Why is Stirling Castle the bloody heart of Scotland?

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1. A castle worth fighting for

In the spring of 1314, Edward Bruce, brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, laid siege to Stirling Castle, which was then held by English forces.

Stirling sits in central Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow. In previous eras, the castle was seen to be of great strategic importance due to its position near the border of Highland and Lowland Scotland.

Edward II, son of Edward I, 'The Hammer of the Scots', was determined not to let the castle fall into Scottish hands. He marched north with an army to relieve the siege and to stamp his authority on Scotland. The two sides met within sight of the castle, at Bannockburn. The ensuing battle was fought on June 23rd and 24th, 1314.

2. Temptation of Stirling

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There is evidence that a castle has stood at Stirling since the early 12th Century, although there are theories that a fort may stood on this site for hundreds of years prior to this. What made this castle a prize worth fighting for?

3. Catalyst for Bannockburn

The forces of Robert the Bruce grew in strength following the death of Edward I in 1307. By 1314, one of the few castles in English hands was Stirling. The battle at Bannockburn was to prove perhaps the most significant in Scottish history.

4. The warwolf

Before Bannockburn, the castle had changed hands many times. In 1304, it was under Scottish control but Edward I knew its strategic value. He laid siege, ordering the creation of an enormous catapult, the warwolf.

5. Skeletons in the castle

Despite Robert the Bruce’s decisive victory at Bannockburn, occupation of Stirling Castle continued to change hands throughout the 14th Century.

During the Second War of Scottish Independence, from 1332 to 1357, the English successfully regained Stirling. But the Scots eventually wrested it back in 1337 when Robert the Steward, grandson of Robert the Bruce, surrounded the castle and starved out the English garrison.

Ten skeletons from this period of English occupation were discovered in the castle chapel in 1997.

A 2010 BBC ‘Cold Case’ investigation discovered evidence suggesting that one of the skeletons could be Sir John de Stricheley, an English knight. The wound on his skull suggested he may have been killed by an arrow from a Scots archer in a skirmish in 1341.

6. Later attacks

Attacks on Stirling Castle continued beyond the 14th Century. It has also been assaulted by the armies of two of the most famous figures in British history.

Oliver Cromwell

The English Civil War, now usually called the War of the Three Kingdoms, was not confined to England. The conflict also spread to Scotland.

Stirling Castle was drawn into the fighting in 1651 when one of Oliver Cromwell’s commanders, General Monck, laid siege to the castle. Evidence for the siege can be seen in the form of scars around the gate resulting from cannon and musket shot.

The reasoning behind the attack was the role of the castle as an administrative centre, containing important records as well as symbols of royal authority, including robes and regalia.

The heavy barrage inflicted led the castle’s governor to quickly surrender.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, the castle was held by government forces, loyal to George II. The army of Bonnie Prince Charlie did not attempt to take Stirling during their southward march through Scotland and into England.

When they were retreating north the following year, however, they chose to attack.

The Jacobites set up guns to attack Stirling Castle but these were destroyed by the castle’s own weapons.

This was the last military assault on Stirling Castle.

7. How would you attack the castle?

If you were going to attack a castle during the medieval period, which tactics would you use?

Brute power?

Would you use a high powered weapon to attack the castle walls?

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Brute power?

This technique was employed by Edward I in 1304, using the trebuchet. Cannon were used in the later period, but Jacobite cannon proved ineffective in 1746.

Over the top?

Would you scale the walls of the castle?

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Over the top?

No accounts exist of Stirling Castle being scaled by ladder. Siege ladders were often too short for the job in hand, as at the siege of Leith in 1560.

Just be patient?

Would you surround the castle with your troops to stop supplies getting in or out?

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Just be patient?

This technique was employed by Edward Bruce in 1314. Edward II of England took his army to relieve the castle troops but was met by Robert the Bruce’s army.

Go under?

Would you try to dig your way into Stirling Castle?

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Go under?

There are no accounts of Stirling Castle being tunnelled into, in a process called mining. The Earl of Arran attempted to 'mine' into St Andrews Castle in 1546.