Stirling Castle’s history and why it’s one of Scotland’s best
Since the 12th Century Stirling Castle has been amongst the most important buildings in Scotland. Having grown up and gone to school nearby, I had this well drilled into me in the classroom and my repeat visits must be closing on three figures by now. There’s something new every time.
Strategically pivotal for military purposes, the fortress was fought over time and time again. Stirling sits proudly between the Highlands and Lowlands and therefore it has been said that whoever held Stirling Castle held Scotland. It maintains its importance to Scotland to this day as it is very possibly the most impressive castle in the country and a huge pull for visitors.
There are signs that the volcanic rock that the castle stands on has been used militarily as far back as 3000 years ago and the time of the Romans. The history is most colourful though during the Wars of Independence. It is no coincidence that three of the most epic battles in British history were fought nearby during this time – Stirling Bridge, Falkirk and Bannockburn. The castle had to endure various sieges and passed between armies as the power struggle raged.
Stirling Castle then went on to enjoy more peaceful times as a Royal Residence for several generations during the later Middle Ages. The culmination of this was the building of the inner Palace by James V in the 16th Century. James’ daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, was crowned Queen as an infant at the castle following his death.
The 17th Century saw an end to the castle’s use as a Royal Residence as power moved south. Things spiced up again though with the Jacobite risings – Outlander fans will need no introduction there. This Protestant-Catholic division rumbled on for decades and the castle’s defences were strengthened in the early 18th Century in anticipation of rebellion against the government. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s siege of the castle in 1746 (the last of Stirling’s 15 sieges) met with a swift defeat as the defences proved as stubborn as in centuries past to break. Since then, times have become comparatively mundane at Stirling Castle as it served as a military depot and prison.
What can you expect from your own trip to the castle? It is one of the largest in Scotland and will take at least two hours to explore in depth. The Royal Lodgings have been recreated in recent years and are a particularly impressive look at the times of James V and the Stewart Dynasty. The 1540’s have been carefully recreated in the style and layout of the interior and the rich furnishings and decorations on walls and ceilings are superb. The Queen’s lodgings (Mary of Guise at this time) and the incredibly intricate Unicorn tapestries are the real standouts along the palace tour.
A special mention also for the massive Great Hall, the centre of many a banquet over the years. If the weather behaves there are several garden spaces just asking for a meander and the views of the Ochil Hills and Wallace Monument are magnificent. There are regular guided tours of the Castle by very knowledgeable and entertaining staff and at least two of them have been doing it since my school days!
A well-loved question for Scottish history fans like me is which Scottish castle comes out above all the others. Predictably, that depends. Best to look at from a distance? Most impressively designed or furnished? Grandest? I’d be here all day weighing that one up. But for a day activity for all ages, I don’t feel Stirling Castle has an equal.
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