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The Story of Edinburgh Castle
Chapter XI. Mons Meg and other Relics

AMONG the famous prisoners that were incarcerated in the dungeons of the Castle was James Mhor Macgregor of Bohaldie, the eldest son of Rob Roy, the famous chief of the Macgregors. James had lost his estate for having held a major’s commission under the Old Pretender. Robin Oig Macgregor, his younger brother, having conceived the idea that he would make his fortune by carrying off an heiress—no uncommon thing in the Highlands —procured James’s assistance, with a band of Macgregors, armed with target, pistol, and claymore, who came suddenly from the wilds of Arroquhar. Surrounding the house of Edinbellie, in Stirlingshire, the abode of a wealthy widow of only nineteen, they seized her, and, muffling her in a plaid, bore her to the heather-clad hills where Rowardennan looks down upon the Gareloch and Glenfruin. There she was married to Robin, who kept her for three months in defiance of several parties of troops sent to recover her.

From his general character James Mhor was considered to be a chief instigator of this outrage \ thus the vengeance of the Crown was directed against him rather than Robin, who received some leniency on account of his youth. He was arrested, tried, and found guilty by the Lords of Justiciary, but in consequence of some doubt, or because of some informality, sentence of death was delayed until November 1752. As it was believed that an attempt to rescue him might be made by the Highlanders serving in the city as caddies, chairmen, and city guards—for Macgregor’s bravery at Prestonpans, seven years before, had made him popular with the clansmen—he was removed by a warrant rom the Lord Justice Clerk, addressed to General Churchill, from the Tolbooth to the Castle, there to be kept in close confinement till his fatal day arrived. But it came to pass that on November 16 one of his daughters, a tall and very handsome girl, disguised herself as a lame old cobbler and obtained admittance to the prisoner, bearing a pair of newly soled shoes. The guards in the adjacent corridors heard James Macgregor scolding the supposed cobbler with considerable asperity for some time for the indifferent manner in which his work had been executed. Meanwhile they were exchanging costumes, and at length James came limping forth grumbling and swearing. An old and tattered greatcoat enveloped him; he had donned a leather apron, a pair of old shoes, and ribbed stockings. A red nightcap was drawn to his ears, and a broad hat slouched over his eyes. He quitted the Castle undetected, and succeeded in leaving the city. His flight was soon discovered . The city gates were shut, the fortress searched, and every man who had been on duty was made prisoner. A court-martial, consisting of thirteen officers, sat for five days in the old barracks, and its proceedings ended in two officers being cashiered, the serjeant who kept the key of Macgregor’s room being reduced to the ranks, and the flogging of a warder. Macgregor escaped to France, where he died about the time of the French Revolution in extreme old age. Robin Oig Macgregor was, however, executed in the Grassmarket in 1754 for the abduction.

On the Bomb Battery, or King’s Bastion, directly in front of St. Margaret’s Chapel, stands the giant piece of ordnance known as Mons Meg, a relic of the fifteenth century, with its great muzzle commanding the fine panorama of the New Town. In one respect it is similar in construction to some of our modern weapons \ that is, the metal is welded together in strong coils. It measures thirteen feet in length and twenty inches in diameter within the bore, and weighs upward of five tons. It is supposed to be the most ancient piece of cannon in Europe with the exception of one at Lisbon. Grant says that not a vestige of proof can be shown for the popular belief that this gun was forged at Mons; indeed, unvarying tradition, supported by very strong corroborative evidence, asserts that it was formed by Scottish artisans, by order of James II, when he besieged the rebellious Douglases in the castle of Thrieve, in Galloway, in 1455. He posted his artillery at the Three Thorns of the Carlinwark,1 which still survives, but the fire proved ineffective, so a smith named M’Kim and his sons offered to construct a more efficient piece of ordnance. Toward this the inhabitants of the vicinity contributed each a gaud, or iron bar. Tradition, Grant goes on to say, never varied, and indicated a mound near the Three Thorns as the place of the forging. When the road was made at that spot this mound was discovered to be a mass of cinders and the iron debris of a great forge. Another story has it that the King granted to 'Brawny Kim,’ the smith in question, the lands of Mollance—the contraction of Mollance to ‘Monce’ and his wife’s name c Meg’ suggests the origin of the name 'Mons Meg.’

