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Scottish Cities. Stirling.


Stirling (/ˈstɜːrlɪŋ/; Scots: Stirlin; Scottish Gaelic: Sruighlea [ˈs̪t̪ɾuʝlə]) is a city in central Scotland, 26 miles (42 km) north-east of Glasgow and 37 miles (60 km) north-west of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. The market town, surrounded by rich farmland, grew up connecting the royal citadel, the medieval old town with its merchants and tradesmen, the Old Bridge and the port. Located on the River Forth, Stirling is the administrative centre for the Stirling council area, and is traditionally the county town of Stirlingshire. Proverbially it is the strategically important “Gateway to the Highlands”.


It has been said that “Stirling, like a huge brooch clasps Highlands and Lowlands together”. Similarly “he who holds Stirling, holds Scotland” is often quoted. Stirling’s key position as the lowest bridging point of the River Forth before it broadens towards the Firth of Forth made it a focal point for travel north or south.

When Stirling was temporarily under Anglo-Saxon sway, according to a 9th-century legend it was attacked by Danish invaders. The sound of a wolf roused a sentry, however, who alerted his garrison, which forced a Viking retreat. This led to the wolf being adopted as a symbol of the town as is shown on the 1511 Stirling Jug. The area is today known as Wolfcraig.

Even today the wolf appears with a goshawk on the council’s coat of arms along with the recently chosen motto: “Steadfast as the Rock”.

Once the capital of Scotland, Stirling is visually dominated by Stirling Castle. Stirling also has a medieval parish church, the Church of the Holy Rude, where, on 29 July 1567, the infant James VI was anointed King of Scots by Adam Bothwell, the Bishop of Orkney, with the service concluding after a sermon by John Knox. The poet King was educated by George Buchanan and grew up in Stirling. He was later also crowned King of England and Ireland on 25 July 1603, bringing closer the countries of the United Kingdom.

Modern Stirling is a centre for local government, higher education, tourism, retail, and industry. The mid-2012 census estimate for the population of the city is 36,440; the wider Stirling council area has a population of about 93,750.

One of the principal royal strongholds of the Kingdom of Scotland, Stirling was created a royal burgh by King David I in 1130. In 2002, as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, Stirling was granted city status.


Stirling Castle (southwest aspect)



The origin of the name Stirling is uncertain, but folk etymology suggests that it originates in either a Scots or Gaelic term meaning the place of battle, struggle or strif One proposal is that Stirling derives from Gaelic srib-linn, meaning “stream-pool” or similar. Other sources suggest that it originates in a Brythonic name meaning “dwelling place of Melyn”, with the first element being connected to Middle Welsh ystre-, “a dwelling” The name may have originally been a hydronym, and connected to Brittonic *lïnn, “lake, pool” (Welsh llyn). It is often argued that Stirling is the fortress of Iuddeu or Urbs Giudi where Oswiu of Northumbria was besieged by Penda of Mercia in 655, as recorded in Bede and contemporary annals, however, Blackness Castle may be a more likely candidate.

Ancient history

A stone cist, found in Coneypark Nursery in 1879, is Stirling’s oldest catalogued artefact. Bones from the cist were radiocarbon dated and found to be over four millennia old, originating within the date range 2152 to 2021 BC. Nicknamed Torbrex Tam, the man, whose bones were discovered by workmen, died while still in his twenties. Other Bronze Age finds near the city come from the area around Cambusbarron. It had been thought that the Randolphfield standing stones were more than 3000 years old but recent radiocarbon dating suggests they may date from the time of Bruce. The earliest known structures in Stirling are now destroyed but comprised two Neolithic Cursus in Bannockburn. The earliest known surviving structure is a fort on Gillies Hill were built by Iron Age people over 2000 years ago. Two structures are known: what is currently called Wallstale Dun on the southern end of Touchadam Craig, and Gillies Hill fort on the northwest end of the craig. The Wallstale structure is later than the Gillies Hill fort and is related in form to brochs, these appear to coincide with the Roman period and there are around 40 or so in the wider area. South of the city, the King’s Park prehistoric carvings can still be found. The area is likely associated with the Maeatae and their Early Medieval successors the Miathi. The area sits in the middle of the territory known as Manau. Manau survives in four different place names: Clackmannan (The Stone of Manau); Slamannan (The Plain of Manau); Rathmannan (The fort of Manau) and Cromennane in Balfron (The boundary of Manau). All of these names seem to mark the boundaries of Manau meaning it stretched from Balfron to Fife.

