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Chapter 3 – Castle of Edinburgh (continued). ,pp.21-26.

The Legend of the White Hart – Holyrood Abbey founded – The Monks of the Castrum Puellarum – David I.’s numerous Endowments – His Death – Fergus, Lord of Galloway, dies there – William the Lion – Castle Garrisoned by the English for Twelve Years – The Castle a Royal Residence – The War of the Scottish Succession – The Castle in the hands of Edward I. – Frank’s Escalade – The Fortress Dismantled – Again in the hands of the English – Bullock’s Stratagem for its Re-capture – David’s Tower.


THE well-known legend of the White Hart,” says Daniel Wilson, “most probably had its origin in some real occurrence, magnified by the superstition of a rude and illiterate age. More recent observations at least suffice to show that it existed at a much earlier date than Lord Hailes referred it to.”

It is recorded that on Rood-day, the 14th of September, in the harvest of 1128, the weather being fine and beautiful, King David and his courtiers, after mass, left the Castle by that gate before which he was wont to dispense justice to his people, and issued forth to the chase in the wild country that lay around – for then over miles of the land now covered by the new and much of the old city, for ages into times unknown, the oak-trees of the primeval forest of Drumsheugh had shaken down their leaves and acorns upon the wild and now extinct animals of the chase. And here it may be mentioned that boars’ tusks of most enormous size were found in 1846 in the bank to the south of the half-moon battery, together with an iron axe, the skull and bones of a man.

On this Rood-day we are told that the king issued from the Castle contrary to the advice of his confessor, Alfwin, an Augustinian monk of great sanctity and learning, who reminded him that it was the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and should be passed in devotion, not in hunting; but of this advice the king took no heed.

Amid the dense forest and in the ardour of the chase he became separated from his train, in “the vail that lyis to the eist fra the said castell,” and found himself at the foot of the stupendous crags, where, “under the shade of a leafy tree,” he was almost immediately assailed by a white stag of gigantic size, which had been maddened by the pursuit, “noys and dyn of bugillis,” and which, according to Bellenden, was now standing boldly at bay, and, with its branching antlers, put the life of the pious monarch in imminent jeopardy, as he and his horse were both borne to the ground.

With a short hunting-sword, while fruitlessly endeavouring to defend himself against the infuriated animal, there appeared – continues the legend – a silver cloud, from the centre of which there came forth a hand, which placed in that of David a sparkling cross of miraculous construction, in so far that the material of which it was composed could never be discovered. Scared by this interposition, the white stag fled down the hollow way between the hills, but was afterwards slain by Sir Gregan Crawford, whose crest, a stag’s head erased with a cross-crosslet between the antlers, is still borne by his descendants, the Crawfords of Kilbirnie, in memory of that eventful day in the forest of Drumsheugh.

Thoughtful, and oppressed with great awe, the king slowly wended his way through the forest to the Castle; but the wonder did not end there, for when, after a long vigil, the king slept, there appeared by his couch St. Andrew, the apostle of Scotland, surrounded by rays of glory, instructing him to found, upon the exact spot where he had been miraculously saved, a twelfth monastery for the canons regular of St. Augustine; and, in obedience to this vision, he built the noble abbey of Holyrood, “in the little valley between two mountains” – i.e., the Craigs and the Calton. Therein the marvellous cross was preserved till it was lost at a long subsequent period; but, in memory of St. David’s adventure on Rood-day, a stag’s head with a cross between the antlers is still borne as the arms of the Canongate. Alfwin was appointed first abbot, and left a glorious memory for many virtues.1

Though nobly endowed, this famous edifice was not built for several years, during which the monks were received into the Castle, and occupied buildings which had been previously the abode of a community of nuns, who, by permission of Pope Alexander III., were removed, the monks, as Father Hay tells us, being deemed “as fitter to live among soldiers.” Abbot William appears, in 1152, as second superior of the monks in the Castrum Puellarum, where they resided till 1176.

A vehement dispute respecting the payment of tithes having occurred between Robert bishop of St. Andrews and Gaufrid abbot of Dunfermline, it was decided by the king, apud Castellum Puellarum, in presence of a great convention, consisting of the abbots of Holyrood and Stirling, Gregory bishop of Dunkeld, the Earls of Fife and March, Hugo de Morville the Lord High Constable, William Lord of Carnwarth, David de Oliphant a knight of Lothian, Henry the son of Swan, and many others, and the matter in debate was adjudicated on satisfactorily.

David – “sair sanct for the crown” though King James I. is said to have styled him – was one of the best of the early kings of Scotland. “I have seen him,” remarks Aldred, “quit his horse and dismiss his hunting equipage when any, 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.”