To this day the place where Mons Meg was mounted is called Knock-cannon. Only two of the great cannonballs were fired from it before the surrender of Thrieve, and both have been found. The first, according to the New Statistical Account, was toward the end of the seventeenth century picked out of the castle well and delivered to Gordon of Greenlaw. In 1841 the tenant of Thrieve discovered the second when removing a rubbish heap. The balls piled on either side of the gun in the Castle are believed to be exactly similar to those found at Thrieve, and are cut out of Galloway granite from a quarry on Binnan Hill, near the Carlin-wark. The gun has had several variations in its name. It has been termed ‘ Mounts Meg,’ 'Munch Meg,’ and ‘the great iron murderer, Muckle Meg.’ Near the breech may be seen a large rent, which was made in 1632, when a salute was being fired in honour of the Duke of York, afterwards J imes VII. In 1489 it was employed at the siege of Dumbarton, and at some time when James IV invaded England it is supposed he took the gigantic weapon with him on a new stock made at St. Leonard’s Craig and the accounts at the time mention the amounts paid to those who brought “ hame Monse and the other artailzerie frae Dalkeith.” Many are the stories of her achievements. A shot from her, fired from the castle of Dunnottar a mile and a half distant, is said to have dismasted an English vessel as she was about to enter the harbour of Stonehaven, but as Mons Meg was never at Dunnottar this story cannot be true. During the Civil War in 1571 one of her bullets fell by mistake through the roof of a house in Edinburgh, for which the tenant had compensation } and whilst the gun was being dragged from Blackfriars Yard to the Castle two men died of their exertions.

An extract from the chamberlain’s roll is both amusing and interesting: “To certain pynours for their labour in the mounting of Mons out of her lair to be shot, and for finding and carrying of her bullets after she was shot, from Wardie Muir, to the Castle, 10d.; to the minstrels who played before Mons down the street [on occasion of her visit to Holy rood], 14s. for 8 ells of cloth to cover Mons, 9s. 4d.”

In 1758 the gun was removed by mistake among a number of unserviceable pieces to the Tower of London, where it was shown till 1829. When George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822 Sir Walter Scott pointed out to him the spot of Meg’s former location on the King’s Bastion of the old fortress, and with all his powerful eloquence pleaded that she might be restored to her position again. The King gave his word that it should be so, but it was not till seven years after that national jealousy and similar obstacles could permit the fulfilment of the royal promise.

The leviathan was landed at Leith, whence it was escorted back to its old lair on the Castle by three troops of cavalry and the 73rd Perthshire Regiment, with a band of pipers to head the procession. Standing alongside this ancient armament on the King’s Bastion, one’s eyes roam over the buildings in which the historical incidents that have been narrated took place, and looking round one cannot fail to see how the ancient Castle formed a nucleus for the great city which clusters round its base. In spite of all the sieges which this venerable stronghold has weathered, the devastations to which it has been subjected by successive conquerors, and, above all, the total change in its defences consequent on the alterations introduced by modern warfare, it can still boast of buildings dating further back than any other in the ancient capital. Some portion of the battlements and fortifications belong to a period before the siege of 1573, when that brave soldier and adherent of Queen Mary Stuart, Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange, surrendered after it had been reduced to a heap of ruins. In a


report furnished to the Board of Ordnance, from documents preserved in that department, it appears that in 1574 (only one year after the siege) the governor, George Douglas, of Parkhead, repaired the walls and built the Half-Moon Battery on the site of David’s great tower. A small tower, with crow-stepped gables, built to the east of the draw-well, and forming the highest point of the fore-wall just north of the Half-Moon Battery, is, Daniel Wilson says, without doubt a building erected long before Cromwell’s time, and to all appearance coeval with the battery, but it is quite obvious that this little tower is older than even Wilson thought. Considerable portions of the western fortifications of the parapet wall, the port-holes in the Half-Moon Battery, and the ornamental coping and embrasures of the north and east batteries are of much later date.

