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

Discover Mary of Guise

by StirlingCastle 9. June 2015 03:45

Mary of Guise, one of the most capable rulers in Scottish history, was born 500 years ago. But the mother of Mary Queen of Scots is largely forgotten today. Her remarkable story, brought to life through her own words, is told in this short film.

The historian John Harrison explains how Mary of Guise, wife and widow of King James V, ruled Scotland as Regent through some of the country's most testing times. Her letters reveal the strength, wit and sacrifice of a mother who risked everything to defend her daughter's throne.

The Other Mary, an exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of Mary of Guise's birth, is on daily from 9.30am in Stirling Castle until 30th November. This exhibition is included in the admission price. Buy your tickets online in advance to beat the queues.

Steve Farrar

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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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