Old Time And New At Edinburgh Castle
( Originally Published 1912 )
" WANT a guide, Miss? Guide for the caustle ! Show you the way to Mons Meg ! Take you to Queen Mary's room, 'n' royal jew'ls, lady. This way! Guide; want a guide? "
All equally ragged and insistent, an army of small boys lay in wait for Mrs. Pitt and the others as they walked across the wide Esplanade in front of the castle. These children, who swarm about famous buildings and in the various closes, are a perfect pest in Edinburgh streets. Sometimes each is telling different facts, and again, all are shrieking the same information in one grand chorus. Usually it is impossible to understand the absurd jumble produced by the combination of Scotch accent and Latin and old English inscriptions; but when intelligible, strangely enough, it is fairly correct, bearing a vague likeness to what one has read regarding the place of interest under discussion.
He'll be a guide, I suppose, when he grows up," remarked Mrs. Pitt to Betty, with a glance at a young red-haired Scotchman who was dogging her footsteps.
Very promptly, not from Betty but from the boy, came the answer, " Yes, Miss ! "
" I say, Mother; let's hurry on! They're disgusting! " Following Philip's advice, they quickened their steps toward the drawbridge, the youngsters gradually falling behind.
Glancing about the wide Esplanade, John inquired, " This is where the soldiers drill, isn't it? I had a picture once of rows and rows of 'em in my geography."
Yes, they sometimes drill here now, I think," went on Mrs. Pitt, pausing to admire the view, " but in olden times,—that is, between about the years 1437 and 1670,-this was the place of execution for supposed witches, so many of whom were put to death about that time. Some one has estimated that as many as two thousand people were burned here, and they were not all ugly and ill-tempered, either, some of them being beautiful women who were entirely innocent. There was young Lady Jane Douglas, wife of Lord Glammis, but let's think of more cheerful things.
In the seventeenth century and in the early part of the eighteenth, before the city was extended, here was the only promenade for the fashionable citizens of Edinburgh. Many books and papers were issued denouncing the practice of walking in the King's Park, near Holyrood, and on the Castle hill, between the various church services on Sunday. But here the crowds would come in spite of the rebukes. There is an old song which refers to this," and Mrs. Pitt quoted :
" ' Wat ye wha I met yestreen,
"'" My dear," quoth I, " thanks to the night,
After crossing the old moat, now quite empty, but once filled with water pumped up from the Nor' Loch, they were obliged to escape more guides, this time professional ones. But in Mrs. Pitt's eyes they were altogether unnecessary, as she knew well every inch of the old castle.
" This outer port is new, but has an ancient door studded with great iron bolts," said she, leading the way under it and up the road of rough cobblestones toward the Portcullis Gate, where one may yet see the groove in which an iron portcullis once hung. Over this gate is the Argyll Tower, so named because of the two Argylls, father and son, who were imprisoned there and later executed for their loyalty to the Presbyterian faith.
" Mother, wasn't it one of the Argylls who was asleep just an hour before his execution? You know, that picture at home in the Houses of Parliament? "
" Yes, Barbara, that was the younger Argyll, who was brave and good up to the very last. When he was in prison here in the castle, on a previous occasion, he escaped in rather an exciting way. Do any of you remember? Some of his many enemies had contrived to have him arrested for some slight offense, and did not mean that he should escape, but his daughter-in-law, Lady Sophia Lindsay, came to his assistance. On the day before that appointed for the Earl's execution, this lady went to say farewell to him, accompanied by her footman. When she passed out to her carriage, the guards noticed that there was something unusual in the bearing of the footman, who had just then stepped clumsily on his mistress's gown. Hearing her scold him severely, they were reassured, however, and thus the Earl escaped to Holland, where he was safe for four years."
" Yes," exclaimed John, " but you say that they caught him again, and finally finished him.
There wasn't much chance for a fellow in those days, not if he dared to breathe too hard ! I'm glad I live now! Come along up these steps, Philip; isn't that old gun, Mons Meg, up there? "
On one of the highest platforms, or batteries, stands the famous gun called Mons Meg, about the history of which there have been so many opinions. An inscription on it tells that it was forged at Mons, in Belgium, in 1476, but Walter Scott held this to be false, believing that the M'Lellans presented it to James II in 1455.
" At any rate, it has played its part in Scotch events," said Mrs. Pitt. " We know that it was used at a siege of Dumbarton Castle in 1489; the records in the Treasurer's book remind us that eighteen shillings were paid to the gunners for ' drink money.' The gun was fired to celebrate the marriage of Queen Mary to the Dauphin of France in 1558; but in 1682, when being fired to salute the Duke of York, it burst. It was loaded with balls of granite, John. Fancy ! Mons Meg was taken to the Tower of London, but its rightful place was always here, and in 1829 it was brought back through the influence of Sir Walter Scott. But come, let's look inside Queen Margaret's Chapel. It's one of the oldest in all Scotland."
The chapel is a tiny building of gray stone, only measuring sixteen by ten feet. It has now been restored and looks much as it did many centuries ago.
