Edinburgh castle stands upon the plug of an extinct volcano, which is estimated to have risen about 350 million years ago during the lower Carboniferous period. The Castle Rock is the remains of a volcanic pipe, which cut through the surrounding sedimentary rock before cooling to form very hard dolerite, a type of basalt. Subsequent glacial erosion was resisted by the dolerite, which protected the softer rock to the east, leaving a crag and tail formation. The summit of the Castle Rock is 130 metres above sea level, with rocky cliffs to the south, west and north, rising to a height of 80 metres above the surrounding landscape. This means that the only readily accessible route to the castle lies to the east, where the ridge slopes more gently. The defensive advantage of such a site is self-evident, but the geology of the rock also presents difficulties, since basalt is extremely impermeable. Providing water to the Upper Ward of the castle was problematic, and despite the sinking of a 28-metre deep well, the water supply often ran out during drought or siege, for example during the Lang Siege in 1573.
Ptolemy's map of the 2nd century AD shows a settlement in the territory of the Votadini named "Alauna", meaning "rock place", making this possibly the earliest known name for the Castle Rock. The castle does not re-appear in contemporary historical records from the time of Ptolemy until around AD 600. Then, in the epic Welsh poem Y Gododdin there is a reference to Din Eidyn, "the stronghold of Eidyn". This has been generally assumed to refer to the Castle Rock. The poem tells of the Gododdin King Mynyddog Mwynfawr, and his band of warriors, who, after a year of feasting in their fortress, set out to do battle with the Angles at "Catreath" (possibly Catterick) in Yorkshire. Despite performing glorious deeds of valour and bravery, the poem relates that the Gododdin were massacred. The Irish annals record that in 638, after the events related in Y Gododdin, "Etin" was besieged by the Angles under Oswald of Northumbria, and the Gododdin were defeated. The territory around Edinburgh then became part of the Kingdom of Northumbria, which was itself absorbed by England in the 10th century. Lothian became part of Scotland, during the reign of Indulf (r.954–962).
The first documentary reference to a castle at Edinburgh is John of Fordun's account of the death of King Malcolm III. Fordun describes his widow, the future Saint Margaret, as residing at the "Castle of Maidens" when she is brought news of his death in November 1093. Fordun's account goes on to relate how Margaret died of grief within days, and how Malcolm's brother Donald Bane laid siege to the castle. During the reigns of Malcolm III and his sons, Edinburgh Castle became one of the most significant royal centres in Scotland. Malcolm's son King Edgar died here in 1107. Malcolm's youngest son, King David I (r.1124–1153), developed Edinburgh as a seat of royal power principally through his administrative reforms (termed by some modern scholars the Davidian Revolution). Between 1139 and 1150, David held an assembly of nobles and churchmen, a precursor to the parliament of Scotland, at the castle. Any buildings or defences would probably have been of timber, although two stone buildings are documented as having existed in the 12th century. Of these, St. Margaret's Chapel remains at the summit of the rock. The second was a church, dedicated to St. Mary, which stood on the site of the Scottish National War Memorial.
David's successor King Malcolm IV (r.1153–1165) reportedly stayed at Edinburgh more than at any other location. But in 1174, King William "the Lion" (r.1165–1214) was captured by the English at the Battle of Alnwick. He was forced to sign the Treaty of Falaise to secure his release, in return for surrendering Edinburgh Castle, along with the castles of Berwick, Roxburgh and Stirling, to the English King, Henry II. The castle was occupied by the English for twelve years, until 1186, when it was returned to William as the dowry of his English bride, Ermengarde de Beaumont, who had been chosen for him by King Henry. By the end of the 12th century, Edinburgh Castle was established as the main repository of Scotland's official state papers. A century later, in 1286, on the death of King Alexander III, the throne of Scotland became vacant. Edward I of England was appointed to adjudicate the competing claims for the Scottish crown, but used the opportunity to attempt to establish himself as the feudal overlord of Scotland. During the negotiations, Edward stayed briefly at Edinburgh Castle and may have received homage there from the Scottish nobles.
