Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Stirling Castle, Chapel Royal

Chapel (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Stirling Castle, Chapel Royal

Classification Chapel (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 142458

Site Number NS79SE 6.02

NGR NS 78984 94096

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Stirling
  • Parish Stirling
  • Former Region Central
  • Former District Stirling
  • Former County Stirlingshire

Archaeology Notes

Architecture Notes


Glass transparencies from FC Mears Collection ex EPL.

(Undated) information in NMRS.


Excavation (6 January 1992 - 13 March 1992)

A programme of fieldwork was concentrated on two areas of the post-medieval defences of the castle in advance of prposed development. Area 1: The Interior of a building variously described as the Cart Shed or Straw Store. Area 2: An extensive area in front of the main 16th century facade and N of the Queen Anne casemates.

Area 1: Excavation Report

After the concrete floor from the interior of the Cart Shed was lifted, a series of soft earth deposits were ultimately removed down to bedrock over most of the area. The finished levels were specified by the required depth from architects' plan, so wherever that level was reached, excavation stopped. The broad phases of activity in this trench can be summarised as: Phase 1: Two apparently independent routes up to castle rock cut in bedrock. Phase 2: Defensive ditch and roadway wall built. Phase 3: Timber building constructed over infilled phase 2 wall and ditch. Phase 4: Straw Store/Cart Shed built. Phase 5: Cart Shed converted by demolition of N wall.

Phase 1

The Castle rock itself is a tightly jointed doleritic sill with pronounced regular bedding planes. Where exposed in Area 1, the bedrock surface showed signs of much weathering and wear (much more pronounced than the bedrock found in Area 2) and apart from efforts to prize sections of the sill apart to create space for Phase 3 timbers, showed sign of particular wear in 2 areas. To the SW of Area 1 two lines of 'wear' apparently evidence of vehicular traffic, were picked up, running down towards the SW. This roadway showed signs of having been levelled up and repaired with mortar rubble, resulting in a full width of 1.6m. Part of an arguably earlier trackway was picked up towards the N of Area1. This took the form of a pronounced gully or rut worn into bedrock, truncated by later ditch and associated wall F.040 and which may well be the southern side of a road, predating the ditch and wall construction of Phase 2.

Phase 2 c 1550-c1670

The S route was retained as main access to the Castle during the period of the pre-Queen Anne rebuilding programme. The creation of the French Spur saw the excavation of a deep ditch to the SE and protecting the main entrance route. Part of the ditch appeared at the NW corner of Area 1, underlying part of the N wall of the Cart Shed. It was cut against bedrock but may well be an enhancement of a natural outcropping. The ditch was tested to a depth of 2m and was not bottomed. A light mortar bonded wall lat across the southern side of the ditch - built directly onto the bedrock. This wall (F.040) was poorly preserved but proved to be 500mm wide and despite being truncated by the N wall of the Cart Shed, ran for a distance of 4.8m.

Phase 3.

The Phase 2 wall was demolished and levelled down to 2 or 3 courses, and its associated ditch was infilled with an homogeneous dump of dark earth and stones. The area was generally levelled up to receive a series of timber pads and post holes, reflecting at least one long wall of a timber building aligned E/W. There were in total 3 positive post holes (F.032, 023, 012) with one possible (F.024) with 2 pads (F.025 and 016). The settings were formed from the rubble infill of a series of crudely excavted areas on the bedrock, following the approximate line of the N edge of the Phase 2 trackway. The post settings were essentially squared voids 200mm by 200mm, and 1.5m apart. There was a possible entrance towards the W edge of the line, between the posts F.025 and F.012, defined by a door post stone (F.019). The role of pads F.025 and more enigmatically F.016 is not clear, and it

may be that the timber settings reflect enclosures rather than roofed structures. In any event, it seems that the Phase 3 timbers were temporary precursors to the Straw Store/Cart Shed which was in place by 1860.

Phase 4

The foundations for the Cart Shed walls were cut against the accumulated floor/occupation surfaces from Phase 3 activity, set within irregular foundation trenches, which varied in width from 150mm to 300mm. The depth of the distinctive shaped foundations also varied- deepening considerably to hit towards the SE, a depth of 1.2m. Once a level footing for the faced masonry was in situ, the floor was laid, characterised by mortar spreads (recycled builders' debris). Then the walls were raised to full height, with an apparent door towards the W end of the N wall. This was reflected by a distinctive recess in the S face of the N wall at this point and an equivalent projection of the N face. This does not admittedly concur with the 1860 plan which shows a centrally placed door in the N wall but no signs of such were revealed in the excavation due to damage in Phase 3.

Phase 5

The present open N wall with squared ashlar pillar was formed by the demolition of the Phase 4 N wall to virtually foundation level and the raising of floor and immediate exterior surfaces by 300mm. This was ultimately concreted over and saw use as a 'garage'.