" Do you see the ancient zigzag molding? " asked Mrs. Pitt, " and the beautiful round Saxon doorway with its carvings? "
" Everybody seems to have loved this Queen Margaret so very much," reflected Betty. Why did they, Mrs. Pitt? "
'' Well, dear, she must have been an unusually lovely character. I'll tell you a little of her story, if you care to hear it. She was the little Saxon Princess Margaret, who was returning from England to her grandfather's court in Hungary, with her mother, her brother, and her sister, when a storm arose and their ship was blown upon the shores of Scotland. The royal travelers came ashore at a place near the Forth Bridge, and when rough, middle-aged King Malcolm saw the lovely Princess Margaret, he at once fell in love with her. To her husband's people their new Queen brought many blessings. First of all, she made them love her by showing an interest in their welfare, and by trying to help them. Having thus gained an influence over them, she slowly taught them the gentler manners and more refined ways of the Continental court where she had lived. And, last of all, she herself was very religious. It is said that although King Malcolm could not under-stand the words in his young wife's prayerbooks, he used to kiss them to show his reverence for her and her beliefs. Yes, John, you may go and talk to the soldiers ; certainly. But I'm sorry you're not interested in Queen Margaret.
Long after this, when the King and his eldest son went away to England to fight King William Rufus, the Queen and their children moved from Dunfermline to Edinburgh Castle for greater safety. The Queen, who was very ill, had just heard a service in her own little chapel here, when one of her sons arrived with the dreadful news that his father and brother had been killed in a battle near Alnwick. The Queen died al-most immediately. Her children had lost not only their father and mother, but were also in great danger, as Donald Bane, their uncle, wished to gain the throne for himself and was already besieging the castle. The Queen's friend and servant, a monk called Turgot, was much troubled as to how he could carry away the children and their mother's body to safety; but just then a wonderful fog came up, a fog so dense that he was able to lead the way, in much danger, out through a little postern gate and down the steep rock. In due time the party reached the Abbey at Dunfermline, and there the King and Queen were buried. The room where Queen Margaret died was long after-wards called ' ye blessit Margaret's chalmer.' "
" Which room was it? " asked John, who had remained to listen, after all.
" No one knows where the room really was. The buildings and rooms of a castle can hardly remain the same during so many hundred years.
Really, John should not be blamed for being attracted to the soldiers who throng the castle. In their scanty plaid trousers or kilts and jaunty Scotch caps, dozens of them may always be met with strolling about in carefree fashion, lingering in sunny corners to chat, or admiring the fine views in company with their sweet-hearts from the city below.
They must have a corking time of it ! " ex-claimed John. " Don't they ever have any-thing to do except when there's a war? "
" Oh, most of these men you see all about are raw recruits who are being trained here. Yes, I suppose they must have some duties and many drills ; but it's true that they always seem to be enjoying life to the full."
" John just thinks he'd like to wear beautiful plaid trousers that are too short for him, and a hat over one ear, and a bright-red coat with a shiny belt buckle ! " laughed his sister, soon adding wisely, " but he wouldn't like it long. I know John. This is exactly like his wanting to be a Horse Guard, down in London."
This was too much. John thought he was old enough to know his own mind; scorning any reply, he turned and walked toward the Half-Moon Battery.
Here all visitors note the " One-o'Clock Gun," by which Edinburgh people daily set their watches. By an electric wire, it is attached to the time-ball on the top of Nelson's Monument on Calton Hill, opposite ; this ball falls in response to a signal at Greenwich Observatory, near London, where is set the time for the whole world. Lost in his admiration of this arrangement, John entirely forgot to be angry with his sister.
" But here's something else you must see," cried Mrs. Pitt, " something vastly more interesting than the ' One-o'Clock Gun,' that is, in my opinion, Master John. Do you see this square box, made of iron, and standing on four legs? In 1455 a law was passed that on the top of certain hills and castles should be these boxes, ready for lighting at any moment. If it was night, oil and tar were poured on to make flames, and if in the day-time, straw was used to make smoke. The instant danger was discovered, these bale-fires were lighted, and it is said that all Scotland could be warned in two short hours. Good news was sometimes spread in this way, too, such as the victory over the Spanish Armada."
They don't need to do it any more, of course," said Barbara.
" No, I think the last time was in the year 1804, when the French were threatening; but the old iron box is still here."
Entering old Palace Yard, the historically interesting part of the Castle, they climbed a winding stair to the Crown Room. Here, in a gloomy, vaulted room and behind iron bars, is the " only ancient Regalia in Britain," Cromwell having destroyed that of England. Some believe the crown to date back as far as the age of Bruce, but it is probably not older than the reign of James V.
For some time they gazed at these gorgeous jeweled objects, the crown, the sceptre, made in Paris for James V, and the Sword of State presented to James IV by the Pope ; then Mrs. Pitt spoke, softly so as not to disturb the other visitors.