In March 1296, Edward I launched an invasion of Scotland, unleashing the First War of Scottish Independence. Edinburgh Castle soon came under English control, surrendering after a three days long bombardment. Following the siege, Edward had many of the Scottish legal records and royal treasures moved from the castle to England. A large garrison numbering 325 men was installed in 1300. Edward also brought to Scotland his master builders of the Welsh castles, including Thomas de Houghton and Master Walter of Hereford, both of whom travelled from Wales to Edinburgh. After the death of Edward I in 1307, however, England's control over Scotland weakened. On 14 March 1314, a surprise night attack by Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray recaptured the castle. John Barbour's narrative poem The Brus relates how a party of thirty hand-picked men were guided by one William Francis, a member of the garrison who knew of a route along the north face of the Castle Rock and a place where the wall might be scaled. Making the difficult ascent, Randolph's men scaled the wall, surprised the garrison and took control. Robert the Bruce immediately ordered the destruction of the castle's defences to prevent its re-occupation by the English. Four months later, his army secured victory at the Battle of Bannockburn.
After Bruce's death in 1329, Edward III of England determined to renew the attempted subjugation of Scotland and supported the claim of Edward Balliol, son of the former King John Balliol, over that of Bruce's young son David II. Edward invaded in 1333, marking the start of the Second War of Scottish Independence, and the English forces reoccupied and refortified Edinburgh Castle in 1335, holding it until 1341. This time, the Scottish assault was led by William Douglas, Lord of Liddesdale. Douglas's party disguised themselves as merchants from Leith bringing supplies to the garrison. Driving a cart into the entrance, they halted it there to prevent the gates closing. A larger force hidden nearby rushed to join them and the castle was retaken. The English garrison, numbering 100, were all killed. The 1357 Treaty of Berwick brought the Wars of Independence to a close. David II resumed his rule and set about rebuilding Edinburgh Castle which became his principal seat of government. David's Tower was begun around 1367, and was incomplete when David died at the castle in 1371. It was completed by his successor, Robert II, in the 1370s. The tower stood on the site of the present Half Moon Battery and was connected by a section of curtain wall to the smaller Constable's Tower, a round tower built between 1375 and 1379 where the Portcullis Gate now stands.
In the early 15th century, another English invasion, this time under Henry IV, reached Edinburgh Castle and began a siege, but eventually withdrew due to lack of supplies. From 1437, Sir William Crichton was Keeper of Edinburgh Castle, and soon after became Chancellor of Scotland. In an attempt to gain the regency of Scotland, Crichton sought to break the power of the Douglases, the principal noble family in the kingdom. The sixteen-year-old William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas and his younger brother David were summoned to Edinburgh Castle in November 1440. After the so-called "Black Dinner" had taken place in David's Tower, both boys were summarily executed on trumped-up charges in the presence of the ten-year-old King James II (r.1437–1460). Douglas' supporters subsequently besieged the castle, inflicting damage. Construction continued throughout this period, with the area now known as Crown Square being laid out over vaults in the 1430s. Royal apartments were built, forming the nucleus of the later palace block, and a Great Hall was in existence by 1458. In 1479, Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany, was imprisoned in David's Tower for plotting against his brother, King James III (r.1460–1488). He escaped by getting his guards drunk, then lowering himself from a window on a rope. Albany fled to France, then England, where he allied himself with King Edward IV. In 1482, Albany marched into Scotland with Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III) and an English army. James III was trapped in the castle from 22 July to 29 September 1482 until he successfully negotiated a settlement.
James IV was killed in battle at Flodden Field, on 9 September 1513. Expecting the English to press their advantage, the Scots hastily constructed a town wall around Edinburgh and augmented the castle's defences. Three years later, King James V (r.1513–1542), still only five years old, was brought to the castle for safety. Upon his death 25 years later, the crown passed to his week-old daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. English invasions followed, as King Henry VIII attempted to force a dynastic marriage on Scotland, although Edinburgh Castle remained largely unaffected. Following these campaigns, refortifications included an earthen angle-bastion, known as the Spur, of the type known as trace italienne, one of the earliest examples in Britain. James V's widow, Mary of Guise, acted as regent from 1554 until her death at the castle in 1560. The following year, the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, returned from France to begin her reign, which was marred by crises and quarrels amongst the powerful Protestant Scottish nobility. In 1565, the Queen made an unpopular marriage with Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and the following year, in a small room of the Palace at Edinburgh Castle, she gave birth to their son James, who would later be King of both Scotland and England. Mary's reign was, however, brought to an abrupt end. Three months after the murder of Darnley at Kirk o' Field in 1567, she married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, one of the chief murder suspects. A large proportion of the nobility rebelled, resulting ultimately in the imprisonment and forced abdication of Mary at Loch Leven Castle. She escaped and fled to England, but some of the nobility remained faithful to her cause. Edinburgh Castle was initially handed by its Captain, James Balfour, to the Regent Moray, who had forced Mary's abdication and now held power in the name of the infant King James VI. Shortly after the Battle of Langside, in May 1568, Moray appointed Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange Keeper of the Castle.
