Stirling Castle

Sterling Castle

Description of Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is a historic castle in the city of Stirling, Scotland (United Kingdom). It was built on top of the "hill of the castle" (the castle hill), a peak of volcanic origin, and is surrounded on three sides by cliffs. The castle of Stirling is listed as a National Monument, and its management has therefore been entrusted to the specialized agency Historic Scotland. Stirling castle also houses the headquarters, as well as the museum, of a British Army Regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment, although that regiment no longer has its base in the Stirling Castle.

Most of the main buildings of the castle date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, although some buildings are even earlier, specifically from the 14th century. The exterior defenses of the castle that face the city, meanwhile, date from the early eighteenth century. At the beginning of the 14th century Stirling Castle suffered a siege by the English troops of Edward I, in the framework of the so-called Scottish Wars of Independence. Historians indicate that it was during this assault that Warwolf, the largest siege engine that has ever been built, was used for the first time, and it was with devastating effects.

The crenellated wall, which protects the entrance to Stirling castle proper once its outer defenses have been overcome, was built by James III of Scotland, originally constituting a part of the system of fortifications that surrounded and protected the rocky base. At its two extremities were solid rectangular casemates and, at its center, framing the entrance to the fortified enclosure, four large circular towers was covered with conical roofs. Of this magnificent composition only the casemate and the southernmost main tower (now attached to the main body of the building) have survived along with parts of the original walls, the entrance and the lower part of the internal circular towers, as well as vestiges of the external and of the casemate and northern circular towers.



It cannot be said with certainty whether Picts or even Roman fortifications were built on the towering rock from which all of central Scotland was controlled. The first reliable knowledge is the donation of a castle chapel in 1110 by King Alexander I.

In return for the release of William I, the English occupied the castle for the first time in 1174, but gave it back in 1189. Extensive construction work took place around 1280, but nothing has survived. Stirling Castle came under English control again in 1291, while King Edward I of England was deciding who would succeed the orphaned Scottish throne. On September 11, 1297, the Scots led by William Wallace won the Battle of Stirling Bridge and also recaptured the nearby castle. The castle was lost to the English again after the Battle of Falkirk, but was retaken by Robert the Bruce after a siege in 1299.

Six years later, Stirling Castle was the last castle held by the Scottish rebels. From April 1304 it was besieged by the English. With a total of twelve siege engines (including probably a trebuchet called a "warwolf") they constantly bombarded the castle with lead bullets, Greek fire, rocks and even some kind of gunpowder mixture. Finally, the Scottish garrison of thirty men surrendered after nearly four months.

Ten years later the tide of war turned. The Scots under Edward Bruce now besieged the castle. After his brother Robert defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn on June 24, 1314, nearby Stirling Castle was also taken. The English retook the castle in 1333 after their victory at the Battle of Halidon Hill. After a failed siege in 1337, the future King Robert II was able to recapture the castle for Scotland in 1343. On February 22, 1452, James II stabbed the 8th Earl of Douglas to death at Stirling Castle.

On June 11, 1488, just three kilometers away, the Battle of Sauchieburn took place between royal troops and insurgents, in which King James III. was killed. His successor James IV began in 1496 with the significant expansion of the castle, which was converted into a representative palace by 1583. On September 9, 1543, Mary Stuart was crowned here. An attack by their followers on the castle was repelled in 1571. On April 17, 1584, rebellious lords occupied the castle, but surrendered two weeks later.

On August 3, 1650, Oliver Cromwell's troops laid siege to the castle and took it on August 14, severely damaging the site. On March 30, 1685, Stirling Castle lost its status as a royal residence and became a military base. Between 1711 and 1714 extensive expansions of the defenses took place. On November 13, 1715, the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, a few miles north of Stirling. Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebel army conquered the city on January 6, 1746, but was unable to counter the castle's artillery.