The Scottish Regalia has had many experiences," she said. " The people feared that Cromwell would destroy it, as he had that of England, and so they sent it away to the castle of Dunnottar. There, in a moment of great danger, it was carried away in a bag of lint on a woman's back, and hidden beneath the pulpit of a neighboring parish church. The pastor kept it there in safety for eight years. The Regalia was saved ! Then, at the time of the union of the two kingdoms, the people again feared for its safety, and it was accordingly put into this chamber, which was sealed up, with an order that the door should never be opened. Some eighty-odd years later the room was broken open in a search for some valuable papers; the old chest was shaken, but made no sound. For one hundred and ten years the jewels remained in the chest, and people had either entirely forgotten about them, or else they laughed at the story of their existence. But in 1818, influenced by Sir Walter Scott's interest and his own curiosity, King George IV ordered the locked room to be opened and a thorough search to be made. Certain chosen men and officials, among whom was Scott, in his capacity of Clerk of Sessions, broke open the rusty lock of the old chest, and, to their great delight, found the long-lost Scottish Regalia. The eager, waiting crowd was immediately told the glad news, a salute was fired, and there was much rejoicing."
And so they lived happily ever after ! " put in John, before Mrs. Pitt could get breath to finish her story.
" I've not yet finished, John," said she, calmly continuing after a smile at Betty's troubled face. " I was going to tell you of an incident which shows how Scott regarded the old treasures. Some little time after their discovery, he and some friends came again to this room, accompanied by a few ladies. In his `Life of Scott,' Lockhart describes the scene for us, saying that Scott's daughter had become so much stirred at hearing her father tell of the Regalia, that, upon seeing it herself, she almost fainted. Just then, as Lockhart says, ` she was startled by his [Scott's] voice exclaiming in a tone of deepest emotion--" No, by God, no! " One of the Commissioners, not quite entering into the solemnity with which Scott regarded this business, had, it seems, made a sort of motion as if he meant to put the Crown upon the head of one of the young ladies near him; but the voice and aspect of the great poet were more than sufficient to make the worthy gentle-man understand his error.' " Closing the book from which she had been reading, Mrs. Pitt added, " Fancy ! We are standing in the same room, and there's the very same chest ! "
Quietly they went down the spiral stairs, and, after noting a little doorway over which, Mrs. Pitt told them, the tiny bones of an unknown infant had been found not long ago, they turned in at the door leading to Queen Mary's apartments.
What's the H for? '' asked Betty, looking over the low doorway, where were carved the initials H and M, and the date 1566.
" Darnley's first name was Henry, you know," replied Philip, with more confidence than usual.
" I've got a closet at home that's bigger than this Queen's bedroom ! " boasted John, just as Betty exclaimed, " It makes me think of Wolsey's little ` closet ' at Hampton Court."
They had stepped into the tiny room where King James VI was born, a room only about eight feet long and very odd in shape, with one casement window. Surely Queen Mary was content with small quarters ! It is said that she always slept on a camp bed except when she was at Holyrood.
" Do you notice the old paneling? " said Mrs. Pitt, " and the low ceiling carved with the initials I R and M R? It is just as it was in Mary's time, but the paneling is even older, for it was brought from the Edinburgh palace of Mary of Guise, Queen Mary Stuart's mother. It was from this window that they let the baby prince down in a basket for Mary's friends to carry him away to Stirling to bring him up in the Catholic faith. You remember about that, Betty? "
" Yes," she replied; and, going to the window, added, " The Queen had a beautiful view, anyway, even if she couldn't have a room big enough for a real bed."
Filling one side of a square court is the old Parliament Hall, restored within a few years by an Edinburgh citizen, William Nelson, who also gave the fine collection of armor which is displayed there. There is a grand old fireplace and a fine oak roof, its beams bearing shields which show the arms of the castle's most famous governors from 1007 to 1805. Here the Scottish Parliament met, and Coronation feasts were held, and here was given the Earl of Leven's famous banquet to Cromwell in 1648. The windows of the hall overlooked an open space called the Grassmarket, the tilting-ground in the days of the Stuart kings, James IV being especially fond of the exercise.
" Be sure to look at the buttery-hatch," cautioned Mrs. Pitt, as they passed out. " It's there! That sliding panel in the wall! Through it was passed the black bull's head which was used at the ` Douglas Black Dinner,' in the days when wicked Crichton was in command here. Wishing to be rid of the young Earl at the head of the Douglas family, whose power he feared, Crichton invited him, with his brother, to a banquet in the Parliament Hall. Immediately after the appearance of the fatal black bull's head, the two brothers were taken below and cruelly beheaded."
In an angle of the ramparts is a pathetic little dogs' cemetery which greatly interested Betty. Nothing would do but she must stop to read some of the quaint names and epitaphs which mark the graves of these pets of the soldiers.
As they again crossed the wide Castle Esplanade, they were startled by hearing the One-o'Clock Gun fired.
" My word ! " cried Mrs. Pitt in astonishment. " There was so much planned for us to do this morning ! I had no idea it was luncheon-time ! "
" Well, then, I had," announced John, jerking his loose belt up and down suggestively. " I get hungry even in Edinburgh."