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Soldiers of Edinburgh Castle’s last siege reburied

22 December 2006

A low key military ceremony was held on 21 December 2006 to commemorate the reburial of 17th century soldiers who died in the last great siege of Edinburgh Castle.

The fourteen men were probably members of the 1689 garrison which fought to defend the Stewart monarchy after James VII and II was forced into exile. Their remains were discovered in a previously unknown cemetery when work took place in the late 1980s to create a vehicle access tunnel. The skeletons were removed for safekeeping and study and have since been stored in-line with Historic Scotland’s policy on the treatment of human remains.

Forthcoming construction work related to the creation of a new ticket office provided Historic Scotland with an ideal opportunity to re-inter the remains in their original burial ground. A military chaplain paid the respects of the present army garrison to their counterparts from the distant past.

Although the area has been previously excavated the reburial was carried out under strictly controlled archaeological conditions.

Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland Senior Archaeologist, said: "We were pleased when the opportunity came up to return the remains to where they had been found. Our research has revealed some details about the men, their lifestyles and possibly even one of their names. The evidence suggests that they were part of the garrison, under the Duke of Gordon, which refused to accept the replacement of King James by William of Orange.

The Castle held out against government forces from March to June 1689 before finally being forced to surrender. They were, in effect, the last defenders of the Stewart kings who had ruled Scotland since the days of Robert II in 1371.

As the Castle is still home to a garrison we felt it was fitting that the modern day army should have the opportunity to pay their respects, and ours, at the reburial of the troops who were stationed here more than three centuries ago."

Analysis of the bones showed they were all male, mostly large and strong (one was 6ft tall) and typically in their late teens to mid 20s. Some had sustained and recovered from wounds and fractures at earlier stages in their lives. There was nothing to indicate the actual cause of death. Associated finds, including a coin, identified them as likely to have been members of the garrison that held the Castle between March and June 1689.

Documentary research indicates that one of the skeletons may be that of Private Colin Sutherland who records show died ‘after a tedious sickness, and was buried (sic) with thrie volleys of small shot’.

A brass plaque will be put up near the site to create a memorial for the soldiers.

An army spokesman said: "This is a unique event to be involved with and the army is genuinely honoured to have performed the funeral service for these soldiers. Edinburgh Castle still is a British Army Garrison Headquarters, as it was in the 17th Century and it is really apt that Edinburgh Garrison help finally to lay these young men to rest."

The Coal Yard is several metres below the area inside the Castle gates where Historic Scotland is building its new ticket office.  During the medieval period, the Coal Yard area formed the entrance forecourt area to the Castle, approached over a pair of ditches. In the mid 17th century, a centrally placed gatehouse was built at a higher level, the two ditches were infilled and the present dry ditch constructed. Thereafter, the Coal Yard became a space available for use as an impromptu military cemetery, most probably during the 1689 siege.

The new visitor reception area will stand on a specially built platform which will be supported on 8m high steel pillars based on piles driven into the surface below the Coal Yard.

Senior Archaeologist, Peter Yeoman is available for interview on Friday 22 December; please contact the Press Office to arrange.

Notes for editors
  • The Duke of Gordon’s defence of 1689 was the last full-scale siege of Edinburgh Castle; though it was picketed in the Jacobite risings. Much of what can be seen at the Castle today dates from the seventeenth century and later.

  • Peter Yeoman, Senior Archaeologist at Historic Scotland led the excavation which revealed the human remains at the end of the 1980s. The results of the excavation were fully published in 1996.

  • Complex procedures have been followed for the study and storage of the remains under Historic Scotland’s Operational Policy Paper 5, The Treatment of Human Remains in Archaeology.

  • Historic Scotland is creating a new visitor reception area at Edinburgh Castle. It will halve the time taken to queue for tickets and transform the visitors’ view of the Castle by removing the current ticket office from the esplanade.  The project will be completed in 2008.

  • The Castle is just one of 345 outstanding historic properties and sites in the care of Historic Scotland. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae.

