Read our regular staff blog and get a behind-the-scenes-view of life and work at Stirling Castle.

A Stone’s Throw Away

by StirlingCastle 30. April 2015 04:24


Just a short walk from the Castle, you will find Argyll's Lodging.

Argyll's Lodging was once home to the 9th Earl of Argyll, and is now open to Stirling Castle visitors, free of charge. It's open daily from 1pm – 4pm.




Over the years, the house was added to and embellished by its previous owners. In the 1660s, it was bought by Archibald Campbell, the 9th Earl of Argyll.


During his time in the townhouse, Argyll made many more changes from adding a screen wall around the courtyard to building an extension. Apart from a few structural changes he left all the original rooms unchanged and to this day much of the decoration survives. 




Just 20 years later, Argyll was declared a traitor when he failed to accept royal authority or denounce the Covenant. He escaped into exile and was later condemned and executed in 1685.


Argyll’s time in the townhouse has helped us to gain a unique insight into the lifestyle of 17th Century noblemen. 




Join a guided tour to hear more about Argyll and its previous owner. Speak to a member of staff onsite to find out more about the tours. 



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Not just in jest

by StirlingCastle 30. March 2015 08:48

Being a good monarch in the medieval period and the Renaissance involved more than making good laws and sober judgements. It was also necessary to preside over a splendid court, with entertainments to delight friends and visitors. In particular, one part of these entertainments has gone down in history– the court jester.



In modern times, the jester tends to appear on the edge of dramatic action. He or she is often depicted in bright, even outlandish clothing, reinforcing a farcical reputation.


But fools and jesters seem to have had prominent places at European courts. They often appear in household records when many others go unnoticed, suggesting that they played an important role in courtly life. Henry VIII even had his most famous fool, Will Somers, included in a portrait of the royal family, albeit on the side-lines.


Providing physical or slapstick humour was a large part of their role. However, many were also renowned for their witty banter. They were there to provide more than just entertainment. The English physician Andre Boorde wrote in 1542 that ‘mirth is one of the chiefest things of Physick’ – that laughter is the best medicine! Fools could also get away with saying things other members of the court could not. Be it delivering bad news or criticising the monarch or other courtiers, the royal fool could use humour as the proverbial ‘spoonful of sugar’ to help the bad news go down.


There is much debate as to how intelligent such members of the court were – were they simply clowns or insightful satirists? It is difficult to judge from the sources we have, especially for Scotland.


Research indicates that there were two classes of fool – the ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’. The former were people that we would now describe as having learning difficulties. Henry VIII’s Will Somers was such a fool.


There are at least two ‘fools’ recorded in Scotland in the reign of James V, John Maccrery and John Lowes, and it is very possible they were in this class as well. Their innocence was thought to bring them closer to God and so they were thought better able to speak the truth – no doubt a quality highly prised by monarchs.


‘Artificial’ fools were ‘jesters’. They were either well-educated satirists or physical clowns. One of this category was Mary of Guise’s jester Ferat, who may well have assisted James Atkinson the juggler in some more ‘low-brow’ entertainment.


Today, children are often chastised for ‘playing the fool’ or acting the ‘class clown’. Yet laughter, and the people who create it, should be highly valued, just as they were in those courts of times past. Laughter lightens us and makes us glad. And if someone can help us laugh at ourselves? Well, that’s even better.



Join us this Easter weekend and meet our jesters who will teach you everything you need to know about playing the fool. 


Nicki Scott
Cultural Resouces Advisor, Historic Scotland 

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A Visit to Stirling Castle

by StirlingCastle 26. March 2015 09:47

Spring is my favourite time of year and what better way to celebrate it than by checking out a superb family friendly Historic Scotland site? Together with my foam sword clad warrior daughters (and the two wee pals they had brought along) we set out on the first day of spring for an assault on Stirling Castle, arguably the most dramatic castle in the land and a personal favourite of mine.



Stirling Castle has that wow factor however you approach it. Whichever road you choose it looms high above the old battlefields on the banks of the Forth, battlefields that have played such a crucial role in the story of Scotland. My daughters got more and more excited as the castle loomed larger and larger in front of us on the approach from Loch Lomond.


Delving inside we nipped in to pick up a ‘member get member’ membership for our friends who were chumming us along. This is a brilliant scheme that knocks quite a bit of cash off if you introduce other people to Historic Scotland. Mum and dad were happy to make a saving and their kids loved the wee book that comes with membership listing all the sites, which they immediately started planning trips to!


We moved on up through the sturdy old gates of this seminal castle and a blast of spring sunshine greeted us on the large swathe of grass just to the left of the main gate. The kids didn’t hesitate and raced off to swirl around under the grand shadow of the bulk of Stirling Castle competing in races over to the ramparts and back.


Making the most of the spring weather we delved down to the northern reaches of the castle, where we took a walk along the ramparts staring out towards the Ochil Hills in search of enemy armies. My eldest was interested in the Battle of Sheriffmuir that raged over in those hills in 1715. She’s developed quite a fascination with Bonnie Prince Charlie and was intrigued to hear that had the Jacobites carried the day at Sheriffmuir and been able to advance into Stirling Scottish and indeed British history could have been very different.


We were lucky to time our visit to coincide with the last week of the Great Tapestry of Scotland being displayed in the Great Hall. The largest medieval hall in Scotland is a dramatic work of art in itself. It has been brilliantly renovated and is now back to its opulent Renaissance best. It was built to show the power and right to rule of the Scottish monarchs and it certainly does that.


It was time for lunch now and we marched down to the Unicorn Café. I’ve become quite a fan of the cafes at Historic Scotland sites and this one shone - with the highlight the rather unusual haggis, neeps and tatties pie, which was delicious! The kids tucked into the little boxed lunches, which they’ve become big fans of too. There was time for a quick energy boosting cake before it was back out to explore Stirling Castle. There is so much to do here it can easily swallow up a whole day.


For most kids the highlights of a visit to this castle are usually the Castle Exhibition and the Palace Vaults and it’s easy to see why. At the former you can mess around with a virtual reality skeleton and play historic snakes and ladders. The latter is even more fun with a volley of rooms such as the Musician’s Vault, where the kids made music, and the Tailor’s Vault, where they loved throwing on period garb. The Jester’s Vault meanwhile allowed the wee ones to mess around with a playful jester.


I like the fact that they go the extra mile at Stirling Castle. Summer sees all manner of weird and wonderful extra attractions, but even on this first day of spring there was a ‘Stitch in Time’ in the majestic setting of the Queen’s Apartments. Here we joined the royal embroiderer (who was draped in period costume). The kids loved sitting down with this regal lady hearing the tales of the unicorn in the tapestries that hung all around us and also the Harry Potter connection! They also loved getting the chance to do some embroidery for themselves and got to take away their creations.



Our visit culminated in the King’s Apartments, where a right royal looking chap awaited in period costume, complete with a fierce looking sword. He posed for pictures on a brace of thrones with the wee ones and got them laughing and smiling. It is little touches like this that really help to bring a historic site to life for little minds and imaginations.


We left glad that we had kicked off spring with a visit to this superb castle. If you’ve never been or just not been for a while then why not head along to see what’s on offer? Whether you are seven or 70 I reckon Stirling Castle has plenty stored up within its mighty old walls to please everyone.


Robin McKelvie
This post originally appeared on 
The Chain Mail

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