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Edinburgh and The Lothians
Chapter III - Annals of the Castle


I HAVE not strictly kept to the present in giving a to-day’s impression of Edinburgh Castle. The ghosts are too much for one; something of history needs must obtrude itself. And now let us leave our own time behind or in front, and turn for a little to some of the chief episodes in the romantic annals of the Rock. I have said something of its mythical origin. At the dawn of authentic history is the figure of St Margaret, the Queen of Malcolm Canmore. According to the ideals of her own age she was well-nigh perfect, and if its ways are not our ways, there is still enough left for genuine admiration.

In 1093 she lay dying in the Castle, and to her in her mortal sickness Edgar brought the tale of the death of her husband and son at Alnwick. With a few murmured words of resignation, holding in her hand the Black Rood of Scotland, the precious relic of the true cross that Edward I. was later to have for spoil, she passed away. This was in mid-November. And to her children, mourning round her bed, there came news that the Castle was besieged. There was even then in Scotland a national party who were for the old ways, and hated and feared English influence, and that robust pagan, Donald Bane, the brother of Malcolm, was at their head, determined to make short work of everything that stood between him and the throne. He was round the Castle with a huge herd of kerns and gallowglasses. The records preserve for us a glimpse of those savages, with their wrappings of dun deer’s hide, the jingling rings of their armour, and their awe-inspiring yells. They were more violent than cunning, under the pall of a miraculous mist—so it seemed to the excited actors in the scene, though it was only that easterly haar which Tennyson and R. L. S., the gifted stranger and the gifted citizen, have, unlike the pious monkish chronicler, combined to curse in the choicest verse and prose, Margaret’s body was conveyed away by that very west port sally, long centuries afterwards the meeting-place of Gordon and Dundee, and so down to the Forth, and across the familiar ferry for the last time. Three of her children were afterwards Kings of Scotland, and one was Queen of England, but their fates do not here concern us.

We light on a trivial saying treasured up with comic effect. Alexander III. was married to Margaret, daughter of Henry III. of England, at York, Christmas, 1251. The poor child was only sixteen, and the grim and gloomy perch on the Rock not at all to her liking. "A sad and solitary place, without verdure, and by reason of its vicinity to the sea unwholesome," thus she murmured to her father. She had complaints even less reasonable; she was "not permitted to make excursions through the Kingdom "—Ah, little she knew that Kingdom! What a prize for Border moss-trooper or Highland cateran !—"nor could she choose her friends or attendants," and then the voice is still. We are not told how this ancient bedchamber question was determined. Possibly she found life in the Castle exciting enough. After Alexander the annals take us through the inception of the fierce struggle for independence. Edward I. got the Castle, then it was taken by Randolf in 1312, and he at once dismantled it. However, the English had it again under Edward III., though it fell into Scots hands almost immediately. In 1400 Henry IV. besieged it, but he was driven off by cold, and rain, and hunger. History is naturally enough always repeating itself. The Czar of Russia in the Crimean War boasted he had two unsurpassable Generals who always fought for him, Generals Janvier and Fevrier, and so famine and cold and hunger, the very lacks of Scotland, were the best fighters these intrepid defenders had. You turn another page.

The Duke of Albany, brother of Robert III. (1390-1406), was at the Castle one night in the early years of the century. He was pacing the ramparts with some companions when a meteor of portentous size flashed its lurid light through the sky. The age believed that the

"Heavens themselves show forth the death of princes."

You do not wonder that Albany foretold a tragic end to some great personage. He took the best means to fulfil his own prediction. His nephew, the Duke of Rothesay, was in 1402 starved to death in Falkland Castle, and there is no doubt that Albany was "art and part," as Scots lawyers phrase it, in the murder.

As relief, there is the comic escape of the infant James II., engineered by his mother Jane, widow of James I. He was stuffed in a box mercifully provided with a few air-holes, and so carted away as luggage. She was off on a pilgrimage to Whitekirk in East Lothian, so she gave out; as a matter of fact she went to Stirling, and by way of anti-climax presently returned to Edinburgh.

