The Torture of Neville Payne – Jacobite Plots – Entombing the Regalia – Project for Surprising the Fortress – Right of Sanctuary Abolished – Lord Drummond’s Plot – Some Jacobite Prisoners – “Rebel Ladies” – James Macgregor – The Castle Vaults – Attempts at Escape – Fears as to the Destruction of the Crown, Sword, and Sceptre – Crown-room opened on 1794 – Again in 1817, and the Regalia brought forth – Mons Meg – General Description of the whole Castle.
AMONG the many unfortunates who have pined as prisoners of state in the Castle, few suffered more than Henry Neville Payne, an English gentleman, who was accused of being a Jacobite conspirator. About the time of the battle of the Boyne, when the Earl of Annandale, Lord Ross, Sir Robert Montgomerie of Skelmorlie, Robert Fergusson “the plotter,” and others, were forming a scheme in Scotland for the restoration of King James, Payne had been sent there in connection with it, but was discovered in Dumfriesshire, seized, and sent to Edinburgh. Lockhart, the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who happened to be in London, coolly wrote to the Earl of Melville, Secretary of State at Edinburgh, saying, “that there was no doubt that he (Payne) knew as much as would hang a thousand; but except you put him to the torture, he will shame you all. Pray you, put him in such hands as will have no pity on him!”1
The Council, however, had anticipated these amiable instructions, and Payne had borne torture to extremity, by boot and thumb-screws, without confessing anything. On the 10th of December, under express instruction signed by King William, and countersigned by Lord Melville, the process was to be repeated; and this was done in the presence of the Earl of Crawford, “with all the severity,” he reported, “that was consistent with humanity, even unto that pitch that we could not preserve life and have gone further, but without the least success. He was so manly and resolute under his sufferings that such of the Council as were not acquainted with the evidence, were brangled, and began to give him charity that he might be innocent. It was surprising that flesh and blood could, without fainting, endure the heavy penance he was in for two hours.” This unfortunate Englishman, in his maimed and shattered condition, was now thrown into a vault of the Castle, where none had access to him save a doctor. Again and again it was represented to the “humane and pious King William” that to keep Payne in prison “without trial was contrary to law;” but notwithstanding repeated petitions for trial and mercy, in defiance of the Bill of Rights, William allowed him to languish from year to year for ten years; until, on the 4th of February, 1701, he was liberated, in broken health, poverty, and premature old age, without the security for reappearance, which was customary in such cases.
Many plots were formed by the Jacobites – one about 1695, by Fraser of Beaufort (the future Lovat), and another in 1703, to surprise the Castle, as being deemed the key to the whole kingdom – but without success; and soon after the Union, in 1707, its walls witnessed that which was deemed “the last act of that national tragedy,” the entombing of the regalia, which, by the Treaty, “are never more to be used, but kept constantly in the Castle of Edinburgh.”
In presence of Colonel Stuart, the constable; Sir James Mackenzie, Clerk of the Treasury; William Wilson, Deputy-Clerk of Session – the crown, sceptre, sword of state, and Treasurer’s rod, were solemnly deposited in their usual receptacle, the crown-room, on the 26th of March. “Animated by the same glow of patriotism that fired the bosom of Belhaven, the Earl Marischal, after having opposed the Union in all its stages, refused to be present at this degrading ceremony, and was represented by his proxy, Wilson, the Clerk of Session, who took a long protest descriptive of the regalia, and declaring that they should remain within the said crown-room, and never be removed from it without due intimation being made to the Earl Marischal. A copy of this protest, beautifully illuminated, was then deposited with the regalia, a linen cloth was spread over the whole, and the great oak chest was secured by three ponderous locks; and there for a hundred and ten years, amid silence, obscurity, and dust, lay the crown that had sparkled on the brows of Bruce, on those of the gallant Jameses, and on Mary’s auburn hair – the symbols of Scotland’s elder days, for which so many myriads of the loyal, the brave, and the noble, had laid down their lives on the battle-field – neglected and forgotten.”
Just four months after this obnoxious ceremony, and while the spirit of antagonism to it rose high in the land, a gentleman, with only thirty men, undertook to surprise the fortress, which had in it now a party of but thirty-five British soldiers, to guard the equivalent money, £400,000, and a great quantity of Scottish specie, which had been called in to be coined anew. In the memoirs of Kerr of Kerrsland we are told that the leader of this projected surprise was to appear with his thirty followers, all well armed, at noon, on the esplanade, which at that hour was the chief lounge of gay and fashionable people. Among these they were to mingle, but drawing as near to the barrier gate as possible. While affecting to inquire for a friend in the Castle, the leader was to shoot a sentinel; the report of his pistol was to be the signal on which his men were to draw their swords, and secure the bridge, when a hundred men who were to be concealed in a cellar near were to join them, tear down the Union Jack, and hoist the colours of James VIII. in its place. The originator of this daring scheme – whose name never transpired – having communicated it to the well-known intriguer, Kerr of Kerrsland, while advising him to defer it till the chevalier, then expected, was off the coast, he secretly gave information to the Government, which, however, left the fortress in the same defenceless state. Again, in 1708, another plan to seize it was organised among the Hays, Keiths, and Murrays, whom the now repentant Cameronians promised to join with 5,000 horse and 20,000 foot, to the end that, at all hazards, the Union should be dissolved.
