Treasures of Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle has dominated not only the skyline of the city but also the history of the nation. Being at the centre of the capital and of the Scottish Royal family has meant it has amassed a vast array of incredible treasures and artefacts over it’s long history. Let’s take a look at the most prominent of these fascinating and truly unique items…

The Honours of Scotland

Honours of Scotland

Scotland’s Crown jewels, known as the Honours of Scotland, are the oldest surviving regalia in the British isles. They comprise of a jewel encrusted crown, an elaborate sword and sceptre, which date from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Crown of Scotland

The Crown of Scotland in its present form dates from 1540 when James V ordered, the Edinburgh goldsmith, John Mosman to re-fashion the original crown.

The circlet at the base is made from Scottish gold and is encrusted with 22 gemstones, 20 precious stones(taken from the previous crown) and freshwater pearls from Scottish rivers. The 4 golden arches are ornamented with gold and red enamelled oak leaves. At the point the arches meet rests an orb of gold enamelled in blue and ornamented with gilt stars. This is surmounted by a large cross decorated in gold and black enamel with an amethyst in rectangular form in the centre. The upper and two sides of the cross are adorned in pearls.

State Sword of Scotland

The Sword of State of Scotland was a gift from Pope Julius II and was presented to James IV in 1507. The etched blade, measuring 4.5 feet in length, includes figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, as well as the etched name of Julius II. The silver gilt handle bears the figures of oak leaves and acorns. The sword was damaged in 1652, whilst being hidden from Cromwell’s troops(more on that to follow), as it had to be broken in two in order to be concealed.

Sceptre Of Scotland

The Sceptre of Scotland was also a Papal gift; presented by Pope Alexander to James IV in 1494, but remodelled and lengthened in 1536. It is made of Silver gilt and is topped by a finial with polished rock, possibly cairngorm, and a Scottish pearl. The Sceptre includes several Christian symbols; stylised dolphins, the Virgin Mary holding the baby Christ, Saint James the Great and Saint Andrew holding a Saltire cross.

The first time the Honours were ever used together was during the coronation of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle in 1543. They were used for several other crowning ceremonies including those for James IV in 1567, Charles I in 1633 and Charles II in 1651.

In 1649 Charles I, King of both England and Scotland was executed by Oliver Cromwell, the self-proclaimed Lord Protector. In 1650, his young son Charles II arrived in North East Scotland, and stayed a night in Dunnottar on his journey south to give battle for his fathers’ two kingdoms.

In England, on hearing of the young Kings arrival, Oliver Cromwell was so enraged that he ordered the invasion of Scotland. In some haste Charles II was crowned at Scone, but the “Honours of Scotland”, the crown and other regalia, could not be returned to Edinburgh Castle, as it had been taken by Cromwell’s army. Having already destroyed the English crown jewels, the Honours of Scotland were the most potent icon of monarchy, and as such were next on Cromwell’s list. Cromwell’s army was fast approaching, so Charles II ordered the Earl Marischal to take the Honours to Dunnottar and secure them there.

It was not long before Dunnottar was under siege, and a scratch, aged garrison of seventy men held out for eight months against the invading might of Cromwell’s army until heavy cannons arrived. Following ten days of heavy fire, surrender was made. This was not however before the Honours of Scotland were smuggled out of the Castle and taken to Kinneff Church, where they were buried in the Church.  They remained there undiscovered for eleven years, until the King returned to the throne in 1660 and the Honours were returned to Edinburgh Castle.

Following the restoration, they were used at sittings of the Scottish parliament to represent the absent Monarch, who was now a resident of London following the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

After the Treaty of the Union in 1707 removed Scotland’s parliament, the Honours of Scotland became somewhat redundant and as such were locked away within Edinburgh Castle. Here they lay literally forgotten for over one hundred years.

They came to light again in 1818 when, under great pressure from Sir Walter Scott, a thorough search of the Castle was initiated and they were found. From there they remained on public display within the castle since 1819 with only a few exceptions. In 1941 the Honours were hidden on final time, due to fears they would be destroyed or taken during a Nazi invasion. In 1953 they were taken out of hiding and presented to the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II and then returned to their place within the crown room of Edinburgh castle.

In may 1999, the first sitting of the devolved Scottish parliament, October 2004, the opening of the Scottish parliament building, and at subsequent opening ceremonies of each new session of the Scottish parliament the Crown of Scotland has been present alongside the Monarch. Due to their age and condition the Sword and Sceptre are considered too delicate to be present alongside the Crown on such occasions.

The Stone of Destiny

Stone of Destiny

The Stone of Destiny, or Stone of Scone, has been revered for centuries as a holy Scottish relic. It has been fought over by nations and used by the Dalriadic, Scottish, English and British Monarchs as an important part of their crowning ceremonies.

