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Stirling Palace

Stirling Castle's Royal Apartments

Newly restored to their former glory, these incredible quarters are a riot of color,
opulence and artistry befitting a Renaissance king.

BY JIM GILCHRIST

In many ways, Stirling Castle seems the quintessential Scottish fortress. Even more dramatically than the arguably better-known Edinburgh Castle, it rears above the surrounding landscape, visible for miles around, as it guards the historical, cultural and geological borderlines between Highland and Lowland.

Few sentinels could look more uncompromisingly stern and craggy. Yet visitors are being overwhelmed by the sheer opulence within the palace at the castle's heart, which has recently undergone a 12 million refurbishment to return it to its mid-16th-century Renaissance splendour, when King James V and his remarkable French queen, Mary of Guise, built it as a spectacular statement of James's divine right to rule.

Inside the palace, Historic Scotland, the government agency charged with preserving the nation's historic environment, has employed the cream of decorative painters, tapestry weavers and embroiderers from Scotland and beyond to recreate the magnificence with which James and Mary of Guise -- mother of Mary, Queen of Scots – surrounded themselves at Stirling.

When we think of 16th-century Scotland, we tend to think in terms of greyness, of semi-medieval gloom, I suggest to Matthew Shelley, the Historic Scotland press officer who shows me round the newly re-opened palace with the castle's executive manager, Gillian MacDonald. Yet, as Shelley reminds me, Stirling, regarded as Britain's finest remaining Renaissance royal palace, was built and decorated very much as part of the European mainstream. "James was a modern thinker in his day," explains Shelley. "He had spent time in France and was part and parcel of Renaissance thinking and ideas."

We're standing within the fortress, gazing up at the lavish statuary bristling from the palace's exterior. They portray not Scottish patriots or Celtic heroes but classical gods and goddesses. Shelley points to a weatherworn statue of Saturn, one of Venus with a dove of peace and another of Fortuna, goddess of abundance. "That's Saturn declaring a golden age, so it's essentially a message of prosperity, peace and abundance." Standing among these propitious deities, clearly placing himself on a par with them, is James V -- "overlooking it all, saying 'This is what I am bringing to you.'"

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2011 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on The King's Route by Terry Williams.

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Click here to preview our column on Bens & Glens & Heroes, News from Scotland.

Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.

Photos Crown © reproduced courtesy of Historic Scotland www.historicscotlandimages.gov.uk.