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The Castle of Edinburgh

The following is from The Castle of Edinburgh by G. F. Maine:


IN his Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles Stow tells us that "Ebranke, the sonne of Mempricius, was made ruler of Britayne; he had, as testifieth Policronica, Ganfride, and others, twenty-one wyves, of whom he receyved twenty sonnes and thirty daughters, whiche he sente into Italye, there to be maryed to the blood of the Trojans. In Albanye (now called Scotlande) he edified the castell of Alclude, which is Dumbritayn; he made the castell of Maydens, now called Edenbrough; he made also the castell of Banburgh in the 23d yere of his reign. He buylded Yorke citie, wherein he made a temple to Diana and set there an Arch-flame; and there was buried, when he had reigned 49 years."

This remarkable statement enables us to place the origin of the Castle as far back as the year 989 before Christ, but like much else that has been written of the remote history of Scotland, it savours more of fable than of fact.

We know that of the twenty-one tribes of ancient Caledonians who occupied Northern Britain in the first century of the Christian Era, the two intimately connected with this neighbourhood were the Ottadeni and the Gadeni, the former occupying the coast from the Tyne to the Forth, the latter the interior country parallel and contiguous to that. They were a fierce and warlike people, well armed, and brave in battle, and it is not improbable that the Castle rock may have been a fort or hill camp of the Ottadeni.

Edinburgh in the Fifteenth Century

a. Palace; b. David's Tower; c. Castle Church;
d. St. Margaret's Chapel; e. St. Cuthbert's Church;
f. "Nor Loch" (now Princes Street Gardens);
g. St. Giles' Church; h. The Cross; j. Greyfriars' Monastery;
k. Kirk o' Field; l. Blackfriars' Monastery;
m. The "Kind's Wall"; n. Line of the Flodden Wall;
o. Trinity College Church; p. Caltou Hill;
q. Salisbury Crags; r. Holyrood Abbey; s. Canongait

By kind permission of F. C. Afears, Esq.]

About the year 80 the Roman legions, under Agricola, took possession of the area, but although their military causeway from Brittano-darum to Alterva (i.e., Dunbar to Cramond) passed close to it, we have no reliable evidence that the Castle rock was used as a Roman station. With such unmistakable proofs of the presence of the invaders in its neighbourhood, however, it is extremely unlikely that their military engineers neglected to avail themselves of the advantages of so strong and natural a fortress, and some authorities identify the site as the Castrum Alatum of Ptolemy, "a winged camp, or a height, flanked on each side by successive heights, girded with intermediate valleys."

The Scots and Picts were fiercely hostile to the Romans, and for the greater security of his troops, the Roman general formed a barrier consisting of a chain of fortresses on the isthmus between the estuaries of the Forth and Clyde. The country south of the barrier appears, however, to have been recovered by the Picts, as the emperor Adrian caused the barrier to be withdrawn to the counties of Northumberland and Cumberland, where he erected an earthern rampart across the island as a boundary to the Roman territory in Britain; but on the country betwixt the barriers being regained by Lollius Urbicus, the Roman lieutenant, he replaced the barrier between the Forth and Clyde by a wall, through which we are told the Scots and Picts soon forced a passage, committing great ravages in the Roman country. This caused the emperor Valentinian I to send the great general Theodosius with an army to repress the invaders, which he effectually did, expelling them the country between the walls, which thus became once more a Roman province, called, in honour of the emperor, Valentia. The Picts appear to have built a fortress on the rock which, according to Camden, they called Castel Mynedh Agnedh the maidens' or virgins' castle, since it was used by the kings and nobles as a place of safety for their daughters. On the departure of the Romans about the year 446, Vortigern, king of the Britons, invited the help of the Saxons under Octa and Ebusa, against his fierce enemies the Scots and the Picts, and the invaders captured the Castle from the latter in 452. From that time until the reign of Malcolm II, struggles for the fortress appear to have been continuous, each in turn being victorious.

In the Mynyian, or Cambrian Archaeology, mention is made of Caer-Eiddyn, or the fort of Edin, wherein dwelt a famous chief, Mynydoc, leader of the Celtic Britons in the fatal battle with the Saxons under Ida, the flame-bearer, at Catraeth, in Lothian, where the flower of the Ottadeni fell, in 510. Edwin, son of Aella, king of Deiri, having succeeded Ethelfrid, in the Saxon kingdom of Northumberland about the year 617, and extended his conquests beyond the Forth, is said to have repaired or rebuilt the Castle in 626 and given the name of Edwinesburg to the settlement existing on the ridge, and while we cannot be certain, this would appear to be the key to the origin of the present name. A charter of Malcolm IV's referring to Edinburgh Castle mentions indifferently, "Castrum Puellarum" or "Oppidum Puellarum." " Castrum Puellarum " says Chalmers, "was the learned and diplomatic name of the place, as appears from existing charters and documents, Edinburgh its vulgar appellation." This is borne out in the writings of Matthew Paris, who visited Edinburgh in 1250, to wit "ad Castrum Puellarum quod mdgariter dicitur Edenbure." Buchanan asserts that its ancient name of Maiden Castle was borrowed from the old French romances. Its Gaelic name Dun Edin possibly signifies "the fort of the hill-face" (as in Edinbane, Skye).

According to Father Hay's apocryphal account, certain nuns attached to the royal chapel, and from whom the Castle derived the name of "Castrum Puellarum," "were thrust out by St. David, and in their place the canons introduced, by the Pope's dispense, as fitter to live among souldiers. They continued in the Castle duering Malcolm the Fourth his reign." Simeon, of Durham, who wrote about the middle of the eight century, mentions the town of "Edwinesburch" as then existing. On the overthrow of Egfrid, the Saxon king of Northumberland, in 685, the Castle became once more the stronghold of the Scots and Picts. No authentic historical record exists of the happenings of the next four hundred years, but with the reign of Malcolm III and his beautiful and pious queen Margaret, the student of history may continue to follow the long, chequered story of the fortress, rich in incident, brimful of interest, glowing with romance.

The rock on which the Castle stands is said by modern geologists to be the plug of the old Edinburgh volcano the mass of lava which cooled and solidified within the crater when there was no longer eruptive force sufficient to eject it. This plug being of exceptionally adamant material was able to resist the grinding action of the great ice-sheet which, during the Ice Age, removed the softer surrounding material. Thus are explained the hollows scoured out to the west, north and south, while the ridge on which the High Street is built is accounted for by the protecting rock.

The Esplanade

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