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Chapter 5 – Castle of Edinburgh (continued)., pp.32-47.

James III. and his haughty Nobility – Plots of the Duke of Albany and Earl of Mar – Mysterious Death of Mar – Capture and Escape of the Duke of Albany – Captivity of James III. – Richard of Gloucester at Edinburgh – The “Golden Charter” of the City – “The Blue Blanket” – Accession of James IV. – Tournaments – “The Seven Sisters of Borthwick” – The “Flodden Wall” – The Reign of James V. – “Cleanse the Causeway!” – Edinburgh under the Factions of Nobles – Hertford Attacks the Castle – Death of Mary of Guise – Queen Mary’s Apartments in the Castle – Birth of James VI.


AFTER the royal marriage and coronation of James III. with Margaret of Oldenburg – both of which ceremonies took place with great pomp at Edinburgh in 1476, he unfortunately contrived to disgust his proud nobility by receiving into favour many persons of inferior rank. Thus, deep and dangerous intrigues were formed against him, and by those minions he was soon made aware that his brothers – Alexander Duke of Albany, and John Earl of Mar – were forming a conspiracy against him, and that the former aimed at nothing less than wresting the sceptre from his hand, and getting himself, with English aid, crowned as Alexander IV., King of Scotland and the Isles – a fact since proved by authentic documents.

Instead of employing his authority as Warden of the Marches in the repression of outrage, Albany broke the truce and burst into England more than once; he slew John of Scougal in East Lothian; and surrounded himself with a band of desperadoes, who at his behest executed the most nefarious crimes.

The dark accusations under which he lay roused at length the suspicions of the king, who ordered the arrest of both him and Mar. Over the latter’s fate there hangs a strange mystery. One historian declares that he died of fever in the Canongate, under the spells of witches who were burned therefor. Another records that he was bled to death in Craigmillar Castle; and the singular discovery there in 1818 of a man’s skeleton built erect into the north wall was thought to warrant the adoption of the last account.

In 1482 Albany was committed to the Castle of Edinburgh, a close prisoner in the hands of those who knew well that his accession to the throne would ensure their total destruction, yet he escaped them. Aware that a day of trial was coming, and terrified by the unknown fate of Mar, some of his numerous friends contrived to acquaint him that in the Roads of Leith there lay a small vessel laden with Gascon wine, by which he might escape if he made an effort. It is supposed that he was confined in David’s Tower, for we are told it was one that arose from the northern verge of the rock, where the height of the precipice seemed to preclude the possibility of escape. He had but one attendant (styled his chalmer-chield) left to wait upon him, and to this follower he revealed his intention. From the vessel there came to him two small runlets said to contain wine, and they were carried to his apartment unexamined. The duke found that they contained malvoisie, and also a strong rope, with a waxen roll enclosing an unsigned letter, urging, “that he should lose no time in escaping, as the king’s minions had resolved that he should die ere the morrow’s sunset,” but that the boats of the French vessel would await him at the harbour of Leith.

To lull suspicion, Albany invited the captain of the guard and three of his principal soldiers to sup with him, and all these he succeeded in partially intoxicating. They sat drinking and gaming until the hour grew late; and then the royal duke found that the moment of fate had come!

Snatching the captain’s long dagger from his baldrick, Albany buried it again and again in his glittering breast; he despatched the intoxicated soldiers in the same fashion, and, in token of his hostility, with the assistance of his chalmer-chield he barbarously threw the bodies on a great fire that blazed in the fireplace of the tower; “and there in their armour they broiled and sweltered like tortoises in iron shells.” Locking the doors, the fugitives hurriedly and stealthily reached the tower-head unseen. The attendant lowered himself down first over the abutting crag, which there is more than 200 feet in height, but the cord proving too short it slipped from his hands, and he fell to the bottom senseless.

This must have been a terrible crisis for the blood-stained Albany! Hurrying back to his now horrible apartment in the tower, he dragged the sheets from his bed, added them to the rope, looped it round an embrasure, and lowered himself safely down over rampart and rock to the bottom, where he found his attendant lying helpless, with a broken thigh. Unwilling to leave him to perish, Albany, with a sentiment that contrasts singularly with his recent ferocity, raised him on his shoulders, and being a man of unusual strength and stature, he actually conveyed him to Leith, a distance of two miles; and, when the sun rose, the ship, with Albany, was out on the German sea [North Sea].

Daylight revealed the rope and twisted sheets hanging over the rampart of the tower. An alarm was given, which the dreadful stench from the locked chamber must have increased. The door was opened. Albany was gone, but the half-consumed corpses were found in the fireplace; and James III. refused to believe in a story so incredible till he had visited the place in person.1

