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The Story of Edinburgh Castle
Chapter XIII. From the Castle Walls

After the stories of fearsome deeds on the Hill we will dip into the valley for final details in the long chapter of thrilling incidents connected with the old Castle. And thus we leave that prehistoric ridge whose back stretches from the fortress to Holyrood, where the ancient Britons built their huts and so founded the future capital of the north. Like the wine in the parable, it has burst its old boundary, and the new town has swirled around the rock which was destined to be the pivot of its being. In the valley to the north of the towering mass stands one of the remaining fragments of the old Flodden wall, a monument of bygone days, and adjacent are the last fragments of the Well-house Tower and Queen Margaret’s herb-garden. The old look-out, “lurking in the double shade of rock and trees,” guarded a pathway which wound its way under the rock to the old church of St. Cuthbert. Not many years ago a stairway cut in the solid rock was discovered leading under the tower, and a skull and many bones were unearthed from the accumulation of soil and rubbish, along with coins of the periods of Edward I and Edward III. Splinters of bombs were also found, probably fired from the mortars on the site of the Register House, and embedded in the wall was a shot from a 48-pounder. The tower guarded the well that supplied the garrison with water, which was ’drawn up to a platform, some seventy feet above, commonly known as Wallace’s Cradle.

One of the earliest gifts by the saintly King David to his new monastery was the plot of land where rose the spring near the King’s garden on the road to St. Cuthbert’s Church, which has been converted into a drinking fountain by the officers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Before the Nor’ Loch came into existence the valley was the garden that Malcolm had cultivated for David, “while deep pools and wide morasses, tangled wood and wild animals, made the rude diverging pathways to the east and westward extremely dangerous for long afterward,” though lights were burned at the Hermitage of St. Anthony on the Craig and the spire of St. John of Corstorphine to guide the unfortunate wight who was foolhardy enough to travel after nightfall. From the valley once infested with those wild animals the great rock, black and gaunt, towers majestically above the watermark of still more ancient times, “amidst the fairest city of the earth,” a vast monument of prehistoric days, “telling with scattered walls and scars a rugged tale of great old wars.”

From its battlements kings and queens and princes have feasted their eyes on the amazing landscape before them, where the Fife hills, like far clouds that skirt the blue horizon, reflect the history and romance


of its mediaeval days. Away to the west, as far as the eye can reach, rises the sister castle of the royal burgh of Stirling. Under its shade the great Bruce cleaved the head of the English knight whilst wearing the very golden chaplet, the basis of the Scottish Crown, which now lies with the rest of the ancient Regalia in the Crown Room of the royal palace. There also Mary Stuart made the unfortunate marriage vow to her cousin Darnley, and there afterward her infant James was christened from the golden bowl sent as a gift from Queen Bess. Beyond Stirling, Ben Lomond raises his head like a great cone above the carselands where the Forth winds its way to the sea amid the battlefields of the War of Independence. The great steel girders of the Forth Bridge connect the flat lands of the Lothians to the kingdom of Fife, resting midway on the rock of Inchgarvie, once held by Roy of Aldivalloch with a company of Royalist musketeers, until turned out by General Lambert.

Rising behind the great steel cobweb is the smoke from the Scottish naval base built round the old castle of Rosyth, where Margaret, with her brother, the Atheling, her mother, sister, and the refugee Anglican lords, stepped ashore, after finding shelter in St. Margaret’s Hope, to be received by Malcolm, her future husband. Some five centuries later Mary Stuart rested here on her journey through Fife. Cromwell’s mother is reputed to have been one of the Stuarts of Rosyth, as Carlyle tells us that the genealogists have indubitably proved that Oliver was u the fractional part of half a cousin ” of the Royal Martyr. Within a few miles, at Inverkeithing, Annabella Drummond, the Queen of Robert III, received the news of the death of her two sons, David, Duke of Rothesay, who was foully done to death at Falkland, and James I, the Poet King, who fell under the assassins’ daggers in the Blackfriars’ monastery at Perth. Tradition pictures her as a forsaken Queen, sitting at her palace window gazing across the Firth to where the Castle of Edinburgh, like the Prophet’s coffin, seems to hang mid earth and sky.

