Plan of Stirling Castle Palace
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The origins of Stirling Castle stretch back for almost one thousand years - making it one of the oldest and most important castles in Scotland. Perched on its great rock, the castle is a prominent feature of the upper Forth valley and combines scenic beauty with a rich historic heritage. The security of the castle combined with its symbolic grandeur made it an ideal residence of the Scottish kings, and the core of the palace today consists of the residential complex developed by the Scottish kings in the early sixteenth century. After Historic Scotland completed the restoration of the James IVís great hall in 1999, attention turned to the building mundanely known as the Ďpalace blockí - the splendid Renaissance palace of James V.

Between 2003 and 2005, a programme of detailed investigation was carried out on these royal apartments. The work combined excavation and standing building recording, and was augmented with a variety of specialist work; the researching of historic accounts, analysis of ancient timberwork, and interpretation of the complex statuary and oak roundels known as the Stirling Heads. These various strands of the overall investigation of the site were intended to advise the conservation and presentation of the palace block in due course. Kirkdale Archaeology was responsible for the archaeological programme and the allied specialist contributions. Glasgow University directed research into the details of the 16th century court and the decoration and furnishing of the interiors. Historic Scotland teams worked on the structural survey and conservation of further aspects of the surviving structure and its decoration - including analysis of paint and plaster fragments, and the detailed recording of the Stirling Heads. Specialist teams were commissioned to weave tapestries and carve replicas of the Stirling Heads for display.

The range of information and volume of data rendered standard (paper-based) publication of all the material virtually impossible. Publication of the project in an electronic format was deemed the most appropriate solution - and the website you see here today is the result. In the drawings and photos section you will find hundreds of digitized drawings to download, and hundreds more photographs from the standing building work and excavation to browse online. In the database part of this website you can browse and run searches on any of the (over) 15,000 context sheets that resulted from the fieldwork, while across the publications pages you will find dozens of reports describing and interpreting many aspects of the fieldwork.

Historical Timeline

This outlines most of the the major structural changes that have taken place to the palace over the centuries. Importantly, within the context of this online publication, it provides a useful guide to the chronological framework within which the overall project has been structured, and is a useful reference when viewing any of the phased illustrations or written reports - many of which directly refer to the periods of history defined and outlined below.


From the twelfth century chapel of St. Michael to the nineteenth century ablution house on the Ladiesí Lookout, the area of the Royal Palace has seen the construction of a wide range of buildings each reflecting the changing needs of its community. Whether in peace or war, abandoned or crowded, unroofed or covered in elaborate carving, stripped of its painted plasterwork or lined with tapestries, the ranges around the Lion's Den have seen colourful tenants and heavy usage for more than eight centuries. The palace itself has witnessed changes, from the theatrical pageantry of the renaissance court, through respectful decay and then army occupation, to its present preservation as an ancient monument of international importance. The state of the present building is the result of a wide range of occupants, from king and courtier to the officers and men of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and their interaction with the building. The events and circumstances that have created the present palace are many and various, and in some respects it is only through the articulation of this sequence that the building comes into being. This timeline is the starting point of such a journey into the past, and presents a brief glimpse of the major figures and events that have helped shape the monument we see before us today.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period I: Mid-12th Century - Mid-15th Century

Most of the buildings which stood during the turbulent years of the early and later Middle Ages at Stirling Castle have been obscured or cleared away in advance of later work. By the middle of the 15th century the basic elements of what was to become the great palace of James V were established.

The plan of the principal buildings in place until the reign of James IV evolved around three open spaces and exploited a series of natural building lines in turn defined by natural bedrock terracing. These spaces survive today as the Upper Square, the Lower Square and Lionís Den. The major buildings for accommodation, defence and ritual/formal usage were distributed towards the edges of each of these relatively level areas on the natural rock summit.

Available evidence suggests that the castle was defended on its south side by a rampart/curtain wall following the north side of a pronounced fault or break in the bedrock. This line was enhanced to form a ditch with the main southern entrance to the castle placed close to the Period 2 complex. To the west, the rock terracing defined a zig-zag or diagonal face running to meet the west end of the building known as the Governor's Kitchen or Old Chapel.

