Edinburgh History

on Thursday, 10 May 2012.

Edinburgh's early history begins on the Castle Rock, which was occupied in the Bronze and Iron Age. Following a brief visit by the Romans, the Angles of Northumbria came, saw, conquered and hung around for a while. In the 7th century, their king, Edwin, rebuilt the earlier fortress of Dun Eadain – the Fortress on the Slope – and changed its name to Edwin's Burgh...

The town only began to develop beyond the fortress during the 11th century; the pace of growth quickening when the new king, David I, moved his capital from Dunfermline to Edinburgh in 1124. Four years later he founded his abbey at Holyrood and the Burgh's continued progress was marked in 1329 by the granting of a charter by Robert the Bruce.

From the reign of James II to James IV (1437-1513) the city flourished. The first town wall was built in 1437 (the Wellhouse Tower at the northern foot of Castle Rock is the only remaining trace), followed by the construction of Holyrood Palace. This Renaissance period also saw much patronage of the arts and education, including the granting of a charter to the Royal College of Surgeons (see their museum) in 1506, and the establishment of Scotland's first printing press in 1508. The Renaissance era was brought to a sudden end, however, by the disastrous defeat at Flodden in 1513 (read more about the battle at the Flodden 1513 project), and there followed more than a century of darkness and despair. During the years of the "rough wooing, in 1544 and 1547, Henry VIII, never a man to cross, devastated the city. Edinburgh suffered further following the return of Mary, Queen of Scots from France, in 1561, in what were seven turbulent and tragic years. When Mary's son, James VI, became James I of England with the Union of Crowns in 1603, he moved his court to London and Edinburgh entered a period of obscurity.

Obscurity did not bring peace, however. The bitter and bloody religious struggle that began in Mary's short reign reached its climax in the 17th century. First, the National Covenant was signed at Greyfriars in 1638, then Cromwell occupied the city in 1650, and in the same year Montrose was executed. Meanwhile, witches continued to be burned on the castle esplanade and over 100 Covenanters were martyred in the Grassmarket.

At the beginning of the following century Edinburgh fared little better. Charles II had rebuilt Holyrood Palace during the Restoration but this proved a false dawn. With the Act of Union of 1707 the city became even less important as a capital. Then came an almost surreal moment, in 1745, with the Jacobite Rebellion, when the Young Pretender held court at Holyrood following his victory at Prestonpans, while the castle remained in government hands.

Towards the end of the 18th century the city's fortunes suddenly changed for the better with the florescence of the Arts and Sciences during the Scottish Enlightenment. Adam Smith, David Hume, Goldsmith, Sir Walter ScottRobert Louis Stevenson and Allan Ramsay are only a few of the many prominent and brilliant names to feature during the 18th and 19th centuries. Also at this time, the city began to spread outside the confines of its cramped Castle Rock tenements. With the bridging of the Cowgate, building spread southwards beyond the Flodden Wall. Here are some information about philosophy in the Scottish Enlightenment

More significantly, the city extended northwards over the next 70 years or so with the building of the most distinguished and extensive area of Georgian architecture in Britain. Two of the most noteworthy landmark events of this period happened in 1818 and 1822. In 1818, Sir Walter Scott instigated a search of the castle for the Scottish regalia, which had been forgotten since 1707. Then, in 1822, he organized the highly successful visit by George IV, the first royal visitor for over a century. The royal visit not only breathed life back into Holyrood Palace, but also revived a feeling of national pride and brought to an end the prevailing mood of despair which had engulfed the nation after defeat at Culloden.

The Industrial Revolution was to affect Edinburgh less than any other city in Britain and it remained essentially professional rather than an industrial. But, though 20th-century development on the whole left the best areas of old and Georgian Edinburgh untouched, the city underwent massive urban expansion, swallowing up many smaller burghs, including the port of Leith.

Since the second world war Scotland's capital city has gained international recognition as the home of the Edinburgh International Festival, and now, at the beginning of the new millenium, is set to take its place on the European political stage with the building of the new Scottish Parliament.