The dark woods of Donibristle, the family burial-ground of the Earls of Moray, form a fitting background to the light stonework of the house. This mansion, honeycombed with underground passages, was the scene of the tragic death of the “bonnie Earl of Moray,” Lord Huntly started from Edinburgh late on a February evening in 1592, and, crossing at Queensferry with his company, set fire to the house of Donibristle. Dunbar, the tutor to the Earl of Moray, out of devotion to the Earl, “ wissing not quhither to come but to be slaine or to be burned quicke,” volunteered to emerge first out of the gate: "The peopell will chairge on me, thinking me to be your lordshipe; sae, it being murke under nicht, ye sail come out after me and look if that ye can fend for yourself.” Dunbar was slain immediately he appeared, and Moray escaped by a subterranean passage leading to the shore; but by bad luck “ the said lord’s cnapscull tippet quherone ves a silk stringe had taken fyre, vich betrayed him to his enemies in ye darknesse of ye nicht,” and he was set upon and killed among the rocks. The corpse was brought to c St. Giles’ Kirke 9 two days later with a banner, still kept at the house, whereon was painted the naked body and its wounds, with the device, u God avenge my cause.”

The island lying a little way out from the shore is Inchcolm, St. Colm’s Inch. In 1123 Alexander I, caught in a storm while crossing to Inverkeithing, gained the island with difficulty and found shelter with its hermit, wherefore in gratitude for his deliverance he founded an Augustinian priory. This priory was afterward endowed by Mortimer, Lord of Aber-dour, whose body the monks dropped overboard in the channel that still bears his name. As Mr. John Geddie puts it, "they kept his lands, but would have none of his bones.”

Aberdour is a little watering-place nestling in the hills at which Mons Meg points her long muzzle. It was in its castle that the Regent Morton sought retreat after he had been driven from Edinburgh. Farther along the coast is Burntisland, which was captured by Cromwell along with its ships and store of artillery; and the old castle of Rossend, once a residence of Mary Stuart, whose bedroom still remains. The skull of St. Margaret, adorned with jewels and still bearing “the flowing auburn hair,” was concealed in one of its vaulted rooms before being restored to the Castle of Edinburgh—whence it was sent to Spain, or, as others assert, to the Jesuit College at Douai, to disappear during the Revolution.

King Alexander III met his death on the Fifeshire coast near Kinghorn in 1286. The story goes that having dined merrily at the palace at Edinburgh Castle—notwithstanding that it was Lent, according to the old calendar—he crossed over to the ‘Kingdom5 to join his young Queen, whom he had married only the previous summer. It was a stormy night, for it was late in the year, and being exceptionally dark his men and he lost one another. As he rode by the shore alone, his horse’s hoofs sank in the sand, the animal stumbled and threw him, and cche bade farewell to his Kingdom.” So ended the last of our Celtic Kings.

Inchkeith was the island to which James IV sent two infants, boy and girl, to be brought up under the care of a dumb woman, as an experiment to discover “the original language.” “Some sayes,” remarks Pitscottie cautiously, “they spake guid Hebrew \ but I know not by author’s rehearse.”

Mary of Guise landed her French troops at Dysart, where they were opposed by the Lords of the Congregation, whose men “laye in their claithes, their boits never off for three weeks, skirmishing almost every daye, yea sum dayes even from morn till nicht” ; and a few miles distant is the famous Wemyss, where Mary Stuart first met her young cousin Darnley. We are told that the Queen was light of heart, hunting, hawking, and in the evening dancing, when Darnley, a proper young man and tall, came riding thither out of England. The c lang lad,’ who, as Melville tells us, was u even and brent up, weill instructed in his youth in all honest and comely exercises,” took his Sovereign’s eye when she met him in the presence chamber—now reduced to the steward’s room—opening from the old court. There were great feastings at Wemyss, then in the hands of Mary’s half-brother, Moray and the Caleb Balderstones of the lords and lairds of Fife who entertained the royal train on their progress long remembered their visits. The 'lang lad’ carried all his good qualities on the outside, and the marriage hastily arranged was repented all too soon.

Tradition says that Mary could wield a golf-club as well as fly a hawk. Her father, James V, paid a visit to Wemyss Castle, and so did Charles II as an exiled prince, and away at the 'East Neuk,’ as far as the eye can see, the Duke of York found solace in the company of his Fife lairds before fate called him south to be the last of the Stuart Kings.

Thus the story of the Kings and Queens of Scotland who acted their part in the history of the great Castle of Edinburgh is reflected along the shores of the Kingdom of Fife from the earliest times. And, meditating upon the pageant of history which we have endeavoured to recall, the grey towers of the old fortress seem to plead with us to treasure its weather-beaten and war-worn stones as a national monument of the spirit of Scotland, which would not “lie at the proud feet of a conqueror.”

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