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Stirling Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Stirling North, Stirling

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Latitude: 56.124 / 56°7'26"N

Longitude: -3.9482 / 3°56'53"W

OS Eastings: 278987

OS Northings: 694073

OS Grid: NS789940

Mapcode National: GBR 1C.L0ZJ

Mapcode Global: WH4P6.BB4L

Entry Name: Stirling Castle

Scheduled Date: 22 February 1994

Last Amended: 4 March 2019

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90291

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: castle

Location: Stirling

County: Stirling

Electoral Ward: Stirling North

Traditional County: Stirlingshire


Stirling Castle was one of the most important royal castles of medieval and early modern Scotland. It occupies a volcanic outcrop which commands the upper Forth valley. The castle is complex but comprises three main areas; the outer defences including the esplanade; the main enclosure (at the summit of the rock) bounded in the south by the Forework and encircled by a defensive wall and including both the Inner and Outer Closes; and the Nether Bailey to the north.

The three component areas contain a number of different spaces, buildings and features. The first area is represented by the esplanade and outer defences. The esplanade dates to 1809 when it was formed as a parade ground and the outer defences largely date to 1708-14. The main element of the outer defences is a straight wall fronted by deep rock cut ditch and pierced by a single arched gateway known as the New Port. There is a flanking gun battery to the north (the Spur) and within the ditch there is a vaulted caponier. The defences contain the remnants of earlier 16th century work, probably constructed during the regency of Mary of Guise. Beyond the New Port is an area called Guardroom Square which was created as part of an inner line of defences. Within it now are 18th and 19th century buildings including the guardroom, stables and the straw store dating to 1813 which is now a shop. An arched stone bridge crosses the inner ditch to the Overport Gate and Counterguard beyond.

Dominating the Counterguard and providing access to the main enclosure is the Forework, which was built in the 1490s for James IV. The Forework is a curtained crosswall extending across the full width of the castle rock. It has a crenellated parapet carried on a decorative double-corbelled cornice and there are rectangular towers at each end; the Prince's Tower in the west and Elphinstone's Tower in the east. The central gatehouse has drum-towers flanking a three-opening pended entry, and beyond was a pair of semi-circular towers placed symmetrically to either side of the gate. Elphinstone's Tower was reduced in height in 1689 to form an artillery platform, while the gatehouse was also reduced in height in the 18th century.  Crenellations were added to the truncated gate in the 19th century.

Within the Forework is the Outer Close, which is principally a service court, although it is dominated to the north and west by the walls Great Hall and the east elevation of the Palace. Running to the east of the Great Hall is the road through the North Gate, around which are ancillary buildings including the Barrack Master's house. Immediately within the Forework is the early 19th century Fort Major's House which runs up to the Three-Gun Battery which was placed on the reduced stump of Elphinstone's Tower. Skirting the 15th century curtain wall of the Close between the tower and the North Gate, and beneath the 1689 Grand Battery, are the vaulted Great Kitchens, built to service James IVs new Great Hall. They had their vaults removed and were filled in when the Grand Battery was built above them. The kitchens were excavated and the vaults restored in 1921. The kitchen in the upper floor of the North Gate also served the Great Hall.

The Inner Close houses the royal accommodation of the castle; the Chapel Royal, the Great Hall, the Palace and the King's Old Building. These buildings are set out on the crown of the castle rock and form a slightly irregular quadrangle.

The King's Old Building was probably James IV's private lodging. It is on the highest point of the castle rock and is the oldest structure within the Inner Close. It is likely to incorporate older structures on an earlier alignment at its south end. During the 17th, 18th and 19th century the building was greatly modified to provide accommodations for the officers of the castle garrison. The north end was rebuilt and enlarged in a baronial style by Robert William Billings after a fire in 1855. It now houses the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum.

