April 30, 2017
After a late lunch in St. Andrews, we headed to Stirling, a town in central Scotland where the lowlands meet the highlands. Stirling Castle was of great historic importance and sits in a significant strategic location with steep cliffs on three sides. The castle guarded the bridge over the Forth, and to control Scotland one needed to control that crossing. I won't take time to sort out the various times when the castle was destroyed. The last time was when it was burned to the ground by Robert the Bruce. The rebuilding and development of the current version was a project of the six Stuart kings, all named James. Several of them became king while very young, as did Mary, who became queen when her father James V died.
Mary Queen of Scots, among others, was crowned there. Mary’s story is a complicated one, confused in my mind further by some old movies. Instead of marrying Henry VIII's son Edward, she wound up in France and married there. Her husband became king of France, but she was widowed shortly thereafter. As a young widow she returned to be queen of Scotland, where she remarried and had a son. Since she was Roman Catholic, Protestant leaders forced her to abdicate, and she fled to England, where Queen Elizabeth kept her confined in various castles for nearly twenty years until she was beheaded. And that's just the short version. Catherine de’ Medici, the Earl of Murray, and even Nostradamus get into the story somewhere.
Mary’s son James VI (later James I of the united kingdom) was baptized and grew up here, and was crowned in a nearby church when he was a year old.
The Chapel Royal pictured below was built for the baptism of James’ first child, Henry, who also grew up here, until the union of crowns, when the family moved to England. (Henry died of typhoid fever at the age of 18, so his younger brother Charles succeeded their father as king. That didn't work out so well.)
The Royal Palace was built in the time of James V in a Renaissance style with French inspired exterior and German-inspired interior. The ceiling of the King’s Chamber is decorated with the Stirling Heads. Other décor honors James and Mary.
The Great Hall, built in the time of James IV, was the largest secular meeting space in Scotland. It was divided into smaller rooms for military housing and wasn’t restored into its historical appearance until 1999.
View of the town from the castle wall
From the wall you can see the William Wallace Monument that sits on a hill above the town, where he had massed armies to defend against King Edward I of England, when the Scottish throne had passed to a little girl in Norway. There was also a more recent statue of Wallace in the town, but since it had the face of Mel Gibson, it was wildly unpopular and was moved into a private garden. I still haven't gotten around to seeing the movie Braveheart.
Robert the Bruce statue