The Holy Rude and Stirling Castle

Even though Scotland has closed many of their sights, there are still things to see – big outdoor monuments like the Wallace monument, ruined abbeys, and castles, as well as smaller structures that were part of life when the castle was still a royal residence.

Mar’s Wark

“Mar’s” is not a typo for Mars, it refers to the Earl of Mar, John Erskine, who was the keeper of Stirling Castle when he began construction of a townhouse, the remains of which are pictured here. For those of you who read about Cambuskenneth Abbey in my last post, “The Walk to Abbey Craig,” tradition says that this building is where the stones from the Abbey were re-used.

The building was a “courtyard townhouse,” meaning the residence was built in three wings, surrounding a central courtyard. Entry was through a gate at the front, seen above. All that survives now is the Renaissance-style facade, embellished with heraldic panels, gargoyles, and statuettes.

Erskine himself was a moderate Protestant, and Governor of Edinburgh Castle during the regency of Mary of Guise, from 1554 to 1560, when that Mary died. He turned against Mary of Guise’s daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, in 1567, but served as regent to the young James VI, Mary’s son, 1571 – 1572, when the Earl died. His widow, Annabella Murray, the Countess of Mar, continued to live in the house.

The house stayed in the Erskine family until the time of the 6th Earl of Mar, also named John Erskine. The 6th Earl had the house repaired to serve as a barracks during the 1715 Jacobite uprising, promoting the restoration of the Stuarts to the Scottish throne. The failure of the 1715 uprising resulted in the exile of the Erskines and the forfeiture of their estates, including the townhouse. The house became a workhouse by 1733. In the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the building was damaged by cannon fire and abandoned.

An artist’s rendering of Mar’s Wark, on the left, with the two turrets. The windows and doors on the facade were probably used as shops. When viewing remains of older buildings, some imagination is required.
Argyll’s Lodging

Argyll’s Lodging is a 17th century townhouse built for a wealthy merchant who was not named Argyll. The Earl of Argyll bought the house from the merchant when he thought that Charles II might reside in Stirling Castle, and it was his name that stuck. In “normal” times, the house is open to visitors who wish to see how 17th century aristocrats lived.

Detail over entrance to Argyll’s Lodging.
“Auld Staneybreeks” John Cowane

John Cowane was a rich merchant, prominent civic participant, and one of Stirling’s early philanthropists. Cowane travelled regularly to Holland, trading in luxury goods. In Stirling, he was a town councillor and a member of the Scots Parliament.

When he died in 1633, he left a sizeable bequest to build a hospital or almshouse to support poor and elderly merchants. The resulting organization, Cowane’s Hospital, built the almshouse to support elderly and infirm merchants, providing a home and pension, as there was no state system of welfare.

Cowane’s Trust is Scotland’s second-oldest surviving charitable trust, and continues to support those in need. The Hospital is also the home of what is believed to be Scotland’s oldest surviving bowling green!

In 1650, the statue of John Cowane was installed in the niche of the building’s tower, seen above. Over the years, it became known affectionately as “Auld Staneybreeks,” a reference to the figure’s carved stone trousers.

When I visited, the building was deep in the throes of repair and restoration.
This stained glass window, with the portrait of John Cowane in the center, was added in the 1850s.
Cowan’s house in Stirling, one of the town’s largest houses in its day.
Church of the Holy Rude.

The Church of the Holy Rude was founded in 1129 by David I, and named for the Holy Rood, a relic of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. The oldest part of this building, however, dates from the 15th century. The bell tower was added about three hundred years later.

On July 29, 1567, James VI was crowned King of Scotland here after the forced abdication of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots. While Mary was held prisoner in Lochleven Castle, John Knox gave the sermon at the ceremony here.

Kirkyard of the Holy Rude

Gravestones in older kirkyards are set up in rows, facing east “where the sun rises and the Last Trumpet will sound,” and the kirkyard of the Holy Rude is no exception. The earliest date here is 1579. Older stones have a skull or an hourglass, symbols of morality, and/or “winged souls” or vines that symbolize immortality. The graves of tradesmen also bear symbols of their occupations – bakers, masons, weavers, and other crafts. Merchants are represented by a “reversed” numeral four, the symbol I had seen near the harbor monument. Gravestones were considered status symbols, and many Stirling residents set up their markers while they were quite alive!

Across the Old Kirkyard, looking toward the Church of the Holy Rude. Cowane’s Hospital is next to the church.
Looking over the Valley Cemetery, toward the road leading up to Stirling Castle, which is out of sight on the left. In sight are the out-of-service food trucks that usually populate the roadway. There was one truck to the left, serving ice cream. How do I know that? Really, need you ask?

