A Brief History of Stirling and Scotland

I’ll give a little history lesson of Stirling and Scotland before I write about the places we visited. It will help people understand a bit more about the areas we visit and also, some of the names that come up.

Stirling is the most important of all Scottish cities. Because of its location the person who controls Stirling controls the nation. The only way to get into the highlands is to cross through Stirling and avoid the treacherous lands to the east and west. This means that Stirling has seen more than its share of blood in the past. The castle in Stirling (11th Century) is perched on top of a rock and has the perfect view of the countryside and of approaching armies.

William Wallace and Robert the Bruce

Two very popular Scottish heroes: William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are well known to this area. Everyone knows William Wallace through the movie Braveheart. He is well known for his guerrilla fighting tactics and also for being the leader of the Scottish resistance movement in the 13th century. He became the biggest thorn in the side of England’s Edward I who would stop at nothing to have Wallace captured and executed.

The most famous of the resistance battles occurred in 1297 when Wallace and a group of Scotsman armed with pitchforks managed to defeat the British in Stirling and take the castle for the Scots. For the first time Scotland was free of occupying forces. The same year Wallace was knighted and declared the guardian of Scotland.

Eventually after years of fighting the Brits, Wallace was betrayed by one of his own Scotsman in 1305. He was captured, moved to London and given an unfair trial. He was declared a traitor (though he had never sworn allegiance to Edward I) and sentenced to death.

At that time, the punishment for treason was to be dragged to the place of execution, hanged until just before dead, drawn (entrails ripped out), quartered (limbs cut off), and decapitated. His head was put on a spike and displayed on the London Bridge. Anyone who came close to the head was to be executed. His right arm was sent to Newcastle and put on display; his left arm to Berwick; his right leg to Perth; and his left leg to Aberdeen. This was done to discourage any others who thought to rebel against English rule.

It obviously didn’t work and William was made a martyr to the cause of the Scottish people. Robert the Bruce immediately picked up the resistance where Wallace left off and became King of Scotland in 1306. On his way to re-conquer Scotland, Edward I died and Scotland was left on its own for the next 200 years when we meet the next really famous Scot: Mary Queen of Scots.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary was born (1542) the first child of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise of France. Within days of her birth her father died making her Queen of Scotland. Henry VIII in England decided that she would make a suitable wife for his young son and sent an army into Scotland to nab her (a.k.a. the Rough Wooing).

Henry wasn’t successful in his quest and Mary of Guise moved the infant to the security of Stirling Castle. As Mary got older, and attempts to gain control of her life became more frequent, Mary was sent to France to grow up under the protection of the French court. Here she thrived and eventually married her younger cousin Francois who soon after became Francois II of France. This made Mary the Queen of France on top of being the Queen of Scotland.

Francois died within two years of their marriage and Mary chose to return to Scotland rather than remain under the strict eye of her mother-in-law Catherine de Medicis. On retuning to Scotland she immediately got involved in the whole Catholic / Protestant fray and made enemies on both sides. This and her love of men would eventually become her undoing.

Her second marriage was to her first cousin, Henry Stuart, whom she grew to hate. He was very interested in the throne and because of this Mary passed a writ that would not allow Henry access to the throne should she should die without an heir. This was something that saved her life.

Rather than spend time with her husband she spent time with her Italian adviser, David Rizzio whom was very much hated by her husband and his supporters. When she was six months pregnant, Rizzio was murdered and Mary only escaped harm because she had yet to produce and heir. Three months later James VI of Scotland was born. After the death of her adviser, the only person she would trust and talk to was James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell.

By this point Mary hated her husband so much that she and the Earl plotted to have him killed. The plan was a success but it earned Mary more enemies than she had allies. She was forced to abdicate in favour of her son and she was promptly imprisoned in Scotland. She managed to escape to England where she threw herself at the mercy of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. This was a fatal mistake because Mary was seen as a threat to Elizabeth’s position on the throne.

On her return to Scotland in 1561, Mary was declared Queen of England by England’s Catholics faction. Their reason being that Elizabeth I was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII whereas Mary was the legitimate granddaughter of Margaret Tutor, the sister of Henry VIII. This made Mary’s claim to the throne more eligible than that of her cousin Elizabeth, especially in the eyes of the Queen’s enemies.

For this reason Elizabeth I had Mary imprisoned in the Tower of London and after 19 years she was finally beheaded. Mary was buried in Peterborough but later moved to Westminster Abbey by her son James I of England.

James VI of Scotland

Elizabeth I was the one who eventually united the thrones of England and Scotland. She died without an heir but named Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, her successor. This was in fact a brilliant move because it ended centuries of fighting between the two nations.

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