Albany fled to England, the king of which refused to deliver him up. Thus war was declared, and James marched from the Burghmuir with 50,000 men and a train of guns, under the master of the ordnance, a stone-mason, whom, with great impolicy, he had created Earl of Mar. At Lauder the nobles halted; hanged all the king’s minions over the bridge in horse-halters, and disbanded the troops; and then the humbled and luckless James returned to the Castle, where for many month, in 1481, he remained a species of prisoner in the custody of its commanders, the Earls of Athol and Buchan, who, it has been supposed, would have murdered him in secret had not the Lord Darnley and other loyal barons protected him, by never leaving his chamber unguarded by night or day. There he remained in a species of honourable durance, while near him lay in a dungeon the venerable Earl of Douglas, who scorned to be reconciled, though James, in his humility, made overtures to him. He appealed at last to England for aid against his turbulent barons, and Edward IV. (though they had quarrelled about a matrimonial alliance, and about the restoration of Berwick) sent Richard, Duke of Gloucester, north, at the head of 10,000 auxiliaries, who encamped on the Burghmuir, where the Duke of Albany, who affected a show of loyalty, joined them, at the very time that the rebellious nobles of James were sitting in council in the Tolbooth. Thither went Albany and Gloucester, the “crookbacked Dick” of Shakspere and of Bosworth, attended by a thousand gentlemen of both countries, and the parties having come to terms, heralds were sent to the Castle to charge the commander thereof to open the gates and set the king at liberty; after which the royal brothers, over whose fraternisation Pitscottie’s narrative casts some ridicule, rose together, he adds, to Holyrood, “quair [where] they remained ane long time in great merrines.

William Bertraham, Provost of Edinburgh, with the whole community of the city, undertook to repay to the king of England the dowry of his daughter the Lady Cecil, and afterwards they fulfilled their obligations by repaying 6,000 merks to the Garter King-at-Arms. In acknowledgment of this loyal service James granted to the city the patent known as its “Golden Charter,” by which the provost and bailies were created sheriffs of their own boundaries, with other important privileges. Upon the craftsmen he also conferred a banner, said to have been made by the queen and her ladies, still preserved and known popularly as the “Blue Blanket,” and it was long the rallying point of the Burgher-guard in every war or civic broil. Thus, James VI., in the “Basilicon Doron,” points out to Prince Henry – “The craftsmen think we should be content with their work how bad soever it be; and if in anything they be controuled, up goes the Blue Blanket!”

This banner, according to Kincaid, is of blue silk, with a white St. Andrew’s cross. It is swallow-tailed, measuring in length from the pole ten feet two inches, and in breadth six and a half feet. It bears a thistle crowned, with mottoes: “Fear God and honour the King with a long lyffe and a prosperous reigne;” and “And we that is Trades shall ever pray to be faithfull for the defence of his sacred Maiesties royal person till Death.”

James III. Was noted about this time for the quantity of treasure, armour, and cannon he had stored up in the Castle, his favourite residence. In David’s Tower stood his famous black kist (probably the same which is now in the Crown room), filled with rare and costly gems, gold and silver specie, massive plate, and a wonderful collection of glittering jewels, of which Tytler gives the list. In the “inventory” of the Jewel House are mentioned five relics of Robert Bruce, viz., four silver goblets and a shirt of mail, “King Robert’s serk,” as it is written. Among his cannon were two great French curtalds, forty-six other pieces of various calibre, and sixteen field-waggons, with a vast quantity of military stores of every description.

The quarrels between James and his arrogant nobles deepened day by day. At last, says Godscroft, a story went abroad that it was proposed to invite them all to a banquet in the great hall of the Castle, and there cut them off root and branch! This startling rumour led to others, and all culminated in the battle of Sauchieburn, where James perished, under the dagger of an assassin, on the 8th of June, 1488 – a monarch who, more than any other of the Stuarts, contributed towards the permanent prosperity of the Scottish metropolis. “By favour of his charters its local jurisdiction was left almost exclusively in the hands of its own magistrates; on them were conferred ample powers for enacting laws for its governance, with authority in life and death – still vested in its chief magistrate – an independence which was afterwards defended amid many dangers down to the period of the Union. By his charters, also in their favour, they obtained the right, which they still hold, to all the customs of the haven and harbour of Leith, with the proprietorship of the adjacent coast, and all the roads leading thereto.”

On the accession of James IV., in his boyhood, he sent a herald from Leith to demand the surrender of the Castle, and a commission consisting of the Lord High Treasurer, Sir William Knowles (afterwards slain at Flodden), and others, took over all the personal property of the late king. The inventory taken on this occasion, according to Tytler, affords a pleasing and favourable idea of the splendour of the Scottish court in those days.

In the treasurer’s accounts we have many curious entries concerning the various Scottish harpers, fiddlers, and English pipers, that performed here to amuse James IV. “July 10, 1489; to Inglish pyparis that cam to the Castel yet and playit to the king, viij lib. viij s. [£8 8 shillings.]”

During the reign of the chivalrous and splendid James IV., Edinburgh – where he was crowned – became celebrated throughout all Europe as the scene of knightly feats. The favourite place for the royal tournaments was a spot of ground just below the Castle rock, and near the king’s stables. There, James in particular, assembled the nobles by proclamation, for jousting, offering such meeds of honour as a golden-headed lance, or similar favours, presented by his own hand or that of some beautiful woman. Knights came from all countries to take part in these jousts; “bot,” says Pitscottie, “few or none of thame passed away unmatched, and oftimes overthrowne.”

One notable encounter, witnessed by the king from the Castle wall, took place in 1503, when a famous cavalier of the Low Countries, names by Pitscottie Sir John Cochbevis, challenged the best knight in Scotland to break a spear, or meet him à outrance in combat to the death. Sir Patrick Hamilton of the house of Arran took up his challenge. Amid a vast concourse, they came to the barriers, lanced, horsed, and clad in tempered mail, with their emblazoned shields hung round their necks. At sound of trumpet they rushed to the shock, and splintered their spears fairly. Fresh ones were given them, but as Hamilton’s horse failed him, they drew their two-handed swords, and encountered on foot. They fought thus “for a full hour, till the Dutchman being struck to the ground,” the king cast his plumed bonnet over the wall to stay the combat, while the heralds and trumpeters proclaimed the Scottish knight victorious.