The Valley Cemetery is newer than the Old Kirkyard, i.e. it’s Victorian more than medieval, and was added on – no boundary fences separate the two. Statues of prominent Reformation heroes were set up when it was opened. There is the obligatory figure of John Knox, but there are some memorials to people less familiar, such as the photo below. These enclosed statues depict the story of Margaret Wilson, who was executed at the tender age of eighteen for refusing to renounce her Protestant faith. The execution was by drowning in the Solway Firth, on the western side of Scotland. She had no connection with Stirling itself, her presence here is to be instructive in faithfulness. The statues are Victorian in style – a sentimental image of women, with none of the horror or shock of the actual execution.

The story of Margaret Wilson in the Valley Cemetery.
John Knox, left, is missing his hands; Andrew Melville, right, a major figure of the Presbyterian movement, came slightly later than John Knox.
“Rock of Ages” with an inscription about psalms that I couldn’t make out, but a copy of the Bible and the Confession of Faith were sealed into a chamber in the Pyramid, 1863.
Robert the Bruce in front of Stirling Castle.
The front gate of Stirling Castle.
View from the castle walls across the countryside
View toward the Holy Rude (tower) and the town of Stirling.
From the gates, the Great Hall to the left, old kitchen ahead.
The palace building, with restored royal chambers, sadly not open for this visit, but the decorations on the exterior were very interesting! To the right, in the corner, is the gate to the Inner Close.
This is a representation of King James V, who was believed to have dressed occasionally as a commoner and wandered around in the town among his subjects. He built this building, the palace.
The gargoyles and other decorations were quite elaborate. The gate here leads from the Inner Close to the Outer Close.

The castle was built in stages during Scotland’s independent history. While this site always was a fortified place, and had walls by 1496, the castle as it exists today was built mainly during the reigns of James IV, V, and VI. The major buildings – the palace, the Great Hall, and the Royal Chapel, form the boundaries of the Inner Close, or courtyard, the fourth side being the barracks building that dates from the 1400s. The earlier castle walls were extended by adding new walls with the double-turreted gate. After James VI of Scotland became also James I of England in 1607, Stirling Castle essentially ceased being the royal residence, and nothing more was constructed.

The Great Hall, built by James IV.
The Unicorn on the roof of the Great Hall, built by James IV. James V was crowned in the Royal Chapel, aged 17 months.
The Great Hall had the arms of the nobles killed at the Battle of Flodden Hill.
Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned here in the Royal Chapel, just a few days old. It was smaller then. Her son, the future James VI, was baptized in the smaller version. In turn, James VI remodelled the Royal Chapel extensively to christen his son, Henry.
More of the Royal Chapel, which was made quite large, remodelled for the christening of James VI’s son Henry. Henry did not live to succeed his father, rather it was Charles I who succeeded James.
The Devil himself watches…
the happy garden scene below, against the former castle wall. Newer fortifications formed the current outer wall.
Outside of the Great Hall.
The fields seen from the castle wall once hosted tournaments and competitions.
And, of course, the view toward the Wallace Monument.
Walking through Stirling after visiting the Castle, I passed the “Settle Inn,” Stirling’s oldest pub, dating from 1733. In non-pandemic times, the pub hosts live music.
No doubt, some of the live music comes from Stirling Bagpipes, with their collection of antique bagpipes & associated paraphernalia. The pipes are made by hand here, and pipes are repaired here, also. Not feeling up to playing the pipes? They sell CDs also. Closed for now, but will be open again, hopefully soon!

The way “home” followed the Back Walk, which follows the town wall, built around 1547, when Henry VIII began the “Rough Wooing.” He attacked Scottish towns along the border, attempting to force Mary, Queen of Scots, to marry his son Edward, uniting the two kingdoms, Scotland and England. Obviously, that didn’t work out. But the Back Walk remains a popular path from the Castle to Dumbarton Road, and the Castle Walk B&B.

When James VI & I went to London, he never looked back. Charles II visited Scotland briefly in 1650, but after that, there were no more royal visits until 1849, when Queen Victoria came. She became quite the fan of Scotland, especially the Highlands, and visited with some regularity.

In 1787, Robert Burns visited Stirling, staying at Wingate’s Inn. This was after the Stuart line had come to an end with Queen Anne’s death in 1714, and the transition to the house of Hanover, George I, from 1714 – 1727. George was Anne’s second cousin, and the closest living Protestant relative. He was followed by George II, 1727 – 1760. George III was king in 1787 (and in 1776 during the American Revolution.) Burns was dismayed by the condition of Stirling Castle, and apparently not impressed by the Hanovers, as he wrote these lines, etching them on the window, aptly titled, “The Stirling Lines:”

“Here Stewarts once in triumph reign’d; And laws for Scotland’s weal ordain’d; But now unroof’d their Palace stands, Their sceptre’s fall’n to other hands; Fallen indeed, and to the earth, Whence grovelling reptiles take their birth. The injur’d Stewart line is gone, A race outlandish fill their throne; An idiot race, to honour lost; Who know them best despise them most.”

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