In the priory of Hexham, which was then in Scottish territory, he was found dead, in a posture of devotion, on the 24th of May, 1153, and was succeeded by his grandson Malcolm IV, who, though he frequently resided in the Castle, considered Scone his capital rather than Edinburgh. In 1153 he appointed Galfrid de Melville, of Melville in Lothian, to be sheriff of the fortress, and became a great benefactor to the monks within it.

In 1160, Fergus, Lord of Galloway, a turbulent thane, husband of the Princess Elizabeth daughter of Henry I. of England, having taken arms against the Crown, was defeated in three desperate battles by Gilbert de Umfraville; after which he gave his son Uchtred as a hostage, and assumed the cowl as an Augustine friar in the Castle of Edinburgh, where – after bestowing the priory of St. Marie de Trayll as a dependant on Holyrood – he died, full of grief and mortification, in 1161.

Malcolm died in 1165, and was succeeded by William the Lion, who generally resided at Haddington; but many of his public documents are dated “Apud Monasterium Sanctæ Crucis de Castello.”

In 1174 the Castle fell, for the first time, into the hands of the English. William the Lion having demanded the restitution of Northumberland, Henry of England affected to comply, but afterwards invaded Scotland, and was repulsed. In turn William entered England at the head of 80,000 men, who sorely ravaged the northern counties, but being captured by treachery near Alnwick, and treated with wanton barbarity and indecency, his vast force dispersed. A ransom of £100,000 – an enormous sum in those days – was demanded, and the Castle was given, with some others, as a hostage for the king. Fortunately, however, that which was lost by the chances of war was quickly restored by more pleasant means, for, a matrimonial alliance having been concluded between Ermengarde de Beaumont (cousin of Henry) and King William, the Castle was thriftily given up as part of her dowry, after having had an English garrison for nearly twelve years.

Alexander II., their son, convened his first parliament in Edinburgh in 1215. Alexander III., son of the preceding, having been betrothed to Margaret daughter of Henry III. of England nine years before their nuptials were celebrated at York in 1242, the queen, according to Arnot, had Edinburgh Castle appointed as her residence; but it would seem to have been more of a stronghold than a palace, as she complained to her father that it was a “sad and solitary place, without verdure, and, by reason of its vicinity to the sea, unwholesome;” and “that she was not permitted to make excursions through the kingdom, nor to choose her female attendants.” She was in her sixteenth year.

Walter Earl of Menteith was at this time governor of the fortress, and all the offices of the city and of the nation itself were in the hands of his powerful family. Many Englishmen of rank accompanied the young queen-consort, and between these southern intruders and the jealous Scottish nobles there soon arose disputes that were both hot and bitter. As usual, the kingdom was rent into two powerful factions – one secretly favouring Henry, who artfully wished to have Scotland under his own dominion; another headed by Walter Comyn, John de Baliol, and others, who kept possession of Edinburgh, and with it the persons of the young monarch and his bride. These patriotically resisted the ambitious attempts of the King of England, whose emissaries, on being joined by the Earls of Carrick, Dunbar, and Strathearn, and Alan Dureward, High Justiciary, while their rivals were preparing to hold a parliament at Stirling, took the Castle of Edinburgh by surprise, and liberated the royal pair, who were triumphantly conducted to a magnificent bridal chamber, and afterwards had an interview with Henry at Wark, in Northumberland.

During the remainder of the long and prosperous reign of Alexander III. the fortress continued to be the chief place of the royal residence, and for holding his courts for the transaction of judicial affairs, and much of the public business is said to have been transacted in St. Margaret’s chamber.

In 1278 William of Kinghorn was governor, and about this period the Castle was repaired and strengthened. It was then the safe deposit of the principal records and the regalia of the kingdom.

And now we approach the darkest and bloodiest portion of the Scottish annals; when on the death of the Maid of Norway (the little Queen Margaret) came the contested succession to the crown between Bruce, Baliol, and others; and an opportunity was given to Edward I. of England of advancing a claim to the Scottish crown as absurd as it was baseless, but which that ferocious prince prosecuted to the last hour of his life with unexampled barbarity and treachery.

On the 11th of June, 1291, the Castle of Edinburgh and all the strongholds in the Lowlands were unwisely and unwarily put into the hands of the craft Plantagenet by the grasping and numerous claimants, on the ridiculous pretence that the subject in dispute should be placed in the power of the umpire; and the governors of the various fortresses, on finding that the four nobles who had been appointed guardians of the realm till the dispute was adjusted had basely abandoned Scotland to her fate, they, too, quietly gave up their trusts to Edward, who (according to Prynne’s “History”) appointed Sir Radulf Basset de Drayton governor of Edinburgh Castle, with a garrison of English soldiers. According to Holinshed he personally took this Castle after a fifteen days’ siege with his warlike engines.

