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History of the Edinburgh Castle

Historians and archaeologists present many versions about the circumstances of constructing the castle and about its name. Archaeological excavation carried out at the top of the castle hill at the end of the 20th century gave a range of evidence that there had been a small settlement there in the late Bronze Age. A British epic, dated from the 7th century, tells about Dion Eidyn, a stronghold, which was constructed by Celtic tribes. In the 630s the inhabitants of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria started to settle in the lands of south-east Scotland. St. Edwin was their ruler. Only the name “Edwinburg” that means “the Edwin Tower” have survived until today. Over time, the name was changed into Edinburgh.

The Northumbrians had lived in this town for about three centuries, however, the kingdom was gradually losing its independence, at first due to Viking invasions, next because of the conquests of the Kings of Albion (Scotland). In the 960s, after the victory of King Indulf over the Vikings and the English, Edinburgh fell to the Kingdom of Scotland. The first building, which belonged to Scottish monarchs, was built at the top of the rock in 1070, when King Malcolm III stated that one royal castle in Darfermlayn had not been enough.

Early Middle Ages

At the beginning of the 12th century, after the death of Malcolm III, the royal residence was finally moved to Edinburgh, and in 1130, during the reign of David I, a younger son of Malcolm's, a serious rebuilding of the castle began. At that time St. Margaret Chapel was built, it is the oldest building in Edinburgh that survived. The chapel, a royal burial site, received its name in honour of the mother of David I who died of grief when she learnt about the death of her husband in the battlefield.

During the reign of David I, many reforms and administrative changes were introduced in the kingdom, including the convening of the first Scottish parliament. The first session of the parliament, which composed of the clergy and gentry, was held behind the walls of Edinburgh Castle in 1140.

Middle Ages

Several centuries in the Middle Ages were a time of endless independence fights to Scotland which affected the history of the main castle in the country. In one of the battles against the English in 1174, King William I was captured and forced to sign a peace treaty according to which the English monarch Henry II gained power over Scotland. The terms of that agreement also said that four castles had fallen to the English Crown, including Edinburgh Castle.

Scottish independence was literally bought back in 1189 from Richard the Lionheart who desperately needed money for the Third Crusade. He agreed to sell the supreme rights of his father, Henry II, for the amount of 10,000 marks. For more than a hundred years, Edinburgh Castle saw relative peace until 1296, when the English King Edward I developed a desire for gaining control over Scotland. The siege and continuous catapult and trebuchets fire lasted for several days and gave the English the expected results. After taking control over the castle, a great part of valuables and historical documentation was sent to England.

A brutal regime of English rule led the nation to a rebellion during which the English were defeated in the Battle of Stirling Bridge under William Wallace and Andrew de Moray. A year later, Edward I recaptured Scotland, winning the Battle of Falkirk. An English garrison was stationed in Edinburgh Castle, it consisted of three hundred soldiers.

After the death of Edward I, the control over Scottish lands was slightly decreased, which was the background of an event that became a legend of Edinburgh. On 14 March 1314 three hundred soldiers of count Thomas Randolph under William Francis, using a secret route of the slope, climbed up the castle hill, took the guards by surprise and took control of the castle. The King of Scotland, Robert I, known as Robert Bruce, ordered to destroy the defences of Edinburgh Castle to prevent the same re-occupation by other enemies. Robert Bruce used such unusual tactics for all the castles taken back from the English.

In 1333 another English king decided to conquest Scotland, which was made through gradual taking over its lands. Partially destroyed, Edinburgh Castle was effortlessly taken by the English in 1335. They started adding new towers and fortifications. In 1341 the Scots regained the castle thanks to the slyness of Lord William Douglas who disguised himself as a merchant, got to the castle, dulled guards' vigilance and helped a small Scottish force to get to the castle. The force rendered the guards harmless and opened the gate for a larger force.

Construction of the royal residence in the Renaissance

After the independence war ended up in 1357, David II was released and returned to Scotland. He made Edinburgh Castle a royal residence. The most magnificent building from that period is David's Tower, which originally was the main entrance, however, various residential facilities were later added to it for outstanding castle guests. During the reign of Robert II, the Constable's Tower was built and the old St. Mary Church was renovated. In 1384 a cannon was placed in the castle which was a great event at that time.

In the 15th century Edinburgh became the capital, which resulted in building the Royal Palace and many other facilities. In 1457 King James II received a gift from Belgium – the Mons Meg cannon, which at first was used for crushing revolts of subjects and later it became an attribute of holidays and ceremonies. At the beginning of the 16th century Holyrood Palace was built near the castle. The road leading to it, due to its length, was called “Royal Mile”.