On tidings of this, the Earl of Leven, governor of the Castle, was at once despatched from London to put it in a state of defence; but the great magazine of arms, the cannon, stores, and 495 barrels of powder, which had been placed there in 1706, had all been removed to England. “But,” says a writer, “this was only in the spirit of centralisation, which has since been brought to such perfection.”
In 1708, before the departure of the fleet of Admiral de Fourbin with that expedition which the appearance of Byng’s squadron caused to fail, a plan of the Castle had been laid, at Versailles, before a board of experienced engineer officers, who unanimously concluded that, with his troops, cannon, and mortars, M. de Gace would carry the place in a few hours. A false attack was to be made on the westward, while three battalions were to storm the outworks on the east, work their way under the half-moon, and carry the citadel. Two Protestant bishops were then to have crowned the prince in St. Giles’s church as James VIII. “The equivalent from England being there,” says an officer of the expedition, “would have been a great supply to us for raising men (having about 400 officers with us who had served in the wars in Italy), and above 100 chests in money.”
Had M. de Gace actually appeared before the fortress, its capture would not have cost him much trouble, as Kerrsland tells us that there were not then four rounds of powder in it for the batteries!
On the 14th of December, 1714, the Castle was, by a decree of the Court of Session, deprived of its ancient ecclesiastical right of sanctuary, derived from and retained since the monastic institution of David I., in 1128. Campbell of Burnbank, the storekeeper, being under caption at the instance of a creditor, was arrested by a messenger-at-arms, on which Colonel Stuart, the governor, remembering the right of sanctuary, released Campbell, expelled the official, and closed the barriers. Upon this the creditor petitioned the court, asserting that the right of sanctuary was lost. In reply it was asserted that the Castle was not disenfanchised, and “that the Castle of Edinburgh, having anciently been castrum puellarum, was originally a religious house, as well as the abbey of Holyrood.” But the Court decided that it had no privilege of sanctuary “to hinder the king’s letters, and ordained Colonel Stuart to deliver Burnbank to a messenger.” Burnbank was a very debauched character, who is frequently mentioned in Penicuick’s satirical poems, and was employed by “Nicoll Muschat of ill memorie,” to seduce the unfortunate wife whom he afterwards murdered where the cairn stood in the Queen’s Park.
When the severities exercised by George I. upon the Scottish Jacobites brought about the insurrection of 1715, and the Castle was filled with disaffected men of rank, another plot to storm it, at a time when its garrison was the 25th, or old regiment of Edinburgh, was formed by Lord John Drummond, son of the Earl of Perth, with eighty men, mostly Highlanders, and all of resolute courage. All these – among whom was a Captain McLean, who had lost a leg at Killiecrankie, and an Ensign Arthur, late of the Scots Guards – were promised commissions under King James, and 100 guineas each, if the event succeeded; and at that crisis – when Mar was about to fight the battle of Sheriffmuir – it might have put him in possession of all Scotland. Drummond contrived to suborn four of the garrison – a sergeant, Ainslie, to whom he promised a lieutenancy, a corporal, who was to be made an ensign, and two privates, who got bribes in money.
On the night of the 8th September, when the troops marched from the city to fight the Earl of Mar, the attempt was made. The chosen time, near twelve o’clock, was dark and stormy, and the modus operandi was to be by escalading the western walls, near the ancient arched postern. A ladder, equipped with great hooks to fix it to the cope of the bastion, and calculated to admit four men abreast, had been constructed, and all was prepared, when the plot was marred by – a lady!
In the exultation he felt at the approaching capture, and the hope he had of lighting the beacon which was to announce to Fife and the far north that the Castle was won, Ensign Arthur unfolded the scheme to his brother, a physician in the city, who volunteered for the enterprise, but most prudently told his wife of it, and she, alarmed for his safety, at once gave information to the Lord Justice Clerk, Sir Adam Cockburn of Ormiston, who instantly put himself in communication with Colonel Stuart. Thus, by the time the conspirators were at the foot of the wall the whole garrison was under arms, the sentinels were doubled, and the ramparts patrolled.
The first party of forty men, led by the resolute Lord Drummond and the wooden-legged McLean, had reached the foot of the wall unseen; already the ladder had been secured by Sergeant Ainslie, and the escalade was in the act of ascending, with pistols in their girdles and swords in their teeth, when a Lieutenant Lindesay passed with his patrol, and instantly gave an alarm! The ladder and all on it fell heavily on the rocks below. A sentinel fired his musket; the startled Jacobites fled and dispersed, but, the city gates being shut, many of them were captured, among others old McLean, who made a desperate resistance in the West Port with a musket and bayonet. Many who rolled down the rocks to the roadway beneath were severely injured, and taken by the City Guard. A sentinel was bound hand and foot and thrown into the Dark Pit (one of the lowest dungeons on the south) where he confessed the whole plot; the corporal was mercilessly flogged; and Sergeant Ainslie was hanged over the postern gate. Colonel Stuart was dismissed; and Brigadier Grant, whose regiment was added to the garrison, was appointed temporary governor.