But the court of James was distinguished for other things than the science of war, for during his brilliant reign Edinburgh became the resort of men high in every department of science and art; and the year 1512 saw the Provost of St. Giles’s, Gavin Douglas, translating Virgil’s “Æneid” into Scottish verse.

In the Castle there resided, about 1503, Lady Margaret Stuart, the daughter of James, by Margaret Drummond of that ilk, whom he is said to have married clandestinely, and who was removed by some Scottish conspirators “to make way for a daughter of England,” as an old historian has it. She was poisoned, together with her two sisters; and in August, 1503, “the daughter of England” duly came in the person of Margaret Tudor, whose marriage to James at Edinburgh was conducted with great splendour and much rejoicing.

In 1509 James employed his master gunner, Robert Borthwick, to cast a set of brass ordnance for the Castle, all of which were inscribed – Machina sum, Scoto Borthwick Fabricata, Roberto. Seven of these were named by James “the sisters,” being remarkable for their beauty and size. Borthwick also cast within the Castle the bells that now hang in the cathedral of St. Magnus at Kirkwall.

James IV., while preparing for his fatal invasion in 1513, went daily to the Castle to inspect and prove his artillery, and by the bursting of one of them he narrowly escaped a terrible death, like that by which his grandfather, James II., perished at Roxburgh. “The seven sisters of Borthwick,” referred to by Scott in “Marmion,” were captured, with the rest of the Scottish train, at Flodden, where the Earl of Surrey, when he saw them, said there were no cannon so beautiful in the arsenals of King Henry.

After the accession of James V., the Castle was improved by the skill of the royal architect, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, and greatly strengthened; but its aspect was very different from that which it bears now.

The entire summit of the stupendous rock was crowned by a lofty wall, connecting a series of round or square towers, defended by about thirty pieces of cannon, called “chambers,” which were removed in 1540. Cut-throats, iron slangs, and arquebuses, defended the parapets. Two tall edifices, the Peel and Constable’s Towers connected by a curtain, faced the city, overlooking the Spur, a vast triangular ravelin, a species of lower castle that covered all the summit of the hill. Its walls were twenty feet high, turreted at the angles, and armed with cannon. The Constable’s Tower was fifty feet high. Wallace’s Tower, a little below it, defended the portcullis. St. Margaret’s Tower and David’s we have already referred to. The others that abutted on the rocks were respectively named the Forge and Gun Houses, Lower Ammunition House, the Register and Jewel Houses, the Kitchen Tower, and Royal Lodging, containing the great hall (now a hospital). Westward were the Butts, still so-called, where archery was practised. There were, and are still, several deep wells; and one at the base of the rock to the northward, in a vault of the Well-house Tower, between the west angle of which and the rock was an iron gate defended by loopholes closing the path that led to St. Cuthbert’s church. A massive rampart and two circular bastions washed by the loch, defended the keep of the ravelin on that side, where Sir Patrick Blackadder was slain by the Douglases in 1526 when attempting to swim his charger across to escape their lances and hackbuts. In May, 1820, when a drain was being dug here, a coffin was found containing an entire skeleton, near it lay the skull of another. The treasurer’s accounts show the strength of the garrison in the following year, when the comptroller was ordered to provide for 400 soldiers in “Edn Castell, for keeping the samyn frae Inglishmen.” There are seldom more there now, in the reign of Victoria.

In tracing the history of this fortress it is impossible not to refer occasionally to the city of which it was the origin before coming to the general annals of the latter. The defeat at Flodden on the 9th of September, 1513, caused a consternation in Edinburgh unusual even in those days of war and tumult. The wail that went through the streets is still remembered in history, tradition, and in song. Professor Aytoun finely reproduces the feeling of anguish in his well-known ballad of “Edinburgh after Flodden”:-

“Woe, and woe, and lamentation, what a piteous cry was
Widows, maidens, mothers, children, shrieking, sobbing in
Through the streets the death-word rushes, spreading terror,
sweeping on –
‘Jesu Christ! our king has fallen – oh, great God, King
James is gone!
Oh, the blackest day for Scotland that she ever knew
Oh, our king, the good, the noble, shall we never see him
Woe to us, and woe to Scotland! Oh, our sons, our sons
and men!
Surely some have ‘scaped the Southron, surely some will
come again!’
Till the oak that fell last winter shall uprear its withered
Wives and mothers of Dunedin ye may look in vain for them!”

All the remaining male inhabitants capable of bearing arms were ordered to be in readiness; a standing watch (the origin of the famous old Town Guard) was constituted, and five hundred pounds Scots were even levied for the purchase of artillery. The narrow limits of the wall of James II. had proved too confined for the increasing city, and now that there was dread of a retaliatory invasion by a victorious enemy, the inhabitants of the Cowgate – then a new and aristocratic suburb – became naturally alarmed to find they were beyond the circumvallation of 1450. They felt themselves shut out in the unprotected country! “But they – the citizens – did certainly retain their native character for prudence, as scarcely a house arose beyond the second wall for 250 years; and if Edinburgh increased in any respect, it was only by piling new flats on the ancient royalty, and adding to the height rather than to the extent of the city.” Several traces of the “Flodden Wall,” as it was named, still exist.

