Edinburgh Castle is one of the most iconic historic sites in the world. Perched on Castle Rock overlooking the city of Edinburgh, the Castle was the home to Scottish royalty for centuries. Today, Edinburgh Castle is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Britain. So, who owns this famous castle now?
Edinburgh Castle is owned by the Ministers of the devolved Scottish government. The castle is run and maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. The Ministry of Defense also has an interest as it still runs and administers parts of the castle.
Edinburgh Castle has been witness to many significant historic events. Ownership of the imposing fortress was seen as key for anyone wishing to rule Scotland. In this article, I shall explain:
- Who owns Edinburgh Castle today
- Chart some of the castle’s previous historical owners
The Current Owners of Edinburgh Castle
In 1905, the War Office handed over the keys to Edinburgh Castle to the Office of Works, even though a garrison remained on site until 1923.
The Office of Works was created back in the 14th century to oversee the maintenance of royal residences and castles.
The Office of Works became a part of the newly put together wartime Ministry of Works in 1940. Later this became a part of the Department of the Environment.
Come the 1990s it was deemed fit and proper to transfer the running of Edinburgh Castle back north of the border.
Historic Scotland took over the task of running and maintaining the castle in 1991.
They continue to do so in its present-day guise as Historic Environment Scotland. This is a non-departmental public body with charitable status. They are responsible for promoting and maintaining Scotland’s historic environment.
The following video from Historic Environment Scotland takes you on a tour of Edinburgh Castle.
Actual ownership of the castle now sits with the ministers of the devolved Scottish government. The board of trustees that governs Historic Environment Scotland is appointed by ministers.
The Castle Governor
The Ministry of Defense retains an interest in Edinburgh castle, helping maintain the military buildings and regimental museums. From the late 16th century the castle became more of a military garrison than a royal residence.
The garrison moved out of the castle to the purpose-built Redford Barracks on the outskirts of the city in 1923. However, the military still performs administrative and ceremonial duties within the castle.
All this is overseen by the governor of Edinburgh Castle. This is a historic post that was re-introduced in 1935 and based at the Governor’s House within the castle grounds.
The Governor is the monarch’s representative responsible for holding the castle. This is not such a trying or dangerous task as it would have been a few hundred years ago. The post now is largely a ceremonial one, but one which still carries great pride and honor for its holder.
The current Governor of Edinburgh Castle is Major General Alistair Bruce. If the surname jumped out at you from Scottish history, then your instincts were right.
The Governor is an ancestor of Robert the Bruce, who took the castle back from the English in the early part of the 14th century before going on to win a famous victory at the Battle of Bannockburn
In recent times the role of Governor has been given to a senior army officer. It is a nod to the historic and continued military link with Edinburgh Castle. The following table lists the governors since the turn of the century.
|Date Started in Role
|Date Ended Role
|Major-General Robert Gordon
|Major-General Sir Nicholas Parker
|Major-General Euan London
|Major-General David McDowall
|Major-General Andrew Mackay
|Major-General David Shaw
|Major-General Nick Eeles
|Major-General Michael Riddell-Webster
|Major-General Alastair Bruce of Crionaich
Famous Historic Owners
Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortifications in Europe. It is also the most besieged castle in Britain. On 26 occasions the castle was besieged by unwelcome visitors at its walls.
It may look like an impregnable location, but there were times when it proved otherwise.
This royal castle has had some famous owners, not always Scottish. The English have prized the castle as a military stronghold and a symbol of power during their long history of skirmishes with their old foe.
The following are seven names from history that have owned this imposing fortress.
1. David I
The first owner of the castle we see today was the Scottish King David I. The site on Castle Rock had long been used as a defensive vantage point. However, the castle we recognize today was begun by David.
David spent much of his youth at the court of the English King Henry I.
He later fought for Henry’s daughter Matilda’s right as heir to the English throne. David became King of the Scots in 1124 and set about administrative reform, as well as embarking on a program of monastery and castle building.
One of these projects was Edinburgh Castle, including a chapel built in memory of his mother. St. Margaret’s Chapel still stands today and is the oldest surviving building in the Scottish capital.
David I was the first king to live in Edinburgh Castle. He invited Norman families he knew from his time in England to settle on Scottish lands. One of these was Robert de Brus, whose family name became Bruce. More on them later.
2. Edward I
England and Scotland have had a fractious relationship, to say the least. Edinburgh Castle was often at the center of the dispute.
In 1296, the castle was under one of its many sieges throughout history. The castle fell and transferred from Scottish ownership into the hands of the English king, Edward I.
Edward was a ruthless military leader, known to history as the Hammer of the Scots. He set about bolstering the castle defenses, determined to hang on to this prized possession. Among the treasures he re-routed back to London was the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, used in the inauguration of Scottish Kings.
3. Robert the Bruce
Robert the Bruce was crowned King of the Scots in 1306 at a tumultuous time in Scotland. The death of Edward I in 1307 provided an opportunity for the Scots to prise their country back out of English hands.