The approach to the Castle has undergone various alterations from time to time. The Esplanade as one sees it to-day was formed with the earth removed from the site of the Royal Exchange, which was commenced in 1753. Previous to this date the old roadway to the Castle from the 'treves’ on Castle Hill descended abruptly into the hollow which the Esplanade now covers and ascended by 'Nova Scotia’ to the Spur, which was a triangular defence outside and below the steep ascent to the old gateway.

An interesting bird’s-eye view taken in 573 and printed in the Bannatyne Miscellany represents the Castle as rising abruptly on the east side this also appears in all the earlier maps of Edinburgh. The entrance to the fortress appears to have been by a long flight of steps, and a similar approach is often shown immediately within the drawbridge. There seems to have been an ancient and highly ornamental gateway near the guard-room, decorated with pilasters, with deeply carved mouldings over the arch, and surmounted with a curious oblong piece of sculpture in high relief showing Mons Meg, with other ordnance and ancient weapons. This old gateway unfortunately had to be removed at the beginning of the present century, as it was too narrow to admit modern carriages and wagons. The present gateway was erected on its site, and the old carved panels have been placed in the walls.

The inner gateway to the west of the one just referred to is an ancient piece of architecture. Upon the walls of the deeply arched vault, leading into the Argyll Battery, one can find openings for the two portcullises, also traces of the hinges of several successive gates that once closed this important opening. The building immediately over the long vaulted archway is the Constable Tower or State Prison, which has figured so much in the story of the Castle. This was the gloomy prison in which both the Marquis and the Earl of Argyll were confined previous to their execution, and from which the latter had so romantic an escape, only to be once more dragged back to await the fatal day. Here it was, too, that the brave adherents to the House of Stuart suffered the penalty of the law. Inside one will notice the groove round the vaulted roof where once a portcullis was lowered to divide the gloomy apartment, with its immensely thick walls and grated windows overlooking a magnificent panorama of the surrounding country. The last State prisoners lodged here were Watt and Downie, who were accused of high treason in 1794. Watt was condemned to death, and it was intended that he should be executed on the Castle Hill—the place of execution for traitors—but it was thought this might be looked upon as indicating fear on the part of the Government, so he was taken to the Lawn-market and dispatched there in the presence of a great crowd.

The State Prison was restored by the late Mr. William Nelson, the well-known publisher. The panel above the lower end of the archway now containing the Scottish Lion Rampant was recarved after remaining disfigured from the time of the Commonwealth, when Cromwell ordered its destruction ; the two hounds on either side are the arms of the Gordons, and these were spared ; above the royal arms may still be seen the hearts and mullets of the Douglases. On the left, high up on the wall, is the memorial tablet to the brave Kirkaldy of Grange, who, as already related, held the Castle in the interest of Mary Stuart.

Another object of interest is the Governor’s house, which was probably built in the reign of Queen Anne, and close by is the Armoury. To the west of these buildings is the Postern, very near the site of the ancient and historical one where, as is recorded on a memorial tablet over the gateway, 4 Bonnie Dundee ’ held his conference with the Duke of Gordon when on his way to raise the Highland clans for King James, while the Convention was assembled in the Parliament House and was arranging to settle the Crown upon William and Mary. It was through here, too, that the body of the pious Queen Margaret was smuggled whilst Donald Bane and his band of wild western Highlanders were battering at the gates on the east side in the hope of capturing young Edgar, the second son of Malcolm.

On the highest and almost inaccessible part of the rock overlooking the Old Town, where the smoky chimneys of the Grassmarket lie two hundred or more feet below, is the ancient royal palace, forming the south and east sides of a quadrangle known as the Grand Parade, or Crown Square. The chief portion of the southern side of the square consists of a large ancient building called Magne Camere, or Great Hall, erected, according to the Exchequer Rolls, in 1434. A similar hall, however, some suppose had existed on the spot at a much earlier date. This was the great ceremonial chamber of the royal palace in which Parliaments assembled and banquets were held. It was here that James II of Scotland was proclaimed King, and the treacherous Crichton and Livingstone entertained the two Douglases at the fatal c Black Dinner.’ Here also Queen Mary entertained her riotous nobles with the idea of reconciling them, and James VI feasted the nobility of both countries. Here the unfortunate Charles held his coronation banquet, and in 1648 the Marquis of Argyll, in the same hall, entertained Cromwell and discussed the necessity of taking away the King’s life. These are but a few of the notable events that took place within the walls of this ancient hall, which was connected with the royal palace by a narrow staircase at the east end.