From this period, with the exception of a species of blockade in 1745, to be related in its place, the history of the Castle is as uneventful as that of the Tower of London, save a visit paid to it in the time of George I., by Yussuf Jumati, General and Governor of Damascus.
Many unfortunate Jacobites have suffered most protracted periods of imprisonment within its walls. Among these the Edinburgh Courant records, on the 10th of January, 1743, the demise therein of Macintosh, of Borlum, in his 80th year, after a captivity of fifteen years, for participation in the rising of 1715; and for twelve months, in 1746, there were confined in a small, horrid, and unhealthy chamber above the portcullis, used for many a year as “the black hole” of the garrison, the Duchess of Perth and Viscountess Strathallan, with her daughters, the Ladies Mary and Amelia, who were brought in by an escort of twenty dragoons, under a ruffianly quartermaster, who treated them with every indignity, even to tearing the wedding-ring from Lady Strathallan’s finger, and stripping her daughters of their clothes. During the long year these noble ladies were in that noisome den above the gate, they were without female attendance, and under the almost hourly surveillance of the sergeants of the guard. The husband of the countess was slain at the head of his men on the field of Culloden, where the Jacobite clans were overcome by neither skill nor valour, but the sheer force of numbers and starvation.
Among other “rebel ladies” confined in the Castle was the Lady Ogilvie, who made her escape in the disguise of a laundress, a costume brought by Miss Balmain, who remained in her stead, and who was afterwards allowed to go free.
In 1752 the Castle received a remarkable prisoner, in the person of James Mhor Macgregor of Bohaldie, the eldest of the four sons of Rob Roy, who had lost his estate for the part he had taken in the recent civil strife, “and holding a major’s commission under the old Pretender.” Robin Oig Macgregor, his younger brother, having conceived that he would make his fortune by carrying off an heiress – no uncommon event then in the Highlands – procured his assistance, and with a band of Macgregors, armed with target, pistol, and claymore, came suddenly from the wilds of Arroquhar, and surrounding the house of Edinbellie, in Stirlingshire, the abode of a wealthy widow of only nineteen, they muffled her in a plaid, and bore her off in triumph to the heath-clad hills, where Rowardennan looks down upon the Gairloch and Glenfruin. There she was married to Robin, who kept her for three months in defiance of several parties of troops sent to recover her.
From this general character James Mhor was considered as the chief instigator of this outrage, thus the vengeance of the Crown was directed against him rather than Robin, “who was considered but a half-wild Highlandman;” and in virtue of a warrant of fugitation issued, he was arrested and tried. The Lords of Justiciary found him guilty, but in consequence of some doubts, or informality, sentence of death was delayed until the 20th of November, 1752. In consequence of an expected rescue – mediated by Highlanders who served in the city as caddies, chairmen, and city guards, among who Macgregor’s bravery at Prestonpans, seven years before, made him popular – he was removed by a warrant from the Lord Justice Clerk, addressed to General Churchill, from the Tolbooth to the Castle, there to be kept in close confinement till his fatal day arrived.
But it came to pass, that on the 16th of November, one of his daughters – a tall and very handsome girl – had the skill and courage to disguise herself as a lame old cobbler, and was ushered into his prison, bearing a pair of newly-soled shoes in furtherance of her scheme. The sentinels in the adjacent corridors heard Lady Bohaldie scolding the supposed cobbler with considerable asperity for some time, with reference to the indifferent manner in which his work had been executed. Meanwhile her husband and their daughter were quickly changing costumes, and the former came limping forth, gumbling and swearing at his captious employers. “An old and tattered great-coat enveloped him; he had donned a leather apron, a pair of old shoes, and ribbed stockings. A red night-cap was drawn to his ears, and a broad hat slouched over his eyes.” He quitted the Castle undiscovered, and left the city without delay; but his flight was soon known, the city gates were shut, the fortress searched, and every man who had been on duty was made a prisoner. A court-martial, consisting of thirteen officers, sat for five days in the old barracks on this event, and its proceedings ended in cashiering two officers who had commanded the guards, reducing to the ranks the sergeant who kept the key of Bohaldie’s room, and flogging a warder; but Bohaldie escaped to France, where he died about the time of the French Revolution in extreme old age. In 1754 Robin Oig was executed in the Grassmarket, for the abduction of Jean Kay, the widow: the charge was far from being sufficiently proved.
In April, 1751, Thomas Ogilvie of Eastmilne (who had been a Jacobite prisoner since 1749) was killed when attempting to escape from the Castle, “by a net tied to an iron ring; he fell and fractured his skull,” on the rock facing Livingstone’s Yards, – the old tilting ground, on the south side of the Castle rock. This was a singularly unfortunate man in his domestic relations. His eldest son was taken prisoner at Carlisle, and executed there with the barbarity then usual. His next son, Thomas, was poisoned by his wife, the famous and beautiful Katherine Nairne (who escaped), but whose paramour, the third son, Lieutenant Patrick Ogilvie of the 89th or old Gordon Highlanders (disbanded in 1765), was publicly hanged in the Grassmarket.