The Great Hall forms the eastern side of the Inner Close and was constructed in the late 15th/ early 16th century. The principal floor is elevated slightly above the original level of the Inner Close above a vaulted basement; towards its south end a symmetrical pair of projecting bay windows lights the east and west sides of the dais. The hall is entered through a door in the north end of the west wall, originally by a bridge over a ditch (now vaulted over). Internally there are five fireplaces and four spiral staircases, connecting the hall to the service areas below, the wall-walk, the minstrels' gallery and trumpet loft. The hall was significantly altered in the late 18th century when it was turned into a barracks. It was restored using evidence of its medieval form between 1964 and 1999.

The Palace is a quadrangular structure that extends from the Inner Close to the Forework and abuts the Prince's Tower with imposing Renaissance façades enriched with figurative sculpture on the north, east and south elevations. The west range partly collapsed in the 17th century. The principal floor contains an almost symmetrical pair of royal lodgings, each now composed of an outer hall, a presence chamber or inner hall and a bedchamber that led to a number of small closets. The rooms are grouped around three sides of a rectangular central courtyard known as the Lion's Den, with a gallery from the main entrance connecting the two suites on the west side; from a central doorway, a stair gave access to the courtyard.

The Chapel Royal forms the northern side of the quadrangle and was built in 1594 for the baptism of Prince Henry, son of James VI and Queen Anna, on the site of an earlier chapel. It has a rectangular plan with a central doorway which is emphasised by a doorpiece designed as a Classical triumphal arch, with paired columns flanking an arched doorway.

To the north of the central area of the castle is the Nether Bailey. This is located beyond the North Curtain Wall, through which the North Gate gives access. The North Gate once formed an entrance to the castle. The outer part of the gate probably dates to 1381 and was the work of Robert II. It has a dog-legged, vaulted passage leading to a pointed-arched gate, originally defended by a portcullis, with a postern in the western side of the passage and a small porter's lodge to the east. The original form of the superstructure is unknown; it was rebuilt as a kitchen in 1511–12, and the second floor was again altered in 1719. Although the Nether Bailey had two posterns gates during the medieval period, 17th century strengthening of the castle has removed these creating a walled enclosure. Re-use of this area by the British army cleared away any upstanding medieval buildings leaving 19th century magazines, a guard house and the remains of a firing range.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area within which evidence relating to the monument's construction and use is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above ground elements of the Princess Louise's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders South African War Memorial and the Robert the Bruce Statue including the paved, fenced area around it, the modern interiors of all shops and the café, all structures, fixtures, fittings dating from after 1990, and the top 300mm all surfaced areas of the esplanade to allow for maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is an outstanding example of a medieval royal castle with later alterations and additions. It dates from at least the 12th century with a significant phase of remodelling during the 16th century under the Stewart monarchy and later 18th and 19th century additions when the castle served as a major base in Scotland for the British Army. It demonstrates the development of fortified and domestic architecture from at least the 12th to 17th century. In particular, there is an extremely significant collection of surviving buildings that date to when the castle was at its height as a royal residence under the Stewart monarchy.

The earliest certain reference to Stirling Castle concerns the endowment of a chapel within an existing castle at Stirling by Alexander I between 1105 and 1115. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Stirling Castle became a favourite royal residence and important administrative centre, as well as a strategical important fortification. Many of the castle's earliest structures were probably built from timber and earth, although some buildings within the castle were probably stone built as early as 1287 when Richard the Mason was recorded as working at the castle.

The earliest upstanding structure is the North Gate, which is all that now survives of work by the early Stewart kings, before James IV began his major campaign in the 1490s. James IV was responsible for The Forework, the King's Old Building and Great Hall. The planning of these buildings suggests that James had an overall concept to create a fitting modern royal residence in line with those of other European monarchs, making the best use of the topography of the site to create a regular courtyard arrangement.

