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Edinburgh

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Everyone knows that Edinburgh is Scotland's capital city; however, it was not established as such until less than 500 years ago. Back in about 850 AD Kenneth MacAlpine united the Picts and the Scots, forming the nucleus of a Scottish nation, and he adopted Dunkeld and Scone, both in modern-day Perthshire, as his joint capitals. Over the next few centuries there was no real seat of government as such - the royal court, which was where secular power lay, was largely itinerant, moving between Stirling, Falkland, Linlithgow and Edinburgh. Scottish parliaments rarely convened in Edinburgh, being more likely to meet north of the Forth.

By the 12th century, however, Edinburgh had been granted royal burgh status and by the end of the 14th century it had become the largest town in Scotland, having overtaken Berwick which had previously been the nation's biggest and wealthiest burgh (and its most vulnerable, being sited on the English border - indeed, Berwick was finally ceded to England in 1482). Edinburgh's importance also brought it unwelcome attention - in the 14th century it was repeatedly attacked and sometimes occupied by the English, with the High Kirk of St. Giles being burned by the invaders in 1385.

In the late 15th century James III became the first Scottish monarch to regularly reside in the city, by which time Parliament had also begun to meet there more frequently, usually in the castle. In 1501 James V began the building of the Palace of Holyroodhouse (which today is the official royal residence in Scotland), and by 1532, when the nation's central administation and Court of Session were established there, Edinburgh was firmly established as Scotland's capital.

Scotland's biggest tourist attraction is currently Edinburgh Castle. The great rock on which the Castle now stands has probably been the site of fortified settlements ever since man first arrived in the area about 7000 years ago. In the 7th century it was known as Din Eidyn (the fortress on the slope) when it was occupied by the Goddodin tribe who spoke a language similar to Welsh. It was captured by the Angles of the Kingdom of Northumbria in 638, and Lothian remained largely Northumbrian until 1018, when King Malcolm II won it for Scotland with his victory at the Battle of Carham. Soon afterwards the castle, which would then have been built mainly of timber, became a royal residence and St. Margaret, wife of King Malcolm III, had a chapel built on the highest point of the rock in about 1080. That chapel still stands and is the oldest building in the complex that forms the castle today.

Edinburgh's old town was so constrained by the city walls that people had to build upwards rather than outwards and we had what were possibly the world's first skyscrapers, with some buildings reaching an amazing (in those days) 14 storeys. Sanitary arrangements were non-existent, and people used to empty their chamber pots out of their windows, with a shout of "Gardy loo!" being the only warning to people below. The state of the streets can only be imagined.... Some enterprising men provided mobile public conveniences, carrying buckets around and crying "Wha wants me?" They wore huge cloaks which they used to protect their clients' privacy.

In 1645 Edinburgh was hit by bubonic plague and many of the old town's many closes - narrow streets and lanes running off a main road - proved fertile breeding grounds for the disease. One of these was Mary Kings Close where, it is said, the plague was so rife that it was decided to seal off the close and its inhabitants. When the plague was over two men, butchers by trade, were employed to clear the close of hundreds of corpses. Needless to say, Mary Kings Close is now one of Edinburgh's most haunted places. Apparitions seen there include the severed head of a grim, grey-haired old man, a child's head, and a severed arm, all floating in the air. Modern day visitors claim to have seen a little girl whose face is covered with plague pustules, many people have heard strange noises, and there have been numerous reports of "cold spots" in certain rooms. If you don't believe all this, you can try it for yourself - Mary Kings Close is now a well-established part of the Edinburgh ghostly tourist trail, with tour guides entering very much into the spirit of it all.

In the 19th century Edinburgh became a centre of scientific, and particularly medical, research and expertise, and doctors used to pay handsomely for fresh corpses which their students could dissect. This gave rise to the practice of bodysnatching, where "resurrectionists", as the bodysnatchers liked to be known, raided cemeteries and dug up newly buried bodies. Two of Edinburgh's most infamous resurrectionists were Messrs Burke and Hare. They however decided that it was easier just killing people than raiding graves, and, having apparently perfected a method of suffocation that left no trace of foul play, murdered at least 16 people before being arrested. There was in fact little evidence against them, but Hare turned King's Evidence and Burke went to the gallows in 1829. Such was the fear of bodysnatchers in those days that watchmen were apppointed to guard cemeteries - some of their little stone huts can still be seen - and iron frames protected new graves. In Craigentinny, William Miller, a rich merchant, insisted that he be buried 40 feet deep in a stone coffin under an enormous and still impressive mausoleum.

Edinburgh today is a rapidly growing and very prosperous city that has nevertheless managed to retain much of the beauty and dignity that has led it to be called "The Athens of the North". It is a major financial centre and home of the new Scottish parliament, re-established in the city in 1999 after a break of 292 years. If only they'd manage to do something about the traffic it would be nearly perfect....

Our cross stitch map of Edinburgh is stitched on Linda 27-count evenweave, measures 14 x 11 ins (374 x 290 mm) and has 39 buildings, two ships, place names, city crest, and the Scott Monument as the compass.  Thirty one shades of Anchor stranded cotton are included, ready sorted on an organiser. Stitch count is 199 x 154.

Kit 29.25 UK pounds
Chartpack 14.65 UK pounds


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