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The Story of Edinburgh Castle
Chapter III. Dark Days

HIS kindliness won for King David the affections of his subjects. Aldred says: “I have seen him quit his horse and dismiss his hunting equipage when even the humblest of his subjects desired an audience ; he sometimes employed his leisure hours in the culture of his garden, and in the philosophical amusement of budding and engrafting trees.” He was succeeded by his grandson Malcolm the Fourth, who reigned for twelve years, during which the Castle seems to have enjoyed a time of comparative peace. Malcolm had made Scone his capital, so that, although he frequently resided in the Castle, perhaps Edinburgh did not figure so much in the story of his life. In 1153 he appointed Galfrid de Melville, of Melville in Lothian, to be governor of the fortress. De Melville proved himself a very prudent ruler and was a great benefactor to the monks there in residence. When Malcolm died in 1165 the succession fell to William, his eldest brother, known as William the Lion, who resided at Haddington and continued doing so long after his coronation; but many of his state documents are dated and inscribed “Apud monasterium Sanctae Cruris de Castello."

William disturbed the harmony which had prevailed between the two countries during his father’s reign by invading England at the head of 80,000 men and ravished the northern counties, but he was captured near Alnwick—it is said treacherously—and treated in a barbarous fashion. His release, however, was speedily arranged by the surrender of the Castle of Edinburgh to the English King as a pledge for a ransom of 100,000. Fortunately for Scotland that which was lost in war was restored through a romantic incident ; a marriage was arranged between William and Ermengarde de Beaumont, a cousin of Henry, and the Castle was given as a dowry to the new Queen. It had been held by an English garrison for nearly twelve years. The next important event in the history of the Castle took place when Alexander the Second, the son of William, convened his first Parliament within its walls on his accession in 1215 } and a still further prominence was given to Edinburgh by a provincial synod being held in the city by Cardinal l’Aleran, the legate of Pope Gregory the Ninth. It is noteworthy that one of the eight monasteries of the mendicant order founded by Alexander in various parts of Scotland stood on the site of the present University building on South Bridge. More eventful times were in store for the Castle during the long reign of Alexander III, who succeeded his father in 1233. After his coronation he took up his residence in the old fortress, where a bard, or sennachie, recited to him a Gaelic poem containing a recital of the King’s ancestors from the time of Fergus. This bard was probably Thomas the Rhymer, who was during this period at the height of his reputation.


It is interesting to note that these minstrels not only sang to the harp verses composed by themselves, but they accompanied their songs with mimicry and action, which were much admired in those rude times and supplied the want of more refined entertainment. Alexander became betrothed to Margaret, the daughter of Henry III of England, and nine years later, in 1251, their marriage was celebrated at York.

The Queen, who was only fifteen, was greatly disappointed at the Castle as a residence, describing it as ua sad and solitary place, without verdure and by reason of its vicinity to the sea, unwholesome,” and she complained that she was not permitted to make excursions through the kingdom, nor to choose her female attendants. The disappointment of the girl-Queen suggests that in those days the Castle was more of a stronghold than a residence, and had undergone some change from the days of Queen Margaret, the wife of Canmore, who lived within its walls in comparative comfort.

Although very young, Alexander presided at the assemblies for the transaction of public affairs, which were held, it is believed, in St. Margaret’s Chamber— the room in which Queen Margaret died.

During Alexander the Third’s reign the Castle, under its governor William of Kinghorn, was greatly repaired and its fortifications were considerably strengthened j not only the Regalia of Scotland but all the records were in its safe keeping.

The English King Henry’s ambition was to annex Scotland, an ambition viewed by a considerable portion of the Scottish community with a certain amount of satisfaction. The kingdom consequently became divided into two rival parties; one favoured the English King, and the other, which was bitterly against the proposal, held possession of Edinburgh and its Castle. However, unfortunately for the nationalists, whilst they were engaged in preparing for a Parliament to be held at Stirling, the Earl of March, Alan Dureward, and other leaders surprised and captured the Castle. The royal pair, who had been kept more or less in a state of captivity, were then liberated, and eventually we find them holding an interview with Henry at Wark Castle in Northumberland. The Castle continued to be the chief residence of Alexander during the remainder of his reign, and he held his courts and conducted judicial affairs within its walls up to the time of his tragic death on the shores of Fife in 1290.

