Edinburgh Castle: A Storied Legacy of Battles, Banquets, and Betrayal

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is known as the “Athens of the North”. Just like the Acropolis is often regarded as a symbol of Athens, Edinburgh Castle can be said to represent Edinburgh and even Scotland. The castle stands on the commanding heights of Edinburgh, atop a 135-meter-high extinct volcanic rock. Standing on the castle, you can overlook the entire city. It faces a slope on one side and cliffs on three sides. The terrain is steep. As long as the gate of the castle on the slope is guarded, it will be impregnable. In the 11th century AD, King Malcolm III of Scotland (1031-1093) built a palace in this castle. As a result, the original fortress was transformed into a royal forbidden area. Until the 16th century, it was the administrative center of the Kingdom of Scotland and was known as the “soul of Scotland”.

guardian of the castle
Scotland’s misfortune in history stems largely from its powerful neighbor, England. In 1286, King Alexander III of Scotland accidentally fell from his horse and died. In 1296, King Edward I of England, nicknamed “Long Legs”, sent troops northward and won easily. Although Edinburgh had built a castle long ago, it failed to withstand the “long-legged” army. After only three days of siege, the English flag was flying over Edinburgh Castle. Even the Scone Stone, the seat where the King of Scotland held his coronation ceremony, was taken to London and was not returned to Edinburgh until 1996.

And the story that follows is an eternal legend. Scottish squire William Wallace (the protagonist of the movie “Braveheart”) rose up against English rule. In 1305, he was defeated and captured, and was beheaded in Westminster Square, London. His body was dismembered into four pieces by the English and distributed in all directions to deter rebellion. But then Robert the Bruce took over the torch from him. Edinburgh was of course the first target for the Scottish patriots. From a topographic point of view, compared with the steep and dangerous three-sided cliffs, the east slope of Edinburgh Castle, which is easier to climb, has always been the main entrance. On March 14, 1314, on a dark night with heavy rain, just as the English soldiers were attracted by the feint attack from the east, the Scots climbed up the castle wall from the northern cliff, annihilated the unprepared defenders in one fell swoop, and regained Edinburgh Castle. Three months later, Bruce defeated the British army at Bannockburn in central Scotland. The English had no choice but to recognize the independent status of the Kingdom of Scotland in the Treaty of Northampton signed in 1328.

There are statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce on both sides of the main entrance of Edinburgh Castle. Above the door there is the inscription “He who sins against me shall be punished” and the red lion symbolizing Scotland.

Today, there is a sculpture on both sides of the main entrance of Edinburgh Castle, with Robert the Bruce on the left and William Wallace on the right. The red lion above the city gate represents Scotland in the British royal coat of arms. The lintel of the entrance door is engraved with the sentence “Those who offend me will be punished”, which is thought-provoking.

Shadows of the Black Banquet
After the death of Robert the Bruce, the English briefly reoccupied Edinburgh, but were soon driven out again. Finally, Bruce’s son David II began his own reign. He rebuilt the castle and built the Tower of David named after him. This tower is more than 30 meters high and is the main defense on the east side of the castle. Its ground floor may have been the treasury’s vault, the first floor was a hall or private reception room, and the second floor was private quarters, including the king’s bedroom.

It was on the ground floor of the Tower of David that what could be described as the most despicable incident in the history of Edinburgh Castle occurred. King James II of Scotland succeeded to the throne in 1437 when he was only 6 years old. The real power in the palace was Sir William Creighton, the governor of Edinburgh Castle. In 1440, Creighton hosted a banquet and invited his main political rival, Earl Douglas VI, and his younger brother to the castle to dine with the young king. The earl and his brother arrived as promised and were welcomed at the gate of the castle with great splendor befitting their status, and were given “all the delicacies possible” at the banquet. And this has become the true “last supper” of the Douglas family. While the wine was in full swing, Creighton suddenly ordered the delicacies to be removed, and a bull’s head – “the sign and symbol of the sentence of death” – was presented in front of the earl. The young king was stunned, and the unlucky Douglass and his party were taken to a nearby room and interrogated on charges of “treason.” The outcome was predictable: they were immediately found guilty and dragged into the courtyard and beheaded. This breathtaking political assassination was also called the “Black Banquet” by later generations.

Perhaps, Edinburgh Castle has cast an indelible shadow in the minds of the Scottish royal family. The Scottish royal family, who are keen on enjoying life, prefer Holyrood Abbey, also located in Edinburgh. After 1560, the ancient monastery simply became the Palace of Holyroodhouse. From then on, the windy Edinburgh Castle was only used when the safety of the royal family was threatened or when diplomatic protocol required it. At that time, there was a cannon called the “Mongolia” mounted on the top of the castle. This cannon was built by the Duke of Burgundy in France in 1449. It represented the most cutting-edge military technology of that era: the cannon with a caliber of 480 mm weighed 6 tons, can fire stone projectiles weighing up to 150 kilograms. The duke then gave the cannon to King James II of Scotland, who was related to him. However, the “Mansmund” was too heavy and could only drag about 5 kilometers a day. By the middle of the 16th century, it was retired from the army and only fired salutes on the walls of Edinburgh Castle. By the way, to this day, the castle’s modern salute still sounds on time at 1 o’clock every afternoon, so it is also called the “1 o’clock cannon”. Why choose to fire the cannon at 1 o’clock instead of 12 noon? The reason is simple: it is cheaper to fire one cannon than to fire 12 cannons.

