of silver and gold on the back and breast of each coat—each company commanded by an earl. The gentlemen of the Scottish Horse Guards where all armed a la cuirassier, and carried swords, petronels, and musketoons. The gorgeous procession moved down the High Street and Canongate, in the centre of which was a railed-in pathway, each side of which was thronged with thousands of the citizens, and came at length to Holyrood, where in the presence of the august assembly and with great solemnity the crown was placed on the head of Charles by Spotswood, Archbishop of St. Andrews. The Bishop of Moray, newly appointed Lord Almoner, exercised his new function by scattering among the spectators within the chapel handfuls of silver medals in commemoration of the event.

On July 18 the newly crowned Scottish King left his northern capital to return to London. His visit to Edinburgh and residence in the Castle, with the wealth of pageantry and public rejoicings, did not leave behind it the loyalty which one would imagine must follow such events; this, however, is easily explained by the fact that Laud attempted to impose upon the Scottish people Episcopacy. This afterward resulted in civil war, in which the Castle played an important part.

The national Covenant was drawn up to protest against the interference with the national religion by innovations which were regarded as the harbingers of Popery. The Covenanting Committees drew up a notice which was rapidly circulated throughout the kingdom, calling on the whole body of the supplicants to repair with all expedition to Edinburgh to arrange measures for their common safety and to make an appeal to the King. Charles paid no heed to the demands of the Covenanters, but sent a commissioner, the Marquis of Hamilton, as his representative with instructions to endeavour to bring about a pacification without really withdrawing the innovations complained of.

On his arrival at the gates of the city Hamilton found the Castle invested with armed men, and refused to enter the town as long as the fortress was in a state of blockade. Although entreated to take up his residence in the royal palace he, after a long meeting and the eventual posting of a proclamation, returned across the border with the result of his mission to Charles, so that he could inform him more fully of the state of the country. Both sides had now buckled on the sword, but neither was willing to take the offensive, especially the Covenanters whose ideals led them rather to act on the defensive. Meantime many Scottish merchants and travellers were arrested in England and Ireland and were kept as prisoners until they disclaimed the Covenant. In 1639 a general attack was planned by the principal Scottish leaders to secure among other strongholds the Castle of Edinburgh. General Alexander Leslie with a picked battalion of one thousand u musketeers ” suddenly appeared before the gates of the Castle, which was then badly provided for and feebly garrisoned. There was a short parley, but the governor obstinately refused to surrender ; whereupon a petard was applied to the outer gate, which was immediately blown open.

A vigorous assault was then made on the inner gate with hammers and axes, but the strength of the metal trellis-work was too much for the assailants, who thereupon rushed forward their scaling-ladders, and mounting sword in hand found themselves in less than half an hour in possession of the most important stronghold of the kingdom without the loss of a single man or even of a drop of blood. The governor was permitted to retire and carry the news to the King, while the brave general that night gave the Covenanting lords a banquet in the hall of the Castle and hoisted their blue standard with the motto, “For an oppressed Kirk and a broken Covenant,” on the mast of the tower above the royal palace. This ancient banner is still preserved in the Edinburgh antiquarian museum. Lord Traquair’s residence at Dalkeith was next surprised and captured; here were found secreted the crown, sword, and sceptre, which were at once carried safely back to their proper home in Edinburgh Castle. On King Charles’ birthday, November 19, 1640, an unaccountable accident happened. A portion of the curtain wall, one of the oldest pieces of masonry of the Castle, collapsed and fell with a crash over the rock. The Covenanters after a convention with the King disbanded their army, and the Castle was restored to the Royalists, who placed in it a garrison under Sir Patrick Ruthven. The new governor took possession on February 25, 1640, marching through the High Street to the beat of drums. In consequence of the magistrates’ refusal to supply the incoming garrison with provisions, the soldiers commenced firing on the town and destroyed a considerable amount of property, besides occasioning loss of life; and on Parliament demanding the discontinuance of hostilities or the surrender of the Castle, the governor treated the demand with contempt.

Leslie, therefore, was once more ordered to besiege the fortress, and he erected batteries on the Castle Hill, in Greyfriars Churchyard, and at the West Kirk. The ordnance did little damage, however, owing to the lightness of the guns, and little progress was made in the work of destruction.

