Dunnottar Castle could be called a hidden gem amongst the plethora of Scottish castles . It is not very well-known but it has a fascinating history including visits from William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots.The castle must have the most spectacular location in Scotland , sitting on a rocky promontory on the east coast of Scotland just outside Stonehaven , about 15 miles from Aberdeen . The word impregnable was probably invented for this castle. It is surrounded on all sides by a sheer cliff . Entry is by a tunnel through the cliff . Once you actually reach the top the views are stunning. In the 12th Century Dunnottar Castle became a Catholic settlement with the first stone chapel being consecrated in 1276. According to “Blind Harry”, a 15th Century poet, whose epic poem was an inspiration for the 1996 film “Braveheart”, William Wallace set fire to this chapel with a garrison of English soldiers taking refuge inside. The current chapel was built in the 16th Century.Dunnottar Castle was home to one of the most powerful families in Scotland, the Earls Marischal, from the 14th century when Sir William Keith, the 1st Earl Marischal, built his Tower House, also known as the Keep. The Earl Marischal was an office bestowed on the Keiths by James II. The role was one of the three great offices of State, along with the Constable and the Steward. The Earl Marischal had specific responsibility for ceremonial events, the Honours of Scotland and for the safety of the King’s person within parliament. Consequently it was not unusual for the monarchy, including Mary Queen of Scots, to spend time and stay at Dunnottar.Nowadays you can get married in Dunnottar castle , although you do so at your own risk since there is no shelter in the castle buildings .
Historic Scotland is currently engaged in a £12 million project to return the royal palace within the walls of Stirling Castle to how it might have been in the mid-16th century.New research has revealed the cosmopolitan character of the Renaissance Scottish court at Stirling Castle .
The palace will reopen to the public in 2011 as a new Scottish visitor experience. Freelance historian, John Harrison, has been investigating original documents .Mr Harrison’s source is The Bread Book, an account of who received loaves from the royal kitchens throughout 1549 when the palace was the main residence of Scotland’s queen mother, Mary de Guise , mother of Mary , Queen of Scots . Mary, Queen of Scots was born in nearby Linlithgow Palace and she was only 9 months old when she was crowned Queen of Scotland in the Chapel Royal in Stirling Castle on September 9, 1543. On most days a loaf was granted to the Morys – or Moors – who Mr Harrison believes were probably either black Africans or Arabs originating from North Africa.
“This is a fascinating glimpse of the diversity of the royal court at Stirling in the mid-16th century. It was quite cosmopolitan at the time, with the French Mary de Guise at its head, and surrounded not just by Scots but by people from Spain, the Rhineland and what is now Belgium. There were a few English, but they were mostly prisoners. Just who the Moors were, and what they were doing, is difficult to say. They were quite low in the court hierarchy, but were part of the household and getting bread at royal expense.”
Hints have survived that there may have been Africans in Scotland even earlier. There is a poetic reference by Dunbar to a woman who has been assumed to be – ‘the Lady with the Meikle Lips’. Such references are mostly rather uncertain, and may have other explanations, and the importance of The Bread Book is its clarity at a time when record-keeping was still relatively thin. Just as fascinating is what The Bread Book adds to our understanding of the way the court was run, and who had access to the queen. The evidence suggests that rather than acting like many of the Tudor dynasty in England and taking her main meals in private, deep within the network of royal apartments, Mary de Guise would dine in the Queen’s Outer Hall.
“Quite a wide range of people had access to her, not ordinary farmers but lots of people who were fairly well-to-do, which is important as she was working hard to build and protect the interests of her young daughter – Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary de Guise was an intelligent, decisive woman and a smart operator.