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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter V. Stirling Castle


 Stirling Castle. Photograph copyright Scottish Panoramic

"Grey Stirling, bulwark of the north" – Strila, or Stryveling, signifying "Strife," from the contests of which it was the subject and the scene – bears, as is well known, a striking resemblance in its main features to Edinburgh; and, like it, is of very great antiquity as a fortress.

"Parent of monarchs, nurse of kingly race,
The lofty palace, from its height, looks down
On pendant walls, that guard the lower town;
While royal title gives it noble grace.
Friendly to all, whatever be their name,
Inmate or foe, or real friend or feigned.
Danger to profit yields. How oft (of shame!)
Has noble blood her territory stained!
Hapless in this alone, to none she yields
The bliss of genial air and fertile fields."

The town is situated upon a hill, which, gradually rising from the east, terminates abruptly in a steep rock of concentric greenstone and columnar basalt, upon the extremity of which the castle is built. There are abundant traces of "the great ice-sheet" over all the rocks of this district. The castle rock on the ridge to the north of the castle buildings shows such markings very distinctly, the rock being ground into a series of parallel hollows, having the sides in some places grooved and polished, evidently by ice in some form acting from the north-west. To the geologist, this part of the country is especially interesting from the varied phenomena presented by the physical aspects of the strata, in which can be traced clearly the combined action of fire and water at a former period of the world’s history. To the unequal denudation, from carboniferous to post-glacial times, of the two great classes of rocks thus formed under igneous and aqueous conditions, we own those peculiar features in the scenery of the district around Stirling which lend it such a charm, and which are characteristic of the trappean tracts of central Scotland where volcanic rocks prevail.

With regard to the castle, no certain account can be given of its first erection. Boece affirms that Agricola raised fortifications upon its rock. Nor is it improbable that the Romans had a station here, for the necessary preparations in their passing the Forth to invade Caledonia. Their military causeway runs hither from the south; and hence to the north. We have already quoted a Roman inscription, which, in Sir Robert Sibbald’s day, was upon a rock near the castle, and intimates that the second legion held here their daily and nightly watch. Stirling, or Snowdon, as it was formerly, and more poetically called, according to some, is in the Greek, Ouandouara, or, in the Latin form, the Vanduaria of Ptolemy; though that author names Paisley as entitled to this distinction.

On the death of Kenneth II., in 855, his brother Donald V. ascended the Scottish throne. Historians describe the latter differently; some as valiant and wise, others as utterly wicked. Early in his reign, the kingdom was invaded by two Northumbrian princes, Osbrecht and Ella. Uniting their forces with the Cumbrian Britons, and a number of Picts who upon their explusion from their native country had taken refuge in England, they advanced to Jedburgh. Here Donald encountered them; and, after an obstinate and bloody engagement, obtained a complete victory. Pushing, however, his advantage no farther than to make himself master of Berwick, he took up his station there in supine security; safe, as he imagined, from an enemy he had so lately vanquished. The Northumbrians, informed of his careless posture, surprised him by a hasty march, dispersed his army and made himself a prisoner. Marching north, they subdued all before them to the Forth and Stirling. The Scots, without either king or army, sued for peace. They obtained it on condition of paying a large sum for the king’s ransom, and yielding up all their dominions south of the Forth to the Northumbrians, and those south of the Clyde, with Dumbarton, to the Cumbrians. The former, taking possession of the territories thus ceded to them, rebuilt Stirling Castle, and planted it with a strong garrison. They threw a stone bridge over the Forth; and, on the top, raised a cross, with the following inscription: -

"Anglos a Scotis separat crux ista remotis
Hie armis Bruti: Scoti stant hic cruce tuti" –

thus translated by Bellenden: -

"I am free marche, as passengers may ken,
To Scottis, to Britonis, and to Inglismen."

A very extraordinary rendering indeed. It is not even a parody.

Fordum takes no notice of this conquest, nor of Donald’s captivity; though he mentions a defeat of the Picts by that monarch. The ancient English historians, too, are silent on it; but speak of two Northumbrian princes, Osbrecht and Ella, who both perished in 866, in an attack upon the city of York, occupied by the Danes. The whole story, as well as the inscription, wears much of a monkish garb. Its authenticity, however, is, in some degree, confirmed by the arms of the town of Stirling, which have a bridge, with a cross as aforesaid, and the last line of the recently quoted distich as a motto around it.

We must not imagine that, in those times, Stirling castle bore any resemblance to a structure, adapted, as the present is, to the use of fire-arms. Its size and form probably resembled those strongholds which, under the feudal constitution, the English and Scottish barons used to erect upon their estates for inhabitation; and which, in those barbarous ages, they found necessary to fortify for their defence, not only against foreign invaders, but their nearest neighbours. Such a Gothic structure is the Castrum Strivelense in the arms of the burgh.