When, after the Union in 1707, the Castle ceased to be used as a royal residence the Hall fell into disrepair. Subsequently it was divided into floors and partitioned off into rooms for the accommodation of the soldiers. It was also used for many years as the military hospital, and the writer remembers the time when convalescents used the square as a recreation ground. Some years later the authorities, under the pressure of antiquarians, took steps to ascertain the original condition of the building.

By some good fortune, in 1883, Colonel Gore Booth, of the Royal Engineers, discovered a staircase communicating with the hall from the dungeons underneath. This aroused curiosity, and Lord Napier and Ettrick, with Colonel Gore Booth, examined the upper floors and the original roof above the ceiling, and found the rafters and cross-pieces, which stand in their original position, in good preservation. On the upper floor the carved timbers of the ancient roof were apparent, descending through the modern ceiling and resting probably on their proper supports below the level of the floor. Only one of these supports, however, was visible in the staircase, and it consisted of a stone corbel sculptured with a fine female head, and adorned on the sides with thistles boldly wrought. Mr. William Nelson, who had already restored the State Prison, undertook the restoration of the Banqueting Hall. The architect, in his examination of the fabric, after the flooring and partitions had been removed, discovered that the Hall had been re-roofed about sixty years after the date of its erection. He found that the main timbers of the roof were supported by stone corbels embedded in the modern flooring. These corbels remain as they were found. Two of them bear heads which represent James IV and his Queen Margaret. The others are carved with cherubs, and fleurs-de-lis shields bearing the royal Scottish arms surmounted by a crown, lion head, and emblems of plenty. There are shields on three of the corbels bearing the initials J. R. (Jacobus under an arabic figure four in its old form, which resembles a St. Andrew’s cross with a bar along the top. The corbels are carved with the design of the thistle and rose on either side, emblematic of the Scottish King and his Tudor Queen; on the faces of two are cut the same decoration. One has the monogram I.H.S., and in the centre a cross said to represent King James’s connexion with the Church as a canon of the Cathedral of Glasgow. The great timber roof of the Hall is just as it was centuries ago. The timbers terminate at the foot with carved shields, on which are emblazoned the armorial bearings of the governors and constables of the old fortress from 1107 to 1805.

The beautiful windows lighting the north and south sides were restored, and bear colour designs of the arms of Scottish sovereigns from the time of Malcolm Canmore, 1057, to James VI. On a small window in the west gable appear the royal arms of Scotland. Opposite to this is the original c luggie ’ or eyelet of the private stair leading to the royal palace already referred to. The 6 luggie ’ has been covered with a wrought-iron grille. Through it a listener on the stair could see and hear what was taking place in the Hall. The old fireplace was discovered amongst a heap of modern masonry, but it was in such a state of dilapidation that it had to be reconstructed, and now makes a fine if rather large centre-piece at the east gable. It is of massive design, decorated with carved shafts supporting a richly carved and moulded lintel and stone canopy. The projecting angles have corbels beautifully carved with classical figures representing 'The Chase,’ 'Music,’ 'Feasting,’ and 'Law.’ These corbels support emblematical figures suggested by Dunbar’s poem of 'The 'Tkrissill and the Rois, written in honour of the marriage of James IV to Princess Margaret, and represent c May,’ 'Flora,’ 'Aurora,’ and 'Venus.’

And as the bits full soune ofcherarchy
The fowl is song throw confort of the licht;
The birdis did with oppin vocis cry,
O luvaris fo, away thow dully nycht,
And welcum Day that confortis every wicht;
Haill May, ha ill Flora, haill Aurora schene,
Hail I Princes Nature, haill Venus luvis quene.