On the vigil of St. Bartholomew a list was drawn up of the contents of the Treasury in the Castra de Edinburg; and among other religious regalia we find mentioned the Black Rood of Scotland, which St. Margaret venerated so much. By Edward’s order some of the records were left in the Castle under the care of Basset, but all the most valuable documents were removed to England, where those that showed too clearly the ancient independence of Scotland were carefully destroyed, or tampered with, and others were left to moulder in the Tower of London.

On the 8th of July, 1292, we find Edward again at Edinburgh, where, as self-styled Lord Paramount, he received within the chapel of St. Margaret 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 Christina, Prioress of Emanuel, in Stirlingshire.

Bruce having refused to accept a crown shorn of its rank, Edward declared in favour of the pitiful Baliol, after which orders were issued to the captains of the Scottish castles to deliver them up to John, King of Scotland. Shame at last filled the heart of the latter; he took the field, and lost the battle of Dunbar. Edward, reinforced by fifteen thousand Welsh and a horde of Scottish traitors, appeared before Edinburgh Castle; the soldiers of the garrison made a fruitless defence till the 6th of June, 1296, when they were compelled to capitulate – the weather being intensely sultry and the wells having dried up. In accordance with Edward’s usual sanguinary policy, the whole garrison was put to the sword with ruthless cruelty, and Walter de Huntercombe, a baron of Northumberland, was made governor of the new one; but in the next year Wallace with his patriots swept like a torrent over the Lowlands. Victorious at Stirling, in particular, he slew Cressingham, and recaptured all the fortresses – Edinburgh among them. Scotland was cleared of the English; but the invasion of 1298 followed; Wallace was betrayed, and too well do we know how he died.

The year 1300 saw “Johan de Kingeston, Connestable et Gardeyn de Chastel de Edenburgh,” and four years afterwards he was succeeded by Sir Piers de Lombard, a brave knight of Gascony.

Robert Bruce was now in arms. He in turn had become conqueror; he invaded England in 1311, and by the following year had re-captured nearly every castle but that of Edinburgh, the reduction of which he entrusted to the noble Sir Thomas Randolph of Strathdon, Earl of Moray, who has been described as “a man altogether made up of virtues.”

The English or Norman garrison suspecting the fidelity of Sir Piers, placed him in a dungeon, and under a newly-elected commander, were prepared to offer a desperate resistance, when a romantic incident restored the Castle to the King of Scotland.

Among the soldiers of Randolph was one named William Frank, who volunteered to lead an escalade up a steep and intricate way by which he had been accustomed in former years to visit a girl in the city of whom he was enamoured. Frequent use had made him familiar with the perilous ascent, and it was made on the night of the 14th of March – which proved dark and stormy – at the most difficult part of those precipitous bluffs which overhang the Princes’ Street Gardens, where a fragment of ruin, named Wallace’s Cradle, is still visible. Under his guidance, with only thirty resolute men, Randolph scaled the walls at midnight, and, after a fierce resistance, the garrison was overpowered. There are indications that some secret pathway, known to the Scottish garrison, existed, for during some operations in 1821 traces were found of steps cut in the rock, about seventy feet above the fragment named “Wallace’s Cradle” – a path supposed to have been completed by a movable ladder.

Sir Piers de Lombard (sometimes called Leland) joined King Robert, who, according to Barbour, created him Viscount of Edinburgh; but afterwards suspecting him of treason, and “that he had an English hart, made him to be hangit and drawen.”

To prevent it from being re-captured or re-garrisoned, Randolph dismantled the Castle, which for four-and-twenty years afterwards remained a desolate ruin abandoned to the bat and the owl.

While in this state its shattered walls afforded shelter for a single night, in 1335, to the routed troops of Guy, Count of Namur, who had landed at Berwick, and was marching to join Edward III., but was encountered on the Burghmuir by the Earls of Moray and March, with powerful forces, when a fierce and bloody battle ensued. Amid it, Richard Shaw, a Scottish squire, was defied to single combat by a Flemish knight in a closed helmet, and both fell, each transfixed by the other’s lance. On the bodies being stripped of their armour, the gallant stranger proved to be a woman! While the issue of the battle was still doubtful, the earls were joined by fresh forces under Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, William Douglas, and Sir David de Annan. The Count’s troops, chiefly cavalry, now gave way, but still fighting with the dogged valour of Walloons. Part of them that fled by St. Mary’s Wynd were nearly cut to pieces by Sir David de Annan, who led his men battle-axe in hand. The few that escaped him joined others who had reached the Castle. There they slaughtered their horses, made a rampart of the bodies, and fought behind it with an energy born of despair, till hunger and thirst on the following day compelled them to capitulate, and the Earl of Moray suffered them to depart on giving oath never again to bear arms against David II. of Scotland.

In 1867 a great quantity of bones – the relics of this conflict – were discovered about five feet below the surface, on the northern verge of the Burghmuir, where now Glengyle Terrace is built, and were decently re-interred by the authorities.