And now Edinburgh Castle enters into the darkest chapters of its history, and we find many tales of bloody deeds and wars. Bruce, Baliol, and others claimed succession to the throne, and on the pretext that he would arbitrate in the dispute, the wily Plantagenet, Edward the First of England, advanced across the border and pushed on to Edinburgh, where he laid siege to the Castle.

Great damage was done to the buildings by the military 'cengines” of the English soldiers, and after fifteen days the Castle capitulated on the nth of June 1291. Edward left a garrison of English soldiers with Sir Radulf Basset de Drayton as governor; he ransacked the entire fortress of its records and the other contents of its treasury, a list of which was drawn up and included the famous Black Rood of Scotland. Edward ordered some of the records to remain in the Castle under the care of Basset, but the more important ones were brought to England, and those that dealt with the old independence of Scotland were all destroyed and the remainder allowed to decay in the Tower of London.

On the 8th of July 1292 we find Edward once more at the Scottish capital, where, styling himself “Lord Paramount of Scotland,” he received within St. Margaret’s Chapel the enforced oath of fealty from Adam, Abbot of Holyrood, John, Abbot of Newbattle; Sir Brian le Jay, Preceptor of the Scottish Templars; the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem; and Christine, Prioress of Emanuel, in Stirlingshire.

After the Bruce’s refusal to accept the crown, Edward decided in favour of John Baliol, and issued orders to the captains of all Scottish castles to deliver them up to John, King of Scotland.

“Shame at last,” says Grant, “filled the heart of Baliol; he took to the field and lost the battle of Dunbar,” where he had gone to encounter Edward and his mixed army, and after the defeat Baliol took the road to Forfar, where the worthless Scot persuaded the Earl of Atholl that by the disaster at Dunbar all was so lost, that if he wished to save his life he must surrender himself to Edward. The brave Douglas tried to alter Baliol’s resolution, but without effect. Edward, reinforced by fifteen thousand Welsh and a horde of Scottish traitors, returned and besieged Edinburgh Castle, which surrendered after a fruitless defence on the 6th of June 1296, and with ruthless severity the English King put the whole garrison to the sword. He now made Walter de Huntercombe, a baron of Northumberland, the governor ; but, the year following, Wallace the Hero of Scotland made a clean sweep of the invaders, drove them out of the country after his great victory at Stirling, and recaptured all the fortresses, Edinburgh Castle included.

But ere long the English returned, in 1298, with Edward at the head of an army a hundred thousand strong. The English monarch sent his envoy, Lord de Spencer, with a message to Wallace offering him the throne of Ireland if he would abandon the cause of Scotland. This offer Wallace proudly rejected, whereupon Lord de Spencer stepped forward and said: "Since Sir William Wallace rejects the grace of his liege lord Edward, King of England, offered to him this once, and never to be again repeated, thus saith the King, in his mercy, to the earls, barons, knights and commonalty of Scotland! To every one


of them, chief and vassal, excepting the aforesaid rebel, he grants an amnesty to all their past treasons; provided that, within twenty-four hours after they hear the words of this proclamation, they acknowledge their disloyalty with repentance, and laying down their arms, swear fealty to their own lawful ruler, Edward, the lord of the whole island, from sea to sea.”

“Away to your King,” said Bothwell, “and tell him that Andrew Murray, and every honest Scot, is ready to live or die by the side of Sir William Wallace.” Too well do Scotsmen know how the great defender of Scotland was betrayed by Sir John Monteith, and how in chains he was shipped to the Tower of London, there to meet his death for the offence of having faithfully served his country.

Once again the Castle of Edinburgh was in the hands of the English, and 1300 saw “Johan de Kingsston, Connestable et Gardeyn du Chastel de Edenburgh,” and he was succeeded four years later by Sir Piers de Lombard, a knight of Gascony. But Robert Bruce was now in arms and soon carried all before him. In 1311 he invaded England, and in the year following he recaptured every Scottish stronghold with the exception of the one at Edinburgh, the seizure of which he had entrusted to Sir Thomas Randolph of Strathdon, Earl of Moray, Bruce’s nephew. The English soldiers, suspecting the fidelity of Sir Piers de Lombard, locked him up in a dungeon and under a new commander prepared for a desperate defence of the fortress, but by a clever stratagem it was restored once more to the Scottish King.