Castle's historic Timeline
c 340,000,000 BC Castle rock born in a period of intensive volcanic activity.
c 25,000 BC Last ice age creates Edinburgh's famous 'crag and tail'.
c 900 BC Late bronze-age people living on Castle Rock.
c l00 BC-200 AD Intensive settlement by iron-age people.
c AD 600 First historical reference to Din Eidyn.
638 Din Eidyn captured by Angles and renamed Edinburgh.
1093 Queen (later Saint) Margaret, Malcolm III's widow, dies in residence on the rock.
1130 David I transforms residence into formidable royal castle.
1140 The assembly we call Parliament meets for the first recorded time in Castle.
1175 Reginald first recorded keeper (constable) of Edinburgh Castle.
1296 Edward I of England captures Castle after 3-day siege.
1314 Scots led by Thomas Randolph recapture castle. Robert I orders its destruction.
1334 English recapture Castle and make repairs.
1341 Scots under William Douglas recapture Castle.
1356 David II, newly returned from imprisonment in England, orders rebuilding of Castle.
1371 David II dies in Castle.
1440 Infamous 'Black Dinner' held at Castle during which earl of Douglas is killed.
1457 Mons Meg arrives at Castle.
c 1480 - James III declares Edinburgh the 'capital' of Scotland. Start made on forming Crown Square.
c1494 Sceptre presented to James IV, probably by Pope Alexander VI.
1508 Sword of State presented to James IV by Pope Pius ll.
1511 Great Hall completed for James IV.
1540 Crown of Scotland remade to its present appearance by John Mosman.
1544 First contemporary sketch made of castle, by an English spy.
1558 Mons Meg fired to celebrate Mary Queen of Scots' marriage to French Dauphin; cannonball found on Wardie Muir 2 miles away!
1560 Mary of Guise, queen-regent, dies in Castle.
1566 Mary Queen of Scots gives birth to future James VI & I in Castle.
1571-3 'Lang Siege' results in David's Tower destruction and Palace's ruination.
1574-78 Regent Morton oversees rebuilding of Castle defences.
1617 James VI returns to his birthplace (the 'hamecoming').
1633 Charles I last monarch to sleep in the Castle.
1650-9 Cromwell captures and holds castle (Honours already taken to Dunnottar Castle).
1660 Honours returned to Castle, which now effectively becomes an army garrison.
1681 Mons Meg cracks during firing of salute for future James VII.
1689 Forces loyal to Protestant William & Mary capture Castle.
1707 Honours locked away in Crown Room following abolition of Parliament.
1715 Jacobites penetrate west sallyport during third Rising.
1724 Major-general Wade orders wholesale rebuilding of N and W defences.
1745 Several leading Jacobites held in Castle during fifth Rising.
1754 Mons Meg taken to Tower of London (under terms of Disarming Act).
1757 First French POWs imprisoned in Vaults.
1811 Mass break-out of POWs leads to Castle ceasing to be a POW camp.
1818 Honours rediscovered by Walter Scott and put on public display.
1822 George IV visits Castle, the first monarch to do so since Charles I (1633).
1829 Mons Meg brought back from Tower of London.
1836 'Queen Mary's Room' opened to visitors.
1846-52 St Margaret’s Chapel rediscovered and restored.
1860 Post of Governor lapses.
1861 One O'clock Gun fired for first time (from Half-Moon Battery).
1877 Office of Works assumes responsibility for certain buildings from War Office.
1887-91 Great Hall restored.
1905 Office of Works assumes all responsibility for Castle from War Office.
1912 David's Tower rediscovered and opened to visitors.
1916 One O'clock Gun fired in anger for one and only time (Zeppelin raid on city).
1923 Army formally vacate Castle for Redford Barracks.
1927 Scottish National War Memorial (SNWM) opened by Prince of Wales.
1933 Naval and Military Museum (now National War Museum of Scotland (NWMS) opened.
1935 Post of Governor re-established with purely honorary duties.
1939-44 Honours buried in Palace basement and then David's Tower for safe-keeping.
1953 Honours taken to St Giles for Service of National Thanksgiving.
1969 Responsibility for Castle devolves to Scottish Office.
1971 One O'clock Gun moved to Mills Mount.
1993 HM Queen opens Honours of the Kingdom exhibition.
1996 Stone of Destiny put on permanent display in Crown Room.
1999 Crown taken to State opening of Scottish parliament.
2000 One O’clock Gun Exhibition opens to the public.
2004 Crown taken to opening of new Scottish Parliament building; Prisoner of War exhibition opened to the public.
2006  HM Queen opens The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards museum at Edinburgh Castle.

For further information

Kate Turnbull
PR Executive
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8959