Two years later occurred the terrible Douglas tragedy of the Castle, and even the men of that iron age shuddered at the cruel report. William, Earl of Douglas, a lad of sixteen, was the head of that great house. His state was regal, and his ambition threatened danger; so Crichton, the chancellor, thought. He inveigled Douglas and his brother to the Castle, and as they sat at meat with the King a black bull’s head was placed on the table. In such dramatic fashion was their doom intimated to them in symbol. The child King wept and protested in vain; the boys were dragged forth. There may have been some mockery of a trial, but even of that there is no record. They were forthwith done to death in the yard. Hume of Godscroft preserves the rude rhyme which still rises in your memory as you see far over the plain that ancient Castle Rock.

"Edinburgh Castell, toun and tour,
God grant ye sinke for sinne;
And yat even for the back dinour,
Earl Douglas gat therein."

In 1753 coffin handles and plates of gold were discovered near the scene of the execution. These were somewhat fancifully supposed to mark the graves of the Douglases. Was this strange and useless pomp an uneasy attempt to propitiate the shades of the victims? Forty-two years pass, and again there is a deed of peculiar horror. Albany, the brother of James III., lay in the Castle under suspicion of treason. He invited the captain of the fortress to supper; he stupefied his gaolers with drink, stabbed them to death, and with the help of his single servant piled them on the huge fire of the room, where they broiled in their armour. This brutality for its own sake, specially if it hid some trick, or insult, is the most unpleasing feature of old Scots life. Yet even Albany had a better side. His servant, descending the Rock first, fell and broke his thigh. Albany carried him on his shoulder two miles’ to Leith, whence both escaped by sea. The King refused to believe until he had gazed with his own eyes on the scene of the exploit. Yet a little time and James and Albany were completely reconciled, used the same chamber, the same table, nay, the same bed. Under James III. popular rumour was busy; much was heard of a certain black kist. It was stuffed with jewels, it contained King Robert’s sarke—to wit, the Bruce’s coat of mall. A less pleasant, and one hopes a less trustworthy rumour credited James with an intention of collecting all the nobles of the kingdom in the hall of the Castle and there making an end of what he could not mend—repeating, as it were, the Douglas tragedy on a large scale; and then (in 1488) himself was ended at Sauchieburn. His son, the gay, the chivalrous James IV., held many a splendid tournament here. He sat on the south side of the Rock, above where the King’s Stables Road still preserves a faint memory of other days. Then it was all green field, and there the combatants whacked one another, until (such was the invariable course of events) the Scots knight had it all his own way. His opponent lay at the last gasp, when James saved the situation by throwing his plumed bonnet into the list, whereat the victor refrained. In sharp contrast to all this feasting and pageantry there came, in 1513, Flodden Field, and the reign ended in black disaster, and once more the King was an infant.

Before the end of James V. the Castle witnessed another terrible tragedy. On 17th July 1537 Jane Douglas, Lady Glamis, convicted of practising sorcery to destroy the King, was burned to death on the Castle Hill. Even that stern, rude age felt pity for her beauty and her courage and hatred of the vile intrigues that wrought her ruin. By a refinement of cruelty her husband, likewise a prisoner, was permitted, or forced, to watch her destruction from his adjacent cell. Next day, half mad, he made a frantic attempt to escape, and was dashed to pieces on the rocks below.

And then came Mary Stuart and the modern world. Those bare rooms where once she lived have suffered sad changes. The setting was not unworthy of her gracious presence, for they were splendid with tapestry where the skill of the needle had strangely mingled scriptural and classical history with mediaval romance. They were cultured with books, even if the collection was a like curious medley. The catalogue of 43 volumes is still with us. There was Virgil and Livy, Augustine, and other works of devotion, Amadis de Gaul, and Sir Lancelot de Lake. The Lords of the Congregation looked askance at books and tapestry alike: their serious souls suspected the devil beneath this frivolity, Mary’s life is most connected with Holyrood, but here in this chamber that now looks sheer down on the sordid life and mean cares of the Grassmarket, though within sight as now of the hills beyond, she gave birth, on 19th June 1566 to her son James. The town went mad with joy; the cannon on the Rock blared forth notes. of triumph; a thanksgiving was held in St Giles’; an uncouth rhyme came to be in everyone’s mouth:

"Howe’er it happen for to fall,
The Lion shall be lord of all."