On the east side of a courtyard that was to become the Lion's Den, there appear to have been two separate ranges aligned north-south with a gap between. These ranges rose to two levels above a ground floor, and it is likely that the southernmost one abutted the north face of the rampart. A further range lay parallel to the rampart towards the south side of the courtyard, and may have featured a first floor. To the northiwest corner of the courtyard lies the Governor's Kitchen within which traces of an earlier chapel were revealed. These traces may represent the fragmentary remains of the 12th century Chapel of St. Michael.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period II: Late 15th Century - Early 16th Century

The reign of James IV is reflected by some of the most impressive parts of the castle Ė most notably the South Forework and the Great Hall The forework was built off the earlier south curtain wall and followed the same line. This massive structure featured gun positions and a series of mural towers - all complimenting a new, towered gatehouse.

The various separate structures arranged around the Lion's Den were now rationalised into a series of conjoined ranges to the east, south and west. The new East Range was vaulted at ground level, and met the western side of the South Range. To the west was a complex structure on two levels above a vaulted basement. It ran north from the South Range towards the site of the early chapel and also featured a timber gallery on its western side, all overlooking the spectacular views to the west, as well as the terrace known as the Ladies Lookout. A kitchen was established to the west of the (new) West Range, and the early chapel was modified.

These changes created the basic plan of the eventual palace block of James V, and many of these elements were retained in the later work. In addition this period saw the creation of separate access routes serving the overall complex of ranges, at both vault and first floor. This was retained and refined in the later work.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period III: Mid-16th Century

As part of the extensive work on his new palace, James V lowered and thickened the forework that his father had built and modified the east side of one of the earlier mural towers - the Prince's Tower. The latter was now floored on three levels with access throughout via a circular stair.

The earlier ranges to the west, east and south were complimented by a new North Range which, along with the West Range, defined the principal floor level with its formal apartments. To the north were the King's apartments, which also formed the south side of the Upper Square. To the east were the royal bedchambers, and the South Range contained the Queen's apartments. The West Gallery and Gatehouse remained essentially unchanged within the new complex, but the south and east ranges saw extensive remodelling. Both were furnished with large windows and new principal and upper floors. The vaults of the earlier South Range were relocated a short distance southwards in order to regularise the courtyard now known as the Lionís Den, and in so doing allowed the new range to meet the north face of the Forework at principal floor level.

Overall, this rapid building programme created three new ranges alongside the older West Range, which in turn formed a gallery between the King's and Queen's apartments The new ranges comprised service accommodation and formal spaces on three levels - to the north, east and south sides of the new Lionís Den. The outer faces of the north, east and south ranges were faced in fine ashlar masonry embellished with elaborate statuary, while the earlier West Range and its timber gallery was retained.

A system of route ways at ground level was established by recycling Period 2 trances and alleys. This allowed access between (at least) the Lower Close, the Lionís Den and Ladies Lookout. The main entrance to the palace lay towards the NW corner of the complex, directly off the Upper Square leading to the principal floor, and may also have been linked to via a stair tower (later removed). Access throughout the principal floor level was of a room-by-room nature. On the upper level access was very much simplified - each range linked to the next via gable doors. Surviving evidence of access routes from ground to top floor is limited to two areas - the Prince's Tower spiral stair, and a stair towards the north-east corner of the Lion's Den.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period IV: Late 16th Century - Early 17th Century

Changes during the reign of James VI and Charles I saw the extension of residential accommodation with the creation of apartments in the north-east corner of the upper floor of the palace block. These chambers were accessed via a new stair created within the earlier King's Closet, which opened directly off the King's Bedchamber.

The Prince's Tower was used as a nursery for the young king and received new windows to the south. The King's Guard Chamber may also have been partitioned to some degree at this time. In addition, the new Chapel Royal was built on the north side of the Upper Square and may have replaced the earlier chapel to the south.

During this period, the West Gallery showed signs of disrepair and was consequently extensively refurbished, most notably on its east side. A new east wall was constructed with large windows and a central door, as part of a new gallery complex extending across the principal and upper floors (the latter with new windows to the west and east.) The rebuilding removed traces of the putative stair tower at the north end of the Period 3 West Range. The Period 2 timber gallery was also removed (due to collapse in 1625), and the doors to the west were blocked. In addition to these major repairs, much of the palace was redecorated in advance of visits by both King James and his father.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period V: Mid-17th Century