This defence, which was built with incredible speed, had many gates and towers, crenelated and furnished with embrasures and loopholes, and was of vast strength and height, with a terrepleine of earth in some parts, especially to the south. Descending from the Castle in a south-westerly direction, it crossed the Portsburgh at the foot of the Grassmarket, where there was a barrier call the West Port; and ascending the steep Vennel – where much of it still remains – to Lauriston, it turned due eastward to the corner of Teviot Row, from whence it ran acutely northward to the Bristo Port. Thence it ran nearly eastward by the south of the present university and Drummond Street to the Pleasance, crossing the Cowgate foot, where stood the Cowgate Port. From there to the Nether Bow Port the enclosure was completed by the west side of St. Mary’s Wynd, and perhaps part of the old wall of 1450. Descending Leith Wynd, which was also closed by a port, the wall ended at the foot of the North Loch, then, as yet, the artificial defence of the city on that side, the waters of it being regulated by a dam and sluice. These walls were added to and strengthened from time to time as suspicions occurred of the English: at Leith Wynd by Act of Parliament in 1540; another addition in 1560 to the foot of Halkerston’s Wynd, near the present North Bridge; and in 1591 all were repaired with bulwarks and flankers; the last addition being, in 1618, at the Greyfriars Port. They had all become ruinous in 1745. The whole length of the old wall was about one mile, that of the new was one mile three furlongs.

Henry VIII. was too full of his French war to follow up the advantage won at Flodden; and poor Scotland had now to experience again the evils that attend a long minority, for James V. was but two years old when he succeeded to the throne.


By the will of James IV. Queen Margaret was appointed Regent during their son’s minority; but she lost her power by an impolitic marriage with the Earl of Angus, whereupon John Duke of Albany succeeded her as Regent. This brave and wise prince was the son of that Alexander whose daring escape we have detailed, and he had high interest in France, where he espoused Anne de la Tour of Vendôme; but prior to his arrival there had ensued one of those dreadful street skirmishes which were so peculiar to Edinburgh in those days.

On the queen’s marriage with his feudal rival, the Earl of Arran, attended by every Hamilton he could muster, marched into the city, and laid claim to the Regency, as nearest of blood to the king. Angus was not slow in following him thither, with 500 spearmen and several knights. The moment that Arran heard of his approach, he assembled the nobility of the west country, at the Archbishop of Glasgow’s quaint old turreted house, which stood at the eastern corner of the Blackfriars Wynd, but has quite recently been pulled down. He ordered the gates to be secured, but too late; the Douglases were already in the city, where a dreadful commotion was imminent.

While Arran held a conference, Angus was in his town mansion, near the curious old street called the West Bow, the last vestiges of which have nearly disappeared. His friends conveyed to him an intimation that he was to be made prisoner, and advised him to lose no time in assuming the defensive. On this he sent his uncle, the famous Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld, to remonstrate with the archbishop, Arran, and others present, “to caution them against violence, and inform them that if they had anything to allege against him he would be judged by the laws of the realm, and not by men who were his avowed enemies.” Meanwhile he put on his armour, and drew up his spearmen in close array near the Nether-Bow Port – the Temple Bar of Edinburgh – a gate strongly fortified by double towers.

When the Bishop of Dunkeld entered the archbishop’s house in the Blackfriars Wynd he found all present armed, and resolved on the most desperate measures. Even the archbishop wore a coat of mail, covered by his ecclesiastical costume, and in the dispute that ensued he concluded a vehement speech by striking his breast, and asseverating – “There is no remedy! The Earl of Angus must go to prison. Upon my conscience I cannot help it!”

As he struck his breast the armour rattled.

“How now, my lord?” Said the Bishop of Dunkeld; “I think your conscience clatters! We are priests, and to bear arms or armour is not consistent with our profession.”

The archbishop explained “that he had merely provided for his own safety in these days of continued turmoil, when no man could leave his house but at the hazard of his life.”

Numbers of citizens and others had now joined Angus, who was exceedingly popular, and the people handed weapons from the windows to all his followers who required them. He barricaded all the entrances to the steep wynds and closes leading from the High Street to the Cowgate, and took post himself near the head of the Blackfriars Wynd. Sir James Hamilton of Finnart came rushing upward at the head of the Hamiltons to attack the Douglases. Angus, who knew him, ordered the latter to spare him is possible, but he was one of the first who perished in the fierce and bloody fray that ensued, and involved the whole city in universal uproar.

“A Douglas! a Douglas!” “A Hamilton! a Hamilton! Through! Through!” such were the adverse cries.

The many windows of the lofty and gable-ended houses of the High Street were crowded with the excited faces of spectators; the clash of swords and crash of pikes, the shouts, yells, and execrations of the combatants as they closed in fierce conflict, added to the general consternation, and killed and wounded began to cumber the causeway in every direction.