This was fathered on Thomas the Rhymer, and though tiresome Lord Hailes long afterwards proved it a forgery, what mattered? It had done its work and vanished ere Hailes was born. It was thought well to intimate to Elizabeth that she had an heir as well as Mary, so James Melville rode to London in four days or so. Why this indecent haste? Elizabeth must have thought. What she said is historic: "The Queen of Scots has a fair son, and I am but a barren stock." For once the natural cry of the woman broke the cold reserve of statecraft. At home the nation seemed united, yet the preachers had some dismal croakings. By the devilish art of a Catholic lady, the Countess of Athol, the pangs of childbirth were shifted from Mary to the Lady Reres. A curious variant of the royal whipping-boy tradition! Knox and his fellows might have bided their time. Mary, alas! was presently to supply them with cause enough wherewith to croak and fulminate at their hearts’ content; there was to be no lack of matter. But Mary passes from the Castle, though Kirkaldy of Grange held it for her for three years. He had been put there by the Regent Moray, but had swung round entirely to Mary’s side, and by him was Lethington, the keen-witted politician, who irritated Knox now and again to quite unseemly wrath. The last days of the siege were terrible; three thousand cannon shot poured into the devoted fortress; it was torn to pieces bit by bit; the oratory of St Margaret, the Royal lodging on the east, and the Parliament Hall on the south alone were left. There was no food to eat and no water to drink, for the very wells were poisoned. There was nothing for it but unconditional surrender. One curious touch marked the end. An English force had aided Morton’s attack, but the Governor arranged with his deadly Scots enemies that they and not the English should enter first. This to save the honour of the Scots’ name, well nigh the only thing those mortal foes had in common. Knox, however, retained a strong liking for Kirkaldy of Grange, and had striven to bring him round again to his own side, but failed. It was not the time, nor was Scotland the place, where prisoners or their captors thought of mercy. On the 3rd August 1573 Kirkaldy was hanged "in the face of the sun," as Knox had foretold on his death-bed, and under the shadow of those walls he had so stoutly defended. Knox had mysteriously hinted at some sign of grace at the last As Kirkaldy swung from his gibbet the sun came forth from a cloud and flashed on his face; he slowly lifted his bound hands and let them fall again. It was believed he had sought and found mercy at this supreme moment. His head and the heads of his companions were stuck high on the ruins. And now for a little the annals show a lighter page.

On 17th June 1633 the Earl of Mar entertained Charles I. to a great banquet in the hall. On the next day he was conducted in Royal state from the Castle to Holyrood, where with all the old splendid rites he was crowned King of Scotland, England, France and Ireland. There was one jarring note. An embroidered crucifix was noted hard by the altar, and the Bishops’ genuflexions thereto "bred great fear of the inbringing of popery." But the cause of the covenanters steadily gained strength, and five years after Leslie took and held the Castle for them. And now it was the turn of the Covenanting lords; a banquet was given to them in the great hall, and a blue banner inscribed "For an oppressed Kirk and broken Covenant" was displayed.

The Civil War was a time of peculiar stress and strain, for the nation was profoundly divided against itself. When Charles was beheaded and Cromwell was moving north, strange visions flashed before the eyes of the people. Meteors formed like swords glittered in the sky; spectral troops of horse marched across the hills; and in the Castle a phantom drummer beat the rounds night after night, till Dundas, the Governor, perplexed and dismayed, stood sentinel himself, and with his own ears heard the old Scots march played by invisible hands on an invisible drum, and there sounded in his ears the clang of accoutrements and the tread of many soldiers, and the ghostly echoes seemed to pass right by him, and then fade away in the distance, till nothing was heard but the soughing of the drear midnight wind. But neither men nor ghosts stayed the mighty Cromwell; he won Dunbar; he took the Castle; he finally crushed the Royalists at the "crowning mercy of Worcester," and for ten years England and Scotland alike were at peace under his rule. The justice thereof, in the latter country, extorted administration and respect - nay, there was something like enthusiasm. He was feasted in his life, and after his death the rulers of Edinburgh planned a statue for him in the Parliament Close. But the Restoration came, and they thought better of it. The Dead Lion was burned in effigy, and the Merry Monarch had the monument. You may see it to-day in that same Parliament Close or Square, as they afterwards had it, under the shadow of St Giles; the steed is almost spurning with its hind legs the stone that marks the resting-place of Knox. "Odds fish!" sure Charles muttered with a grin when he heard the story.