During the Napoleonic Wars with France in the early 19th century, much of the site was converted into barracks to train the Scottish soldiers who would later fight on mainland Europe. In September 1906, King Edward VII publicly expressed his displeasure at the misuse of the historically important castle; from then on, monument protection groups demanded that it be restored to its original condition. Finally, in 1964, the military left Stirling Castle for good. Since then, numerous buildings have been restored and partly reconstructed, so that the castle presents itself today as it did towards the end of the 16th century.


Architecture and location

Since there are steep rocky cliffs on three sides of the castle hill, the castle can only be reached from the south and is therefore particularly well fortified there. The gatehouse, which gives access to the lower courtyard (Guardroom Square), originally formed part of a "frontage" built between 1501 and 1506 and spanned the full width of the Rock. At both ends were massive rectangular log houses. In the center, four round towers with conical roofs guarded the only passage. But by the time the facility was built, it was already out of date due to the advent of artillery. In 1559 and 1711-1714 extensive conversions were made, such as the construction of a casemate in order to be able to set up cannons. The southern blockhouse (now connected to the later palace, Princes Tower), the adjoining perimeter wall, the passageway with the lower part of the inner towers, and smaller remains of the outer towers and the northern blockhouse still exist today.

Another passageway leads to the central inner courtyard (Outer Close). On the left are some service buildings such as the fortress commander's house (built in 1790). The former kitchen wing was leveled in 1689 and replaced by a battery in order to be able to defend the relatively weak east side with cannons. The lower part of the kitchen wing was partially reconstructed in 1921. The gate on the north side dates back in part to 1380, making it the oldest surviving part of the palace; the building above served as a mint for a long time.

To the right of the central courtyard are the two most important buildings of the castle, the Great Hall and the Royal Palace. Built between 1501 and 1504 in Renaissance style, the Great Hall is 38.1 meters long and 14.3 meters wide. It was probably designed by King James IV himself. For about a century, the most important social events of the Scottish royal family took place here, often also meetings of the Scottish Parliament. After James VI. When he became King of England and moved to London, the Great Hall served as a stable for horses and a place for carriages. During the 18th century the hall was divided into several floors and rooms to accommodate troops. After the military left the castle in 1964, the Great Hall was restored to its original condition.

The Royal Palace was built between 1537 and 1543 and is a combination of Renaissance and Flamboyant Gothic styles. The building is square and has a small courtyard, the "Lion's Den". The North Wing is the King's domain, the South Wing is the Queen's domain. Both are structured in a similar way: from the guard room you first get to the audience hall and finally to the private chambers. While the three facades are ornately decorated on the inside, the west facade facing the rock gives a shabby and rough impression, having never been completed after the death of James V. The ceilings of the royal audience chambers were once decorated with circular portraits, the "Stirling Heads". However, these were removed in 1777 and transferred to the Smith Institute in Stirling and the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh respectively.

Between the Great Hall and the Royal Palace, a passage leads to the upper courtyard (Inner Close). This is flanked by the old Royal Palace (King's Old Building) on the west side and the Castle Chapel (Chapel Royal) on the north side. The old royal palace was built in 1496 at the highest point of the castle hill, directly on the rock, and replaced a previous building. However, it only served as the main residence until about 1543, when the new Royal Palace was completed. After that, the building served primarily as a troop barracks. The northern part was badly damaged by a fire in 1855 and then rebuilt. Today the building houses the Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment.

The existence of a castle chapel has been attested since 1110. After a new chapel had already been built in 1412, it was demolished again in 1594 and replaced by the rectangular new building that still exists today. In 1633 the chapel was richly decorated by the artist Valentine Jenkins. Around 1900 the chapel served as a military canteen, training room and storage. A comprehensive restoration began around 1930 and lasted until 1996.

The lower lying northern part of the hill (Nether Bailey) can be reached through the north gate and via a staircase. In 1810, three powder magazines and a guard house were built here, followed by a fourth magazine in 1860. The northern outer wall forms the conclusion of the entire complex.

The parade ground at the foot of Castle Hill is often the site of open-air concerts by well-known musicians, including R.E.M., Bob Dylan, Wet Wet Wet, and Runrig. The city's official New Year's Eve celebrations are also held here.