Ruthven made a stern defence : his guns threatened the whole city ; even the spire of St. Giles’ was in danger of being battered to pieces under the ruthless fire of the Royalists. At last the Covenanters sprang a mine and blew up a part of the wall of the Spur Battery, making a breach, whereupon a grand assault was made \ but the Scots were beaten back with considerable loss by the heavy fire of the musketeers. Weddal, one of the leaders, who led the attack, was horribly wounded, having both thighs shot through, and out of the numbers that made the assault only thirty-three escaped with their lives.

The breach in the wall was speedily closed by the soldiers of Ruthven ; and the Covenanters, disheartened by their failure, resolved to turn the siege into a blockade and depend on the gradual approach of starvation to reduce the garrison to surrender.

By coincidence the explosion of a gunpowder magazine under the Castle of Dunglas alarmed the inhabitants of the surrounding country to such an extent that beacons were immediately lighted, and soon these warning signals were ablaze on every point of vantage for miles around.

The beleaguered garrison had been daily expecting relief by the arrival of the English fleet, and mistaking the beacon-fires for an announcement of this happy event, they held a great feast with the remainder of their provisions. The unfortunate mistake was soon discovered. To hold out without provisions was an impossibility, and so the gallant defenders had to surrender. Honourable conditions were allowed them for their bravery, and Ruthven marched out at the head of a remnant of his garrison with but one drum beating, after a blockade of three months, and took ship for England in a King’s vessel. Once more the important fortress commanding the capital was in the hands of the patriots.

During the remaining years of the unfortunate King Charles I he only once visited Edinburgh Castle, when he prayed for the release of the Duke of Montrose, who with his friends Napier, Stirling, and Stewart of Blackshall were all lying imprisoned in its dungeons. When Charles assembled his first Parliament in the Castle he addressed the members with earnestness and simplicity of words and thought, which strongly contrasted with the oratorical harangues of his father. “It cannot,” says Hume, “be alleged against Charles that he preceded the Parliament in the war of words. He courted their affections ; and even in his manner of reception, amidst the dignity of the regal office, studiously showed his exterior respect by the marked solemnity of their first meeting. As yet uncrowned, on the day on which he first addressed his Parliament he wore his crown, and vailed it at the opening, and on the close of his speech; a circumstance to which the Parliament had not been accustomed. Another ceremony gave still greater solemnity to the meeting; the King would not enter into business till they had united in prayer. He commanded the doors to be closed, and a Bishop to perform the office. The suddenness of this unexpected command disconcerted the Catholic lords, of whom the less rigid knelt, and the moderate stood ; there was one startled Papist who did nothing but cross himself.”

In 1648 the Marquis of Argyll, the dictator of Scotland, invited Oliver Cromwell to Edinburgh and entertained him at a great banquet in the hall of the Castle, where they discussed the necessity of taking away the life of Charles, for which act Argyll afterwards lost his own head. After the coronation of Charles II at Scone in 1651 Parliament ordered the Castle to be put in a proper state of defence, news having reached Edinburgh of the approach of Cromwell at the head of a formidable army. Colonel Walter Dundas was in command, and at once laid in stores for a long siege. These included 1000 bolls of meal and malt and 1000 tons of coal, with threescore of cannon and the famous Mons Meg, besides 80,000 small arms and a plentiful supply of ammunition.

“In a rare old tract of 1650,” says Grant, “the appearance is recorded of a horrible apparition, which created great alarm in the fortress. On a dark and gloomy night the sentinel, under the shadow of the gloomy half-moon, was alarmed by the beating of a drum upon the esplanade and the tread of marching feet, on which he fired his musket. Colonel Dundas hurried forth, but could see nothing on the bleak expanse, the site of the now demolished Spur. The sentinel was truncheoned and another put in his place, to whom the same thing happened, and he, too, fired his musket, affirming that he heard the tread of soldiers marching to the tuck of drums. To Dundas nothing was visible, nothing audible but the moan of an autumn wind. He took a musket and the post of the sentinel. Anon he heard the old Scots march beaten by an invisible drummer; who came close up to the gate :—then came other sounds— the tramp of many feet and clank of accoutrements; still nothing was visible, till the whole impalpable array seemed to halt close by Dundas, who was bewildered with consternation. Again the drum was heard beating the English march, and then the French march, when the alarm ended; but the next drums that were beaten there were those of Oliver Cromwell.”


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