As you approach Stirling Castle you can feel how similar the hilltop positioning is to the great castle at Edinburgh. After an initial steep climb from town, the land slopes gently upward on the approach while steep rocky slopes and cliffs protect the other three sides of the fortress. I can only assume that this was the preferred situation for a royal castle during centuries of turbulence that defined Scottish history.
Since the earliest structures would have been made from wood (with the exception of a no longer standing, stone chapel), the oldest parts of the castle that can still be viewed are the Old North Gate (built in the 1300’s) and the Terraces (some probably from the 1400’s).
King James IV was a popular and successful king. He embraced the early Renaissance ideas and art that were beginning to spread through Europe and eclipse the medieval style. He wanted to place himself in the same league as the French and English kings, Louis XII and Henry VIII so he began an extensive building program at Stirling Castle to create a magnificent setting for his royal court.
The great hall was heated by five great fireplaces and spiral staircases connected to a trumpeters’ gallery and a minstrels gallery. A grand dais for the king and queen occupied the end of the hall and was framed by bay windows.
By the 1600’s, the royal family had stopped using the rooms and the building was used as quarters for military families.
Today, you won’t see any of these rooms because the building now houses the Regimental Museum of the Argyll and Southerland Highlanders. But don’t be disappointed, because this museum is really interesting! It displays the history of the regiment, including weapons, regalia, and spectacular regimental presentation silver, and battle dioramas to help understand it all.
The statues themselves reflect knowledge of European Renaissance art and literature while having a uniquely Scottish interpretation and were meant to portray the king as a powerful, learned and just monarch.
This design was created as part of the king’s desire to set himself and the royal family above and apart from the nobles in an effort to emulate the great royal families of England and France.
James V died early on in the palace decoration and may have never enjoyed them, so his rooms are left mostly empty, but the rooms of Queen Mary of Guise, who lived on in the palace as regent to her young daughter Mary Queen of Scots, are full of sumptuous tapestries and furnishings.
Interestingly, the palace has been used as a royal “Nursery” since the 14th century, protecting the royal infants with its fortress walls and high cliffs. Since James IV, the nursery resided in the Princes Tower. The Princes Tower was originally part of the original Forework and was incorporated into the south side of the palace. You can walk outside the tower to a small elevated courtyard to get an up-close look at the sculptural grotesques decorating that side of the palace.