James IV's architecture shows evidence of architectural interchanges with England. The Great Hall was under construction at the time of the king's marriage to Margaret Tudor in 1503, and it is significant that the hall's overall design is similar to that of a number of English royal halls, in particular Eltham Palace, begun 20 years earlier. The Forework, although very significantly altered, still gives an impression of the magnificence of this work. The soaring towers with ornate architecture of the Forework when first built may reflect James IV's interest in chivalry and Arthurian legend. The ultimate inspiration for the Forework and the gatehouse is likely to have been the tower keeps of 14th century France, an idea widely taken up across Europe. The imposing triplet of gateways suggest influence from the Classical and Renaissance entrances of Italy; again it was used across Europe, for example at Bruges and in the Palace of Whitehall in London.

The Palace built by James V is an enormously significant building and arguably one of the first to be built of a Renaissance design in the British Isles. It is a highly enriched quadrangular structure with very fine and complex Renaissance frontages on its north, east and south sides. The Palace is an outstanding example of Renaissance royal planning, magnificently reflecting contemporary ideas on royal authority and an increasingly sophisticated courtly life. It contains an almost symmetrical pair of royal lodgings, with the rooms carefully graded in scale from the larger outer halls, through progressively smaller spaces of the outer chambers and bedchambers, to the small closets. The most important elements are the remnants of the 16th century details and fittings; these include the fireplaces the royal apartments. Together with the work carried out for James V at Falkland, Holyrood and Linlithgow, the Palace at Stirling demonstrates that James was an architectural patron of major importance and one fully aware of European architectural developments.

The Chapel Royal was the last major royal building to be constructed within the castle. It was quickly built In 1594 for the baptism of Prince Henry, son of James VI and Queen Anna, and at a time when there was relatively little church building happening in Scotland.  The ceiling retains important tromp l'oeil painted fragments of a scheme of decoration carried out by Valentine Jenkin in 1628/9 in advance of Charles I visit to Scotland in 1633.

From its inception Stirling Castle has been a defended site, chosen to utilise the strong natural defence on three sides, and the existing castle has the evidence of many periods of building within its walls and outer defences. The quality and longevity of these defences are defining characteristics of the castle. The outer defences, in particular, exhibit the technical ability of the military engineers who, from the 16th century onwards enhanced and altered the original medieval walls with successive artillery defences. These defences were repaired and renewed following the Jacobite Risings of the late 17th and 18th century.

It has been suggested that the site which Stirling Castle occupies was a power centre from at least the 7th century, and it is highly likely that such a strategic and naturally strong defensive location would have occupied before the medieval period.  Archaeological evidence, however, has not identified any features that can be securely dated to earlier than the 12th century, while the first specific historical reference is from the early 12th century. The excavations that have taken place are limited and it is likely that evidence of the earliest fortifications of the castle will survive as may archaeological deposits associated with the pre-1100 occupation of the rock. There is also the potential for old ground surfaces to be preserved beneath the castle and esplanade and for other environmental remains to survive also. This evidence could provide information about the contemporary environment and landscape within which the castle was built. There is also the potential for evidence relating to the various sieges of the castle within and outwith the perimeter of the castle's defences, which could enhance our knowledge of the conduct of medieval sieges. The areas of land to the north, west and south of the castle, beyond the fortifications, may contain evidence of daily life within the walls in the form of midden and other dumped material. They may also preserve evidence of the formal gardens associated with the castle from at least as early as the reign of James IV.

Contextual Characteristics

Stirling Castle may be seen as one of a range of medieval and later medieval castle types that are found in Scotland. Varying in form, they chart royal and aristocratic power and changing defensive and domestic requirements, often reflecting wider societal change as well as developments such as the increased use of artillery. They have the potential to enable us to understand the impact of feudalism, the nature of royal power and lordship, patterns of land tenure and the evolution of local landscapes.