The Hamiltons gave way, and, sword in hand, the exasperated Angus drove them headlong down the Blackfriars Wynd, killing them on every hand. The Earl of Arran and a kinsman hewed a passage out of the mêlée, and fled down an alley on the north side of the High Street. At the foot they found a collier’s horse, and, throwing the burden off the animal, both mounted it, though in armour, swam it across the loch to the other side, and escaped among the fields, where now Princes Street stands.

Many Douglases perished in the skirmish, which was long remembered as “Cleanse the Causeway.” Of the Hamiltons eighty were slain on the spot, including Sir Patrick son of the first Lord Hamilton, and the Master of Montgomery, according to Hawthornden. The archbishop fled to the adjacent Blackfriars church for sanctuary, but the Douglases dragged him from behind the altar, rent his episcopal habit from his back, and would have slain him had not the Bishop of Dunkeld interfered; and he was permitted to fly afoot to Linlithgow, sixteen miles distant.

Towards the termination of the flight 800 border troopers, under the Prior of Coldingham (Angus’s brother), came galloping in, and finding the gates and wickets closed, they beat them in with hammers; but by that time the fray was over.

This was but a specimen of the misrule that pervaded the whole realm till the arrival of the Regent Albany, when the parliament at Edinburgh named four peers as guardians of the young king and his infant brother, permitting the queen to name other four. On this being adjusted, the Duke of Albany and these peers in their robes of state, attended by esquires and pages, proceeded to the Castle, at the gate of which they were received by a singular tableau of an imposing description.

The barriers were thrown open, and on the summit of the flight of forty steps which then gave access to them, stood the beautiful queen of that heroic king who fell at Flodden, holding by the hand the little James V., while a pace or two behind her stood a noble lady, supporting in her arms his infant brother. With real or affected sweetness of manner she asked their errand.

“Madam,” replied the royal duke, “we come by the authority of Parliament to receive at your hands our sovereign and his brother.”

Margaret Tudor stepped back a pace, and ordered the portcullis to be lowered, and as the grating descended slowly between her and the four delegates, she said:-

“I hold this Castle by gift from my late husband, your king, and will yield it to no power whatever. But I respect that of the Parliament, and require six days to consider its demand; for most important is my charge, and my councillors, alas! are now few,” she added, bursting into tears, probably as she thought of the many

“Who on Flodden’s trampled sod,
For their king and for their country,
Rendered up their souls to God.”

Alarmed at a refusal so daring, Angus entreated her to obey the Estates, and took an instrument to the effect that he had no share in it; but she remained inexorable, and the mortified delegates returned to report the unsuccessful issue of their mission. Aware that she was unable to contend with the Estates, she secretly retired with her sons to Stirling, and, after placing them in charge of the Lords Borthwick and Fleming, returned to her former residence, though, according to Chalmers, she had no right of dowry therein. Distrusting the people, and, as a Tudor, distrusted by them, she remained aloof from all, until one day, escorted by Lord Home and fifty lances, she suddenly rode to the Castle of Blackadder (near Berwick), from whence she endeavoured to enlist the sympathy of her brother, Henry VIII., by complaining that she had been little else than a captive in the Castle of Edinburgh.

Meanwhile the Duke of Albany had taken up his residence at Holyrood, and seems to have proceeded, between 1515-16, with the enlargement of the royal buildings attached to the Abbey House, in continuation of the works carried on there by the late king, till the day of Flodden. Throughout the minority of James V. Edinburgh continued to be disturbed by the armed contentions of the nobles, especially those of Angus and Arran; and in a slender endeavour to repress this spirit the salary of the Provost was augmented, and a small guard of halberdiers was appointed to attend him,

Among those committed prisoners to the Castle by Albany were the Lord Home and his brother William for treason; they escaped, but were retaken, and beheaded 16th October, 1516, and their heads were placed on the Tolbooth.3 Huntly and Moray were next prisoners, for fighting at the head of their vassals in the streets; and the next was Sir Lewis Stirling, for an armed brawl.

Stirling had been paying his addresses to a girl possessed of great attractions, daughter of Richard Lawson of the Highriggs, Provost in 1504 (and whose house there was removed only in 1878), but proving less successful than Meldrum of the Binns – whose feats of chivalry have been sung by Lindesay of the Mount – he attacked the latter at the head of fifty horse, near the Rood Chapel in Leith Loan, though his rival had only eight followers, and a mortal combat with sword and axe ensued. Meldrum unhorsed Sir Lewis, and would have slain him had not his faithful henchman, by interposing, received the sword-thrust in his own heart. The prowess of Meldrum’s troopers is evinced from the fact that they slew twenty-six of Stirling’s men, but the former was left for dead, covered with wounds; “yet,” saith Pitscottie, “be the mychtie power of God he escaped death, and lived fiftie years thairaftir.” The Chevalier de la Beauté, the detested Lieutenant-Governor under Albany, at the head of the mounted French gendarmerie, pursued Stirling to the Peel of Linlithgow. He stormed it, and sent this fiery lover to the Castle of Edinburgh, where he was sentenced to death, but was pardoned and set free, while the chevalier was soon after slain by Home of Wedderburn, who knitted his head to his saddle-bow.

