Edinburgh Castle is an ancient stronghold which dominates the sky-line of the city of Edinburgh from its position atop Castle Rock. It is Scotland's second most visited tourist attraction. Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC. As it stands today though, few of the castle's structures pre-date the Lang Siege of the 16th century, with the notable exception of St Margaret's Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, which dates from the early 12th century.
As with all castles, Edinburgh's fortress has been a centre of military activity. As an ancient fortress Edinburgh Castle is one of the few that still has a military garrison, albeit for largely ceremonial and administrative purposes. The New Barrack Block is now home to the official headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and 52 Infantry Brigade, as well as home to the regimental museum of the Royal Scots and Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. The Governor of Edinburgh Castle is Major General David McDowall, GOC of the British Army's 2nd Division. The Governor of the Castle has always been the head of the Army in Scotland. Direct administration of the castle by the War Office only came to an end in 1923 when the army formally moved to the city's new Redford Barracks. Nevertheless, the Castle continues to have a strong connection with the Army. Sentries still stand watch at the castle gatehouse after opening hours, with responsibility for guarding the Honours of Scotland.
At the top of the Royal Mile, in front of the castle, is a long sloping forecourt known as the Esplanade, originally constructed as a parade ground in 1753. It is upon this Esplanade that the famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place annually. From the Esplanade may be seen the Half Moon Battery, which is a dominant feature visible in Alexander Nasmyth's painting. This drum-shaped fortification, completed in 1588 after the Lang Siege, incorporates the ruined remains of the Keep of 1364, known as David's Tower.
The castle proper is entered through a Gatehouse in front of the Half Moon Battery. This structure was built as an architecturally cosmetic addition to the castle in 1888. Statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace flanking the entrace were added in 1929. The dry ditch and Drawbridge in front of the entrace however date from the time of the New Model Army's occupation of the castle in the 1650s. The road leads upward and around to the right of the battery and through an older Portcullis Gate built after the Lang Siege of 1571-3, replacing the ruined Constable's Tower.
David's Tower and the Lang Siege
David's Tower was commissioned in 1386 by Robert the Bruce's son, David II of Scotland. David's tower was enormous by standards of the time, standing on the site of the present Half Moon Battery at 30 m high, with three stories (twice as high as the Half Moon Battery). The tower initially served as the principal entrance to the castle, but by later years the tower was expanded to include many more rooms for guests and visiting nobility, and the original main entrance became boxed off by a guest room.
When the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, married James Hepburn in 1567, a large proportion of the (Protestant) nobility rebelled, resulting ultimately in the imprisonment of Mary in Loch Leven Castle. Although she eventually escaped and fled to England, some of the nobility remained faithful to Mary, retaining Edinburgh Castle. Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange held the castle under the Lang Siege (Long Siege) for a year, until 1573, when the infant King James VI's regent, Regent Morton, requested assistance from Queen Elizabeth I of England. Heavy guns were dispatched to the castle from Berwick, and within ten days of the commencement of the bombardment of the castle with these guns in May of that year, David's Tower collapsed.
The collapse of this tower blocked off the single source of water for the castle, the Fore Well, and within a few days the castle surrendered, around two weeks after the arrival of the new guns. Sir William was soon hanged, and much of the castle was subsequently rebuilt, including prominent new defences, such as the new Half Moon Battery. King James VI seldom visited Edinburgh Castle however, preferring to stay at Holyrood Palace. His successor, King Charles I, visited only once, the night before his coronation as King of Scots in 1633, the last occasion that a reigning monarch has resided in the castle.
Half Moon Battery
The Half Moon Battery was duly constructed on the site of the old David's Tower after the Lang Siege, as part of the reconstruction works supervised by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton. This magnificent set of defences, prominent on the East side of the castle today, sits over the old ruins, and several rooms from the ground and first floors of the tower still exist underneath the Battery, with windows facing out onto the interior wall of the Battery. Several of these are accessible to the public, although the lower (Ground Floor) elements are generally closed.
The inaccessible areas include a former master Guest Bedroom, and a three-story room outside the original David's Tower (with large portions of the exterior wall still visible) created by the imposition of the Battery formerly used to house Pigeons for consumption during the winter months. The walls of these sections are correspondingly pitted with chunks of stone removed to provide nesting places for the birds. The Half Moon Battery was completed in 1588.
