Old Edinburgh’s ‘Royal Mile’

If you like history you’ll find plenty in Edinburgh. Starting at the top, here’s a trip down the ‘Royal Mile’:


The castle sits high on a rock, overlooking to the north the ‘New Town’, the eighteenth century project, and the modern city. The first mention of a fortress on the rock occurs at the end of the 6th century A.D. but it’s likely that it was a fortified position long before that. These days the oldest existing building on the castle site is St. Margaret’s chapel, built in the early 12th century. The castle is also at the top of, and looks down eastwards, along the ‘Royal Mile’, the street at the heart of the ‘Old Town’ which constituted Edinburgh until the eighteenth century. This street slopes down quite steeply past such landmarks as St. Giles Cathedral and the Tron until it reaches Holyrood Palace, to this day one of the British monarch’s official residences.


On the ‘Royal Mile’. Built between 1632 and 1639. Since the union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707 the building has been used by the Court of Session, the highest court of law in Scotland. The first record of the term ‘parliament’ in Scotland that we know of was in the late thirteenth century (the era of William Wallace) but historians tell us that the term and institution were familiar before this time. Originally composed of barons and the top religious types (bishops etc.), it expanded to include others, but was always a single-chamber parliament.


On the ‘Royal Mile’. Although usually referred to as St.Giles ‘Cathedral’ it should properly be called the High Church of Edinburgh. A cathedral is legitimately called that if the church contains a ‘cathedra’, or bishop’s throne. St.Giles was a cathedral during two periods in the seventeenth century but has not been one since 1689. The church has existed since at least the eleventh century and probably earlier. It was burned by the English in 1385.


On the ‘Royal Mile’. ‘Tron’ means a weighing place and the Tron Church was “Christ’s Kirk At The Tron”. Presumably this name was arrived at after the building was started in 1637 since the ‘Butter Tron’ was only erected in 1660. The church was completed in 1663.


Officially the Palace of Holyrood. It is situated at the bottom of the ‘Royal Mile’, the road which connects the castle at the top of the site of the original hill fortress which was the start of Edinburgh, and the palace at the bottom. This street, the “High Street”, was the street at the centre of the “Old Town” which constituted Edinburgh until the “New Town” was planned and built in the eighteenth century, on low ground to the north. Originally there was an abbey, Holyrood (or Holy Cross) Abbey at the bottom of the “Royal Mile”. James IV was the first monarch to add personal quarters (thereby forming the basis of the palace) to the abbey rather than reside in the normal guest accomodation. He built a tower for the purpose. This no longer remains but a tower built by his successor, James V, does. The palace as it now exists dates largely from the reign of Charles II. Holryrood Abbey precinct remained a debtors’ sanctuary until the nineteenth century, long after the abbey itself had fallen into disuse and disrepair. The abbey was founded in the early twelveth century by David I. It was sacked by the English in 1322 and 1385 (as was St.Giles’ Cathedral) and again in the Earl of Hertford’s invasions of 1544 and 1545. These latter were Henry VIII’s (of England) angry reaction to the Scots’ repudiation of the Treaties Of Greenwich (1543) by which Henry had hoped to force Queen Mary (“Mary, Queen Of Scots”) to marry his heir, Edward. These English attempts at coercion, using military force, are commonly known in Scotland as the “Rough Wooing”.