Roman and early Medieval


The Auld Brig at Stirling


The castle rock has been strategically significant since at least the Roman occupation of Britain, due to its naturally defensible crag and tail hill: the bedrock on which Stirling Castle was built. However, if the Romans were ever on the current castle site then they didn’t leave more than a coin or two. Nevertheless, Stirling enjoys a unique position on the border between the Lowlands and Highlands.

Its other notable geographic feature is its proximity to the lowest site of subjugation of the River Forth. Control of the bridge brought military advantage in times of unrest and; excise duty, or pontage dues in peacetime. Unsurprisingly excise men were installed in a covered booth in the centre of the bridge to collect tax from any entering the royal burgh with goods. Stirling remained the river’s lowest reliable crossing point (that is, without a weather-dependent ferry or seasonal ford) until the construction of the Alloa Swing Bridge between Throsk and Alloa in 1885.

The Bridge Seal: Hic Armis Brutti Scoti Stant Hic Cruce Tuti

The city has two Latin mottoes, which appeared on the earliest burgh seal of which an impression of 1296 is on record. The first alludes to the story as recorded by Boece who relates that in 855 Scotland was invaded by two Northumbrian princes, Osbrecht and Ella. They united their forces with the Cumbrian Britons in order to defeat the Scots. Having secured Stirling castle, they built the first stone bridge over the Forth

The Castle Seal: Continet Hoc in Se Nemus et Castrum Strivelinse

On the top they reportedly raised a crucifix with the inscription: “Anglos, a Scotis separat, crux ista remotis; Arma hic stant Bruti; stant Scoti hac sub cruce tuti.” Bellenden translated this loosely as “I am free marche, as passengers may ken, To Scottis, to Britonis, and to Inglismen.” It may be the stone cross was a tripoint for the three kingdom’s borders or marches; the cross functioning both as a dividing territorial marker, and as a uniting witness stone like in the Bible story in Joshua 22. “Angles and Scots here demarked, By this cross kept apart. Brits and Scots armed stand near, By this cross stand safe here.” This would make the cross on the centre of the first stone bridge the Heart of Scotland.

The Stirling seal only has the second part and it’s slightly different.

Hic Armis Bruti Scoti Stant Hic Cruce Tuti

(Brits and Scots armed and near, by this cross stand safe here.)

Apparently the Latin is not first rate having four syllables in “cruce tuti” but the meaning seems to be that the Lowland Strathclyde Britons on the southern shore and the Highland Pictish Scots on the northern shore stand protected from each other by their common Christianity.

A more modern translation suggests that rather than Briton, bruit might be better read as brute, ie brute Scots, implying a non-Scots identity was retained in Stirling for some time after inclusion into the land controlled by the King of Scots. This more likely happened around 1000 AD.

The second motto is:

Continet Hoc in Se Nemus et Castrum Strivelinse

(Contained within this seal pressed down, the wood an’ castle o’ Stirlin’ town.)

It has been claimed that the “Bridge” seal was regarded as the Burgh seal proper, the “Castle” seal being simply a reverse, used when the seal was affixed by a lace to a charter. This agrees with a description in an official publication (which spells Bruti with only one letter t). Clearer images are available with different lettering. Sibbald conflated the two mottos into a single rhyme; he gave no indication that he was aware of Boece’s work.

Stirling was first declared a royal burgh by King David in the 12th century, with later charters reaffirmed by subsequent monarchs. A ferry, and later bridge, on the River Forth at Stirling brought wealth and strategic influence, as did its tidal port at Riverside. Major battles during the Wars of Scottish Independence took place at the Stirling Bridge in 1297 and at the nearby village of Bannockburn in 1314 involving William Wallace and Robert the Bruce respectively. After the Battle of Stirling Bridge, Wallace wrote to the Hanseatic leaders of Lübeck and Hamburg to encourage trade between Scottish ports (like Stirling) and these German cities. There were also several Sieges of Stirling Castle in the conflict, notably in 1304.

Late Medieval and early Modern


The tomb of James III, King of Scots and Margaret of Denmark at Cambuskenneth Abbey

Another important historical site in the area is the ruins of Cambuskenneth Abbey, the resting place of King James III of Scotland and his queen, Margaret of Denmark. The king died at the Battle of Sauchieburn by forces nominally led by his son and successor James IV. During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the Battle of Stirling also took place in the centre of Stirling on 12 September 1648. The fortifications continued to play a strategic military role during the 18th-century Jacobite risings. In 1715, the Earl of Mar failed to take control of the castle. In January 1746, the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie seized control of the town but failed to take the Castle. On their consequent retreat northwards, they blew up the church of St. Ninians where they had been storing munitions; only the tower survived and can be seen to this day. The castle and the church are shown on Blaeu’s map of 1654 which was derived from Pont’s earlier map.