Among the soldiers of Sir Thomas Randolph was one William Frank (some accounts call him Francis) who volunteered to pilot a party up the steep crags by a secret and intricate pathway which he himself knew. Having in past times lived in the garrison, he had been accustomed to clamber down the rock during the night to escape military durance in order to visit his lady, and so became familiar with the way.

On a dark and stormy night (the 14th of March 1312) Randolph, under the guidance of Frank, led thirty brave men up the steep part of the Great Rock which overhangs Princes Street Gardens, below which is the ruin of the Well-house Tower. At midnight they scaled the walls, surprised the garrison, and after a fierce fight overpowered them.

St. Piers de Lombard (sometimes called Laland), the governor, who had been imprisoned by the suspicious garrison, now joined the Scots, but King Robert thinking that he had an English heart made him to be “hangit and drawn.”

Grant says: "There are indications that some secret pathway known to the Scottish garrison existed, for during some operations in 1321 traces were found of steps cut in the rock about seventy feet above ‘Wallace’s Cradle’—a path supposed to have been completed by a moveable ladder.”

Bruce, who was now completely triumphant, decided to dismantle the Castle to remove the temptation to its recapture by the English, and for twenty-four years it became a veritable ruin, only once being used, in l335, by the remnant of the army of Guy Count of Namur, who had landed at Berwick with a considerable number of armed men to assist the English. Guy was met on the Borough-Muir within sight of the Castle by the Earl of Moray with a powerful army, and here a fierce and bloody battle ensued. During the fight a Scottish squire, Richard Shaw, was challenged to single combat by a knight in armour with a closed helmet in the train of the Count After a brave encounter both fell, each transfixed by his opponent’s lance. On the bodies afterward being stripped of their armour the chivalrous knight proved to be a woman.

Very few of the Count’s army escaped, and those who did retreated to the Castle, now a bare ruin, where they killed their horses and piled them up to make a temporary rampart in a last attempt to defend themselves against the Scots. But hunger and thirst deprived them of energy, and on the following day they surrendered; their lives were spared by the Earl of Moray on the promise not to bear arms again in any Scottish war.

Edward III, not at all discouraged, again in 1336 pressed north, and again recaptured and rebuilt the Castle.

In 1341 the Castle was once more restored to the Scottish people by an ingenious stratagem planned by a William Bulloch, who had been entrusted with the custody of Cupar Castle for Baliol. “A man very brave and faithful to the Scots,” says Buchanan. Under his directions, Walter Curry of Dundee received into his ship two hundred Scottish warriors under the command of William Douglas and Sir Simon Fraser.

Anchoring in Leith Roads, Bulloch appeared himself at the gates of the Castle, and represented to the Governor that he was the master of an English craft just arrived with a cargo of wines and provisions, which he offered for sale. The bait took, and early on the following morning, attended by a dozen armed followers disguised as English sailors, the trader appeared before the gates.

On entering the Castle they contrived to upset their barrels and hampers so as to prevent the closing of the gates, whereupon the guards were immediately slain. At a signal given by the blast from a bugle-horn, Douglas and his men sprang from their hiding-place close by, raised their terrific war-cry, and rushed at the garrison, who were overpowered after a fierce conflict, and captured the Castle in the name of the young King David II, who had succeeded his father on his death. The following month David with his consort Johanna landed from France to find that Scotland was once again clear of the southern invaders.


A few years after the Scots became bent on a raid in England, but they were defeated at Durham, the young King was made captive and thrust into a dungeon in Nottingham Castle, where he spent the weary years of his captivity in engraving on a rock the story of our Saviour’s Passion.

In the treaty for his ransom we find the merchants and burgesses of Edinburgh and the principal towns in Scotland holding themselves responsible for its fulfilment. A Parliament was held in the capital for the final adjustment of the terms, at which the Regent Robert (afterwards Robert II) presided.

There were seventeen burghs represented at the meeting—among them Edinburgh appears for the first time at the head—in addition to the clergy and nobles. After returning from England, David took up his favourite residence within the Castle walls ; he at once carried out extensive repairs and additions, enlarging the fortifications, and building an extensive tower which was erected on the east face of the rock, immediately to the north of the site of the half-moon battery. The outflanking walls of this tower have lately been disclosed by excavations carried out by H.M. Board of Works.

Here he died on February 22, 1371, in his forty -seventh year, and was buried before the High Altar in the Church of the Abbey of Holyrood.

This terminates the direct line of the Bruce, who had fought so hard for their right to the Throne and for the independence of their country.

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