This fortress, after it had continued in the possession of the Northumbrian Saxons about twenty years, was, together with the whole country south of the Forth, restored to the Scots, on condition of their assisting the Saxons against their turbulent invaders the Danes.

In the arms of Stirling are two branches of a tree, to represent the Nemus Strivelense, or "Forest of Stirling," probably a wing of the Caledonian. Its situation and boundaries are not known. Vestiges of a forest are still discernible for several miles. Banks of natural timber still remain in the Castle Park, at Murray’s Wood, and near Nether Bannockburn. Stumps of trees, with much brushwood, are still to be seen in the adjacent fields.

When, near the close of the tenth century, Kenneth III., was informed that the Danes had invaded his dominions, he appointed Stirling castle the rendezvous of his army, and marched thence to the battle of Luncarty, where he obtained a signed victory over these rovers.

This castle is spoken of as a place of great importance in the twelfth century. In 1174 William the Lion was taken prisoner, in an unsuccessful expedition into England; and, after having been detained a year in captivity, was released, on promising to pay a large ransom, and, as a pledge, delivering into the hands of the English the four principal fortresses of the kingdom – Stirling, Edinburgh, Roxburgh, and Berwick. He promised, besides, to do homage for his whole kingdom. This was the first great ascendant that England obtained over Scotland; and indeed the most important transaction between these kingdoms since the Norman Conquest. It occurred in the reign of Henry II. His son and successor, Richard I., remitted what of the ransom-money remained unpaid at his succession, restored the fortresses, and renounced all claim to the superiority of Scotland.

The Scottish monarchs often held the court and parliament in Stirling castle. It did not, however, become one of their stated residences till the family of Stewart appeared. From different princes of that line it received its present form. It was the birth-place of James II., who often resided in it after he had ascended the throne. Immediately after the murder of James I., the young king was placed under the government of Sir Thomas Livington, who had the keeping of the castle. The king, by the contrivance of the Chancellor Crichton, was kept prisoner in Edinburgh. The queen mother resolved to have him under the charge of Livingston; and, visiting her son, under pretext of maternal affection, persuaded him to permit himself to be carried out in a trunk, and put on board a vessel at Leith. They had arrived, ere night, at Stirling castle. The chancellor, however, seized his majesty while hunting in the woods near Stirling, and conducted him with much courtesy to his former place of durance. The regent followed his young charge, and held a conference with Crichton in St. Gile’s church, when the Earl of Douglas acted as mediator, but so as to offend both. Inviting him to an entertainment in the castle, these two officials, in the presence of the young and terrified monarch, who employed tears and entreaties, made Douglas and his brother be dragged by armed ruffians from table to outer court, where they were instantly murdered. The royal apartments were then in the north-west corner of the castle; and latterly, in part, became the residence of the fort-major.

James III., contracting a peculiar fondness for the castle, on account of its pleasant situation, made it his principal residence, and shut himself in it so closely with his favourites, that the nobility and barons were seldom admitted to any intercourse with him. His mild and, according to the ideas of the age, pious temper, did not coalesce with the turbulence and intrigues of his nobles. He erected several new structures in it, besides repairing and embellishing those that had fallen into decay. He built a hall, 120 feet long, which in those days was deemed a noble and magnificent fabric. James also instituted a college of secular priests in the castle, and erected for them the Chapel-Royal, which was, however, demolished in 1594 by James VI., who, on the same spot, erected the present chapel. The annexation of the rich temporalities of the Priory of Coldingham to this building, by offending the Lords Home and Hailes, was a cause of ruin to James III.

Stirling Castle from Ladies Rock
Thanks to Jane Haines for sending this into us.

James V. was crowned here; and its chief ornament, the palace, all of hewn stone, with much statuary work, was begun by him in 1540, and finished twelve years later by his widow, Mary of Guise. Its form is square, with a small court in the middle, where the king’s lions are said to have been kept, and which still goes by the name of the "Lion’s Den." The style of architecture is somewhat singular. It is neither Grecian nor Gothic, but more after the Lombardian, with emblematical figures standing on wreathed balustrade pillars on pedestals, supported by grotesque characters under arches, and in the pediments of the windows. The statues of James V. and daughter also appear among the others, and, notwithstanding their quaint execution, give a special interest to the edifice.

James VI., who also passed his boyhood here, had for his tutor the famous historian, George Buchanan. And a word more, personally, with respect to the accomplished musician and poet – "The Gudeman of Ballengeich." What, then, could be more a propos than a stanza from one of the gaberlunzie ballads that so happily describe his roaming adventures in rustic disguise?

