King David II. I kinda like the sound of that.
The placard was in the inner keep of Edinburgh Castle, attached to a fence guarding ancient set of stairs. It caught my attention as things often do when they shout out your name in capital letters.
So down the steps I went. As I went deeper into tower remains it got darker, dank and crumbly. Although worn and tired, the walls looked thick, and ready to spit in the eye of another 700 years (assuming another clown with a cannon wasn’t blasting away.)
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Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most-visited paid tourist attraction. Like the rest of the crowd I was looking forward to seeing it as a tourist, but for me there was a pilgrimage aspect to it as well.
The castle sits atop a hill, guarding the views, and making anyone rash enough to attack it slog through higher ground.
Not that this seemed to discourage anyone. There is evidence people have lived on this hill for since the 2nd century, and the Royals called it home as early as King David I in the 12th century. As a center of power, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts, including the Wars of Scottish Independence (Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Braveheart, etc) in the 14th century, and the Jacobite rising of 1745. Research undertaken in 2014 identified 26 sieges in its 1100-year history, giving it a claim to being “the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world”.
I launched my first sortie upon these castle walls back in 1980. I made it up the hill, and as far as the castle gates seen here before they turned me back. Lack of time, and even more so, lack of money was my enemy. Europe on $15 a day didn’t leave much room for paid tourist attractions.
This time around the outer gates provided no challenge, I was much better armed. Currency is a mighty weapon.
Passing through the gate provided access to a road that wound its way up the hill. We passed several buildings which I believe in more recent history, say the last 400 years, were used to garrison troops.
Crown Square. I believe this is the war memorial entrance, with the royal palace to the right. The palace rooms are no longer used by royalty – the whole place is a museum.
Maybe not the whole place. One room holds the “Honors of Scotland”, a fancy name for the Scottish Crown Jewels. There are three main pieces: a crown, a scepter, and a sword of state. Secondary items include a silver-gilt wand, three items of insignia, a ring once owned by James VII, and a necklace with a locket and pendant bequeathed to Scotland by the Duchess of Argyll in 1939.
(Sorry, no pictures, security and all…)
But perhaps the most interesting piece is the Stone of Scone – also known as the Stone of Destiny. It is an oblong block of red sandstone, about 26″ by 17″ by 10″, weighing 335 lbs. For at least 700 years they’ve used it as a seat of coronation for the monarchs of Scotland, and later the monarchs of England and those of the United Kingdom.
The stone originated in Scotland, but in 1297 English King Edward I absconded with it – spoils of war. He took it to Westminster Abbey in London, building it into a coronation chair. There it sat, for hundreds of years, even when the Scottish line of Stewart kings ruled.
This is not to be confused with the Scone of Stone, an item of dwarf bread (a nearly petrified pastry) used to coronate dwarvish kings, featured in Terry Pratchett’s book The Fifth Elephant. Research well worth undertaking, if you have a sense of humor.
In both cases, someone pilfered the regal stone. In the case of the Stone of Scone, on Christmas day 1950 a group of Scottish students took the stone from the Abbey and hid it in a field in Kent. There they nonchalantly played the part of students on a camping expedition. At some point during this caper, the stone broke into two pieces.
They brought the two pieces back north to Scotland separately, where they were accepted by a senior Glasgow politician. He had the stone repaired. Rumor has it he had it copied, and secreted the original away.
Meanwhile, the British government is going crazy trying to find the thing, with no success.
Come April 1951, the conspirators opted to give the Stone to the Church of Scotland for safekeeping, leaving it on the altar of Arbroath Abbey. The church in turn notified the London police, and the Stone was returned to Westminster.
Fast forward 45 years to 1996. The English and the Scots aren’t getting along. As a make nice gesture, the English offer to let the Scots keep the Stone, except during coronations. Ever since, it has lived in the palace in Edinburgh, along with the Scottish Honors.
Elsewhere on the castle ramparts, Mons Meg.
(Click on this, or any picture for a larger view.)
Other cannon line the ramparts, showing a juxtaposition of old artillery and modern construction.
On the left, a Ferris wheel, on the right, a monument to Sir Walter Scot. The monument and the castle, what I saw of it, are my main memories of the 1980 Edinburgh visit.
After wandering around the castle grounds we headed back towards town, where the architecture is every bit as interesting as the castle.
Even though the cathedral is quite impressive, it was not the target of the pilgrimage. That was back at the castle – back where we started.
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I think I mentioned in a past post that there was a Scottish branch in the family tree. I wouldn’t have known about this, but for a bit of yeoman’s work an aunt did laying out the tree on my father’s side back in the 80s. She took the tree back 150 years or so, documented it in text form, and published a small book for interested family members. My mother scored a few copies and gave them to her kids.
This was fine, but it was a bitch to follow. Not long after I retired, I decided to take on a project – transcribe the text to graphical tree form, and update it wherever I could. Mostly I hit the same dead ends my aunt did, but on one branch the path went on. And on. And on.
Most of the time in genealogical research branches peter out because you get far enough back where there aren’t any public records, or names and dates get garbled, or illiteracy cuts the thread. If there’s a long line it’s likely there’s money behind it; some aristocracy, some excuse to keep track of an ancestor who did well. At some point, I started hitting “Lord this” or “Lady that”. Eventually, that branch led to Robert the Bruce.
Turns out King the Bruce is a grandfather, 27 times removed. As are his grandsons, the first of the Stewart kings, Robert II and Robert III.
As for King David II? A great uncle, the predecessor to Roberts II and III. So when I saw that sign, it really did grab my attention.
But what does that make me? A royal… pain in the rear, for even bringing it up. It’s kind of cool, to be sure, but I suspect most other people could name drop too, given enough time and research. Trees get wide, 27 generations back.
Back in 2003, Dan Brown wrote a book called The Da Vinci Code. He ended his story at a place called the Rosslyn Chapel, and that’s where I’m going to end my story too.
Located about 8 miles south of Edinburgh Castle, the chapel was built in the mid 1400’s and includes, in the interior, a considerable amount of elaborate stone carving. 3D pictures, if you will, for the priests to teach lessons to the illiterate – although much of the symbology goes well beyond conventional Christianity. Photos were not allowed when I was there, but this site has a collection.
The exterior is impressive as well. It wasn’t always this way.
The chapel’s altars were destroyed in 1592, and the building left to neglect and ruin. The roof no longer provided protection, so most of the stone carvings show erosion. Fortunately, in 1842, after seeing the ruins Queen Victoria ordered the chapel be restored. Restoration work has occurred off and on since. The chapel is now both tourist attraction, largely due to Dan Brown, and an active, functioning church.
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This will be the last post for the Scotland and Ireland trip.
We started this series last September with an opening shot of a Scottish piper skirling away in a green, tree-lined lane.
The lane was in Ireland, at the Irish National Stud Farm farm. I can now admit the lane was as quiet and bucolic as it appears – for this image I transported the piper from a street corner in Edinburgh.
He was piping us in for one last Celtic show, one last go around with Celtic dancers and singers, and of course, one last taste of haggis.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Next up, I’m not sure. It could be something from a recent trip to the Caribbean, or it could be from more local trips. Both will be in the offing in the coming months. Please come along for the ride.