Ike, Jane, and friends visited one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland. Like Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle sits on top of an intrusive crag. This means it is a steep rugged hill composed of igneous rock formed when magma rose from the mantle but did not reach the surface and so it cooled very slowly, crystallising into a coarse-textured granite. It is more resistant to erosion than the rock surrounding it, therefore eventually it stands higher making it ideal as a defensive site.
Before the union with England, Stirling Castle was one of the most used of the many Scottish royal residences, and this is where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned by the Archbishop of St Andrews, Cardinal David Beaton on 9th September, 1543 at the age of just 9 months. Mary lived in the castle until the age of 5, when she went to live in France.
The short walk to the castle from the railway station to the castle includes a stretch of cobbled street which was, as Jane told Ike, a nightmare for cycling when she used to go youth hostelling with the Glasgow Cyclist Touring Club to Stirling when she was younger. She told him how her bones and the bike used to rattle!
Inside Ike and Jane found the Stirling Heads, commissioned by James V to decorate the ceiling. These are 16th century one metre-wide oak medallions carved with images of kings, queens, nobles, Roman emperors, and characters from the Bible and classical mythology. They are on display in cabinets in the Royal Apartments.
The heads in the display cabinets are unpainted as they have lost their colour through the years. However, copies of the heads were made and displayed on the ceiling of the King’s Presence Chamber in the Palace, which was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 2011. Ike marvelled at the craftsmanship:
Construction of the Royal Palace began in 1538, under the orders of James V to accommodate his new wife Madeleine of France, the daughter of the King Francis l of France. This new queen died just six months after marriage and James married another French noblewoman Marie de Guise. Their only surviving child together was to be Mary (Queen of Scots) who was born in 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, just 6 days before James died without having seen the completion of the Royal Palace.
Then to the next room which was the Queen’s Presence Chamber where Ike and Jane were met by Janet Douglas, wife of Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount, a Scottish herald and well-regarded poet.
The walls of the Presence Chamber are lined with tapestries that had been created over a 13 year period at a cost of £2 million (US $2.75m). The tapestries are based on the Hunt of the Unicorn series which were created in the Low Countries in the 1500s. The original tapestries are kept in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Janet Douglas told Ike that the tapestries on the wall would tell visitors that this was a Catholic court. Ike asked why this was and was told that the tapestries were religious imagery and that the unicorn represents Christ and the maiden who tamed him, refering to the Virgin Mary. He was was interested to hear that any visitor who was a member of the Reformed Church (Protestant) would have made a hasty retreat from the area, especially as this period was the time of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland which began in 1560 and was led by John Knox.
Although there is a bed in the Bedchamber the Queen never slept in it herself. Her bed was in separate quarters. This room was reserved for the Queen’s most important guests and was intended to make visitors feel so relaxed that they would be more inclined to provide information or intimate details. Ike agreed that the room was very relaxing but was careful not to divulge any GC secrets!
Ike found that the King’s rooms within the Royal Palace were also very sumptuous. He particularly liked the reconstructions of the Stirling Heads, as well as the James V crest and the ornate ceiling:
Leaving the Palace, Ike saw the guns of the Grand Battery. This area was built in 1689 and the guns were fired for the first and last time in 1746 in order to defend the castle from Jacobite attack:
Finally Ike and his friends paid a visit to the statue of King Robert the Bruce in the castle grounds. This was sculpted in 1875-77 and the figure of Robert the Bruce faces towards Bannockburn, where his army defeated the English army of Edward ll on 23rd-24th June 1314. Later our party made their way down the hill to the Old Town Cemetery to look at the Martyr’s Memorial which commemorates a tragic event in the Solway Firth, see Ike’s next post – coming soon.