The significance of the excavation in this area can be summarised as: (1) The identification of late medieval access to the castle truncated by 16th century works. (2) The presence of temporary wooden structures predating mid 19th century cart shed/straw store.

Area 2: Excavation Report

The earliest feature revealed on the site was a cut in the granite bedrock in the NW corner of the trench. The natural cleavage of the rock had been exploited to exaggerate a natural drop or, possibly, in order to create a ditch. The line of the feature respected the early 16th century castle frontage and may be a defensive feature associated with this, or perhaps an earlier phase if this is a raised position.

The excavations uncovered a length of the wall built during the regency of Mary of Guise c1559 (shown on Slezer's 17th century plan). This ran S from the section excavated in the late 1970's.

Presumably there must have been a certain amount of landfill between this wall and the early 16th century frontage, but these deposits were not reached before the required depth of excavation.

The Mary of Guise wall was used as the foundation for the battery defences built between 1708 and 1714 during the reign of Queen Anne. It seems likely that the battery wall and casemates were built almost free standing - certainly no foundation trenches were noted. The ramp wall leading down into the area was also built in this phase. Once the lower courses of these structures were laid, material was dumped against them to secure them and to raise the level of the area in general.

The original base levels of the ramp and casemate walls was indicated by the quoins uncovered reflecting a ground surface approximately 1.5m below that of the modern one.

On the 1725 plan of Stirling, the ramp wall is not shown, although the structural details are exactly the same as those of the casemate corners. However this plan shows the battery wall and the casemate extending further than they do today. There is evidence for this on the site - although not for a 2-floor barrack. A well-constructed mortared square plinth F127 was found which was inline with the casemate frontage and exactly the width of an arch from the surviving casemates. The lack of demolished wall, signs of bonding to the battery wall or remnants of vaulting suggests that the end structure was for a different purpose - possibly an outhouse for large pieces of equipment such as artillery or carts.

It is not known for how long the Queen Anne battery and casemates were used in their original form, but at some point (or points) before 1860 the layout of the area radically changed. The end casemate was demolished and the ramp wall was foreshortened. A long subdivided lean-to (three foundation piles for which were excavated) was placed against the early 16th century castle frontage and another built where the end casemate stood. The whole ground level for the area was raised by approximately 1m including within the casemates. The ramp down into the area was raised and formed by the considerable dumping of rubble given a smoother surface by the use of mortar. Cobbles/sets may also have been used over this.

However, by the late 1860's the lean-to against the 16th century frontage had been demolished, the casemates were contractors stores and the lean-to on the site of the demolished end casemate was used as an engine house. This structure was used until 1991 when it was demolished. The access routes and general ground levels in the area remained much the same as in the 19th century, the only real changes being the laying of electricity and telephone cables and the late 1970's excavations.

Thus, despite the slightly unpromising nature of the area to then be excavated, features dating from the late-medieval period onwards were uncovered, the history of the use of the Mary of Guise and Queen Anne period defences elucidated the survival of early 18th century deposits (and their contents) confirmed.

G Ewart 1992

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology

Excavation (4 October 1993 - 29 October 1993)

A series of excavations were carried out by Kirkdale Archaeology in October 1993. Extensive excavations took place on the West side of the Great Hall, including the area of the Upper Square and Transe. These excavations reaveled evidence for an structure, possibly a Chapel.

Excavations were also carried out in advance of a services being laid in the area to the Northwest of the Casemates in the Queen Anne Garden.

G Ewart 1993

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology

Excavation (19 December 1994 - 4 October 1995)

NS 7990 940 In advance of the re-roofing of the Chapel Royal, a programme of excavation was mounted over December and January of 1994-5 in the Upper Square and Douglas Gardens within the Castle.

The Upper Square: Two trenches were opened in the Upper Square. The earliest structure found was the SE corner of a stone building. This was formed by a SW-NE wall and its return, extending NW. The SW corner of the same building was seen in the 1994 excavation inside the Chapel Royal. This structure was aligned NE-SW. It measured c13.1m NE-SW and was at least 4m wide, although the northern limit was not seen.

A large amount of charcoal, ash and metalworking debris was recovered in the upper layers associated with the usage of this building, perhaps suggesting that the latest occupation was industrial. However, it may be that the building was originally an earlier version of the Castle Chapel, predating the 15th century Chapel.

The second phase of activity involved the construction of the 15th century Chapel, parts of which were also revealed throughout the trench, showing it to be at least 29m long and some 9m wide, aligned ENE-WSW.

The discovery of drystone structures within the levelling material prior to the construction of the 15th century Chapel suggest that it had two building phases, the first involving a crypt which was filled in at a later date to stabilise the masonry above, probably part of the documented 1505 repairs.

The other major structure studied in the Upper Square was the present Chapel Royal, known to date to 1594. A complete pottery vessel was found standing upright in the construction trench for the S wall of the Chapel. This pot was almost identical to vessels recovered from beneath the floor of Innerpeffray Church in Perthshire, these examples having been dated to the period 1508-1650.

