Royal Burgh of Stirling Pipe Band The City and Royal Burgh

Best known for its striking castle, which sits high upon a volcanic outcrop, Stirling is also Scotland’s newest city, with it’s status granted in 2002. It is, however, by no means derelict in the rich history which favours Scotland. 
A History

It was under King David I, in 1124, that Stirling was formally recognised as a Royal Burgh according it with extensive trading rights. Stirling blossomed under his successors but it was not until events now known as the Wars of Independence took place that the importance of the Burgh was thrown into sharp relief. A kingless Scotland struggled to resolve its succession crisis with its warring factions, the Bruces and the Comyns. Her neighboring king, Edward I, Hammer of the Scots took full advantage pressing his right to rule Scotland and it seemed Scotland would fall in the same way as Wales. Resistance proved strong however, and its leaders, Sir Andrew Murray and William Wallace orchestrated the famous battle of Stirling Brig on September 11th, 1297. Its significance was in the in the defeat of an hitherto undefeated large and well equipped cavalry by a small infantry with poor weapons. It did not secure Scotland’s freedom however, and Stirling Castle found itself the unfair target of Edwards new toy – the War Wolf.

Soon after Wallace’s capture and execution in 1305, Scotland found an even more unlikely hero in the form of Robert Bruce, grandson to one of the original Competitors for the throne. After the scandalous murder of his rival John Comyn in 1306, Bruce moved quickly to secure his throne and retake Scotland with his well known guerrilla tactics. By 1313 all that was left to retake was the land south of the Forth river. And to do that he needed Stirling Castle. His last remaining brother, Edward was sent to lay siege to Stirling. Edward however, considered himself far more knightly and chivalrous than his brother and struck a bargain with the English keeper. If Stirling Castle was not relieved by June the following year (1314) the keeper would give the Castle up to the Scots. Robert was furious – he had, since his first disastrous battle, managed to avoid pitched battles. The time was set though, and Edward II of England, acknowledging the fundamental importance of Stirling, managed to rally his bickering nobles and set forth to Stirling. Bruce had the upper hand however, and not only did he choose the highly strategic marshy grounds of the Bannock Burn, but he kept the English army awake all night for fear the Scots may attack through under hand tactics. Come day-light the English were tired while the Scots were fresh and invigorated. By the afternoon the Scots infantry had again won the day against a better equipped mounted cavalry. 

Scotland did not gain its independence that day at Bannockburn, it was not for another 14 years that the Treaty of Edinburgh (or Norham) was signed. But from Stirling, Bruce was able to retake the south of Scotland and launch the well known raids into Northumbria. The raids that eventually put so much pressure on the third Edward to concede Scottish independence. 

The Stewart Kings, the successors to the Bruces, were also aware of Stirling’s importance. For them, Stirling was the gateway to the unruly Highland clans and from there they launched many royal expeditions to quell the rebellious Gaels. James I was the first to make Stirling an official Royal Residence and many parliaments were held within the Great Hall. Politics and intrigue were no stranger to Stirling. The Black Douglas was stabbed and flung from a back window of Stirling Castle by James II because he was too powerful, and it was Stirling that felt the backlash as it was burned by family of the deceased earl. 

Further on throughout the Stewart Kingship and Civil war threatened its ugly head once more. On one side was James III, and like his predecessors he was paranoid of Scotland’s mighty magnates and so showered wealth, glory and titles upon lesser born folk. On the other side was his son, soon to be James IV, the magnates champion and by all accounts more pleasant and charming than his ancestors. After years of intrigue and attempted coups, the final battle took place on Sauchieburn 1488, just a few miles north east of Stirling. James IV’s men won the day and the new 15 year old king may have struck the final blow which killed his father. James III and his Queen were and still are buried in Cambuskenneth Abbey just across the river Forth from the Castle.

The Great Hall in Stirling Castle as it is seen now since its Restoration in 1999 was built by James IV and the harling is in the ‘Kings Gold’ colour which would have been used in 1504.  Known for his love and interest in the arts and in science, James IV attracted many from different backgrounds. This included the rather eccentric alchemist, John Damien, who attempted to fly from the walls of the Castle with bird feathers glued to his body. He landed, fortunately, in a pigs midden.