"He took a horn frae his side,
And blew baith loud and shrill,
And four-and-twenty belted knights
Cam’ skelpin’ o’er the hill.

And he took out his little knife,
Loot a’ his duddies fa’,
And he stood the brawest gentleman
That was amang them a’."

Buchanan of Auchmar tells a good story of the whimsical monarch. The first proprietor of Arnprior of the name of Buchanan, a place eleven miles from Stirling, in the parish of Kippen, had requested of a carrier to have part of his load at a price; when he was told that the articles were for the king. "Tell him," said Buchanan, "if he is King of Scotland, I am King of Kippen and need some of my royal brother’s provisions," compelling the carrier to deliver part of the cargo. James, hearing the story, and relishing a joke, resolved to wait on this neighbouring majesty of Kippen, and did so one day with a small retinue. Demanding admittance at the palace of Arnprior, he was refused by a tall fellow holding a battle-axe, who told him there was no admission till his master had finished dinner. "Tell your master," said James, "the Gudeman of Ballengeich humbly requests an audience of the King of Kippen." Buchanan, guessing the quality of his guest, received his Majesty with the appropriate honours, and became so great a favourite, that he had to leave to draw upon the carrier as often as he pleased, and was kindly invited as "King of Kippen" to visit his brother sovereign at Stirling. Another anecdote connected with Ballengeich is told of James V. Being benighted, he entered a cottage in the moor near Alloa, and, though unknown, was treated with all possible hospitality. When departing next morning, he invited the Gudeman (i.e. landlord) to Stirling castle, and bade him call for the Gudeman of Ballengeich. Donaldson, the landlord, having availed himself of the invitation, and doing as directed, gave great amusement to the court, and was, by the King of Scotland, created King of the Moors. His descendants retained the cottage, and a bit of the ground, situated on the estate of Alloa, till lately; and each successive representative of his majesty was known by the title to which he was the legitimate heir.

The old Parliament House, too, originally a fine example of Saxon masonry, remains of the ancient fortress. On the north of this upper square, we have also the armoury, formerly the chapel built by James VI. for the baptism of his eldest son, Prince Henry, in 1594. Its chief curiosities are a pulpit and communion table, said to have been used by John Knox; the tilting lance of the whimsical monarch; an old Lochaber axe, found on the field of Bannockburn; 500 pikes, prepared for the use of the peasantry at the time of Napoleon’s expected invasion; a number of pikes used by the radical rioters at Bonnymuir; nearly 200 sergeants’ halberds; and a timber crown, which, richly gilded, surmounted carved models of the castles of Edinburgh, Stirling, Dumbarton, and Blackness, that formed part of the interior decorations at the baptism of Prince Henry – the most magnificent piece of pageantry ever witnessed in Scotland.

Immediately after the birth by the queen, Anna, Princess of Denmark, ambassadors were dispatched to Courts of England, France, Denmark, the Low Countries, Brunswick, and Magdeburg, with tidings of the happy event, and a request that each send a representative to the baptism. A convention of the nobility and principal burghs was called, under pretext of asking their advice in the arrangement of the solemnity, but, in reality, to solicit money to defray the expense. The convention, informed of the king’s design, readily granted a hundred thousand pounds Scots, or eight thousand three hundred and thirty-three pounds sterling. So large a sum gave James fresh spirit, and encouraged him to begin the preparations. The mansion where the prince had been born was pitched upon for the baptism. As the chapel of James III., however, was deemed neither large nor elegant enough, orders were given for its demolition, and the erection of another on a grander scale on its site. Craftsmen were summoned from all parts of the kingdom; and, that the work might be executed with the greater dispatch, large pay was allowed; while the king acted as daily overseer.

The dispatches to foreign courts had been so well received, that ambassadors arrived from each. Preparations were, meanwhile, progressing, and the courtly guests entertained in the most sumptuous manner. Hunting, and other exercises of the field, or various amusements in the palace, were the pastimes of the day; and the evening was spent in balls, masks, and banquets. Tournaments, and running at the ring, were practiced in the valley, which was surrounded with guards, finely apparelled, to prevent the crowd from breaking in. A scaffold was erected on one side of the valley, for the queen, her ladies, and the foreign ambassadors. The performers, at their entrance, uniformly made a low obeisance to this illustrious company.

The baptism was performed on the 30th of August. It is easy to discern, throughout the whole, the features of that vanity and pedantry which distinguished James VI. The new chapel royal was hung with the richest tapestry, and every embellishment added, tending to heighten the splendour of the occasion. The eastern part was inclosed with a rail, which none was allowed to pass, except the king, and the performers of the service.

