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Stirling castle, which stands on a dolorite hill over 400 feet above sea level, occupies an important strategic position controlling the main ford of the river Forth; it is thus a link between the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland. The castle is of unknown age, but from the time of Alexander I (d.1124) until the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603 it was an important royal centre, rivalling Edinburgh as Scotland's capital. Called the ‘Key to Scotland’, the castle changed hands many times during the Wars of Scottish Independence. It fell to the English in 1296, was recovered in 1297, but fell again to Edward I in 1304. It was to relieve a siege on the castle that Edward II risked a battle at Bannockburn, 2½ miles to the south in 1314. When Robert the Bruce was victorious he had the building dismantled, so fearful was he of the consequences of losing it. Edward Balliol surrendered the castle to Edward III in 1334 but the Scots regained it in 1339. As a result of this turbulent history, the fortifications and palace buildings within the irregular enclosure are of the 15th cent. and later.