The modernisation of the Castle continued throughout the Renaissance period with James V. Throughout the town, residences built for the nobles sprung up in similar fashion. Of most noted importance was the building now known as Argyll’s Ludging (Lodging). Originally developed for the Earl of Stirling in 1628 it was bought over in the 1670s by the Archibald Campbell the 9th Earl of Argyll as and transformed into a Renaissance masterpiece. Across the road is the now ruinous Mars Wark (Work) but in its full glory would have rivaled Argyll’s Ludging. Built for the Earl of Mar during Queen Mary’s reign, it heads Broad Street, Stirlings main market street. After Mary’s forced abdication, another civil war took place between the Queens Men and the Kings men, who adhered to her son King James VI. The Earl of Mar as Keeper of the Castle was a Kings Man but he frequently conducted raids and battles from his own town residence.

By 1603, when James VI succeeded Elizabeth I on the English throne, Stirling had prospered. However, despite Jame’s assurances that he would return to Scotland every three years, he returned only once in 1617. The town declined in importance as the Castle began its transition from a royal palace into a barracks with brief royal presences from King Charles I in 1641 and later with King James VII. Indeed when James VII did visit in 1681 the buildings were no longer suitable for royalty and he found himself the guest of the important regional magnates such as the Earl of Argyll and stayed within their grand town residencies. Whether he insulted his guest at the table or perhaps gave James VII a bad bout of food poisoning Argyll promptly lost royal favour after the visit and then lost his head four years later.

King James VII was never popular in Scotland once he assumed the throne. This was primarily due to his Catholicism in the staunchly Presbyterian state. By 1688 the English announced he had abdicated from the throne in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ whilst the Scots were much more rebellious – they themselves had removed him from the throne. From this constitutionally revolutionary background, stemmed Jacobitism; the followers of Jacobus, latin for James. Like the many battles before, Stirling and its surrounding areas found itself at the centre of many of the confrontations. On the eve of the three Jacobite uprisings, 1689, 1715 and 1745 the Castle was reinforced in key strategic areas. While the ’89 blew itself out before it reached Stirling, the same did not occour with the ’15 and the ’45. The climaxing battle was fought at Sherriffmuir, just north of Stirling. Although the battle was relatively inconclusive, again the Jacobite army was dispersed easily. 

The ’45 however, made it into 1746, and it was then that Prince Charles Edward Stewart, known by some as Bonnie Prince Charlie, led his forces to Stirling. Despite advice from his experienced generals, the ‘Bonnie Prince’ decided to position his troops and artillery upon Mar’s Wark and the Ladies Lookout, beneath the Castle where their own guns were almost useless. The defending soldiers mocked them loudly as gravity took its course and their cannon proved superior. Mar’s Wark was demolished with the exception of the magnificent façade still standing today. Even the nearby Church of the Holy Rude was not without its injuries as the remaining bullet holes still prove.

In amongst the Jacobite rebellions was a parliamentary act which was far more momentous and far-reaching than any of the rebellions. The Act of Union of 1707 was a continuation from 1603’s Union of Crown process towards incorporating union under one parliament. All across the land there was outrage that the nobility, their parliamentarians, would remove the last vestige of law making authority from Scotland. Stirling had one of the largest mobs which burned the 25 proposed articles of Union and ransacked their own parliamentarian, the Earl of Mar’s, home. Regardless the Treaty was passed and Stirling became a town of the United Kingdom.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Stirling and its surrounding areas grew in size as the demand for cloth and material grew. With it grew movements fighting for emancipation and the rights of the working class. In Stirling, this manifested itself most notably during the Radical Rebellion of 1820. The one and only ‘battle’ to take place was the ‘battle of Bonnymuir’ several miles west of Falkirk, which was in total a farcical skirmish which only served to underline the flavour of Scottish political discontent throughout the 19th century.

Throughout the 20th century, Stirling joined the ranks of important and prosperous towns in Scotland and 1967, the University of Stirling was established, bringing with it academics of all varieties and a thriving nightlife. It was awarded its official City status in 2002 as part of the Queens golden jubilee celebrations. Now when one wanders around Stirling they may find an eclectic mix from its vast history, with its medieval castle, grand Victorian buildings and modern amenities.

Its current population of 42,000 does not include the students who come from all across the world to study, nor the occasional grouse which can be seen walking the streets of the Raploch.

Written by Gemma Corcoran, Scottish History Graduate from the University of Stirling
Quick Links

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Stirling City Guide

Stirling Observer

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