The next years are sad with the memory of the Argylls. The Marquis had placed the Crown on the King’s head, but he went from his prison in the Castle to the scaffold in 1661, and his son, the Earl, was in that same prison in 1681, and only escaped on the very eve of his projected execution. His fate was deferred, not averted. In 1685 he was taken, after his abortive invasion of Scotland, and placed in his old quarters, which he also left but to die. The Revolution of 1688 followed, and long after Edinburgh, and nearly all Scotland, had gone over to the new order, the Duke of Gordon held out stoutly for King James. All the world knows, for has not Scott preserved for us, in well-nigh the most romantic lines he ever penned, the memory of this romantic period in Scots history? Claverhouse, with sixty horsemen, rode proudly down (not the West Bow, however, but) the High Street, and left the city by the Leith Wynd Port, and so along the Lang Gait, afterwards the Lang Dykes, and now Princes Street. And then he climbed up to the west sally port of the Castle for his Grace had been watching him with a telescope and had signalled him with a red flag. You can still see that sally port and you can imagine the terms of a conference of which nothing is known, though tradition has handed down one striking phrase. The Duke asked what course he would take: "Where’er the shade of Montrose shall direct me," said Dundee as he descended the Rock.

"He waved his proud hand, and the trumpets were blown,
The kettledrums clashed, and the horsemen rode on,
Till on Ravelstons’ cliffs, and on Clermistons’ Lee,
Died away the wild war-notes of Bonnie Dundee."

And so he moves on to his fate at Killiecrankie, his memory enshrined in the passionate hate and the not less passionate worship of men. In the meantime the Castle held stoutly out. Heralds summoned the Duke again and again, but as they paraded before him in all their finery he pleasantly asked, why had they not first turned their coats? As he tossed them some guineas to drink the health of James VII. perhaps they were not much disturbed; at any rate the lost cause was not saved by an epigram. When things pressed a certain John Grant volunteered to go forth to discover if there was any hope of rescue, and when, after two day; he signalled from the Lang Gait a decisive "No," it was felt that the end had come. On 13th June 1689 the Castle for ever was lost to the Stuart cause. The buildings were speedily repaired, and their chief use hereafter was as a prison. Here was immediately confined the Earl of Balcarres. During the night of the 27th July of that same year an unseen hand drew the curtains of his bed, and Dundee appeared to his old comrade "as beautiful as when he lived, with his long, dark, curled locks streaming down over his laced buff coat and his left hand on his right spule-blade, to hide the wound that the silver bullet had made." He said nothing, but vanished from the Earl who called distractedly after him. At that very hour, so Balcarres afterwards learned, Dundee was lying dead on the far-off field of Killiecrankie. I have quoted this, as the reader may recognise, from "Wandering Willie’s Tale" in Redgauntlet, for I have always thought that Scott took his description there from the account of this apparition. No doubt it was but a dream. In a professedly materialistic book, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development, by Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson it is stated as an undoubted fact "that dying people have the power to influence the minds of their friends at a distance, so that they are present, or rather seem to be present before them." I cannot tell; we are not quite so sure as we used to be that we have delimited exactly the boundaries of the spirit world.

There is little else to say about the Castle. There were several abortive plots to take it. In the Porteous Mob it might have played a great part, but it did not, and the same may be said of the episode of the ‘45. The residue of the chronicle is indeed small beer. Let us off to Holyrood.


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