At the north-east corner was placed a chair of state for his Majesty; and on the right, at a small distance, another chair finely ornamented. It had been designed for the French ambassador, who had not yet arrived. Next was a seat covered with crimson taffety, for the English ambassador extraordinary. On a desk before him lay a red velvet cushion, and on either side stood a gentleman-usher. Next sat Mr. Robert Bowes, the ordinary ambassador of England, on whose desk lay a purple velvet cushion and cloth. And so on went this part of the show.

In the midst of the rail stood a pulpit, hung with cloth of gold. All the pavement inside the balustrade was overlaid with fine tapestry. In a desk under the pulpit sat David Cunningham, Bishop of Aberdeen, with David Lindsay, minister of Leith, on one hand, and John Duncan, one of his Majesty’s ordinary chaplains, on the other. Before them stood a table covered with yellow velvet.

The passage from the prince’s chamber, which was in the palace, to the door of the chapel, was lined with a hundred musqueteers, fifty upon either side, finely apparelled, and mostly young burgesses of Edinburgh. When all the necessary preliminaries were completed, his Majesty, attended by the nobility and privy councilors, entered the chapel, and sat down in the chair of state. The foreign ambassadors now repaired to the prince’s chamber, where they found the royal infant laid upon a bed of state, embroidered with the "Labours of Hercules." The ascent to a platform on which the bed stood was by three steps. Covered with tapestry wrought with gold. A large cloth of lawn covered both bed and steps, and reached a good way over the floor. As soon as the ambassadors and other officers had assembled, the Dowager Countess of Mar approached the bed, and, making a low obeisance, took up the prince, and delivered him into the hands of the Duke of Lennox, who immediately presented him to the English ambassador, to be by him borne into the chapel. Upon a table in the room stood the implements of the sacred service. These the master of the ceremonies delivered to certain noblemen, to be carried before the prince. The prince’s robe-royal, of purple velvet, richly set with pearls, was delivered to Lennox, who put it upon the royal infant, whilst the train was borne by the Lords Sinclair and Urquhart. They adjourned to an outer chamber, where a canopy was supported with four poles, and covered with crimson velvet fringed with gold. At length, when everything had been regularly adjusted, the procession, at sound of trumpet, set out in the following order: Lyon King-at-Arms, with the other heralds in their best robes; the lords bearing the utensils – Lord Seton a silver basin, Lord Livingston a towel, Lord Home a ducal crown, richly set with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Then followed the canopy, borne by four barons, viz., Walter Scot of Buccleuch, the Constable of Dundee, Sir Robert Ker of Cesford, and the Laird of Traquair. Under the canopy walked the Earl of Sussex, ambassador extraordinary of England, appointed to that special service, carrying the prince in his arms, and assisted by the ordinary ambassador, Mr. Bowes. Along with them was the Duke of Lennox. Around the canopy were the ambassadors of Denmark, Magdeburg, and the States. Last of all followed the Countess of Mar, Mrs. Bowes, the ladies of honour, and the nurse.

At their entrance into the chapel, the utensils were received by the master of ceremonies, who placed them upon the table before the pulpit; and the noble bearers retired to their seats. The canopy was set down before the pulpit, where the English ambassador delivered the prince to Lennox, who immediately gave him to the Lady Mar, and she in turn committed him into the hands of the nurse. All the ambassadors retired to their respective places. Outside the rail were placed long seats, covered with green, which were occupied by the gentry of England, Scotland, Denmark, Germany, and Flanders.

As soon as all the company were seated, Mr. Patrick Galloway, one of his Majesty’s ordinary chaplains, entered the pulpit, and preached from Gen. xxi. 1, 2. When the sermon was finished, the Bishop of Aberdeen rose, and discoursed on the sacrament of baptism, in Latin as well as English, by way of compliment to the Continental part of his audience. The provost and prebends of the chapel sang the 21st Psalm. The king, leaving his seat, advanced towards the pulpit. The ambassadors followed in order. The barons who bore the canopy moved towards the pulpit; and the Duke of Lennox, receiving the prince from the Lady Mar, delivered him to the English ambassador, who held him in his arms during the performance of the sacred act. The royal child was christened under the names of Frederick Henry, no sooner pronounced, than thrice repeated aloud by the Lyon King-at-Arms, and as often confirmed, with sound of trumpet, by the inferior heralds.

When the action was over, the king, ambassadors, and great officers returned to their seats. The English ambassador, meanwhile, stepping aside, was waited on by two gentlemen-grooms; one of whom, kneeling, presented a basin, while the other, in the same humble attitude, poured water into it. The ambassador washed his hands; and, having wiped them with a towel presented to him, with equal reverence, by a third gentleman-groom, resumed his chair.