Dring this time little James V. resided permanently in the Castle, pursuing his studies under the tuition of Gawin Dunbar, afterwards Archbishop of Glasgow, all unconscious of the turmoils in progress everywhere, and so completely forgotten by the actors in them, that his sister, the Countess of Morton, with her friends, had, more than once, to repair the royal apartments and replenish his wardrobe. Though placed in the fortress for security, he was permitted to ride abroad on a little mule that was kept for his use, but always under escort of Albany’s guards, clad in scarlet doublets slashed with black, and armed with partisan and dagger. Dread of a pestilence which broke out in the garrison caused his removal to Craigmillar, where, by the courtesy of Lord Erskine, his mother was permitted to visit him, till the other guardians, hostile to English influence and suspicious of her power, removed him to his former residence. James is said to have delighted in conversing with the soldiers, and when handling their swords and hackbuts his cheeks were seen to flush and his eyes to sparkle with the ardour of a brave boy when contemplating military objects.

1. James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, from a Print by Holl from the Original Picture by Ketel.  2. John Erskine, Earl of Mar, from an Engraving by Trotter from the Painting in the possession of James Erskine, Esq., of Alva.  3. Archibald, Earl of Angus, from the Original Painting by François Clouet, in the possession of Queen Victoria.  4. The Regent Moray, from an Engraving by J. Shury from the Original Painting at Holyrood.

When Albany returned from visiting France, in 1521, the queen-dowager, Beaton, and so many others came in his train to Holyrood, that Angus, who had quarrelled with Margaret, and was the sworn foe of them all, quitted the city, and was exiled for tumults he had excited during the absence of the Regent. As the only means of terminating the frightful anarchy that prevailed, it was resolved to invest James, now in his twelfth year, with full sovereign power; and thus, on the 22nd August, 1524, he made his solemn entry into the Tolbooth, preceded by the crown, sceptre, and sword of state.

The irrepressible Angus, backed by the Douglases, seized the government in the following year, scaled the city walls on the night of the 24th November, beat open the ports, and fairly capturing Edinburgh, made a Douglas Provost thereof. And such was the power he possessed, that the assassins of McLellan of Bombie – who was slain in open day at the door of St. Giles’s church – walked with impunity about the streets; while the queen herself deemed his safe-conduct necessary while she resided in Edinburgh, though Parliament was sitting at the time; and so the king returned again to honourable durance in the dilapidated palace of the Castle, or only put in an appearance to act as the puppet of his governor.

At this crisis Arran and his faction demanded that Parliament should assemble in the Castle-hall as a security against coercion; but Angus vowed that it should continue to meet in its usual place; and as the king was retained within the Castle, he cut off all communication between it and the city with 2,000 men, on whom the batteries opened; but eventually these differences were adjusted, and their luckless young king was permitted to attend Parliament in state.

On All Saints’ Day a thunderbolt struck a turret of David’s Tower, and hurled some fragments down the rocks, setting fire to the apartments of Margaret, who narrowly escaped with her life.

In 1526, John Earl of Lennox, at the head of numerous forces, marched towards Edinburgh, intent on rescuing the king from the intolerable thraldom of Angus; but the latter caused his namesake the Provost to ring the alarm bell, display the banner of the city, and put it on its defence. He did more. He compelled James to lead out the citizens against his own friends. He issued forth by the West Port, at the head of all the men of Edinburgh and Leith, but came in time only to witness the death of Lennox in the battle of Linlithgow Bridge, where he was cruelly slain by Sir James Hamilton, after he had surrendered his sword to the Laird of Pardowie.

Queen Margaret, who had now divorced Angus, and married Henry Stuart Lord Methven, on finding that the former was about to seize her dower-lands, fled, with her third husband and all his vassals, to the Castle of Edinburgh, and joining her son, prepared to resist to the last; but Earl Archibald only laughed when he heard of it; and, displaying his banner, invested the fortress at the head of his own vassals and those of the Crown. Margaret found that she dared not disobey, and her soldiers capitulated.

Bathed in tears, on her knees, at the outer gate, quailing under the grim eye of one who was so recently her husband, at his command she placed the keys “in the hands of her son, then a tall and handsome youth, imploring pardon for her husband, for his brother Sir James Stuart, and lastly for herself. Angus smiled scornfully beneath his barred helmet at her constrained submission, and haughtily directed the Lord Methven and others to be imprisoned in the towers from which they had so lately defied him.”

In 1528, James, at last, by a midnight flight with only two attendants, escaped the Douglas thrall, and fled to Falkland Palace, after which event, with a decision beyond his years, he proceeded to assert his own authority, and summoned the estates to meet him at Stirling. The Douglases were declared outlaws and traitors, whereupon Angus and all the barons of his name fled to England.

On the death of James V., in 1542, the Regent Arran thoroughly repaired the Castle, and appointed governor Sir James Hamilton of Stanehouse, a gallant soldier, who proved worthy of the trust reposed in him when, in 1544, Henry VIII., exasperated at the Scots for declining to fulfil a treaty, made by an English faction, affiancing the young Queen Mary to his only son Edward, sent the Earl of Hertford with an army, and 200 sail under Darnley Lord l’Isle to the Forth, with orders, so characteristic of a ferocious despot, “to put all to fire and sword; to burn Edinburgh, raze, deface, and sack it; to beat down and overthrow the Castle; to sack Holyrood and as many towns and villages as he could; to sack Leith, burn, and subvert it, and all the rest; putting man, woman, and child, to fire and sword, without exception.”4

Hertford suddenly landed with 10,000 men near an old fortalice, called the Castle of Wardie, on the beach that bordered a desolate moor of the same name, and seized Leith and Newhaven. Cardinal Beaton and the Regent Arran lay in the vicinity with an army. The former proposed battle, but the latter, an irresolute man, declined, and retired in the night towards Linlithgow with his hastily levied troops.