There are a number of associated sites in the vicinity which give important context to the castle and add to its significance. The castle is situated on a volcanic outcrop above the city of Stirling.  A settlement first developed on the ridge running down from the Castle Rock to the right bank of the Forth because of the existence of the castle, which was a political and economic power centre, and because of the proximity of an important bridging point of the Forth (scheduled monuments SM9020 and SM8264). The principal street of the medieval burgh was Broad Street which contained the townhouses of the nobility who needed to be close to the Royal Court.  Two buildings still survive which give a sense of this development along Broad Street. To the south-east of the castle stand Mar's Wark (scheduled monument SM90829) and Argyll's Lodgings (listed building LB41255); two aristocratic dwellings of the 16th and 17th centuries respectively. The buildings are closely associated with the castle, and enable comparison and interpretation of a non-royal strand of Court life.

To the south of the castle are the King's Knot and remains of the former Royal Gardens (scheduled monument SM90288). The gardens formed part of an extensive area of the parkland known as the King's Park. The significance of the castle is heightened through its connection to the surviving elements of these royal gardens and parkland; a connection which does not commonly survive with other royal or aristocratic castles.

Two kilometres to the east, in a bend of the River Forth, stands Cambuskenneth Abbey (scheduled monument SM90055) which was closely connected with Stirling Castle, in a similar way to Holyrood Abbey's association with Edinburgh Castle. At the Battle of Bannnockburn (1314), the abbey was used as the Scottish supply depot, and James III (died 1488) and his queen, Margaret of Denmark (died 1486), were buried before its high altar. Its 13th century bell-tower was probably designed to be a focal point from the castle.

The castle was of strategic importance during the medieval and early modern periods. The castle overlooks and therefore controlled the north-south land routes which met at Stirling as it was the lowest point where the Forth was bridged until the 18th century. Control of Stirling Castle was vital in controlling Scotland, and as a consequence during the Wars of Independence Stirling changed hands several times. Edward I took it in 1296; it was recaptured by William Wallace and Andrew Murray in 1297, after the battle of Stirling Bridge (Inventory Battlefield BTL28); retaken again by the English in 1298, it was back in Scottish hands within a year. Control of Stirling Castle was a principal cause of the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 (Inventory Battlefield BTL4).  

Stirling Castle is located at about 128m above sea level. It was constructed to take advantage of the natural topography of the Castle Rock. The castle is a notable landmark and has panoramic views over the upper Forth Valley. The views to the west and south west of the castle were an essential element in the amenity of its occupants from at least the 1540s. In the foreground of these views was land set aside for a royal hunting forest from the early 12th century, while there were formal gardens immediately below the walls by at least James IV's time (r.1488-1513). The distant views are closed off by the Touch Hills (where the medieval hunting forests of Dundaff and Strathcarron were located) and by the southern Highlands and Menteith, again important royal hunting grounds. These views were appreciated by contemporaries; a late 16th century account emphasised the magnificence of the 'palice' at Stirling and the pleasing views to the fields, the river, the Park and the nearest mountains. The views to the south west of the castle, from the south front of the Palace and the viewing terrace, take in the site of the Battle of Bannockburn. This particular view is likely to have been a key one in the design of the Palace, as it was the victory there which validated the very existence of a Scottish monarchy. The castle's location near the centre of the medieval kingdom of Scotland was also of symbolic significance.

Associative Characteristics

Stirling Castle has close historical associations with the Scottish monarchy, European royal houses, Scottish nobility and events of historical importance. Throughout its history Stirling Castle was linked with the reigning Scottish monarch and, with Edinburgh Castle, was one of the principal royal seats throughout the medieval period. This link with Royalty is strongest with the Stewart kings who were responsible for the construction or redevelopment of many of the buildings that survive within the castle today.

The castle's location, high above Stirling gives it a magnificent setting and it has been the subject of painters from as early as the 15th century. One of the earliest representations of the castle is in the 15th century history of Scotland known as the Scotichronicon. Further notable paintings of the castle were drawn in the 17th century by John Slezer (1670s) and a Dutch painter, Jan Vosterman (1683). In the following centuries Stirling Castle was the inspiration for numerous romantic paintings including those by Thomas Hearne, Samuel Bough, William York McGregor and Robert Billings.