Grange was a trusted lieutenant of the Regent, but after Moray's murder in January 1570 his allegiance to the King's cause began to waver. Intermittent civil war continued between the supporters of the two monarchs, and in April 1571 Dumbarton Castle fell to "the King's men". Under the influence of William Maitland of Lethington, Mary's secretary, Grange changed sides, occupying the town and castle of Edinburgh for Queen Mary, and against the new regent, the Earl of Lennox. The stand-off which followed was not resolved until two years later, and became known as the "Lang Siege", from the Scots word for "long". Hostilities began in May, with a month-long siege of the town, and a second short siege in October. Blockades and skirmishing continued meanwhile, and Grange continued to refortify the castle. The King's party appealed to Elizabeth I of England for assistance, as they lacked the artillery and money required to reduce the castle, and feared that Grange would receive aid from France and the Duke of Alba in the Spanish Netherlands. Elizabeth sent ambassadors to negotiate, and in July 1572 a truce was agreed and the blockade lifted. The town was effectively surrendered to the King's party, with Grange confined to the castle.
The truce expired on 1 January 1573, and Grange began bombarding the town. His supplies of powder and shot, however, were running low, and despite having 40 cannon available, there were only seven gunners in the garrison. The King's forces, now with the Earl of Morton in charge as regent, were making headway with plans for a siege. Trenches were dug to surround the castle, and St Margaret's Well was poisoned. By February, all Queen Mary's other supporters had surrendered to the Regent, but Grange resolved to resist despite water shortages within the castle. The garrison continued to bombard the town, killing a number of citizens. They also made sorties to set fires, burning 100 houses in the town and then firing on anyone attempting to put out the flames. In April, a force of around 1,000 English troops, led by Sir William Drury, arrived in Edinburgh. They were followed by 27 cannon from Berwick-upon-Tweed, including one that had been cast within Edinburgh Castle and captured by the English at Flodden. The English troops built an artillery emplacement on Castle Hill, immediately facing the east walls of the castle, and five others to the north, west and south.
By 17 May these batteries were ready, and the bombardment began. Over the next 12 days the gunners dispatched around 3,000 shots at the castle. On 22 May, the south wall of David's Tower collapsed, and the next day the Constable's Tower also fell. The debris blocked the castle entrance, as well as the Fore Well, although this had already run dry. On 26 May, the English attacked and captured the Spur, the outer fortification of the castle, which had been isolated by the collapse. The following day Grange emerged from the castle by a ladder after calling for a ceasefire to allow negotiations for a surrender to take place. When it was made clear that he would not be allowed to go free even if he ended the siege, Grange resolved to continue the resistance, but the garrison threatened to mutiny. He therefore arranged for Drury and his men to enter the castle on 28 May, preferring to surrender to the English rather than the Regent Morton. Edinburgh Castle was handed over to George Douglas of Parkhead, the Regent's brother, and the garrison were allowed to go free. In contrast, Kirkcaldy of Grange, his brother James and two jewellers, James Mossman and James Cokke, who had been minting coins in Mary's name inside the castle, were hanged at the Cross in Edinburgh on 3 August.
In 1621, King James granted Sir William Alexander the land in North America between New England and Newfoundland, as Nova Scotia ("New Scotland"). To promote the settlement and plantation of the new territory, the Baronetage of Nova Scotia was created in 1624. Under Scots Law, baronets had to "take sasine" by symbolically receiving the earth and stone of the land of which they were baronet. To make this possible, since Nova Scotia was so distant, the King declared that sasine could be taken either in the new province or alternatively "at the castle of Edinburgh as the most eminent and principal place of Scotland." James' successor, King Charles I, visited Edinburgh Castle only once, hosting a feast in the Great Hall and staying the night before his Scottish coronation in 1633. This was the last occasion that a reigning monarch resided in the castle. In 1639, in response to Charles' attempts to impose Episcopacy on the Scottish Church, civil war broke out between the King's forces and the Presbyterian Covenanters. The Covenanters, led by Alexander Leslie, captured Edinburgh Castle after a short siege, although it was restored to Charles after the Peace of Berwick in June the same year. The peace was short-lived, however, and the following year the Covenanters took the castle again, this time after a three-month siege, during which the garrison ran out of supplies. The Spur was badly damaged, and was demolished in the 1640s. The Royalist commander James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose was imprisoned here after his capture in 1650. In May 1650, the Covenanters signed the Treaty of Breda, allying themselves with the exiled Charles II against the English Parliamentarians, who had executed his father the previous year. In response to the Scots proclaiming Charles King, Oliver Cromwell launched an invasion of Scotland, defeating the Covenanter army at Dunbar in September. Edinburgh Castle was taken after a three-month siege, which caused further damage.