The walls are covered in their lower parts with carved oak panelling, like that employed on the gallery and screen, and above are hung in artistic groups the arms and armour which were brought from the old Armoury and also from the Tower of London. These old weapons, which date from the sixteenth century comprise such pieces as blunderbusses, Highland targets and pikes of various designs from the field of Culloden, Lochaber axes, Highland flint-lock pistols, and fine suits of steel armour.

From the timbers of the roof are suspended the colours which belonged to the old Scottish regiments, and they form an interesting part of the exhibition, for some of the regiments are now extinct, and these relics are all that is left of them. They include the colours of the old Midlothian Regiment of 1775, the Inverness Local Militia, 3rd Regiment, 1775, t^le Galloway Light Infantry (embroidered in silk in the centre of which is the Lion Rampant of Scotland, surrounded by a three-quarter Union wreath and crown, with the motto, Senes Callatus Callovidive sub hoc signo vinces), the Ayrshire Riflemen, the Linlithgowshire Local Regiment, the 9th Battalion Royal Veterans, the Dumbartonshire, the Fifeshire, the Roxburgh and 4th Lanark Highlanders, the Haddingtonshire and 4th Lanarkshire, the 2nd East Royal Perthshire, the and and 3rd Edinburgh Local Militia, the Kincardineshire, Forfarshire, 5th Aberdeenshire, and the Royal Perth and Edinburgh Highlanders. Most of these colours, some of which are the King’s as well as the regimental, are of the period of George III.

At the east end, in front of the great fireplace, stands the modern gun-carriage which not only bore the remains of Queen Victoria from Osborne to Cowes, but also did similar duty in the funeral procession of King Edward VII. From the windows the view can hardly be surpassed. Immediately below are the old houses of the Grassmarket and the West Port, rapidly disappearing, beyond which rise the new buildings of Edinburgh’s Art School. Slightly farther to the east rise the fine towers of George Heriot’s Hospital, a lasting monument to the jeweller to James VI who left his fortune for the benefit of the orphans of burgesses and freemen, and in the distance is Blackford Hill, whence Sir Walter Scott pictured Marmion’s view of Edinburgh:

Still on the spot Lord Marmion stay'd
For fairer scene he ne'er survey'd.
W^hen sated with the martial show
That peopled all the plain below,
The wandering eye could o'er it go
And mark the distant city glow
With gloomy splendour red;
For on the smoke- wreaths, huge and slow,
That round her sable turrets flow,
The morning beams were shed,
And tinged them with a lustre proud,
Like that which streaks a til under- cloud.
Such dusky grandeur clothed the height,
JJ^here the huge Castle holds its state,
And all the steep slope down,
IVhose ridgy back heaves to the sky,
Piled deep and massy, close and highy
Mine own romantic town!

On the south-east is the ancient castle of Craigmillar, where the Stuarts so many times sojourned, and on the west the towers of Merchiston Castle, where lived Sir Archibald Napier, Master of the Mint to James VI. Between these two landmarks is the great expanse of the Burgh Muir, where the gallant armies met preparatory to their long march to meet the English invaders, and James III and IV from these same windows watched their standard of the Scottish Lion, c the Ruddy Lion,’ unfurled and pitched in the famous 'Bore Stane.’

To the east and south-east of the quadrangle we have the royal palace wherein have dwelt kings and queens in all their splendour as far back, perhaps, as Malcolm 'Greathead,’ and there built in the wall is still the mystery which no one seeks to decipher—and could not if he wished. Near the top of the main building is a sculptured stone shield, which has suffered more, perhaps, from the disciples of Cromwell than from the weather, with the Lion Rampant surmounted by a crown, and over the doorway a stone tablet with the cipher of Mary and Darnley carved in high relief on a scroll with the '1566’ which commemorates the birth of the Prince whose fortune was to unite England and Scotland under one Crown. Within is the room in which he was born, once beautifully panelled, but abused in later years by being turned into a canteen for the soldiers, who loafed in the very chairs that the unfortunate Queen sat in. The antechamber is hung with portraits and old engravings, one of which is of Mary Stuart when Dauphiness of France, a copy by Sir John Watson Gordon from the original in Dunrobin Castle by Farino, the Italian painter. It is supposed to have been painted shortly after her marriage with Francis, when only sixteen. Another portrait is of James VI, a copy from one painted by Jacobus Jansen which is in the possession of the Hays of Dunse Castle \ the picture here was presented by the Right Hon. Lady Monson. There is another portrait of Queen Mary which has been copied from the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and a print by Lizars from the painting by Sheriff representing the Queen’s escape from Loch Leven. This recalls the fact that Queen Mary once planted a thorn tree on the island j it was cut down in 1847, after casting its shadows on the castle for nearly three hundred years. A piece of this tree has been presented by Sir Graham Montgomery, and it now lies in the little room.