The origins of the stone, like many similar relics, have been lost to time but typically there are plenty of legends. One such legend suggests it was used as a pillow by Jacob in biblical times, and brought to Scotland in the 9th century. Other legends have suggested it originates either in Ireland or Scotland.

In 1292 John Balliol became the last King to be crowned on the Stone in Scotland, as it was captured by Edward I of England in 1296 and taken by him to Westminster Abbey in London. It remained under the coronation chair, on which the English and subsequently British sovereigns sit during their coronation, for the next 700 years. It was last used for a coronation by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Some historians claim that the stone stolen by Edward I was a fake. By a cunning slight of hand the Scots actually handed over the cess-pit cover from Scone Castle rather than the real stone, which was hidden away. If true this means a long succession of English and British Monarchs have been crowned atop a medieval toilet seat cover.

To further complicate the authenticity of the Stone, it was stolen from Westminster Abbey in 1950, and driven north. It resurfaced 4 months later in Arbroath Abbey, draped in a Saltire, and was returned t Westminster. Although rumours have persisted that the returned Stone was in fact a copy to stop any search for the true Stone.

The Stone finally returned home to Scotland on St Andrews Day (30th November) in 1996, and was and still is housed in Edinburgh Castle alongside the Honours of Scotland. Historic Scotland examined the stone on its arrival and pronounced it was ‘probably’ the original Stone.

Mons Meg

Mons Meg

Mons Meg is a medieval bombard that currently resides within Edinburgh Castle and is named for the town in Belgium in which she was forged around 1449. Mons Meg is the last survivor of two such enormous guns originally gifted to King James II by his uncle, Philip the Good, Duke of Normandy. The 15.366 pound, muzzle loading cannon is capable of firing gun-stones weighing 180kg nearly 2 miles. With a caliber(barrel diameter) of 20 inches/ 510mm it is the 7th largest cannon in the world by caliber.

It has been suggested that Meg was one of the armaments on James IV’s carrack the ‘Great Michael’, which would have made it the ship with the largest caliber gun in history.

Meg only saw action once against the English at Norham Castle on the river Tweed. In 1497 the castle was besieged for two weeks by an army led by James IV of Scotland. The siege included the use of artillery, including Meg, to try to breach the walls but the garrison was finally relieved by an English army. However due to her great weight it became impractical to drag around to battle and from around the 1540′s she retired from her military career and remained in Edinburgh Castle.

She was fired again in 1558, but not against an enemy, instead in celebration during the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to the Dauphin of France, Francis.

Mons Meg with some unconventional ammunition!

Mons Meg with some unconventional ammunition!

Her career came to an explosive end in 1681, firing her final shot during the birthday celebrations of the man who would later become King James VII of Scotland and II of England. During the shot the iron rings burst, and she has been silent ever since. An English canoneer had loaded the charge and many Scots believed that the damage was done on purpose out of jealousy, in the age old argument of which man has the bigger cannon. The incedent was also seen as a bad omen for the future King.

The gun remained within Edinburgh Castle until 1754, when, with other unused weapons in Scotland, she was taken to the Tower of London as a result of the disarming acts against the Jacobites.

Sir Walter Scott and others campaigned for her return, which was effected in 1829. She has now been restored and can be found outside of St Margaret’s Chapel for all to see.

The One o’clock Gun

One o'clock Gun

The One o’clock Gun is fired from Edinburgh Castle Mills Mount Battery everyday, except for Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas day, and has been since the tradition began in 1861. The origin of this tradition lies in the days when sailing ships in the Firth of Forth needed to check and reset their chronometers in the days before accurate timepieces were available.

In 1852 Captain Wauchope, a Scottish naval officer in the Royal Navy, invented the timeball, which was installed and can still be found atop Nelson’s Monument on Calton Hill. The ball would drop at one o’clock giving the signal to sailors of the time. However the problem persisted that someone would be required on the ships to watch for the drop and it would not be visible during the foggy weather, known as the Haar,  which is a common occurrence within Edinburgh.

The time gun was introduced as a result in 1861, to act as an auditory signal for the ships, and could easily be heard in Leith harbour, over 2.5 miles away. A map was introduced in the same year, because sound travels relatively slowly, it was required to show the actual time the shot would be heard in different areas of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.

The original gun was an 18 pound muzzle-loading cannon, which required 4 men to load, and was fired from the Half Moon Battery. This was replaced in 1913 by a 32 pound breach loader and in 1952 by a 25 pound Howitzer. Ammunition, blanks of course, for this eventually became unavailable and a modern 105mm light gun has been used since September 2001.

The longest serving gunner, and somewhat of a celebraty among those that come to see the gun, is Staff Sergeant Thomas MacKay MBE, nicknamed ‘Tam the Gun’. He operated the gun from 1979 up until his retirement in 2005. In 2006, Jamie Shannon, also known as ‘Shannon the Cannon’ became the 29th District Gunner, and also in 2006 Bombardier Allison Jones became the first woman to fire the gun.


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