James VII was deposed and exiled by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which installed William of Orange as King of England. Not long after, in early 1689, the Estates of Scotland, after convening to accept William formally as their new king, demanded that Duke of Gordon, Governor of the Castle, surrender the fortress. Gordon, who had been appointed by James VII as a fellow Catholic, refused. In March 1689, the castle was blockaded by 7,000 troops against a garrison of 160 men, further weakened by religious disputes. On 18 March, Viscount Dundee, intent on raising a rebellion in the Highlands, climbed up the western side of the Castle Rock to urge Gordon to hold the castle against the new King. Gordon agreed, but during the ensuing siege he refused to fire upon the town, while the besiegers inflicted little damage on the castle. Despite Dundee's initial successes in the north, Gordon eventually surrendered on 14 June, due to dwindling supplies and having lost 70 men during the three-month siege. Under the terms of the Acts of Union, which joined England and Scotland in 1707, Edinburgh was one of the four Scottish castles to be maintained and permanently garrisoned by the new British Army, the others being Stirling, Dumbarton and Blackness.
The castle was almost taken in the first Jacobite rising in support of James Stuart, the "Old Pretender", in 1715. On 8 September, just two days after the rising began, a party of around 100 Jacobite Highlanders, led by Lord Drummond, attempted to scale the walls with the assistance of members of the garrison. However, the rope ladder lowered by the castle sentries was too short, and the alarm was raised after a change of the watch. The Jacobites fled, while the deserters within the castle were hanged or flogged. In 1728, General Wade reported that the castle's defences were decayed and inadequate, and a major strengthening of the defences was carried out throughout the 1720s and 1730s. The last military action at the castle took place during the second Jacobite rising of 1745. The Jacobite army, under Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie"), captured Edinburgh without a fight in September 1745, but the castle remained in the hands of its ageing Deputy Governor, General George Preston, who refused to surrender. After their victory over the government army at Prestonpans on 21 September, the Jacobites attempted to blockade the castle. Preston's response was to bombard Jacobite positions within the town. After several buildings had been demolished and four people killed, Charles called off the blockade. The Jacobites themselves had no heavy guns with which to respond, and by November they had marched into England, leaving Edinburgh to the castle garrison.
Over the next century, the castle vaults were used to hold prisoners of war during several conflicts, including the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the American War of Independence (1775–1783) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). During this time, several new buildings were erected within the castle, including powder magazines, stores, the Governor's House (1742), and the New Barracks (1796–1799). A mass prison break in 1811, in which 49 prisoners of war escaped via a hole in the south wall, persuaded the authorities that the castle vaults were no longer suitable as a prison. This use ceased in 1814 and the castle began gradually to assume a different role as a national monument. In 1818, Sir Walter Scott was given permission to search the castle for the Crown of Scotland, believed lost after the union of Scotland and England in 1707. Breaking into a sealed room, now known as the Crown Room, and unlocking a chest within, he rediscovered the Honours of Scotland, which were then put on public display with an entry charge of one shilling. In 1822, King George IV made a visit to Edinburgh, becoming the first reigning monarch to visit the castle since Charles II in 1651. In 1829, the cannon Mons Meg was returned from the Tower of London, where it had been taken as part of the process of disarming Scotland after "the '45", and the palace began to be opened up to visitors during the 1830s.
