Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future


Stirling Castle - a peek inside the restored Hall and Palace

Back in 1963 when I first visited Stirling Castle as a (very) young man it housed a garrison. Officers occupied the Palace and other ranks were based in the Great Hall. The ditch housed the gym and ‘war emergency’ buildings were still standing 20 years after the war had ended.

Stirling great hall
Stirling Castle's Great Hall - harling based upon surviving fragments

By my next visit in 1966 the army had gone and the Great Hall was undergoing restoration – little did I know that it would be a further 40 years before I would see its completion!

Stirling roof chairs
LEFT: Towards the Royal Dias – note the restored hammer beam roof
RIGHT: The Royal Chairs - substantial windows light area (original glass leaded yellow and green panels)
Stirling palace
The Palace. Carvings originally polychromed and the walls 'washed' – probably to match the Great Hall

There was a mood at the time – still held by some today – that a building should not be ‘restored’ but left in its final state to exhibit all its transformations as witness to its history. If this philosophy had been followed at Stirling we would find, not the Great Hall and Palace of King James V, but barrack blocks with inserted walls, floors, staircases and widows; fire escapes; heating pipes; row upon row of iron bedsteads and ablution facilities all of which I was privy to back in 1966.

Stirling throne tapestry
LEFT: Throne Room with the Canopy of State of Marie de Guise
RIGHT: Tapestry 'The Hunt of the Unicorn' based on an original housed in The Cloisters Museum, New York

As testament to the positive benefits of faithful restoration, Stirling, after Edinburgh, is now the most visited castle in Scotland attracting tourists by the busload.

Stirling arms heads
LEFT: The arms of Mary de Guise marshalled as Queen of Scotland
RIGHT: The wonderful ‘Stirling Heads’ with Henry VIII (left), Madeleine de Valois (centre) and James V (right). But who is missing?

It was decided that the Palace would be restored to reflect the time of Marie de Guise, widow of James V and Queen Regent of Scotland.

Stirling poet panelling
LEFT: 'A young, fashionably dressed poet reciting' – or so they say!
RIGHT: Once believed to be a 'Head' but now classified as fragment of wall panelling

You can find out more about Stirling Castle’s history and its magnificent restoration on this website – click here.

The mystery of the missing heads

Ten of the heads are still missing – notably that of Francis I of France – so if anyone out there ….


Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle.



Added: 22 May 2017 Updated: 11 Apr 2018
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