When all was composed, the Bishop of Aberdeen, mounting the pulpit, pronounced, in Latin verse, a eulogy on Prince Frederick Henry. He then addressed himself, in Latin prose, to each of the ambassadors; beginning with "My Lord Sussex." He gave a history of each potentate there diplomatically represented, showed the relation which each crowned head bore to the royal family of Scotland, and concluded by giving God thanks on the joyous occasion. It now only remained to pronounce the benediction. This done, the Lord King-at-Arms cried, "God save Frederick Henry, by the grace of God, Prince of Scotland," and the inferior heralds, at an open window, re-echoed the benison, with trumpet-sound.

The tables had, meanwhile, been covered in the Parliament House; and, at eight, their majesties and the ambassadors sat down to a sumptuous banquet. When the first course had been removed, the company were surprised by the spectacle of a Moor, having round his neck, for traces, massive chains of gold, and drawing a triumphal car, to the sound of trumpets and hautboys. The machine had been so artfully contrived as to appear to be moved by the Moor unassisted. It was at first designed that a lion should draw it; but, lest the quadruped should alarm the ladies, or, startled by the lamps and torches, commit havoc without distinction of sex, it was deemed preferable that the work should be done by the biped.

The chariot bore a table richly covered with fruits, and confectionery, and attended by six damsels, three of whom were clothed in argentine satin, three in crimson satin, and all of them glittering with gold and silver. Each wore on the head a garland; and the hair, which flowed without confinement, was bedecked with feathers, pearls, and jewels. In front stood CERES, holding a sickle in one hand, and a bunch of corn in the other, with this inscription upon her side, FUNDENT UBERES OMNIA CAMPI. Over against CERES stood FOECUNDITAS, holding some bunches of poppies, designed to represent fruitfulness, with this design upon one side, FELIX PROLES DIVUM, and upon the other, CRESCANT IN MILLE. Next, on the other side, was placed FIDES, holding a basin, in which were two hands joined, with this sentence, BONI ALUMNA CONJUGII. Over against FIDES stood CONCORDIA, in whose left hand was a golden tassel, and in her right the Horn of Plenty, with this motto, PLENO BEANT TE NUMINA SINU. The next place was occupied by LIBERALITY, who held in her right hand two crowns, and in her left as many sceptres, with the motto, ME COMITE, PLURA DABIS QUAM ACCIPIES. The last was PERSEVERANCE, having in her hand a staff, and upon her left shoulder an anchor, with the scroll, NEC DUBIAE RES MUTABUNT NEC SECUNDAE. The dessert was delivered, in silence, by the damsels, to the Earls, Lords, and Barons, as Sewers.

Another spectacle, equally uncommon at feasts, entered the hall; a boat placed upon wheels, and moving by invisible springs. Her length of keep was eighteen feet, and breadth of deck eight. The highest flag (which was lowered upon her passing through the door of the hall) was forty feet, from the solid work on which she moved. The masts were red, the tackling and cordage silk of the same colour, and the pulleys gold. Her ordnance consisted of thirty-six brass pieces, elegantly mounted. The sails were of white taffety, and the anchors tipped with silver. In the fore-sail was a compass, with this device, QUASCUNQUE PER UNDAS. On the main-sail were painted the joint arms of Scotland and Denmark, and this inscription common to both, EN QUAE DIVISA BEATOS EFFICIUNT, COLLECTA TENES. All the sails, flags, and streamers were embroidered with gold and jewels. The mariners were six, clad in variegated Spanish taffety. The pilot, arrayed in cloth of gold, moved the machine at will. Fourteen musicians, apparelled in taffety, were on board. There, too, was ARION with his harp. Upon the fore-castle stood NEPTUNE, clad in Indian silk, embroidered with silver, holding a trident, and wearing a crown inscribed JUNXI ATQUE REDUXI. Next stood THETIS, with her mace, and this device, NUNQUAM ABERO, ET TUTUM SEMPER TE LITTORE SISTAM. At her hand stood TRITON with his shell, and the scroll, VELIS, VOTIS, VENTIS. Around the vessel were three SYRENS, who, accommodating their gestures to the music, repeated, "UNUS ERIS NOBIS CANTANDUS SEMPER IN ORBE." The vessel was decked with pearls, corals, shells, and other marine productions. At sound of trumpet, she entered the hall; and, at the blast of TRITON’S shell, and the pilot’s whistle, made sail, discharging her ordnance, till she had reached the table. The Sewers received the cargo, being sweetmeats in crystal glasses, curiously painted with gold and azure, and made up in the shape of various fishes. While the vessel was unloading, ARION, sitting upon the prow, cut in form of the fabled dolphin, struck the harp; then followed hautboys, violins, and flutes; and, last of all, a general concert. When the banquet ended, thanks were given, and the 138th Psalm sung in seven parts by fourteen voices. Then, at the sound of TRITON’S shell, and the pilot’s whistle, the vessel weighed anchor, and made sail, till she had got outside the hall.