Hold on to the last castle
In 1558, “Mongolia” fired a cannon salute at the wedding ceremony of Queen Mary (1542-1587) and French Prince Francis II. The highest point in Edinburgh is Palace Square. The palace to the east of the square was the king’s living quarters at that time. Among them was the “Mary of Guise’s House”, which was Queen Mary’s daily residence. Mary’s life was full of tragedy. She was once known as the most beautiful woman of her time. In 1567, her rule was overthrown by the nobles, and she had to flee Scotland in men’s clothing and seek asylum with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. After almost 20 years of confinement, Mary was beheaded amid rumors of her involvement in a Spanish plot to assassinate Elizabeth I. Mary herself may have been aware of this for a long time. When she was first imprisoned, she left a famous saying: “My death is my life.” and embedded this sentence in the lace of her clothes.

It is worth mentioning that the Scottish nobles betrayed Queen Mary, but Edinburgh Castle did not. The governor of the castle, Sir William Kirkcaldy, held the fort until 1573, leaving the besiegers with no choice but to resort to heavy artillery. After more than ten days of large-scale shelling, as many as 3,000 shells fell on Edinburgh Castle. Most of the east side of the castle, including the Tower of David, was reduced to ruins – more importantly, the collapsed Tower of David blocked the castle. well (the castle’s main water source). The unlucky William Kirkcaldy had to surrender, ending the “long siege”. And he himself paid the price for his loyalty to the queen: he was hanged for “treason”.

Also in Edinburgh Castle, the unfortunate Queen Mary experienced one of the happiest moments in her life. On June 19, 1566, her son, later King James VI of Scotland, was born in the castle. Between 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning that day, as soon as the prince was born, Mary ordered someone to take James out of the cradle, wrap him in the most exquisite robe, and show it to her most trusted courtiers.

This was also an important moment in the history of Edinburgh Castle – James VI eventually became King James I of England. On the evening of March 26, 1603, the English royal envoy rushed from London to Edinburgh for three days. He told the King of Scotland the long-awaited news that the “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I had passed away, and the throne of England fell to James, the closest relative. inside. The two kingdoms were now co-owners and began the first step in the process of British unification – royal union.

Armor and weapons flank the fireplace in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle. The Great Hall is located in the center of the castle. It was completed in 1511 and was originally used for banquets and state events. It was transformed into a barracks by Oliver Cromwell in 1650 and later became a military hospital. It is now open to tourists.

For James I and his descendants from the Stuart dynasty, the rich England was more attractive than the poor and weak hometown of Scotland. In fact, they all became English: after James I went south to London to ascend the throne, he only spent a few weeks in Edinburgh in 1617 when he returned home in fine clothes to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his accession to the Scottish throne. His son Charles I returned to Scotland only twice (one of which was for his coronation). The next Charles II was only forced to go into exile in Scotland when he lost power, and James II (James VII of Scotland) never returned to Scotland after becoming king. For Edinburgh, there is only one consolation: in preparation for James I’s “return home”, the castle, which suffered heavy damage during the “Long Siege”, was renovated. Most of the buildings in Edinburgh Castle that visitors see today are the result of this renovation.

The Stuart dynasty’s rule over England was not peaceful. As king, Charles I was sentenced to death in London and his head was chopped off. As the birthplace of the Stuart royal family, Scotland still insisted on being loyal to the king, but was completely defeated by Cromwell’s “Cavalry”. British troops captured Edinburgh Castle. Cromwell ordered many parts of the castle to be converted into barracks to provide accommodation for soldiers. For the next 230 years (until the late 19th century), Edinburgh Castle remained a purely military fortress. During this period, it was severely damaged. When the castle hall was renovated in the Victorian era, it was impossible to restore the original decoration.

During the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, the Governor of Edinburgh Castle, Duke Gordon, was resolutely loyal to James II. Even though there were only 120 men, 22 cannons, and only 100 barrels of gunpowder, they still defended the castle for 3 months. When Gordon finally surrendered in the summer of 1689, only 50 weak soldiers were left in the castle.

In 1707, Scotland and England were officially united. From then on, Edinburgh was no longer the capital of the independent Kingdom of Scotland. With the failure of the Jacobites, known as the “pretenders to the throne”, to seize Edinburgh Castle twice in 1715 and 1745, the historical legend of Edinburgh Castle came to an end. After thousands of years of ups and downs, this ancient castle has taken on a new role. It has become a symbol of Scottish cultural heritage and a spiritual symbol of Scottish pride.

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