Stirling Castle, sitting on a rocky crag above the city of Stirling, is not only a fortification, but a palace which is most unusual. Castles and palaces are two different buildings entirely. The former protected people from attack, a shelter; the latter were royal residences for leisurely pursuits.
For many years Stirling Castle was the last bastion of Scotland, it being centrally located and many famous battles were fought nearby. The Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 saw William Wallace and Andrew Moray defeat the English forces of Edward I ensuring, for a time, that Scotland remained independent. William Wallace is portrayed by Mel Gibson in his movie, Braveheart, which was filmed in Trim Castle in Ireland which I visited last year. (https://www.aechambersnovelist.com/post/chambers-at-large-in-trim-castle-mellifont-abbey-monasterboice-on-the-boyne-valley-drive-ireland).
It was James IV of Scotland in the late 1400s who decided to make the castle fit for a royal monarch and his son, James V continued the work in order to impress his French wife, Mary of Guise. He used a great deal of imagery both inside and outside the castle to evoke his power and right to rule.
The unicorn features strongly in the royal palace, it being a magical animal which has, so I am told, the ability to resurrect. It is therefore is a symbol of Christ. James V was crowned king as a baby and Scotland was governed by a number of regents, some holding the young king prisoner. The unicorn, I suspect, not only emotes James’ belief in Jesus, but suggests his own endurance and resurrection to the throne at the age of 16.
James V’s daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, was crowned in the castle at the tender age of nine months. She cried throughout the whole ceremony (possibly knowing her reign was to end in tears) and the crown was held above her head due to its weight and size.
A tour of the castle is included in the entrance price and Sophia was my informative guide. Her enunciation was perfect, making her a pleasure to listen to, and she revealed a few quirky pieces which I will share.
The castle became the Scottish residence of James I of England & Scotland, (son of Mary Queen of Scots), in the early 17th century. The Great Hall, which has an impressive ceiling built by shipwrights, was the scene of many a banquet held to impress royalty from other European states. At one particular feast James had the idea that his pet lion would pull the desserts into the Great Hall on some kind of chariot. He then had second thoughts, unsure as how the lion would react to the guests, and kept the animal on display in a cage in the corner. Had King James succumbed to his original plan I have visions of the King of the Jungle thoroughly enjoying that feast!
The kitchens of the castle are huge and once included a brewhouse and a bakery. The cuisine de bouche provided food for the monarch, courtiers and VIPs; the cuisine de commun prepared the food for others in the castle. In Scotland the kitchens were the sole domain of men as the work was very labour intensive. Young boys called turnbrioches were employed to turn the spit to cook the meat although one particular delicacy was sugared fish which doesn’t sound at all tasty. Beer was drunk for years by men, women and children as water was unpotable and any germs were killed in the brewing process. In the 1500s women known as alewives were employed to make the beer which would not have been as strong as it is today.
Another quirky tale is that of the alchemist John Damian de Falcuis. Employed by James IV, his attempts to turn base metals into gold failed, therefore in a bid to retain royal favour he announced he would fly from the castle to Paris. Sporting wings he constructed he jumped off the castle walls, landing in the midden (rubbish tip). Whether this was by design or not, he survived, but broke both his legs. To avoid ridicule for the misadventure, de Falcuis declared he would have succeeded had he used eagle feathers and not chicken feathers to make his “wings”. A failed alchemist and aviator, but the man certainly had chutzpah!
I am especially pleased when visiting historic sites to see youngsters take an interest and Stirling Castle encourages children (including my good self) to have fun learning. Spinning bricks revealed the history of the castle and I have to acknowledge those in the royal palace who dressed for the occasion, entertaining visitors with tales and information about the previous palace residents.
I learned that married women in Scotland for many years did not take their husband’s surnames. For example, Joan with a maiden name of Smith when wed to Mr John Wicks would have been called, Joan Smith, spouse of John Wicks. She would not be known as Joan Smith Wicks nor Joan Wicks. It made me wonder if women in Scotland had a little more independence than their English counterparts.
The castle sadly fell into disrepair in the 18th and 19th centuries as it was used as a barracks for soldiers, but I am gratified to see that it has been restored to its former glory although at its height it would have been the golden yellow colour of the Great Hall and would have been seen for miles and miles. However, despite it being a few shades of grey, I have a suspicion the King Jameses and Mary Queen of Scots would approve.