In July, 1753, the last of those who were tried for loyalty to the House of Stuart was placed in the Castle – Archibald Macdonald, son of the aged Cole Macdonald of Barrisdale, who died a captive there in 1750. Arraigned as a traitor, this unfortunate gentleman behaved with great dignity before the court; he admitted that he was the person accused, but boldly denied the treason, and asserted his loyalty to his lawful king. “On the 30th March he was condemned to die; but the vengeance of the Government had already been glutted, and after receiving various successive reprieves, young Barrisdale was released, and permitted to return to the Western Isles.”
From this period till nearly the days of Waterloo the Castle vaults were invariably used in every war as a receptacle for French prisoners. They are deep, dark, and horrible dungeons, but many of the names and initials of the luckless inmates, and even the games with which they sought to lighten their tedious days, were long discernible on the walls and rock. So many as forty men sometimes slept in one vault. Immediately below the room in which James VI. Was born is one curiously-arched dungeon, partly – like officers – excavated from the solid rock, and retaining an iron staple, to which, doubtless, the limbs of many an unfortunate creature were chained in “the good old times” romancists write so glibly of. The origin of all these vaults is lost in antiquity.
There prisoners have made many desperate, but in the end always futile, attempts to escape – particularly in 1761 and in 1811. On the former occasion one was dashed to pieces; on the latter, a captain and forty-nine men got out of the fortress in the night, by cutting a hole in the bottom of the parapet, below the place commonly called the Devil’s Elbow, and letting themselves down by a rope, and more would have got out had not the nearest sentinel fired his musket. One fell and was killed 200 feet below. The rest were all re-captured on the Glasgow Road.
In the Grand Parade an Octagon tower of considerable height gives access to the strongly vaulted crown room, in which the Scottish regalia are shown, and wherein they were so long hidden from the nation, that they generally believed to have been secretly removed to England and destroyed; and the mysterious room, which was never opened, became a source of wonder to the soldiers, and of superstition to many a Highland sentinel when pacing on his lonely post at night.
On the 5th of November, 1794, in prosecuting a search for some lost Parliamentary records, the crown-room was opened by the Lieutenant-Governor and other commissioners. It was dark, being then windowless, and filled with foul air. In the grated chimney lay the ashes of the last fire and a cannon ball, which still lies where it had fallen in some past siege; the dust of eighty-seven years lay on the paved floor, and the place looked grim and desolate. Major Drummond repeatedly shook the oak chest; it returned no sound, was supposed to be empty, and stronger in the hearts of the Scots waxed the belief that the Government, in wicked policy, had destroyed its contents; but murmurs arose from time to time, as the years went on, and a crown, called that of Scotland, was actually shown in the Tower of London!
At length, in 1817, ten years after the death of Cardinal York, the Prince Regent, afterwards George IV., issued a warrant to the Scottish officers of state and other officials, to open the crown-room, in order that the existence of the regalia might be ascertained, and measures taken for their preservation.
In virtue of this warrant there met, among others, in the governor’s house, the Lord President of the Court of Session, the Lord Justice Clerk, the Lord Chief Commissioner of the Jury Court, the Lord Provost, the Commander-in-chief, and Sir Walter Scott, whose emotions on this occasion may be imagined.
“It was with feelings of no common anxiety that the commissioners, having read their warrant, proceeded to the crown-room, and, having found all there in the state in which it had been left in 1794, commanded the king’s smith, who was in attendance, to force open the great chest, the keys of which had been sought for in vain. The general impression that the regalia had been secretly removed weighed heavily on the hearts of all while the labour proceeded. The chest seemed to return a hollow and empty sound to the strokes of the hammer; and even those whose expectations had been most sanguine felt at the moment the probability of bitter disappointment, and could not but be sensible that, should the result of the search confirm those forebodings, it would only serve to show that a national affront – an injury had been sustained, for which it might be difficult, or rather impossible, to obtain redress. The joy was therefore extreme when, the ponderous lid of the chest having been forced open, at the expense of some time and labour, the regalia were discovered lying at the bottom covered with linen cloths, exactly as they had been left in 1707, being 110 years before, since they had been surrendered by William the ninth Earl Marischal to the custody of the Earl of Glasgow, Treasurer-Deputy of Scotland. The reliques were passed from hand to hand, and greeted with the affectionate reverence which emblems so venerable, restored to pubic view after the slumber of more than a hundred years, were so peculiarly calculated to excite. The discovery was instantly communicated to the public by the display of the royal standard, and was greeted by the shouts of the soldiers in garrison, and a vast multitude assembled on the Castle hill; indeed the rejoicing was so general and sincere as plainly to show that, however altered in other respects, the people of Scotland had lost nothing of that national enthusiasm which formerly had displayed itself in grief for the loss of those emblematic honours, and now was expressed in joy for their recovery.”
Covered with glass and secured in a strong iron cage, the regalia now lie on a white marble table in the crown-room, together with four other memorials of the House of Stuart, which belonged to the venerable Cardinal York, and were deposited there by order of King William in 1830. These are the golden collar of the Garter presented to James VI. by Elizabeth, with its appendage the George; the order of St. Andrew, cut on an onyx and having on the reverse the badge of the Thistle, which opens with a secret spring, revealing a beautiful miniature of Anne of Denmark, and, lastly, the ancient ruby ring which the kings of Scotland wore at their coronation. It was last used by the unhappy Charles I., and, after all its wanderings with his descendants, is now in its old receptacle, together with the crown, sceptre, sword of state, and the golden mace of Lord High Treasurer.