Crown Square is the citadel at the top of the castle. It was created in the 15th century, during the reign of King James III, as the principal courtyard of the castle, at a time when Edinburgh finally emerged as the capital of the Kingdom of Scotland. The foundations were formed by the construction of a series of large stone vaults built into the uneven Castle Rock. The name Crown Square came into use after the recovery of the Honours of Scotland in 1818, before that time it was known as Palace Yard. The square is formed by the National War Memorial to the North, the Royal Palace block to the East, the Great Hall to the South and the Queen Anne Building to the West.
These are the former Royal Apartments, dating from the 15th century and were the residence of the later Stewart monarchs. It reached its peak of importance during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and includes a small room known as Birth Chamber or Mary Room where King James VI of Scotland, who was to also become James I of England was born to Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary, who had a strong claim to the throne of England, incited the concern of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, who Mary later sought the safety of after the Battle of Carberry Hill, imprisoned and eventually beheaded her. The building was extensively remodelled for the visit of King James VI to the castle in 1617.
The Crown Room
This vaulted Strongroom is located on the first floor of the Royal Palace building and contains the Honours of Scotland. These are the Scottish Crown Jewels and Regalia. They include the Crown of Scotland, sceptre and sword of state. The crown dates from 1540, is made of Scottish gold and is set with 94 pearls, ten diamonds and 33 other precious and semi-precious gemstones. The Sceptre is also made of gold, and topped with a large Rock Crystal (Quartz). The most treasured possession of Scotland is also located among the honours. It is the Stone of Destiny, otherwise known as the Stone of Scone, and upon which the monarchs of Scotland are traditionally crowned. It had been taken to England and incorporated into the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey but was returned to Scotland in 1996 on the understanding that it be returned to Westminster for subsequent coronations.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall of the Castle was built in 1513 on the orders of King James IV as the chief place of State Assembly in the castle. It still has its original Hammerbeam roof, one of the most important timber roofs in Scotland. It was used for meetings of the Parliament of Scotland prior to the building of Parliament Hall next to St Giles Cathedral in 1639. During the Interregnum in the 1650s, the Great Hall was converted into a barracks by the New Model Army under General George Monck and was further altered in 1737 to house 312 soldiers. Following the construction of the New Barracks in the 1790s, it became a military hospital until 1887. It was then restored by the architect Hippolyte Blanc in the contemporary Victorian vernacular. The Great Hall is still sometimes used for ceremonial occasions and is often a popular venue on Hogmanay for BBC Scotland's Hogmanay Live programme.
Queen Anne Building
In the Middle Ages, this area housed the kitchens serving the adjacent Great Hall. The present building was named for Queen Anne and built during the attempted invasion by the Old Pretender in 1708. It was designed by Captain Theodore Dury, military engineer for Scotland, who also designed the eponymous Dury's Battery on the south side of the castle in 1713. The building provided accommodation for Staff Officers. It was remodelled in 1933 as the Naval and Military Museum to complement the newly-opened Scottish National War Memorial.
Scottish National War Memorial
St. Mary's Church originally stood on this site in the Middle Ages but this was converted into an armoury in 1540 and demolished in 1755 to make room for the new North Barrack Block. The barracks was vacated by the Army in 1923, who moved to Redford Barracks. It was then adapted by Sir Robert Lorimer as the Scottish National War Memorial, to commemorate Scots and those serving with Scottish regiments who had died in the First World War and subsequent conflicts. The conversion was formally opened on 14th July 1927. The stained glass windows are by Douglas Strachan. As a mark of respect photography is prohibited within this building.
National War Museum of Scotland
Two stores for munitions were built on either side of a courtyard to a design by William Skinner in 1753. Skinner, a military engineer, is best known for his design of Fort George near Inverness. The main gunpowder magazine also originally stood on the west side of the courtyard. This was demolished in 1887 and the two storehouses remodelled as a military hospital, formerly housed in the Great Hall. The north storehouse now houses the National War Museum of Scotland. The museum forms part of the National Museums of Scotland. It was formerly known as the Scottish United Services Museum, and prior to this, the Scottish Naval and Military Museum, when it was housed in the Queen Anne Building. It covers Scottish military history and wars over the past 400 years and includes a wide range of military artefacts, such as uniforms, medals and weapons. The exhibitions also place a lot of emphasis on explaining the history and causes behind the many wars Scotland has been involved in.
St. Margaret's Chapel
The oldest building in the castle, and in Edinburgh, is the small St. Margaret's Chapel which dates to the start of the 12th century. King David I built it as a private chapel for the royal family and dedicated it to his mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland, who died in the castle in 1093.