Lord Evers, with 4,000 horse, had now joined the English from Berwick, and Hertford arrogantly demanded the instant surrender of the infant queen; and being informed that the nation would perish to a man rather than submit to terms so ignominious, he advanced against Edinburgh, from whence came the Provost, Sir Adam Otterburn, to make terms, if possible; but Hertford would have nothing save an unconditional surrender of life and property, together with the little queen, then at Stirling.

“Then,” said the Provost, “’twere better that the city should stand on its defence!” He galloped back to put himself at the head of the citizens, who were in arms under the Blue Blanket. The English, after being repulsed with loss at the Leith Wynd Port, entered by the Water Gate, advanced up the Canongate to the Nether Bow Port, which they blew open by dint of artillery, and a terrible slaughter of the citizens ensued. All resisted manfully. Among others was one named David Halkerston of Halkerston, who defended the wynd that for 300 years bore his name, and perished there sword in hand. Spreading through the city like a flood, the English fired it in eight places, and as the High Street was then encumbered with heavy fronts of ornamented timber that erst had grown in the forest of Drumsheugh, the smoke of the blazing mansions actually drove the invaders out to ravage the adjacent country, prior to which they met with a terrible repulse in an attempt to attack the Castle. Four days Hertford toiled before it, till he had 500 men killed, an incredible number wounded, and some of his guns dismounted by the fire of the garrison. Led by Stanehouse, the Scots made a sortie, scoured the Castle hill, and carried off Hertford’s guns, among which were some that they had lost at Flodden. The English then retreated, leaving Edinburgh nearly one mass of blackened ruin, and the whole country burned and wasted for seven miles around it. When, three years after, the same unscrupulous leader, as Duke of Somerset, won that disastrous battle at Pinkie – a field that made 360 women of Edinburgh Widows, and where the united shout raised by the victors as they came storming over Edmondston Edge was long remembered – Stanehouse was again summoned to surrender; but though menaced by 26,000 of the English, he maintained his charge till the retreat of Somerset. Instead of reconciling the Scots to an alliance with England – in those days a measure alike unsafe and unpalatable – all this strengthened the old one with France. So their young queen was bethrothed to the Dauphin, and 6,000 French auxiliaries came to strengthen the power of Mary of Guise, widow of James V., who was appointed Regent during the minority of her infant daughter. During the year 1545-6, the Castle was for a brief period the scene of George Wishart’s captivity.

Mary of Guise was imprudent, and disgusted the haughty nobles by bestowing all places of trust upon Frenchmen, and their military insolence soon roused the rage of the people, who were at all times impatient of restraint. Thus fierce brawls ensued, and one of these occurred in the city in 1554, between an armourer and a French soldier; a quarrel having arisen concerning some repairs on the wheel-lock of an arquebuse, the latter, by one blow of his dagger, struck the former dead in his own shop. The craftsmen flew to arms; the soldier was joined and rescued by his countrymen; and a desperate conflict ensued with swords, pikes, and Jedwood axes. Sir James Hamilton of Stanehouse, who was now Provost of the city as well as governor of the Castle, marched at once to aid the citizens. He was slain in the mêlée, and left lying on the causeway, together with his son James and many more; but the French were driven out sword in hand, and the ports closed upon them and well guarded.

On March 28, 1559, Mary of Guise, with a sorely diminished court, took up her residence in the fortress; she was received with every respect by Lord Erskine, who, as the holder of the Queen’s garrison, was strictly neutral between the contending parties. The Reformers were now in arms with the English auxiliaries, so the French, who had waged war through all Fife and the Lothians, were compelled to keep within the ramparts of Leith, the operations against which the fair Regent, though labouring under a mortal illness, which the cares of state had aggravated, watched daily from the summit of David’s Tower. Her illness, a virulent dropsical affection, increased. She did not live to see the fall of Leith, but died on the 10th of June, 1560. Her death-bed was peaceful and affecting, and by her own desire she was attended by Knox’s particular friend, John Willox, an active preacher of the Reformation. Around her bed she called the great leaders of that movement, and with cold and hard hostility they gazed upon her wasted but once beautiful features, as she conjured them in moving terms to be loyal men and true to Mary, the girl-queen of Scotland and of France, and touchingly she implored the forgiveness of all. The apartment in which she expired is one of those in the royal lodging, within the present half-moon battery. The rites of burial were denied her body, and it lay in the Castle lapped in lead till the 19th October, when it was borne to Leith by a party of soldiers, and conveyed to Rheims, in Champagne, where her sister was prioress of a convent.