The years immediately after the death of Charles I effectively marked the end of the palace as a royal residence. Repairs to the palace block on behalf of Charles II related more to a new administrative and military role for the castle as a whole. To this end, the upper floor was comprehensively converted into a series of separate residential apartments, comprising suites of three chambers. These in turn were interlinked by new corridors and passages throughout the upper floor, and it was this layout which was refurbished in Period 6 - an exercise which in turn removed much of the physical evidence from Period 5. Elsewhere, the principal floor chambers were maintained, but their formal use was drastically reduced.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period VI: Late 17th Century

This period of work was arguably the most comprehensive undertaken since the palace was laid out in the mid-16th century. The gradual shift away from exclusively royal usage was accelerated with the wholesale repair of the palace ranges for a new role as the Governor's residence. The large formal rooms saw use as administrative and storage facilities in the late 17th century. Windows were replaced as part of the general upgrading, providing greater protection against the weather as well as converting the complex for a part residential and/or part administrative role, somewhat in the style of a Palladian mansion.

The Governorís private rooms were located on the upper floor, the principal floor had a mixed use, and the vaults contined to be used for storage/service. In order to support more intense occupation on the upper level, floors were strengthened, wall heads raised and the entire roof was replaced.

Finally, a new forestair in the Upper Square allowed access to the upper floors of the palace, and a new kitchen was built over the parts of the old chapel.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period VII: Early 18th Century - Mid-18th Century

The reign of Queen Anne saw the total conversion of the palace to exclusively military use, in response to the Jacobite threat. Military engineers designed new defences for the main approach to the castle from the south. Alongside these massive new gun batteries, two further gun platform were built over the Ladies Lookout, immediately west of the palace block.

The principal floor apartments saw drastic changes in terms of subdivision, including the insertion of new floor levels. This was in order to maximise the available space within these lofty chambers for barracks and storage accommodation, albeit as a temporary measure (in the face of a perceived imminent attack). In addition, the earlier forestair to the upper floor was improved and the existing access routes throughout the palace were retained.

With the exception of the forestair, these measures are marked by their generally utilitarian workmanship on one hand, and their indifference to the surviving fabric of the 16th century Stewart Palace on the other. This period therefore marks the completion of the transition of the palace from a complex community serving the royal household, to another complex community - this time geared for war.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period VIII: Mid-18th Century - Late 18th Century

In response to the needs of the permanent garrison, the palace block was further modified both in practical terms but also as part of the upgrading of the appearance of the castle as a whole - particularly in the form of new crenellations built over the now reduced gatehouse.

In addition, more functional additions were completed. These included the new ablution block abutting the west face of the West Range, and new latrines on the Ladies Lookout, next to the Prince's Tower, and within the Lion's Den. Access was further extended with the addition of an elevated walkway along the south side of the Lion's Den, and a new stair was created - running from the Period 2 Queen's Bedchamber to the upper floor.

The West Gallery of James IV was also subdivided creating a new mezzanine level. Elsewhere, the rooms of state were gradually converted to messing facilities and rooms for formal occasions, with the earlier mezzanine levels removed. The heating was improved, and the present floor level established with space below the floorboards for service pipes. Most drastically, much of the south wall of the King's bedchamber was demolished to create a great arched aperture into the Queen's bedchamber, in effect creating one single space.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period IX: Early 20th Century - Mid-20th Century

As regimental headquarters for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the various apartments within the palace block were modified in line with increasing standards of hygiene, heating and welfare. To this end bathrooms and WCs were inserted on the upper floor. In addition, canteen and recreation space was created within the principal floor level of the North and East Ranges. The principal floor therefore became part of a mess hall, bar and recreational space for the garrison. Panelling, new heating systems and window refurbishment all formed part of the general modification of the North and East Ranges.

Upstairs, a three room complex for formal reception and dining was created towards the south-west corner of the palace block. This suite of rooms in turn reflected the elaborate protocols for formal regimental occasions as well as displaying regimental finery - comparable in some ways to the role of the state apartments of the royal household in the 16th century. This suite formed a discrete corner within a series of administrative offices and was served by the upper floor of the West Gallery.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.

Period X: Mid-20th Century - The Present

Once the Castle ceased to be a military depot in 1964, its role as a public monument was promoted. New amenities were created within the palace at vault, mezzanine and principal floor levels. These included cafeteria facilities and new WCs, all intended to enhance the role of the castle as an important tourist attraction, and the promotion of the royal apartments within.

Numerous programmes of restoration and upgrading were undertaken over many years, culminating with the current Palace Project, with its theme of the court of the 16th century Stewarts.

Use the buttons above to navigate the timeline. For a plan of the palace and castle, click here.