The Upper Ward or Citadel occupies the highest part of the Castle Rock, and is entered via the late 17th-century Foog's Gate. The origin of this name is unknown, although it was formerly known as the Foggy Gate, which may relate to the dense sea-fogs, known as haars, which commonly affect Edinburgh. Adjacent to the gates are the large cisterns built to reduce the castle's dependency on well water and a former fire station, now used as a shop. The summit of the rock is occupied by St Margaret's Chapel and 15th-century siege gun Mons Meg. On a ledge below this area is a small 19th-century Dogs' Cemetery for the burial of the soldiers' regimental mascots. Beside this, the Lang Stair leads down to the Argyle Battery, past a section of a medieval bastion, and gives access to the upper storey of the Argyle Tower. The eastern end of the Upper Ward is occupied by the Forewall and Half Moon Batteries, with Crown Square to the south. The oldest building in the castle, and in Edinburgh, is the small St. Margaret's Chapel. One of the few 12th-century structures surviving in any Scottish castle, it dates from the reign of King David I (r.1124–1153), who built it as a private chapel for the royal family and dedicated it to his mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland, who died in the castle in 1093. It survived the slighting of 1314, when the castle's defences were destroyed on the orders of Robert the Bruce, and was used as a gunpowder store from the 16th century. The chapel is still used for religious ceremonies, such as weddings
The 15th-century siege gun or bombard known as Mons Meg is displayed on a terrace in front of St. Margaret's Chapel. She was constructed in Flanders on the orders of Philip III, Duke of Burgundy in 1449, and given as a gift to King James II, the husband of his niece, in 1457. The 13,000-pound (5.9 ton) gun rests on a reconstructed carriage, the details of which were copied from an old stone relief that can be seen inside the tunnel of the Gatehouse at the castle entrance. Some of Meg's large gun stones, weighing around 330 pounds each, are displayed alongside her. On 3 July 1558, she was fired in salute to celebrate the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to the French dauphin, François II. The royal Treasurer's Accounts of the time record a payment to soldiers for retrieving one of her stones from Wardie Muir near the River Forth, fully 2 miles from the castle. The gun has been defunct since her barrel burst while firing a salute to greet the Duke of Albany, the future King James VII and II, on his arrival in Edinburgh on 30 October 1681. The One O'Clock Gun is a time signal, fired every day at precisely 13:00, excepting Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day. The 'Time Gun' was established in 1861 as a time signal for ships in the harbour of Leith and the Firth of Forth, 2 miles away. Because sound travels relatively slowly (approximately 343 metres per second), a map was produced in 1861 to show the actual time when the sound of the gun would be heard at various locations across Edinburgh.
The Royal Palace comprises the former royal apartments, which were the residence of the later Stewart monarchs. It was begun in the mid 15th century, during the reign of James IV, and it originally communicated with David's Tower. The building was extensively remodelled for the visit of James VI to the castle in 1617, when state apartments for the King and Queen were built. On the ground floor is the Laich (low) Hall, now called the King's Dining Room, and a small room, known as the Birth Chamber or Mary Room, where James VI was born to Mary, Queen of Scots, in June 1566. The commemorative painted ceiling and other decoration were added in 1617. On the first floor is the vaulted Crown Room, built in 1615 to house the Honours of Scotland: the crown, the sceptre and the sword of state. The Stone of Scone, upon which the monarchs of Scotland were traditionally crowned, has been kept in the Crown Room since its return to Scotland in 1996. To the south of the palace is the Register House, built in the 1540s to accommodate state archives.
A mobility vehicle is available for visitors unable to manage the castle’s steep slopes. A limited number of wheelchairs are available on a first come, first served basis, and can be requested from the castle staff. Please note – pushing is hard work on the steep cobbled roadways. Areas unsuitable for wheelchair access. Width restrictions make these areas unsuitable for wheelchairs: Queen Mary's Room (Royal Palace); King's Dining Room (Royal Palace); St Margaret's Chapel; The Crown Jewels exhibition; The Great Hall; The Military Prisons. Most of these are accessible for more mobile visitors and staff are happy to give advice. Free admission for carers accompanying visitors with disabilities. Carer admission tickets are not available online and must be collected on-site at the Visitor Information Centre. Guide dogs and assistance dogs are welcomed, including in roofed areas. Braille guidebooks can be borrowed from Visitor Information. A complimentary guided tour is included with your entry ticket. These take place throughout the day and are led by experienced and well informed guides. Audio guides available in eight languages can be hired on the day or in advance online. Tours take place throughout the day and the meeting point is through the Portcullis Gate past the audio booth by the clock.
Location : Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
Transport: Waverley (National Rail) 10 minutes. Bus Routes : 1, 22, 25, 32, 34, 44, 102 and 104 stop nearby
Opening Times : Daily 09:30 to 18:00
Tickets : Adults £16.50; Concessions £13.20; Children (5 - 15) £9.90.
Explorer Pass : From £24.00, gives entry to 77 Historic Scotland properties.
Tel: 0131 225 9846