Edinburgh Castle History

By Suman Sengupta

Edinburgh Castle, located high on Castle Rock, has been important for over 3,000 years. 

It is Britain’s most besieged castle, as it has been attacked 23 times throughout history. 

Sitting 443 feet above the city of Edinburgh, the castle offers breathtaking views.

Here’s a brief Edinburgh Castle with a timeline of significant events. 

 100 CE

A hilltop fort is built on Castle Rock in Edinburgh.

600 CE

The first literary reference to Edinburgh Castle appears in historical chronicles, where its strategic importance and imposing presence atop Castle Rock are often noted. 


Malcolm III Canmore was the first Scottish king to live in Edinburgh Castle. 


Queen Margaret died in Edinburgh Castle after learning that her husband, King Malcolm III, had been killed in battle. 


His son, King David I, constructed St. Margaret’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle to remember his recently deceased mother. 

St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest structure in Edinburgh!


King Edward I of England attacked Scotland. It ignited the Scottish Wars of Independence. 

He marched into Edinburgh and besieged the castle for three days. 


Robert the Bruce, who was the King of Scots, ordered the destruction of Edinburgh Castle to prevent the English from retaking it. 

As a result, the castle was destroyed, with the exception of St. Margaret’s Chapel.

1375 – 1380

David’s Tower is completed at Edinburgh Castle, a project David II of Scotland began.

It was completed in the 1380s, years after his death at the castle in 1371.


Another event in Edinburgh Castle’s history was the “Black Dinner” that occurred on 24 November 1440. 

During this turbulent period in Scotland, the reigning King of Scotland, James II, was only ten years old. 

The Douglas Clan was one such family that competed with James. 

Sir William Crichton was a keeper of Edinburgh Castle. He invited 16-year-old William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas, and his younger brother David to dinner at the castle.

The severed head of a black bull was served on a tray during dinner in David’s Tower. 

The Earl of Douglas and his brother were dragged to the courtyard and beheaded as a result. 


James II died in 1460 during the siege of Roxburgh Castle while standing next to “The Lion,” a cannon that exploded during the firing.

He was in charge of most of the guns in Edinburgh Castle today. 

This includes the famous Mons Meg, which the Duke of Burgundy gave him as a wedding present. 


James IV built the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle 

It was finished in 1511, a few years before James IV was assassinated in September 1513 at the Battle of Flodden Field.

1518 – 1542 

At age five, James IV’s young son James V was brought to Edinburgh Castle for safety in 1518.

He died in November 1542 at the Battle of Solway Moss. 

James V left his only child, Mary, as Queen of Scotland at the age of six days. 

King Henry VIII of England attempted to unite England and Scotland by marrying his son Edward to Mary. 

1544 – 1560

Henry began the “Rough Wooing” in 1544, following Scottish regents’ rejection of the proposed marriage. 

King Henry directed his army to burn Edinburgh down to force Mary to marry his son. 

The city burned, but the castle was unharmed, and Mary was sent to France at the age of five. 

She later married Francis II, the future King of France.

In 1560, Mary returned to Scotland as Queen of Scots after the death of King Francis II of France. 

Her cousin Elizabeth was Queen of England at the time. 

Mary married a cousin named Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, to strengthen her claim to the English throne.

1566 – 1567

Mary gave birth to a son, future King James VI, at Edinburgh Castle in 1566.  

Her marriage to Darnley was getting worse because he wanted to be king, even though her son, James, was supposed to be the next king.

Nine months later, Darnley was assassinated outside Kirk o’ Field.

Mary’s alleged lover, James Hepburn (4th Earl of Bothwell), was charged with murder but acquitted. 

Mary married Bothwell a few months later, raising suspicions about his possible involvement in Darnley’s murder. 

After an uprising against Mary and Bothwell, authorities imprisoned her at Loch Leven Castle.

Mary was forced to abdicate the throne to her one-year-old son, King James VI, in July 1567.


Sir William Drury, who led 1,000 English troops and 27 cannons, attacked Edinburgh Castle. 

They fired over 3,000 shots at the castle, destroying David’s Tower and Constable’s Tower. 


William MacDowall built the “Half Moon Battery” canon battery on the ruins of David’s Tower. 


Oliver Cromwell, a politician and soldier, besieges and captures Edinburgh Castle during the Third English Civil War. 


Sir Walter Scott discovered the Scottish Crown Jewels, known as the Honors of Scotland, at Edinburgh Castle.


During World War I, Edinburgh was bombed by two German Zeppelins, which dropped 24 bombs on the city in April 1916.

Despite the destruction or damage to many buildings, Edinburgh Castle remained unscathed.


The Scottish National War Memorial is built at Edinburgh Castle.

Book an Edinburgh Castle guided tour to learn more about the fascinating history of Edinburgh Castle and enhance your visit!

Edinburgh Castle is now under the care of Historic Scotland. 

On the other hand, the Scottish army manages some castle areas, such as the new barracks block and military museums.

Highlights of the Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is still Scotland’s most popular tourist attraction. It attracts over 1.5 million visitors every year.

Like the Tower of London, Edinburgh Castle was a military place and a prison.

The castle has some special treasures. 

It holds Scotland’s crown jewels, called the Honors of Scotland. 

In 1996, after 700 years away, a special stone called the Stone of Scone, used in Scottish crowning ceremonies, returned to the castle.

Another highlight of Edinburgh Castle is the One O’clock Gun. 

The One o’clock Gun was only ever fired in self-defense once, in an unsuccessful attempt to hit Zeppel. 

It is fired from the Mill’s Mount Battery as a time signal for passing ships in the harbor, except on Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas.

It is a tradition that dates back to 1861.

The Great Hall houses weapons and suits of armor from various periods of Scottish history. It is the most impressive part of Edinburgh Castle. 

Its decorative stone corbels that support the Great Hall’s roof are like those found in Blois, France. 

In addition, it is one of only two medieval halls in Scotland with an original hammer-beam roof.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo music festival is held each August on the Esplanade leading into the castle.

There is a parade with lots of Scottish soldiers playing bagpipes and drums. After that, many bands play traditional Scottish tunes.

We recommend spending an entire day exploring Edinburgh Castle. 
Check out the different Edinburgh Castle ticket options and select the one that best suits your preferences and makes your experience even more enjoyable.


Who lived in Edinburgh Castle first?

Malcolm III Canmore was the first Scottish king recorded to have lived in Edinburgh Castle. 

His devout wife, Queen Margaret, who died at the castle in 1093, is remembered in St. Margaret of Scotland.

About the author

Suman Sengupta heart lies where greeny mountains meet stretches of beach. he believes getting lost is the best way to explore