Church of the Holy Rude (Holy Cross)

Standing near the castle, the Church of the Holy Rude is one of the town’s most historically important buildings. Founded in 1129 it is the second oldest building in the city after Stirling castle. It was rebuilt in the 15th-century after Stirling suffered a catastrophic fire in 1405, and is reputed to be the only surviving church in the United Kingdom apart from Westminster Abbey to have held a coronation. On 29 July 1567 the infant son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was anointed James VI of Scotland in the church. James’ bride, Anne of Denmark was crowned in the church at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. The Holy Rude congregation still meet and some 19th century parish records survive. Musket shot marks that may come from Cromwell’s troops during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms are clearly visible on the tower and apse of the church.

Map of Veere, known in Stirling as Campvere, the staple port for Scotland between 1541 and 1799 Joan Blaeu, 1652

Economically, the city’s port supported foreign trade, historically doing significant trade in the Low Countries, particularly with Bruges in Belgium and Veere in the Netherlands. In the 16th century there were so many Scots in Danzig in Prussia that they had their own church congregation and trade is mentioned with that city in Stirling Council’s minutes of 1560. Around John Cowane’s time there is an account which states there were about 30,000 Scots families living in Poland although that was possibly an exaggeration. Trade with the Baltic also took place such as a timber trade with Norway.

Cattle (1878) by Joseph Denovan Adam (1841–1896) The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum

After the Jacobite threat had faded but before the railways were established, the Highland cattle drovers would use the Auld Brig on their way to market at Falkirk or Stenhousemuir. Three times a year, tens of thousands of cattle, sheep and ponies were moved together to the trysts in the south with some drovers going as far as Carlisle or even London’s Smithfield. There is a record of a four-mile long tailback (of livestock) developing from St. Ninians to Bridge of Allan after a St. Ninians tollman had a dispute.

Victorian and Modern


In the early 19th century an “exceedingly low” cost steamboat service used to run between Stirling and Newhaven or Granton. The coming of the railways in 1848 started the decline of the river traffic, not least because the Alloa Swing Bridge downstream restricted access for shipping. The railways did provide opportunity too with one Riverside company selling their reaping machines as far afield as Syria and Australia. Similarly, in 1861, a company making baby carriages was set up. These prams were exported to Canada, South America, India and South Africa.

The Princes Street drill hall was completed in 1908.

After the blockades of the World Wars there was some increase in the use of the port including a tea trade with India. However, with normal shipping lanes open, the growth of the railways including The Forth Rail Bridge, left the harbour uneconomical and by the mid 20th century the port had ceased to operate.



Henry Campbell-Bannerman is one of Stirling’s most famous publicly-elected representatives, serving as local MP from 1868–1908 and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1905–1908. James Guthrie (artist). Study oil on canvas, 1908, Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum There is also a bust at the Smith near artwork of other local politicians and a related full-length portrait in Edinburgh. There is a statue of Henry Campbell Bannerman next to the Municipal Buildings in the city centre.

In terms of local government, the city of Stirling is a part of the wider Stirling Council area, which governs on matters of local administration as set out by the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994. The current members of the Council were voted in 2017 for a term of office of 5 years. The May 2017 local government election resulted in the Scottish Conservative party and Scottish National Party each winning nine councillors, while the Labour Party won four seats and the Scottish Green Party won one. However, subsequently one Conservative councillor left the party to sit as an Independent. The Provost of Stirling is Cllr Christine Simpson.

For the purposes of the Scottish Parliament, the city of Stirling forms part of the Stirling constituency of the Scottish Parliament constituency. The Stirling Scottish Parliament (or Holyrood) constituency created in 1999 is one of nine within the Mid Scotland and Fife electoral region. Each constituency elects one Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) by the first past the post system of election, and the region elects seven additional members to produce a form of proportional representation. The constituency is represented by Bruce Crawford, MSP of the Scottish National Party.

In terms of national government, the city of Stirling forms part of county constituency of Stirling constituency of the House of Commons, electing one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons of the parliament of the United Kingdom by first past the post system. Alyn Smith of the SNP is the MP for Stirling constituency of the House of Commons since the 2019 general election.

Historical voting records can be found in online databases.

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