The new English king, Edward II, lacked the intent and ruthlessness of his predecessor. The Scots continued a form of guerrilla warfare under the command of Robert the Bruce, and Edinburgh was in their sights.
Aided by inside knowledge, a group of 30 men scaled the cliffs on the north side of the castle on March 14th, 1314. This daring raid was under the leadership of Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray.
Randolph and his team surprised the English garrison. The castle was taken and placed under the ownership of Robert the Bruce, Randolph’s uncle.
In response, Robert the Bruce ordered for the castle to be destroyed to prevent it from falling into enemy hands again (source). He realized the castle was more beneficial to an invading force than to him.
4. David II
King David II was only five years old when she succeeded his father, Robert the Bruce. As is often the case when the throne passes to one so young, rivals seek to take advantage.
Young David spent much of his youth in France, protected from his Scottish enemies. When he returned, an ill-fated attack on England saw him as a prisoner for 11 years.
David’s reign may not be viewed too kindly, but he certainly left his mark in Edinburgh, one which is looked upon far more favorably. After his release from England, he set about constructing David’s Tower at Edinburgh Castle.
The castle had taken a battering during the wars of independence. David’s vision was a three-story tower, 60 feet high. He wanted a defensive structure that could repel any future attacks. The tower housed his royal residency.
David II died at Edinburgh Castle in 1371 and never saw the completed tower. The tower later took the brunt of a siege against one of the castle’s most famous residents.
5. Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots preferred royal residence was Holyrood House at the other end of the Royal Mile. However, she recognized the castle’s powerful symbolism and hosted grand dinners and events there.
Mary had returned to Scotland from France in 1561, but her reign faced stiff opposition. Her marriage to her second husband, Lord Darnley, did not smooth matters much, and it was a marriage that would soon falter.
In March 1566, Mary’s secretary, David Riccio, was murdered before her eyes at Holyrood House by some of Darnley’s aides.
Mary took up residence at Edinburgh Castle after Riccio’s murder. Three months later, she gave birth to the future King James VI who would also become King James I of England. Darnley was killed in an explosion outside the castle walls the following year.
Mary fled to England in 1568 following her forced abdication, and civil war returned to Scotland.
Edinburgh Castle held out in support for Mary, but the Lang siege between 1571 and 1573 eventually saw her supporters surrender. During the 10-day bombardment which sealed the castle’s fate, David’s Tower came crumbling down.
6. James I
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, the crown of England went to the next available heir. This was King James VI of Scotland who now became King James I of England. The two old foes now had the same monarch, an act referred to as the Union of the Crowns (source).
James upped sticks and took up residence in London. He wanted a closer union between Scotland and England. However, he knew this would take time considering the centuries-old enmity between them. In 1604 he announced he wanted to be known as King of Great Britain and by 1606 the countries had the Union Jack as their flag.
Although born in Edinburgh Castle, James showed no attachment to the fortification. Indeed, he only ever returned to Scotland and Edinburgh Castle once again, in 1617. From now on the castle was predominantly a military garrison rather than a royal residence.
7. Oliver Cromwell
In 1650, the English were back. The civil war in England saw the execution of King Charles I. England was declared a Commonwealth, with Oliver Cromwell as its Lord Protector. In other words, Cromwell was the new boss and he was none too pleased when the Scots declared Charles II as their new king.
In response, Cromwell moved north with his New Model Army, and an English force once again invaded Scotland. They won a victory at the Battle of Dunbar and soon went on to take the city of Edinburgh and its castle.
The puritan Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas and turned the castle’s Great Hall into accommodation for his garrison. He was in control of the castle where his executed nemesis King Charles I had stayed overnight in 1633 ahead of his Scottish coronation
The Commonwealth lasted until 1660 when the monarchy was restored under Charles II. He was proclaimed King once again in Edinburgh, and three months later he restored the Scottish Parliament.
A Military Garrison and A Prison
Although still a Royal castle, Edinburgh became more of a garrison from the 17th century. James VI of Scotland would have been delighted to see the two countries finally enter a union a century after he formed the Union of the Crowns. The Act of Union was signed in 1707, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain was formed.
However, this did not settle the ownership of Edinburgh Castle once and for all. The Glorious Revolution in 1688 which saw the removal of the Catholic King James II led to the Jacobite rebellions. This series of uprisings wanted to return ownership of Edinburgh Castle to the House of Stewart by restoring James to the throne.
In 1715, the Jacobites attempted to scale the cliffs on the north side of Edinburgh Castle, attempting to replicate the success of Thomas Randolph four hundred years earlier. However, they were unsuccessful. From thereon the castle was also used as a prison, particularly during the latter part of the 18th century.
Today under the ownership of the Scottish Government, Edinburgh Castle is a more sedate place to visit. It is a massive tourist attraction, with history abounding everywhere you look.