The History of Edinburgh
There is a certain duality about Edinburgh. Amassed around the craggy volcanic bulk of Castle Rock, the city took seed in the fissures between its Old Town and New Town, where the medieval and reformation-era housing of the former is contrasted with the neo-classical Georgian architecture of the latter. It is a city built on the back of its political and cultural influence, that sees its contemporary role shared between standing guard on tourist duty and acting as Scotland’s administrative hub.
The nation’s capital is an iconic city. A city with a million stories. From war and rebellion to cultural and architectural revolution, Edinburgh has shaped Scotland’s culture and politics for centuries. Where Glasgow grew into Scotland’s behemoth of heavy industry, Edinburgh assumed its position at the vanguard of the nation’s finance sector. It was in Edinburgh that Scottish banking grew first: the Bank of Scotland was founded in the city in 1695. And although Glasgow’s University pre-dated Edinburgh’s (Edinburgh University was founded in 1583), the capital city’s role in the Scottish Enlightenment placed it at the vanguard of the nation’s intelligentsia, with famous residents such as Robert Louis Stephenson , Adam Smith and Sir Walter Scott . Not that it escaped choking living conditions, oft-witnessed in Britain’s 18th Century industrial heartlands. Until New Town was completed in 1810 after James Craig won the competition to design it back in 1752, rich and poor lived on each other’s doorstep. Old Town’s towering housing saw the rich accommodating the upper storeys whilst the poor lived in the cramped conditions below. Edinburgh, shrouded in chimney smoke and host to a myriad of miasmas, was nicknamed Auld Reekie,
That Edinburgh is the nation’s capital is remarkable in itself, given that when the city first started coming together it was under the control of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Castle Rock, where Edinburgh Castle now stands, was the foundation on which the city was built. In the 7th Century, Northumbrian King Edwin was the first to construct a fortress on the basalt plug which stares over the city. The city remained in Northumbrian hands until the 9th Century, when the Danes claimed it for a short while. By the 10th Century the Scots had it once again.
Taking its name from the Northumbrian connection – Edwinesburgh became Edinburgh. In the 13th Century, there was a real settlement coalescing. Edinburgh Castle now stood guard over the Firth Of Forth . But trouble was brewing. Scotland’s disputed succession crisis as the century drew to a close aggressive English king into battle: King Edward I would earn the nickname Hammer Of The Scots during the First War Of Scottish Independence, sacking Scotland’s south-eastern flank, taking Berwick and claiming Edinburgh Castle in 1296. It was relieved in 1314 by a Scots army under Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl Of Moray. After Robert The Bruce ’s victory at Bannockburn , the city, much like Scotland, could breathe again, only to fall once more in 1335 to King Edward III ’s invading English army. Six years later it was liberated again. The 1357 Treaty Of Berwick brokered peace with England, Edinburgh was rebuilt under King David II .
Under King James IV , the Royal Court moved from Stirling to Edinburgh in 1457. Though parliaments would still be held elsewhere, Edinburgh now, more than ever, shaped Scotland’s political outlook. When King James VI became James I of England, moving south in 1603 , Scotland’s executive parliament met in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle, before moving to Parliament House where the Scottish Supreme Courts sit today.
The Reformation brought violence back to the capital. The Bishops’ War of 1639, and the subsequent English Civil War a few years later, brought both both Scotland and England to the brink as Parliamentarians fought with Royalists in conflict spiced with religious reform and lit up by Oliver Cromwell ’s act of regicide, executing King Charles I . During the tumult, Edinburgh Castle fell into English hands once again. The Restoration era saw Holyrood Palace rebuilt under King Charles II in the 1670s. The Palace Of Holyrood House is the official Scottish residence of the United Kingdom’s monarch, and was commissioned by King David I in 1128.
After the Act Of Union 1707 , the parliament closed. While policy making power was appropriated by Westminster , the new economic opportunities sired by the rise of the British Empire brought Edinburgh great wealth. Trade through the port of Leith blossomed. The Castle fell once again during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, but was reclaimed by Prince William, Duke Of Cumberland. Jacobitism died at Culloden , and the political and religious turmoil that accompanied the Reformation and the Glorious Revolution that unseated the Stewart Kings was largely over. Edinburgh’s history was to take a more philanthropical bent. By the middle of the 18th Century the Scottish Enlightenment was exhibiting a profound affect on Scotland’s people, with nearly three-quarters literate. The intellectual and scientific leaps made during the Enlightenment bore many of the hallmarks of Edinburgh men. Adam Smith, David Hume , James Hutton , Sir Walter Scott… all were born, bred or educated in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s immediate problems in 1752 concerned keeping the newly rich in the city. New Town was the answer: neo-classical Georgian architecture designed by James Craig, complemented by its streets laid out in modern grid. Building began in 1767. After a 40-year facelift, Edinburgh as we know it today, was in place. The Georgian influence was extended to the street names – Hanover, George, Frederick. Edinburgh was dubbed the Athens Of The North. No longer was it dowdy and crowded, with the well-healed and underprivileged walking the same cobbled streets of the Royal Mile and its tributaries. Nor Loch was drained. In its place grew Princes Street Gardens, an oasis of verdure dividing old Edinburgh with its bold new facade.
Edinburgh grew as a tourist town in the 19th Century. In 1814, the castle was no longer a prison. The One O’Clock Gun was first sounded in 1861 for the benefit of ships in the Firth Of Clyde, and in 1922 its garrison was disbanded. Post-War, it would be the focal point for Edinburgh’s tourist trade. After the Second World War , the Edinburgh Festival was founded, taking place every August. Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival , which is wholly independent, and the largest arts festival in the world, was formally created in 1958.
The Scotland Act 1998, Chapter 46, brought Edinburgh back in focus as Scotland’s political centre. Devolution under the Labour government granted Scotland its own parliament, designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles and situated by Salisbury Crags and Holyrood Park , at the foot of Royal Mile. For the first time since 1707, Scotland’s Parliament opened for debate. Once again, the decisions were made in Edinburgh.
If you like this, Share it
On this day: