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The Castle of Edinburgh

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

King David’s Tower

THE Half-Moon Battery, erected in 1574, is perhaps the most picturesque feature of the Castle as we know it to-day. Its great, semi-circular wall of masonry lives in the memory, the embodiment of massive strength, and, to all outward appearance, its foundations rest upon the solid rock. Recent excavations, however, have revealed the existence of a whole mediaeval castle — a castle older far than any of the fortifications which now crown the summit of the rock — buried beneath the Half-Moon Battery, and with the final clearing away of an immense quantity of rubbish the rugged walls of King David's Tower echoed once more to the sound of human voices, after a silence of more than three hundred years. The tower thus rediscovered was built by David II, son of Robert the Bruce, about the year 1367. It is clearly shown in many old prints and drawings as occupying the site of the Half-Moon Battery, and it was hitherto thought that it had been quite destroyed. Evidently the builders of the latter endeavoured to fill up the partly ruined tower with earth, fragments of its own broken battlements, and whatever came to hand. They then encircled the old walls with a new one, seven feet thick, levelled up the top, paved it over, and disposed around it the guns from which so many salutes have since boomed out. Thus it is that St. David's Tower exists to-day practically intact, save for a few feet of its topmost wall, which, by the middle of the sixteenth century, had suffered severely from the effects of successive bombardments. There is historical evidence that David II died in the Castle on 22nd February 1370, and since the Castle as we know it was non-existent at that period, it is not unlikely that he died in one of the apartments of the Tower which bears his name.

Like many old Scottish castles the original structure of King David's Tower was L-shaped; that is to say, it consisted of two lines of buildings, one somewhat longer than the other, arranged at right angles in the form of the letter L. There was thus originally no enclosed quadrangle so frequently met with in the Norman strongholds of the south. Subsequently, however, additions were made to the tower, the later buildings being built to form an inverse L, thus uniting the whole as a parallelogram proper with enclosed Quadrangle.

The tower is well and substantially built, and in its palmy days was not without some pretensions to dignity and massive grandeur. Rude and unfitted as it may seem for the abode of royalty, we must remember that it was built at a time when comfort and elegance had, perforce, to give place to strength and safety as considerations of the first importance.

It is the hall and armoury of the later building that one enters first on visiting the tower. It contains a large fire-place cavity, and numerous cupboard-like recesses in the thickness of the wall. One such, particularly large and possessed of a trough or sink, may have been a small pantry for the use of the castle cook. A breach in the wall discloses a chimney of huge dimensions, which would appear to be another example of the chimney closet or secret chamber met with in many ancient castles. Leaving this room, the doorway of the original tower is reached by a wooden plank which spans a wide and deep chasm, evidence of the pre- cautions against the entrance of unwelcome visitors in the stormy days of the fourteenth century. The arched door-way surmounting this trap for the unwary is a fine specimen of masonry, in contrast to the rough nature of the walls.

Only the shell of the early building remains. It consists of several good-sized rooms, and the descent to the bottom of the tower is accomplished by a wooden stairway, as no traces of the stone stairs remain. The bottom, at a depth of some fifty feet, is rocky and uneven, and was most probably the site of the dungeons of the fortress — gloomy and impregnable vaults, devoid of light, and evil smelling. The wall at one end is actually part of the first city wall.

Even in the upper parts of the building little daylight penetrates, and although now lit artificially it must, unfortunately, remain closed to the public. Visitors should, however, make a point of seeing the old Castle Well, close to the Half-Moon Battery.


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