The Royal Family more frequently resided in the new residence but Edinburgh Castle still served to the monarchy faithfully and truly, particularly when they had to hide from enemies behind its massive walls. In 1511 the Great Hall was built in the castle. State assembly and parliamentary sessions were held there. «The Lang Siege» and civil war

One of the most tragic events in the history of Edinburgh Castle was “the Lang Siege” in 1571-73. That destructive time was strictly related to the dramatic history of Mary Stuart. After she abdicated the Scottish throne and fled to England, a castle guard devoted to the Queen, Sir William Kirckaldy, refused to surrender the town and the castle to the supporters of King James. The siege of the castle lasted for many months. The English did not storm the castle as waiting was their tactic. In May 1573 Queen Elisabeth I came to aid sending to the English troops 27 cannons, which ended the long confrontation. Firing the stronghold lasted for more than ten days, more than three thousand missiles were used. During the Lang Siege the castle was severely damaged, for example, it lost its two towers, David's Tower and the Constable's Tower. However, the worst thing for the defenders of the castle was the loss of the well. As a result, the whole garrison was forced to be at the victorious party's mercy. It must be mentioned that the soldiers were in fact pardoned but sir Kirckaldy and a jeweller who had been minting coins depicting Mary Stuart were hanged at the main square in the town. Soon after the Lang Siege ended, the rebuilding of the castle started. Over several years, new fortifications and gates were constructed, a half-moon battery and David's Tower were rebuilt. However, another Scottish rulers did not care of Edinburgh Castle much as they were English kings then. The last of the rulers who lived in this castle was Charles I. He visited Edinburgh on the day before he took the Scottish throne in 1633. In 1637 the first rebellions broke out in Edinburgh because the Scots were displeased with Church reforms implemented by Charles I. Civil war broke out and quickly resulted in taking the castle by the Covenanters, the supporters of the Presbyterian Church against the king. In the 1640s the supporters of the parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, revolted against King Charles in England. They led to the death of the king and, as a consequence, to the end of the war.

In May 1650 the Covenanters joined Charles II against the members of parliament, as a result, Cromwell marched with his forces on Scotland. After a three-month siege, the governor of Edinburgh Castle surrendered the stronghold to Cromwell, despite the fact that there were enough supplies to hold out. From that time, the medieval royal castle had served as a garrison fortress for many years. The regular state army was stationed there during the rule of another monarchs until 1923.

Rebirth of Edinburgh Castle

In the mid-18th century a prison for war prisoners was established in Edinburgh Castle since there were many of them during the Seven Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars and other fights. The prison had operated for about 60 years until a mass prison break in 1811 because of a hole in the south wall of the stronghold. After that event it was decided to build a new, more modern prison and the castle was to be used only as barracks because its defensive functions were considered to be old and pointless then.

Edinburgh Castle owes a new stage in its history to a famous writer, Walter Scott, who opened its new period by starting a treasure hunt for the Scottish crown jewels. By the beginning of the 18th century they were coronation insignia, and after the unification of England and Scotland into one country, the members of Scottish parliament hid the crown, the sword and the sceptre in a secret place. Over years the secret was forgotten and the regalia was believed to have been lost, however, thanks to Walter Scott, these historical artefacts were found in Edinburgh Castle.

This sensational finding drew the attention of the entire world to Edinburgh Castle. As a result, the castle started to make profits, displaying the valuables of Scottish history and royal regalia for shillings. And that was the first step into transforming the castle into a popular museum. In 1822 George IV visited Edinburgh Castle, he was the first reigning monarch to visit it after 190 years. In 1829 the enormous Mons Meg cannon returned to the stronghold as the English had once taken it to the Tower of London. In 1887 a large-scale reconstruction of the castle and its historical interior started, then the Great Hall, St. Margaret Chapel and the gate of the stronghold were rebuilt.

In 1923 the stronghold ceased to serve as a place for the garrison, then architect Robert Lorimer transformed the north part of the barracks into a Scottish National War Memorial. In 1933 the Queen Anne Building became a Naval and Military Museum, and in 1950 a military parade, Edinburgh Military Tattoo, took place for the first time on the esplanade at the castle. Over time, it became a tradition attracting spectators from the farthest places in the world. In 1996 an event that was special for the entire Scotland took place, the legendary Stone of Destiny returned to Edinburgh Castle. It had been used during the coronation of Scottish kings as a throne for centuries.