Besides the great Banqueting Hall there was another much smaller one in the fortress, for among items of the High Treasurer’s accounts we find, in 1516, “For flooring the Lord’s Hall in David’s Tower, 10s.”

Some parts of the palace are supposed to have been designed by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, who was architect to James V. A semi-octagonal tower of some height gives access to the strongly vaulted bombproof room, once totally dark, in which the Regalia were so long kept in obscurity. The room is now well lighted, and the beautiful Crown of Scotland and the insignia of royal office are exhibited to the visitor in a great grille. The window in the wall facing the square was enlarged in 1848, and the ceiling panelled in oak with shields in bold relief. Two barriers close the room, one a grated door of gigantic strength like a portcullis.

In this same building Queen Mary’s mother, the Catholic Mary of Guise, died in 1560, and, having been refused funeral rites by the Protestant clergy, the body, it will be remembered, was here allowed to lie for some considerable time before it was removed to France.

Down in the depths are the double tier of vaulted dungeons, secured by great iron gates and heavy chains. It was in one of these that Kirkcaldy of Grange buried his brother David Melville; also it was here that the poor French prisoners, forty of whom slept in each chamber, were kept captive in the dim light which came from the small loophole, which was then strongly guarded by three ranges of iron bars. The north side of the quadrangle consists of barrack-rooms, erected about the middle of the eighteenth century, and occupying the site of an ancient church. The block was built from the materials of the old building, which was of unknown antiquity. This is described by Maitland as a very long and large ancient church, which, from its spacious dimensions, was evidently not only built for the use of the garrison, but for the service of the neighbouring inhabitants before St. Giles’ Church was erected for their accommodation. The great font and many beautifully carved stones were found built into the walls of the barrack-rooms during some alterations. It was supposed to have been built after the death of the pious Margaret, and dedicated to St. Mary. It is mentioned by King I )avid I in his Holyrood charter as 'the church of the capital of Edinburgh,” and is once more mentioned as such in the charter of Alexander III and in several papal bulls, and the “paroche kirk within the said Castell ” is distinctly referred to by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1595. In 1753 it was divided into three floors and used as a store for tents, cannon, and other munitions of war. Near the old Postern is the site of the old butts, connected to the garrison buildings by a winding stair. The rock at this part is defended bv the western wall, Butes or Butts Battery, and a turret named the Queen’s Post, which some people think stands near the site of St. Margaret’s Tower.

From the ancient postern gate there is an ascent by steps behind the banquette of the bastions to Mylne’s Mount, named after the master gunner, where there is a cradle for a bale-fire, which could be seen from Fife and Stirling. The fortifications are built in an irregular way, with occasional strong stone turrets, and embrasures which are in readiness for mounting sixty pieces of ordnance. “The Old Castle Company” was a corps of Scottish soldiers raised in January 1661, and formed a permanent part of the garrison until 1818, when they were incorporated in one of the thirteen veteran battalions embodied in that year, along with the ancient guard of Mary of Guise which garrisoned the castle of Stirling.

The Castle has a claim on the Canongate churchyard as a burial-place for its soldiers, as it is within the parish of Holyrood, but repeatedly during the sieges and blockades the dead have been buried within the walls. In 1745 nineteen soldiers and three women, it is believed, were laid to rest on the summit of the rock, near to St. Margaret’s Chapel. The chapel, by the way, originally built by the pious Queen during her residence in the Castle, was for some time entirely lost sight of as an oratory, having been converted into a powder magazine ; but happily in 1853 the old relic was once more restored to its more sacred uses. It is not only the most ancient chapel in the country, but the smallest.

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