But to return to the castle proper. A strong battery, with a tire of guns, pointing to the bridge over the Forth, was erected during the regency of Mary of Lorrain. It is called the French battery, probably from having been constructed by French engineers. The last addition to the fortifications was made under Queen Anne. They had formerly reached no farther than the old gate, where the flag-staff now stands. In that reign they were considerably enlarged towards the town; and bomb-proof barracks, with other conveniences for a siege, were erected. From the unfinished state in which some parts have been left, it would seem as if the whole plan had not been executed.

South-west of the castle lies what is called the King’s Park, where the court hunted deer. It extends to the south side of the late race-ground, and at the east end lay the royal gardens. The wall is still to be seen running along the base of the basaltic columns which here front the south and west. It is not yet a century since it was first traversed by a public road, the old Dumbarton road having hitherto gone by Cambusbarron. This field, together with Gowling, or Gowlan, Hill, and other parcels of ground around the garrison, formed, at one time, a small jurisdiction called the Constabulary of the Castle; but they now belong to the burgh.

In the gardens is a mound of earth, in form of a table, known as "The Knot," where, according to tradition, the court sometimes held fetes champetres. Barbour, in his account of the battle of Bannockburn, makes mention of the same, which was then at the foot of the castle. He says, that, when Edward of England was told by Mowbray, the governor, that he could not expect safety by being admitted into the fortress, "he took the way beneath the castle by the round table." It is, undoubtedly, of great antiquity, and must have been in that place long before the gardens were formed. Here, probably, the pastime, called "The Knights of the Round Table," was enjoyed, a sport of which several of the Scottish monarchs, particularly James IV., are said to have been fond. Around the gardens, in Mr. Nimmo’s day, were the vestiges of a canal, on which the royal family and court aired in barges; but a public road from north to south now traverses the Park here.

In the Castle-hill is a hollow, called "The Valley," comprehending about an acre, and having the appearance of an artificial work for tournaments, with other feats of chivalry. Here, the first historical flying experiment was made in Scotland, by an Italian friar, whom James IV. had made Abbot of Tungland. The man, from his presumed scientific attainments, and supposed success in alchemy, was a great favourite of the king’s. Imagining that he had discovered a method of flying through the air, he appointed a day for an aerial ascension, and invited the king and his court to witness the feat. At the appointed time, the Italian, carrying an enormous pair of wings, ascended one of the battlements of the castle, and, spreading out his plumes, vaulted into the air. Unfortunately for the abbot’s reputation, the experiment was a complete failure. Amid the laughter and derision of the whole assembly, the would-be aeronaut came tumbling headlong down; and, although he luckily saved his neck, his thigh-bone was broken. Of course the poor experimentalist had an excuse for his non-success. It was to be attributed, he asserted, to the fact that his wings included some feathers from common dung-hill fowls, instead of having been all from eagles and other noble birds. Close to this valley on the south, is a small pyramidal rock, called "The Ladies’ Hill," where the fair ones of the court took their station to witness these "feats."

Opposite the castle, northwards, lies Gowlan Hill, on the extremity of which, near the bridge, is a small mound, known by the name of "Hurly Hawkie," and so called from the childish amusement of using the skeleton of a cow’s head, for a sliding stool on the declivity. Hawkie is a sort of generic term for a cow in Scotland, and Lindsay’s "Hurly Backit" seems to refer to the same pastime. On this mound, Duncan, the aged Earl of Lennox, and his son-in-law, Murdac, Duke of Albany, lately regent, were, with Alexander, a younger son of the regent’s by Duncan’s daughter Isabella, beheaded on the 25th May, 1425. Walter, the eldest son, had met the same fate here on the preceding day. The same hill, too, was the scene of the execution of Sir Robert Graham, and several associates, for the assassination of James I. Mr. Nimmo remarks that no known history specifies the crime of the two former nobles, and sons of the regent. But we may explain that an act had been passed in the first parliament after James’s return from captivity, ordering the sheriffs to enquire what lands had belonged to the crown during the three preceding reigns, and empowering the king to summon the holders to show their charters. There had, probably, been some demur, rousing James to vigorous measures. He seems to have selected the ringleaders for an example. He ordered into custody Walter Stewart, eldest son of the late regent, Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld, and Thomas Boyd of Kilmarnock; but the latter two were soon after released. He next laid hold of Duncan, the aged Earl of Lennox, and Sir Robert Graham, the future regicide. At a parliament in Perth, he arrested on the 12th of March, 1424-5, Murdac, Duke of Albany, Alexander, his second son, with several others, all of great ancestry and importance. His view probably in seizing so many was, to prevent an insurrection which, as matters stood, was fruitlessly attempted by Murdac’s youngest son James. The monarch, adjourning his parliament to Stirling in May, and, presiding in person, formed a jury of twenty-one members. Among them were Walter Stewart Earl of Atholl, and the Earls of Douglas, Angus, and March, all of whom, except Atholl, had been arrested with Albany. There were also three lesser barons who had been similarly seized. As, however, these did not constitute the majority, they could not turn the scale in favour of the accused. What the accusation was, as it is not recorded, we are left to conjecture. The dilapidations of the crown lands implied in the act of parliament recently adverted to, may perhaps sufficiently account for this transaction.