The mace, like the sceptre, is surmounted by a great crystal beryl, stones doubtless of vast antiquity. The “great beryl” was an amulet which had made part of the more ancient sceptre of the Scottish kings, and such beryls are supposed by some to have been the official badge of the arch Druid. Such are still known among the Highlanders by the title of Clach-bhuai, or “stone of power.”
The ancient crown worn by Robert I. and his successors underwent no change till it was closed with four arches by order of James V., and it is thus described in the document deposited with the Regalia in the crown-room, in 1707:-
“The crown is of pure gold, enriched with many precious stones, diamonds, pearls, and curious enamellings. It is composed of a fillet which goes round the head, adorned with twenty-two large precious stones. Above the great circle there is a small one formed with twenty points, adorned with the like number of diamonds and sapphires alternately, and the points tipped with great pearls; the upper circle is elevated with ten crosses floree, each adorned in the centre with a great diamond betwixt four great pearls placed in the cross, one and one, and these crosses floree are interchanged with ten high fleurs de lys, all alternately with the great pearls below, which top the points of the second small circle. From the upper circle proceed four arches, adorned with enamelled figures, which meet and close at the top surmounted by a mond of gold, enamelled blue semee, powdered with stars, crossed and enamelled with a large cross patee, adorned in the extremities with great pearls, and cantoned with other four in the angles. The tiar, or bonnet, was of purple velvet; but, in 1685, it got a cap of crimson velvet, adorned with four plates of gold, on each of them a great pearl, and the bonnet is trimmed up with ermine. Upon the lowest circle there are eight small holes, two and two, on the four quarters of the crown, which were for lacing or tying thereto diamonds or precious stones. The crown is 9 inches in diameter, 27 inches about, and in height from the under circle to the top of the cross patee 6½ inches.
The sceptre: its stem or stalk, which is of silver double overgilt, is two feet long, of a hexagon form, with three buttons or knobs; betwixt the first button and the second is the handle of a hexagon form, furling in the middle and plain. Betwixt the second button and the third are three sides engraven. From the third button to the capital the three sides under the statues are plain, and on the other three are antique engravings. Upon the top of the stalk is an antique capital of leaves embossed, the abacus whereof arises round the prolonged stem, surrounded with three little statues; between every two statues arises a rullion in the form of a dolphin; above the rullions and statues stands another hexagon button, with oak leaves under every corner, and down it a crystal (beryl?) globe. The whole sceptre is in length 34 inches.” The statues are those of the Virgin St. Andrew, and St. James. The royal initials, J. R. V. are engraved under them. If James V. had this sceptre made, the metallic settings of the great beryl belong to some sceptre long anterior to his time.
“The sword is in length 5 feet; the handle and pommel are of silver overgilt, in length 15 inches. The pommel is round and somewhat flat on the two sides. The traverse or cross of the sword, which is of silver overgilt, is in length 17½ inches; its form is like two dolphins with their heads joining and their tails ending in acorns; the shell is hanging down towards the point of the sword, formed like an escalop flourished, or rather like a green oak-leaf. On the blade of the sword are indented with gold these letters – JULIUS II. P. The scabbard is of crimson velvet, covered with silver wrought in philagram-work into branches of the oak-tree leaves and acorns.” Such are the Scottish regalia, which, since the destruction of those of England by Cromwell, are the only ancient regal emblems in Great Britain.
The sword of state is of an earlier date than the rod of the sceptre, being presented by the warlike Pope Julius to James IV. With a consecrated hat in 1507. The keys of St. Peter figure prominently among the filagree work. After the fall of the Castle of Dunottar, in 1651, the belt of the sword became an heirloom in the family of Ogilvie of Barras.