Robert the Bruce had the Castle destroyed by his lieutenant Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, to prevent English capture in the event of an unsuccessful battle at Bannockburn however, he relented over the chapel and ordered its restoration. In any event the campaign was a success and Robert the Bruce defeated Edward II.
This building is still used for various religious ceremonies such as weddings and christenings, with a capacity of approximately 25 people.
A Garrison Fortress
After the Restoration in 1660, King Charles II opted to maintain a full time Standing army based on Cromwell's New Model Army, which maintained a continuous garrison at the castle until the end of the First World War. During that time the medieval royal castle was transformed into a garrison fortress, but was still subject to attack. In 1689 the Duke of Gordon unsuccessfully defended the castle for King James VII after he was exiled in the Glorious Revolution. After the castle was almost taken in the First Jacobite Rising in 1715, major fortifictions were carried out. Throughout the 1720s and 1730s most of the artillery defences and Bastions on the north and west sides of the castle were built under the instruction of Field Marshal George Wade and designed by William Adam, such as the Argyle Battery, Mills Mount Battery, Low Defence and Forewall Battery. The last military action the castle saw was during the 1745 Jacobite Rising when Bonnie Prince Charlie failed to take the fortress. Over the next century, the castle vaults were used to hold prisoners of war during several conflicts including the Seven Years' War, the American War of Independence, and the Napoleonic wars. The Military prison was built in 1842 for the castle garrison and was extended in the 1880s. It was last used in 1923, when the garrison moved to Redford Barracks.
Although the castle is now largely a tourist attraction, it still has a function as a military headquarters of the British Army. The Governor's House was built in 1742 and used until the post of Governor was abolished in 1860, it was then used by Nurses of the castle hospital. Today it functions as an Officer's Mess and the office of the Governor, a Crown appointment restored for purely ceremonial purposes in 1935. The New Barrack Block, completed in 1799 to replace the outdated accommodation in the Great Hall, now houses the headquarters of the 52nd Infantry Brigade, the Regimental Headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and the regimental Headquarters and museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys). Also nearby at the former Royal Scots Drill hall, constructed in 1900, is the regimental museum of the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). Both the museums are open to the public and entry is free for those already within the castle.
A series of spectacular performances known as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place on the Esplanade each year during August. The basis of the performance is a parade of the pipes and drums of the Scottish regiments, but after more than fifty years, the Tattoo has developed a complex format which includes many invited performers as diverse as (in 2006) a Choir of Ugandan orphans and a Kung Fu troupe. The climax of the evening is the haunting sound of a lone piper playing a pibroch in memory of dead comrades in arms from the castle battlements, followed by the tremendous noise of the massed bands joining in a medley of Scotland's most rousing tunes. Because of the enormous popularity of the Tattoo it is broadcast in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Germany.
One O'Clock Gun
The One O'Clock Gun is fired every day (except Sunday) at precisely 13:00, allowing citizens and visitors to check their clocks and watches. The origin of the tradition lies in the days before accurate timepieces, when sailing ships in the Firth of Forth needed a reliable means to check their marine chronometers.
In 1861 Captain Wauchope, a Scottish officer in the Royal Navy invented the time ball, still seen today on top of Nelson's Monument, Calton Hill.
At one o'clock the ball drops giving the signal to sailors, but this meant that someone would have to be looking out for it and it often couldn't be seen in foggy weather.
So, in the same year the gun was fired simultaneously to the time ball dropping. Originally an 18-pound muzzle loading cannon which needed four men to load and fire was fired from the Half Moon Battery.
The gun could be easily heard by ships in Leith Harbour (2 miles away). The cannon was replaced with a 25 pound Howitzer in 1953, and more recently by the L118 Light Gun. It is now fired from Mill's Mount Battery on the North face of the Castle by the District Gunner from 105th Regiment Royal Artillery (Volunteers). Because sound travels slowly (approx. 343 m/s), maps have been produced to show the actual time when the sound of the gun was heard at various locations in Edinburgh.
Although the gun is no longer required for its original purpose, the ceremony has become a popular tourist attraction. One of the District Gunners, Staff Sergeant Thomas McKay MBE - popularly known as "Tam the Gun" - was the longest running District Gunner to fire the One O'Clock Gun, from 1979 until his death in 2005. He also opened a small museum about the Gun in the castle and was seen every Hogmanay signalling the new year by firing his gun.
The Gun is also fired to mark the arrival of the New Year as part of Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations.
Further details on Edinburgh Castle and events at the venue can be viewed on their website.
Where is Edinburgh Castle?