The lordship and castle of Stirling were latterly part of the dowry of the Scottish Queens. A small peninsula betwixt the bridge of Stirling and the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, still goes by the name of Queen’s Haugh, having been the place, where, according to tradition, the queen’s cows usually grazed. The charter to a small parcel of ground, within the Constabulary, mentions its having been granted to the first possessor, for the service of taking care of the queen’s poultry and washing-tubs.

Sir Robert Erskine was appointed governor of the castle by King David Bruce, in 1360; and for the sustenance of the garrison, had a grant of twelve chalders of oats, and fourteen chalders of wheat, with two hundred merks, which were yearly payable to the crown, out of the feus of Bothkennar. He likewise obtained a grant of all the feus and revenues in Stirlingshire, belonging to the crown, with the wardships, escheats, and other emoluments annexed to them. The office continued in that family until the forfeiture of the Earl of Mar in 1715.

Being a key to the northern parts of Scotland, the possession of Stirling was esteemed important. Hence the sieges and revolutions it has undergone have afforded much matter for history. In 1296, Edward I., enraged at Baliol’s renunciation of his allegiance, marched into Scotland with a great army, and, torrent-like, carried all before him. The strongest fortresses yielded, and Stirling, deserted by its garrison, made no stand. After the battle of Stirling, in 1297, Surrey, being forced to retreat, left the castle under Sir Marmaduke de Twenge, who was obliged instantly to evacuate it before Sir William Wallace. After the battle of Falkirk, Wallace demolished it. Hollingshed says, softly, that "Wallace, after the battle, went, with sundry of his friends, into the castle at Strivelyne." It was repaired by Edward II.; but was, the following year, recovered by the Scots. In 1300, the English usurper laid siege to it; when Sir William Oliphant defended it three months, but, at length, capitulated. It was held by the English till 1303; when the Scottish leaders, having compelled a surrender, restored Oliphant to the command. Edward entered Scotland on the 10th of May, and, having penetrated into the North as far as Kinloss, returned on the 6th of November to the Abbey of Dumfermline. Having subsequently dispersed any forces which the Scots could bring into the field, he repaired, early in March, to St. Andrews; where, assembling a great council of English and Scottish barons, he procured the outlawry of Sir William Wallace, Simon Frazer, and the garrison of Stirling castle. Although gunpowder was yet unknown, he despoiled the cathedral of its leaden roof for the siege of the only fortress in Scotland which defied his power. During three months, every expedient was employed by Edward, in person; and often exposing himself, to reduce it. At length he succeeded by storm. He sent the brave garrison, whose offer of capitulation he had refused, to different jails in England; and the governor to the Tower of London. Wallace still remained, unsullied in fame, and unconquered in spirit; but, having been arrested soon after, and carried to London in fetters, he was condemned for high treason, and suffered death on the 23rd August, 1305. The English now held Stirling castle for ten years, till the battle of Bannockburn, which was fought to relieve it, but in vain. In 1333, it yielded to Edward Baliol. In 1336, after being repaired by Edward III., it was besieged by Sir William Douglas and Sir Andrew Moray, the friends of David Bruce; when Edward relieved it in person. Sir Robert Keith Marischal, one of the chief heroes of Bannockburn, was killed on this occasion. The castle was, next year, blockaded by the same party, and again relieved by Edward. It was captured by Bruce’s friends in 1339.

In the beginning of 1746, the Highlanders raised a battery of two 16-pounders, two 8-pounders, and three 3-pounders, between the church and Mar’s building, but were dislodged by the artillery of the garrison, under General Blackney. On the 27th of January, they erected a battery of three pieces on Gowlan Hill, and another of similar power on Lady’s Hill; and opened both on the 29th. Many of the besiegers fell by the fire of the castle. It must, however, have surrendered for want of provisions, but for the Duke of Cumberland’s approach, and the consequent retreat of the Highland army. A small history of Stirling, which appeared in 1794, mentions an anecdote of Charles Edward, the more worthy of credit that the anonymous author is obviously no Jacobite. The Highlanders had to pass along St. Mary’s Wynd in going to and from Gowlan Hill, and, while passing an opening, were exposed to the cannon of the castle, purposely pointed. The more cowardly crept hurriedly on all-fours, while the braver marched deliberately and erect. "The town’s people remarked," says the history referred to, "that among the latter was the young Prince Charles."