The great pearl in the apex of the crown is alleged to be the same which in 1620 was found in the burn of Kellie, a tributary of the Ythan in Aberdeenshire, and was “so large and beautiful that it was esteemed the best that had at any time been found in Scotland.” Sir Thomas Menzies, Provost of Aberdeen, obtaining this precious jewel, presented it to James VI., who in requital “gave him twelve or fourteen chaldron of victuals about Dunfermline, and the custom of certain merchant goods during his life.”2
Before quitting the Castle of Edinburgh, it is impossible to omit some special reference to Mons Meg – that mighty bombard which is thirteen feet long and two feet three and a half inches within the bore, and which was long deemed by the Scots a species of palladium, the most ancient cannon in Europe, except one in Lisbon, and a year older than those which were made for Mahomet II. Not a vestige of proof can be shown for the popular error that this gun was forged at Mons, while unvarying tradition, supported by very strong corroborative evidence, proves that she was formed by Scottish artisans, by order of James II., when he besieged the rebellious Douglases in the castle of Thrieve, in Galloway, during 1455. He posted his artillery at the Three Thorns of the Carlinwark, one of which is still surviving; but their fire proving ineffective, a smith named McKim, and his sons, offered to construct a more efficient piece of ordnance. Towards this the inhabitants of the vicinity contributed each a gaud, or iron bar. Tradition, which never varied, indicated the place where it was forged, a mound near the Three Thorns, and when the road was formed there, that mound was discovered to be a mass of cinders and the iron débris of a great forge. To this hour the place where the great gun was posted is named Knock-cannon. Only two of Meg’s bullets were discharged before Thrieve surrendered, and it is remarkable that both have been found there. “The first,” says the New Statistical Account, “was, towards the end of the last century, picked out of the well and delivered to Gordon of Greenlaw. The second was discovered in 1841, by the tenant of Thrieve, when removing an accumulation of rubbish.” It lay in a line direct from Knock-cannon to the breach in the wall. To reward McKim James bestowed upon him the forfeited lands of Mollance. The smith is said to have named the gun after his wife; and the contraction of the name from Mollance to Monce, or Mons Meg, was quite natural to the Scots, who sink the l’s in all similar words. The balls still preserved in the Castle of Edinburgh, piled on each side of the gun, are exactly similar to those found in Thrieve, and are of Galloway granite, from the summit of the Binnan Hill, near the Carlinwark.3 Andrew Symson, whose description of Galloway was written 180 years ago [330-ish years ago], records “that in the isle of Thrieve, the great gun, called Mounts Meg, was wrought and made.” This, though slightly incorrect as to actual spot, being written so long since, goes to prove the Scottish origin of the gun, which bears a conspicuous place in all the treasurer’s accounts; and of this pedigree of the gun Sir Walter Scott was so convinced that, as he wrote, “henceforth all conjecture must be set aside.” In 1489 the gun was employed at the siege of Dumbarton, then held for James III. By his adherents. In 1497, when James IV. invaded England in the cause of Perkin Warbeck, he conveyed it with his other artillery on a new stock made at St. Leonard’s Craig; and the public accounts mention the sum paid to those who brought “hame Monse and the other artailzerie from Dalkeith.” It was frequently used during the civil war in 1571, and two men died of their exertion in dragging it from the Blackfriars Yard to the Castle. On that occasion payment was made to a person through whose roof one of the bullets had fallen in mistake. In Cromwell’s list of captured guns, in 1650, mention is made of “the great iron murderer, Meg;” and Ray, in his “Observations” on Scotland eleven years after, mentions the “great old iron gun which they call Mounts Meg, and some ‘Meg of Berwick.’ ” A demi-bastion near the Scottish gate there bears, or bore, the name of Megs Mount, which in those days was the term for a battery. Another, in Stirling, bore the same name; hence we may infer that the gun has been in both places. It was stupidly removed in mistake, among unserviceable guns, to the Tower of London in 1758, where it was shown till 1829, when, by the patriotic exertions of Sir Walter Scott, it was sent home to Edinburgh, and escorted from Leith back to its old place in the Castle by three troops of cavalry and the 73rd or Perthshire regiment, with a band of pipers playing at the head of the procession.
We are now in a position to take a brief but comprehensive view of the whole Castle, of which we have hitherto dealt in detail, and though we must go over the same ground, we shall do so at so rapid a rate that such repetition as is unavoidable will be overlooked. In the present day the Castle is entered by a barrier of palisades, beyond which are a deep ditch and drawbridge protected by a tête-du-pont, flanked out and defended by cannon. Within are two guardhouses, the barrier and the main, the former a mean-looking edifice near which once stood a grand old entrance-gate, having many rich sculptures, an entablature, and a pediment rising from pilasters. Above the bridge rises the great half-moon battery of 1573, and the eastern curtain wall, which includes an ancient peel with a corbelled rampart. The path, which millions of armed men must have trod, winds round the northern side of the rock, passing three gateways, the inner of which is a deep-mouthed archway wherein two iron portcullises once hung. This building once terminated in a crenelated square tower, but was some years ago converted into a species of state prison, and black-hole for the garrison; and therein, in 1792, Robert Watt and David Downie, who were sentenced to death for treason, were confined; and therein, in times long past and previous to these, pined both the Marquis and Earl of Argyle, and many of high rank but of less note, down to 1747.
Above the arch are two sculptured hounds, the supporters of the Duke of Gordon, governor in 1688, and between these is the empty panel from which Cromwell cast down the royal arms in 1650. Above it is a pediment and little cornice between the triglyphs of which may be traced alternately the star and crowned heart of the Regent Morton. Beyond this arch, on the left, are the steps ascending to the citadel, the approaches to which are defended by loopholes for cannon and musketry. On the right hand is a gun battery, named from John Duke of Argyle, commander-in-chief in Scotland in 1715′ below it is Robert Mylne’s battery, built in 1689; and on the acclivity of the steep hill are a bomb-proof powder magazine, erected in 1746, the ordnance office, and the house of the governor and storekeeper, and edifice erected apparently in the reign of Queen Anne, having massive walls and wainscoted apartments. In the former is a valuable collection of fire-arms of every pattern, from the wheel-lock petronel of the fifteenth century down to the latest rifled arms of precision.
