Royal birthing room at Edinburgh Castle to get a Royal Makeover
1 August 2013
Now that the Earl and Countess of Strathearn, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are known in Scotland, have announced the safe arrival of the Master of Strathearn, Edinburgh Castle has revealed it will be having a makeover of its very own Royal Birthing Room.
The tiny bed-closet where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in the royal palace on 19 June 1566 is a room with a very special significance for Great Britain, as James VI was to become James I of England in the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
Visitors can still see the doorway in Crown Square decorated for the event with a gilded panel bearing the date 1566, and the intertwined initials of Mary along with those of her husband Lord Henry Darnley.
Just as today, the birth of a royal heir prompted great rejoicing, with five hundred bonfires lighting up the Edinburgh night, and a royal salute fired from the Castle.
James VI’s baptism was celebrated at Stirling with the first recorded fireworks display in Scotland. In 1617 he returned to Edinburgh to celebrate his 50th anniversary as King of Scots, and made an emotional visit to the Birthing Room, which was especially redecorated for the visit.
Conservation wor in the Royal Birthing Room is due to start in November 2013 and will involve the careful and delicate retouching of paint on the panelled wooden walls and ceilings which feature Royal Coats of Arms.
Nick Finnigan, Executive Manager of Edinburgh Castle said: “The tiny bed-closet, where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth, is a key historic area of interest within the castle and a huge attraction to visitors.
“It seems even more appropriate to be restoring it in the same year of another Royal birth.”
Dates of the Royal births:
- Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, Dunfermline Palace, Holyrood Abbey and St Andrews Castle are all known to have been the locations for births of kings and queens of Scotland in the later medieval period.
- Mary, Queen of Scots chose Edinburgh Castle as her birthing place, sacrificing the comfort of Holyroodhouse for the great symbolic power and real security which the Castle offered.
- Visitors can still see the doorway in Crown Square decorated for the event with a gilded panel bearing the date 1566, and the intertwined initials of Mary along with those of her husband Lord Henry Darnley.
- This door leads to Mary’s spacious inner chamber, perched high above the Royal Mile, where her bed was hung in blue taffeta and velvet – this was her ‘presentation’ bed, as opposed to the bed in the tiny Cabinet in which she actually gave birth to the future James VI.
- The midwife, Margaret Asteane, was generously equipped with a new gown of black velvet, and a cradle was prepared with quantities of expensive fabric. After a long and difficult labour, the baby was safely delivered with a fine caul (birth membrane) over his face, considered at the time be a sign of great good fortune.
- Appeals to St Margaret, Scotland’s royal saint often accompanied royal births, due to the miraculous help she was believed to provide in the dangerous business of childbirth. St Margaret was well-experienced having borne three kings herself.
- Mary, Queen of Scots apparently had the gilded reliquary containing St Margaret’s head carried to her for the birth of James VI. Mary of Gueldres giving birth to James III, and Margaret giving birth to James IV, both paid to have St Margaret’s holy shirt carried to them from Dunfermline.
- James IV also sent for St Margaret’s shirt. In March 1512, just before the birth of James V, he paid Luke of the Wardrobe ‘to feche Sanct Margaretis sark to the Quene’.
- The heavenly assistance of other Scottish saints was regularly invoked. James III and Margaret of Denmark made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Ninian at Whithorn to give thanks for the safe arrival of the future James IV.
- Around the birth of James V a wet-nurse was brought from Edinburgh to Linlithgow. James IV covered her expenses including ‘hir beding in Linlithqow, careage of hir clothing and barnes, and uthir necessaris.’
- There is of course the traditional lament of James V on the birth of Mary Queen of Scots ‘it cam wi’ a lass it’ll gang wi’ a lass’, fearing that the mighty Stewart dynasty (begun with Robert II as son of King Robert Bruce’s daughter Marjorie) might crumble under the weak rule of a queen.
Notes for editors
- Dunfermline Palace: James I July 1394, Charles I19 November 1600
- Holyrood Abbey: James II 16 October 1430, James IV17 March 1473
- St Andrews Castle: James IIIMay 1452
- Linlithgow Palace: James VApril 1512, Mary Queen of Scots8 December 1542
- Edinburgh Castle: James VI19 June 1566
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