In the medieval period, the castle was associated with Arthurian legend as the location of King Arthur's round table. This legend was recounted by several medieval writers and poets include John Barbour, author of The Brus and the 14th century French Chronicler Jean Froissart.

The castle was a military garrison from the 1650s until 1964 and the army's occupation of the castle had a significant impact on its fabric. The long association of the castle with the British army is maintained and interpreted in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum in the King's Old Building.

The castle still has strong associations in the national consciousness as part of the Wars of Independence, most notably with King Robert I (the Bruce). As one of the premier royal castles which survives it is valued as an important place to visit by both domestic and international visitors.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance as one of Scotland's most significant royal castles. It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of medieval royal castles, their chronology and development sequences as well as the cultural and social influences that may have informed their development and architecture. The upstanding buildings retain their structural and decorative characteristics to a marked degree, incorporating many fine and significant architectural features. The suite of 16th century royal lodgings constructed under the Stewart monarchy are among the most significant secular buildings of their time in Scotland. They were conceived and executed on a more expansive scale and to a higher level of detail than at any other Scottish royal palace. Both individually and collectively the buildings are of paramount importance to our understanding of secular architecture in the later medieval and early Renaissance periods in Scotland. These buildings and the layout of the castle demonstrates continental influences as well as incorporating innovative features. The evidence from these buildings enhance our understanding of the symbolic nature of such buildings and the messages their owners were trying to communicate through architecture. Archaeological investigations have shown that there is also very high potential for the survival of important buried archaeological remains, including structures within and around the castle and artefacts and environmental evidence that can enhance our understanding of how such buildings functioned, as well as adding to knowledge of the daily domestic life of the inhabitants and their society and economy relating to the various sieges at the castle. The role of the castle during the Wars of Independence and its association with Scottish monarchy adds to its significance, as does its later use by the British army. The loss of the monument would greatly diminish our ability to understand the siting, character, chronology and development of medieval royal castles in Scotland.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 46245 (accessed on 17/01/2018).

Bower W. Scotichronicon, ed. Watt D. E. R. and others, 9 volumes (1987–1998).

Ewart, G. (1992) 'Stirling Castle (Stirling parish): 16th-19th century fortifications', in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. Page(s): 13-15 Plans, figs.7-9.

Ewart G and Stewart, and D. (1998) 'Stirling Castle (Stirling parish), excavations in the Governor's Kitchens', in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. Page(s): 95-96.

Gallagher D and Ewart G. Stirling Castle Palace, Archaeological Research 2004 – 2008. The History and Archaeology of Stirling Castle Palace. Historic Scotland, Edinburgh.

Gifford, J and Walker, F A 2002. The Buildings of Scotland: Stirling and Central Scotland. Yale University Press. New Haven and London.

Harrison J. Stirling Castle Palace, Archaeological Research 2004 -2008. King of the Castle: Stirling Castle's Landscape Setting. Historic Scotland, Edinburgh.

Fawcett R. (201) Stirling Castle: The Restoration of the Great Hall. CBA Research Report 130

Historic Environment Scotland 2018. Stirling Castle Statement of Significance.

RCAHMS 1963. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Stirlingshire: an inventory of the ancient monuments, 2v. Edinburgh. Page(s): 179-223, No.192.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Stirling Castle
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Related Designations

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

Princess Louise's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders South African War Memorial, Stirling Castle Esplanade, StirlingLB41117
Designation TypeListed Building (C)StatusDesignated

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

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Robert the Bruce Statue, Stirling Castle Esplanade, StirlingLB41120
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1-3 The Esplanade, Stirling Castle, StirlingLB41284
Designation TypeListed Building (B)StatusDesignated

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Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

King's Park
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Related Designations

Designation TypeListed Building (C)StatusDesignated

Designation TypeListed Building (B)StatusDesignated

Designation TypeListed Building (B)StatusDesignated

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Designation TypeScheduled MonumentStatusDesignated


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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