Stirling Castle is a magnificent fortress that played an important role in Scotland’s turbulent past. It sits on top of volcanic rock and has three sides of steep cliffs, which aided in the defense of the castle. But life inside the castle walls wasn’t always about war. Celebrations were important in Stirling Castle as well, especially in the Great Hall.
The Great Hall is a magnificent room built for James IV around 1503 so that he could impress his bride. The hall was the largest banqueting hall in medieval Scotland at the time, with two tall windows, five huge fireplaces and a high roof. In the 19th century, the Great Hall was converted to military barracks, with the roof replaced and the grand room sectioned off for soldiers. In 1964, the Great Hall was no longer needed by the military and so it was restored to its old splendour. On November 30, 1999, Queen Elizabeth II reopened the Great Hall.
There are two celebrations in the Great Hall’s history worth mentioning. In 1566, Mary, Queen of Scots held a celebration for her son at Christmastime. The event was a dinner where the guests sat at a round table, much like King Arthur’s Knights. Mary’s guests ate several courses that were brought into the Great Hall by a moving stage. Toward the end of the evening, a child who was dressed like an angel was lowered from the ceiling and recited Bible verses.
Another notable event here was James VI’s celebration of his son’s baptism in 1594. The highlight of the three-day event was a fish dinner where the food was brought in on a model of a ship that was over 16.5 feet long and more than 39 feet high. The ship “sailed” around the Great Hall on an artificial ocean. Guns on the ship were fired as part of the celebration, but all they did was frighten the guests.
Entertainment is still important in Stirling Castle. Today, there is a program called the Palace Project, which is setting up the castle as it would have looked in the mid-sixteen hundreds to give tourists a better understanding of life in that time period. When finished, there will be people dressed in costume who wander the grounds to share stories of the past. The project has cost 12 million pounds and is expected to be opened to the public in 2011. I intend to see it someday. How about you?