Within Edinburgh Castle grounds are the remains of David’s Tower, a tower house built in the late 14th century for King David II, son of Robert the Bruce, as the royal residence in the castle. The lofty tower was largely destroyed by cannon fire during the Lang Siege of 1573. After the siege, the smoking ruin was buried beneath the Half-Moon Battery.
Now restored to allow visitors, the remains of David’s Tower have a rich history.
In 1441, the young King James II sat on the throne of Scotland. The Stewart king had many rivals, the chief among them being the Black Douglases, who had to be eliminated and so a trap was set. The 6th Earl and his younger brother were invited to dine with their king in David’s Tower. They ate royally and the evening went well until a servant entered the room bearing a bull’s head on a platter – a sure sign that someone was about to die. The king’s chancellor and governor of the castle, Lord Crichton, accused the two Douglas brothers of plotting against their king. They were dragged to a side of the room, summarily tried on a trumped-up charge of treason, then taken into the courtyard and beheaded. The infamous ‘Black Dinner’ marked the beginning of the end for the mighty Black Douglases. Within 15 years they were no more and the Stewart dynasty was secure for the time being.
In 1698, the Catholic King James VII of Scotland and II of England had just been overthrown by the Protestant King William and Queen Mary. The Scots were divided over who should be their rightful sovereign. The governor of Edinburgh Castle, the Duke of Gordon, was in no doubt. He supported the exiled James, a Jacobite, and would defeat the castle to his death. A siege began in March and the defending garrison left their barracks for the safety of the cellars in David’s Tower. By late May, the castle wells had run dry and the 120 men were reduced to melting the snow that had fallen for water. Disease soon broke out and many of the soldiers perished. With his men ‘dropping like flies’, the Duke of Gordon had no option but to surrender, which he did on the 13th of June. The three-month siege proved to be the last real siege of Scotland’s chief royal castle.
For four dark years, during World War II, Scotland’s precious Crown Jewels were buried in David’s Tower. As the threat of a German invasion loomed in 1941, a decision was made to bury the ancient Honours of Scotland, the nation’s Crown Jewels. These Honours of Scotland are now 500 years old and were first used together at the coronation of the infant Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. Under the cloak of darkness, the crown, sceptre and sword were secretly removed from their resting-place in the Royal Palace and hidden away in the darkness of David’s Tower. The crown was buried beneath the floor of a medieval toilet, once used by Scotland’s Kings and Queens, while the sceptre and sword were hidden in a hole in the wall. Plans were drawn up, showing the locations of the buried treasures and entrusted to four people: King George VI; the King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer; the Secretary of State for Scotland; and the Governor-General of Canada. The last was presumably on the assumption that if the first three were captured, the Governor-General would still be safe on the other side of the Atlantic. Germany didn’t invade and in 1945 the Honours of Scotland were brought out of their hiding place and returned to their rightful place in the Crown Room.
- Information signs at David’s Tower