Several important transactions, civil and sacred, have, at different times, taken place in Stirling castle. Some laws of Alexander II. annexed to the Regiam Majestatem, were enacted within it, particularly that, so friendly to liberty, which established trials by jury. William the Lion held a parliament in the castle, for the payment of his ransom. Here William died in 1212. Several parliaments and conventions met during the short reign of John Baliol. Here, also, the epistle is dated which, with the advice of the States, he wrote to the King of France in 1295, proposing a marriage between a princess of France and young Baliol.

It was the place of both the birth and coronation of James V. His daughter, too, was crowned in the castle in 1543, when scarce nine months old. Arran, the regent, carried the crown on that occasion, and Lennox the sceptre. A numerous assembly of the States, then present, appointed the fortress to be the royal minor’s residence, and committed the alternate keeping of her person, and superintendence of her education, to the Lords Graham, Lindsay, Erskine, and Livingston.

The only son of Darnley and Queen Mary was born on the 19th of June, 1566, in Edinburgh castle, but soon after conveyed to Stirling, where, on the 15th of December, he was baptized with much solemnity. Great preparations were made for the occasion. Couriers were dispatched to the courts of England, France, and Savoy; and ambassadors arrived from each, to countenance the assembly. A convention of the states granted a thousand pounds sterling to defray the expense. The prince was held up at the font by the Countess of Argyll, in name of, and by commission from the Queen of England. He was baptized by the archbishop, and named James Charles. The whole service was Romish, with the exception of the spittle. Neither Bedford, nor any of the Scottish Protestant nobility entered the chapel. They stood outside the door.

The king was not present at his son’s baptism. Buchanan assigns a ridiculous reason – that the tailors and embroiderers had neglected to provide him in proper clothes. Others, with more probability, represent him as having learned that Bedford and his retinue had received express orders from Elizabeth not to address him by the title of king. As it was inconsistent with his honour to be denied it in his own court, and, at the same time, imprudent to quarrel with the Queen of England, he had, possibly, judged it expedient not to appear.

After service, the queen, with the English and French ambassadors, sat down to an elegant repast, in the Parliament House. The second course was brought in a wheeled machine, accompanied by a musical band. At the suggestion of a Frenchman, a number of men dressed as satyrs, with long tails, and whips, preceded the vehicle. Some Englishmen, conceiving a personal insult, raised a noise; and it was with much difficulty that the queen could appease the uproar. Bedford alone of his countrymen treated the infantine pageant with silent contempt.

The ambassadors, during their stay, were entertained with frequent banquets, and various amusements. Bedford never attended worship in the chapel, but went with the Protestant lords to the town-church. At his departure, he was presented by the queen with a chain of diamonds, valued at 2000 crowns. His retinue also were honoured with presents.

Outside the castle, at the head of Broad Street, are the remains of a conspicuous building, which, in its style of architecture, strikingly resembles the castle of St. Andrews. It is popularly known as "Mar’s Work," from the name of the founder, John, Earl of Mar, Lord Erskine, Regent of Scotland, who erected it in 1570. The front wall of the house, however, is the only portion that remains. Above the main entrance door, the full royal armorial bearings of Scotland are still entire; and on the two flanking towers on either side of the principal entrance, are the respective armorial bearings of John, Earl of Mar, and of his Countess, Annabella Murray, of Tulliebardine. On the eastern door, there is the following quaint inscription, which many will consider of very general application: -

"The moir I stand in oppin licht,
My faultis moir subject ar to sicht."

Another appeals, on this or on other grounds, for a lenient judgment: -

"I pray al luikaris on this luging,
With gentle e to give their juging."

Looking over the castle ramparts – and this, after all, is the great attention – we have before us one of the finest and most stirring views in all Scotland. We see stretching away to the west the rich strath of Menteith, bounded on the one hand by the Fintry hills, and on the other by the braes of Aberfoyle, with the stately Highland mountains rising beyond. In the foreground, is the wooded cone of Craigforth. On the east we have the Ochils and Abbey Craig, with its Wallace Monument; and near at hand, we look down on the beautiful windings, or "links," of the Forth. But the historical footprints of the landscape are of still deeper interest. Within a radius of a few miles no less than six great battles were fought within historic times – Stirling Bridge, 1297; Falkirk, 1298; Bannockburn, 1314; Sauchieburn, or Field of Stirling, 1488; Kilsyth, 1645; and Falkirk, 1746. Probably in no area of so small extent throughout the world have so many momentous conflicts taken place. And there can be little doubt that the physical features of the district have had a powerful influence in this phase of our human history.


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