After this her young widowed daughter – whose reign and residence imparted a splendour to the fortress which it had not hitherto known – landed at Leith in August, 1560, and was conducted to her palace amid pageantry to which we shall refer when describing other royal progresses through the city. Mary and Lord Darnley frequently resided in the Castle; and the records of the Scottish Jewel House evince the elegance with which her apartments had been fitted up. In them we find that she had “eleven tapestries of gilded leather; eight of the ‘Judgment of Paris’; five of the ‘Triumph of Virtue’; eight of green velvet brocaded with great trees bearing armorial shields and holly branches; ten of cloth of gold and brocaded taffeta; thirty more of massive cloth of gold, one bearing the story of the Count de Foix, eight bearing the ducal arms of Longueville, five having the history of King Rehoboam; four the hunts of the Unicorn; as many more of the story of Æneis, and one of the tale of Tobit. The floors were of polished oak, covered with sixteen Turkey carpets; the tables were of massive oak elaborately carved; the chairs of gilded leather with cushions of brocade and damask, the high backs being carved with the royal crown and cypher; while the quantity of cloth of gold in the hangings of the beds and decorations of the apartments is truly amazing. Here, too, Mary kept her little library. It consisted of 153 volumes… The contents of its shelves, however heterogeneous, evince how superior were the mind and attainments of Mary to those of the preachers and nobles who surrounded her.

As the time of her accouchement drew near, she was advised by the Lords of Council to remain in the fortress and await it; and a former admirer of Mary’s, the young Earl of Arran (captain of the archers), whose love had turned his brain, was sent from his prison in David’s Tower to Hamilton. On the ground floor at the south-east corner of the Grand Parade there still exists, unchanged and singularly irregular in form, the room wherein, at ten o’clock on the morning of the 19th of June, 1566, was born James VI., in whose person the rival crowns of Mary and Elizabeth were to be united. A stone tablet over the arch of the old doorway, with a monogram of H and M and the date, commemorates this event, unquestionably the greatest in the history of Britain. The royal arms of Scotland figure on one of the walls, and an ornamental design surmounts the rude stone fireplace, while four lines in barbarous doggerel record the birth. The most extravagant joy pervaded the entire city. Public thanksgiving was offered up in St. Giles’s, and Sir James Melville started on the spur with the news to the English court, and rode with such speed that he reached London in four days, and spoiled the mirth of the envious Elizabeth for one night at least with the happy news. And an old prophecy, alleged to be made by Thomas the Rhymer, but proved by Lord Hailes to be a forgery, was now supposed to be fulfilled –

“However it happen for to fall,
The Lyon shall be lord of all!
A French Queen shall beare the sonne
To rule all Britainne to the sea,
And he from the Bruce’s blood shall come
As near as to the ninth degree.”

According to the journalist Bannatyne, Knox’s secretary, Mary was delivered with great ease by the necromantic powers of the Countess of John Earl of Athole, who was deemed a sorceress, and who cast the queen’s pains upon the Lady Reres, then in the Castle. An interesting conversation between Mary and Darnley took place in the little bed-room, as recorded in the “Memoirs” of Lord Herries. Darnley came at two in the afternoon to see his royal spouse and child. “My lord,” said the queen, “God has given us a son.” Partially uncovering the face of the infant, she added a protest that it was his and no other man’s son. Then turning to an English gentleman present, she said, “This is the son who, I hope, shall first unite the two kingdoms of Scotland and England.” Sir William Stanley said, “Why, madam, shall he succeed before your majesty and his father?” “Alas!” answered Mary, “his father has broken to me,” alluding to the conspiracy against Rizzio. “Sweet madam,” said Darnley, “is this the promise you made – that you would forget and forgive all?” “I have forgiven all,” replied the queen, “but will never forget. What if Faudonside’s (one of the assassins) pistol had shot? What would have become of both the babe and me?” “Madam,” replied Darnley, “these things are past.” “Then,” said the queen, “let them go.” So ended this conversation.

It is a curious circumstance that the remains of an infant in an oak coffin, wrapped in a shroud marked with the letter I, were discovered built up in the wall of this old palace in August, 1830, but were re-consigned to their strange place of sepulture by order of General Thackeray, commanding the Royal Engineers in Scotland.

When John Spotswood, superintendent of Lothian, and other Reformed clergymen, came to congratulate Mary in the name of the General Assembly, he begged that the young Duke of Rothesay might be baptised in Protestant form. The queen only replied by placing the child in his arms. Then the aged minister knelt down, and prayed long and fervently for his happiness and prosperity, an event which so touched the tender Mary that she burst into tears; however, the prince was baptised according to the Roman ritual at Stirling on the 5th of December.

The birth of a son produced little change in Darnley’s licentious life. He perished as history records; and on Bothwell’s flight after Carberry, and Mary’s captivity in Lochleven, the Regent Moray resolved by force or fraud to get all the fortresses into his possession. Sir James Balfour, a minion of Bothwell’s – the keeper of the famous silver casket containing the pretended letters and sonnets of Mary – surrendered that of Edinburgh, bribed by lands and money as he marched out, and the celebrated Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange was appointed governor in his place. That night the fated Regent Moray entered with his friends, and slept in the same little apartment wherein, a year before, his sister had been delivered of the infant now proclaimed as James VI.; but instead of keeping his promise to Balfour, Moray treacherously made him a prisoner of state in the Castle of St. Andrews.


1  Lindesay, Drummond, Scott, Buchan, &c.
2  Pinkerton is of opinion that this painting was a species of satire directed at the intrigues of the persons depicted. The figure behind the Queen is believed to be that of a Scots Guard; and the butterfly, inkstand, dice, and other minute accessories, are all supposed to have a significance that would be readily understood at the time when the picture was painted.
3  Crawford’s “Lives.”
4  Tytler.
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