In 1336 Edward III., still prosecuting the cause of the minion Baliol against King David, re-fortified the ruin; and on the 15th June Sir John de Kingeston was again appointed its governor; but he had a hard time of it; the whole adjacent country was filled by adventurous bands of armed Scots. The most resolute and active of these was the band of Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, whose place of retreat was in the caves beneath the romantic house of Hawthornden, then the abode of a traitor named Abernethy, and which are so ingeniously constructed as to elude the vigilance of the most cunning enemy to whom the secret is unknown, The entrance is still seen in the side of the deep draw-well, which served alike to cloak their purpose and to secure for the concealed a ready supply of pure water. From this point Ramsay often extended his ravages into Northumberland.

Covered with glory and honour, the noble King Robert, the skilful Randolph, and the chivalrous Sir James Douglas, had all gone down to the silent tomb; but other heroes succeeded them, and valiant deeds were done. The Scots thought of nothing but battle; the plough was allowed to rust, and the earth to take care of itself. By 1337 the English were again almost entirely driven out of Scotland, and the Castle of Edinburgh was re-captured from them through an ingenious stratagem, planned by William Bullock, a priest, who had been captain of Cupar Castle for Baliol, “and was a man very brave and faithful to the Scots, and of great use to them,” according to Buchanan.

Under his directions, Walter Curry, of Dundee, received into his ship two hundred select Scottish soldiers, led by William Douglas, Sir Simon Fraser, Sir John Sandilands, and Bullock also. Anchoring in Leith Roads, the latter presented himself to the governor as master of an English ship just arrived with wines and provisions, which he offered to sell for the use of the garrison. The bait took all the more readily that the supposed captain had closely shaven himself in the Anglo-Norman fashion. On the following day, accompanied by twelve armed men, disguised as seamen, with hoods over their helmets, he appeared at the Castle gates, where they contrived to overturn their casks and hampers, so as to prevent the barriers being closed by the guards and warders, who were instantly slain. At a given signal – the shrill blast o a bugle-horn – Douglas and his companions, with their war-cry, rushed from a place of concealment close by. Sir Richard de Limoisin, the governor, made a bitter resistance, but was overpowered in the end, and his garrison became the prisoners of David II., who returned from France in the following month, accompanied by his queen Johanna; and by that time not an Englishman was left in Scotland. But miserable was the fate of Bullock. By order of a Sir David Berkeley he was thrown into the castle of Lochindorb, in Morayshire, and deliberately starved to death. On this a Scottish historian remarks, “It is an ancient saying, that neither the powerful, nor the valiant, nor the wise, long flourish in Scotland, since envy obtaineth the mastery of them all.”

When, a few years afterwards, the unfortunate battle of Durham ended in the defeat of the Scots, and left their king a prisoner of war, we find in the treaty for his ransom, the merchants of Edinburgh, together with those of Perth, Aberdeen, and Dundee, binding themselves to see it paid. In 1357 a Parliament was held at Edinburgh for its final adjustment, when the Regent Robert (afterwards Robert II.) presided; in addition to the clergy and nobles, there were present delegates from seventeen burghs, and among these Edinburgh appeared at the head for the first time.

In 1365 we find a four years’ truce with England, signed at London on the 20th May, and in the Castle on the 12th of June; and another for fourteen years, dated at the Castle 28th October, 1371.

So often had the storm of war desolated its towers, that the Castle of Edinburgh (which became David’s favourite residence after his return from England in 1357) was found to require extensive repairs, and to these the king devoted himself. On the cliff to the northward he built “David’s Tower,” an edifice of great height and strength, and therein he died on the 22nd February, 1370, and was buried before the high altar at Holyrood. The last of the direct line of Bruce – a name inseparably connected with the military glory and independence of Scotland – David was a monarch who, in happier times, would have done much to elevate his people. The years of his captivity in England he beguiled with his pencil, and in a vault of Nottingham Castle “he left behind him,” says Abercrombie, in his “Martial Achievements,” “the whole story of our Saviour’s Passion, curiously engraven on the rock with his own hands. For this, says one, that castle became as famous as formerly it had been for Mortimer’s hole.”

It was during his reign that, by the military ingenuity of John Earl of Carrick and four other knights of skill, the Castle was so well fortified, that, with a proper garrison, the Duke of Rothesay was able to resist the utmost efforts of Henry IV., when he besieged it for several weeks in 1400. The Castle had been conferred as a free gift upon Earl John by his father King Robert, and in consequence of the sufferings endured by the inhabitants when the city was burned by the English, under Richard II., he by charter empowered the citizens to build houses within the fortress, free of fees to the constable, on the simple understanding that they were persons of good fame.


1  “Memorials of Edinburgh Castle.”
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