There, also, is the armoury, formed for the reception of 30,000 rifle muskets, several ancient brass howitzers, several hundred coats of black mail (most of which are from the arsenal of the knights of Malta), some forty stand of colours, belonging to extinct Scottish regiments, and various weapons from the field of Culloden, particularly the Doune steel pistols, of beautiful workmanship, worn by Highland gentlemen.
Near this rises the Hawk Hill, where kings and nobles practised falconry of old; on the left if the Gothic arch of the citadel; and on the right rises the great mass of the hideous and uncomfortable infantry barracks, erected partly on the archery butts, in 1796, and likened by Sir Walter Scott to a vulgar cotton-mill. This edifice is 150 feet long, and four storeys high to the westward, where it rises on a massive arcade, and from its windows can be had a magnificent prospect, extending almost to the smoke of Glasgow, and the blue cone of Ben Lomond, fifty miles distant.
On the south-west is Drury’s gun-battery, so named from the officer of Scottish Engineers who built it in 1689, and in its rear is the square prison-house, built in 1840. Passing through the citadel gate, we find on the left the modern water-tank, the remains of the old shot-yard, the door of which has now disappeared; but on the gablet above it was a thistle, with the initials D.G.M.S. Here is the king’s bastion, on the north-west verge of the citadel, and on the highest cliff of the Castle rock. Here, too, are St. Margaret’s Chapel, which we have already described, Mons Meg, frowning, as of old, from the now-ruinous mortar battery, and a piece of bare rock, the site of a plain modern chapel, the pointed window of which was once conspicuous from Princes Street, but which was demolished by Colonel Moodie, R.E., in expectation that one more commodious would be erected. But many years have since passed, and this has never been done, consequently there is now no chapel for the use of the troops of any religious denomination; while the office of chaplain has also been abolished, at a time when Edinburgh has been made a depôt centre for Scottish regiments, and in defiance of the fact that the Castle is under the Presbytery, and is a parish of the city.
The platform of the half-moon battery is 510 feet above the level of the Forth. It is armed with old 18 and 24 pounders, one of which is, at one P.M., fired by electricity as a time-gun, by a wire from the Calton Hill. It is furnished with a lofty flagstaff, an iron grate for beacon fires, and contains a draw-well 110 feet deep. From its massive portholes Charles II. saw the rout of Cromwell’s troops at Lochend in 1650; and from there the Corsican chief Paoli in 1771, the Grand Duke Nicholas in 1819, George IV. in 1822, Queen Victoria, and many others of note, have viewed the city that stretched at their feet below.
Within this battery is the ancient square or Grand Parade, where some of the most interesting buildings in the Castle are to be found, as it is on the loftiest, most precipitous, and inaccessible portion of the isolated rock. Here, abutting on the very verge of the giddy cliff, overhanging the Grassmarket, several hundred feet below, stands all that many sieges have left of the ancient royal palace, forming the southern and eastern sides of the quadrangle. The chief feature of the former is a large battlemented edifice, now nearly destroyed by its conversion into a military hospital. This was the ancient hall of the Castle, in length 80 feet by 33 in width, and 27 in height, and lighted by tall mullioned windows from the south, wherein Parliaments have sat, kings have feasted and revelled, ambassadors been received, and treaties signed for peace or war. Some remains of its ancient grandeur are yet discernible amid the new floors and partitions that have been run through it. At the summit of the principal staircase is a beautifully-sculptured stone corbel representing a well-cut female face, ornamented on each side by a volute and thistle. On this rests one of the original beams of the open oak roof, and on each side are smaller beams with many sculptured shields, all defaced by the whitewash of the barrack pioneers and hospital orderlies. “The view from the many windows on this side is scarcely surpassed by any other in the capital. Immediately below are the picturesque old houses of the Grassmarket and West Port, crowned by the magnificent towers of Heriot’s Hospital. From this deep abyss the hum of the neighbouring city rises up, mellowed by the distance, into one pleasing voice of life and industry; while far beyond a gorgeous landscape is spread out, reaching almost to the ancient landmarks of the kingdom, guarded on the far east by the old keep of Craigmillar, and on the west by Merchiston Tower.” Besides the hall in this edifice there was another in the fortress; for among the items of the High Treasurer’s accounts, in 1516, we find for flooring the Lord’s Hall in David’s Tower, 10s., and other payments for woodwork in the “Gret Ha’ windois in the Castell, gret gestis and dowbill dalis for the myd chalmer, the king’s kechin, and the New Court kechin in David’s Toure,” and for the Register House built in 1542 by “John Merlyoune,” who first paved the High Street by order of James V.
On the east side of the square is the old palace, or royal lodging, in which many stirring events have happened, many a lawless deed been done, where the longest line of sovereigns in the British Isles dwelt, and many have been born and have died. It is a handsome edifice, repaired so lately as 1616, as a date remains to show; but its octagonal tower, square turrets and battlements, were probably designed by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, the architect to James V. A semi-octagonal tower of considerable height gives access to the strongly vaulted and once totally dark room in which the regalia – or all of it that the greedy James VI. was unable to take with him to England – lay so long hidden from view, and where they are now exhibited daily to visitors, who number several thousands every week. The room was greatly improved in 1848, when the ceiling was repaired with massive oak panelling, having shields in bold relief, and a window was opened to the square. Two barriers close this room, one a grated door of vast strength like a small portcullis.
In this building Mary of Guise died in 1560, and a doorway, bearing the date of 1566, gives entrance to the apartment in which her daughter was delivered of James VI. It was formerly part of a large room which, before being partitioned, measured 30 by 25 feet. On the 11th of February, 1567, after the murder of Darnley, Mary retired to this apartment, where she had the walls hung with black, and remained in strict seclusion until after the funeral. Killigrew, who came from Elizabeth with letters of condolence, on his introduction found “the Queen’s Majesty in a dark chamber, so that he could not see her face, but by her words she seemed very doleful.” In 1849, an antique iron chisel, spear-shaped, was found in the fireplace of this apartment, which was long used as a canteen for the soldiers, but has now been renovated, though in a rude and inelegant form.
Below the grand hall are a double tier of strongly-vaulted dungeons, entered by a passage from the west, and secured by an intricate arrangement of iron gates and massive chains. In one of these Kirkaldy of Grange buried his brother David Melville. The small loophole that admits light into each of these huge vaults, whose origin is lost in the mists of antiquity, is strongly secured by three ranges of iron bars. Within these drear abodes have captives of all kinds pined, and latterly the French prisoners, forty of whom slept in each. In some are still the wooden frames to which their hammocks were slung. Under Queen Mary’s room there is one dungeon excavated out of the solid rock, and having, as we have said, an iron staple in its wall to which the prisoner was chained.
The north side of the quadrangle consists now of an uninteresting block of barracks, erected about the middle of the eighteenth century, and altered, but scarcely improved, in 1860-2, by the Royal Engineers and Mr. Charles W. Billings. It occupies the site, and was built from the materials, of what was once a church of vast dimensions and unknown antiquity, but the great western gable of which was long ago a conspicuous feature above the eastern curtain wall. By Maitland it is described as “a very long and large ancient church, which from its spacious dimensions I imagine that it was not only built for the use of the garrison, but for the service of the neighbouring inhabitants before St. Giles’s church was erected for their accommodation.” Its great font, and many beautifully carved stones were found built into the barrack wall during recent alterations. It is supposed to have been a church erected after the death of the pious Queen Margaret, and dedicated to her, as it is mentioned by David I. in his Holyrood charter as “the church of the Castle of Edinburgh,” and is again confirmed as such in the charter of Alexander III. And several Papal bulls, and the “paroche kirk within the said Castell,” is distinctly referred to by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1595.4 In 1753 it was divided into three storeys, and filled with tents, cannon, and other munitions of war.
A winding stair descends from the new barracks to the butts, where the rock is defended by the western wall and Bute’s Battery, near which, at an angle, a turret, named the Queen’s Post, occupies the site of St. Margaret’s Tower. Fifty feet below the level of the rock is another guard-house and one of the draw-wells poisoned by the English in 1572. Near it is the ancient postern gate, where Dundee held his parley with the Duke of Gordon in 1688, and through which, perhaps, St. Margaret’s body was borne in 1093.
From thence there is a sudden ascent by steps, behind the banquette of the bastions and near the principal magazine, to Mylne’s Mount, where there is another grate for a bale-fire to alarm Fife, Stirling, and the north. The fortifications are irregular, furnished throughout with strong stone turrets, and prepared for mounting about sixty pieces of cannon. Two door-lintels covered with curious sculptures are still preserved: one over the entrance to the ordnance office represents Mons Meg and other ancient cannon; the other a cannoneer of the sixteenth century, in complete armour, in the act of loading a small culverin.
The Castle farm is said to have been the ancient village of Broughton, which St. David granted to the monks of Holyrood; the Castle gardens we have already referred to; and to the barns, stables, and lists attached to it, we shall have occasion to refer elsewhere.
The Castle company was a corps of Scottish soldiers raised in January 1661, and formed a permanent part of the garrison till 1818, when, with the ancient band of Mary of Guise, which garrisoned the Castle of Stirling, they were incorporated in one of the thirteen veteran battalions embodied in that year. The Castle being within the abrogated parish of Holyrood, has a burial-place for its garrison in the Canongate churchyard; but dead have been buried within the walls frequently during sieges and blockades, as in 1745, when nineteen soldiers and three women were interred on the summit of the rock.
The Castle is capable is capable of containing 3,000 infantry; but the accommodation for troops is greatly neglected by Government, and the barracks have been characterised as “hovels that are a disgrace to Europe.”
In lists concerning the Castle of Edinburgh, the first governor appears to have been Thomas de Cancia in 1147; the first constable, David Kincaid of Coates House, in 1542; and the first State prisoner warded therein Thomas of Colville in 1210, for conspiring against William the Lion.
We may fittingly take leave of the grand old Castle in the fine lines of Burns’s “Address to Edinburgh”:-
“There, watching high the least alarms,
Thy rough, rude fortress gleams afar;
Like some bold vet’ran, grey in arms,
And marked with many a seamy scar;
The pond’rous wall and massy bar,
Grim rising o’er the rugged rock,
Have oft withstood assailing war,
And oft repelled th’ invader’s shock.”