There were at least eighteen different masons-marks noted on and around the string course of the S Chapel wall.

The Douglas Gardens: A total of six trenches were opened in the Douglas Gardens. The earliest remains comprised part of a wall aligned SE-NW, comparable to structures in the Upper Square, and finds recovered from this period of activity seemed to indicate an early-mid 14th century date for its demolition.

Built on top of this early wall was a retaining wall with a bank behind (to the W of) it. This revetment may have incorporated part of the earlier wall, which had by this stage been partially demolished. The bank seems to have stood to a height of c1.3m, and finds from its surface indicate late 15th-early 16th century activity.

G Ewart and A Radley 1995

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology

NS 790 940 Fieldwork during summer 1995 concentrated mainly on excavation in the Upper Square, over and immediately adjacent to the late 18th-early 19th century cistern, which lies to the W of the Great Hall Transe. Further work comprised the monitoring of the excavation of a series of 11 small pits to receive information boards. One of these holes, located in the Queen Anne Gardens, revealed a lime-mortared wall, possibly that shown on the 17th century plan by Slezer. The remaining holes revealed little of archaeological significance, aside from levelling material.

The earliest features revealed in the main excavation comprised a series of occupation surfaces, truncated during the construction of the cistern. These deposits were only revealed in a narrow strip, on average 1m in width, but represent a complex series of early medieval occupation horizons. The medieval occupation is most obviously characterised by a hearth-site, which in turn probably relates to a series of crude structural timber settings, and floor surfaces. Overlying this sequence of deposits were tip-lines and courtyard levels associated with the construction, occupation and demolition of the 15th century Chapel Royal.

The Transe wall was built in two phases, the upper section relating to the vaulting-over of the Transe itself during the later 16th century.

The cistern was revealed in its entirety, showing it to be 15.5m long N-S by 4.25m wide, and of high quality sandstone construction. It had been much altered and repaired since its original construction, affecting both its supply and capacity, and access to it. The capacity of the tank was c120m3 (c26,400 gallons), and it was intended to provide water in the event of fire.

G Ewart and P Sharman 1995

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology

NS 790 940 Excavation within the Great Hall comprised the recording of a series of cross-walls dating from the later 18th century conversion of the Hall to barrack accomodation. These walls sub-divided the ground floor into four chambers, with two staircases leading to upper floors. The walls themselves were of massive lime-mortar construction, and two of them featured flues serving fireplaces within the vaulted basement.

The Great Hall floor was recorded in detail, and evidence of both its original pattern and its subsequent damage to receive later floor surfaces and modifications to the internal arrangement of the Hall was noted. It appears that the pattern of floor slabs reflected some sub-divisions within the Hall as completed during the early years of the 16th century.

In addition, two trenches were excavated in advance of the re-roofing of the Great Hall. Of these trenches, one lay to the S of the Hall, and contained considerable deposits of charcoal, alongside pottery of 14th and 15th century type. The second trench was cut at the base of the E wall of the Palace. The excavation of this trench was curtailed by the presence of modern services.

G Ewart and A Radley 1995.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology

Excavation (4 July 1994 - 1 August 1994)

NS 790 940 Limited excavation was completed at the E end of the Chapel Royal, while floors were removed in advance of comprehensive repairs. The findings of the excavation within the late 16th-century chapel, comprised a massive series of tipped deposits containing quantities of demolition debris, midden deposits and construction debris up to approximately 5m deep, laid to create a floor base for the Chapel Royal.

The probable northern wall of the preceding chapel as refurbished by James III and IV was found running diagonally across the interior of the later Chapel Royal. This wall, along with the wall defining the W side of the Transe' (which gave access to the Great Hall of James IV) defined an (open?) area between the earlier chapel and the outer curtain. Access to this area was via a well-formed doorway leading into the Transe. but which was blocked when the infilling process began when the Chapel Royal was built (1580-94).

Quantities of bronze slag along with firebricks were found in the lower tips within the Chapel Royal, apparently evidence of a demolished metal working complex. Large quantities of animal, bird and fish bone along with a good assemblage of pottery (mainly jugs and cooking pots) were found among the midden tips, generally towards the bottom of the series.

G Ewart 1994

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology

Excavation (5 September 1994 - 9 December 1994)

Ns 790 940 Excavation in the Chapel Royal and Lion's Den continued in the autumn of 1994 in advance of restoration and renovation. Work in the Lion's Den (the inner quadrangle of the 16th century Palace) revealed evidence of contemporary or later activities associated with the Palace. However, fragments of masonry were found in the extreme SE corner of the area, which relate to earlier 16th century buildings, but which were recycled for use in the present layout (built during the 1540s).

Elsewhere, a substantial retaining wall was found towards the S side of the Lion's Den, which appears to have defined the southern limits of the quadrangle layout. This in turn was probably formal and decorative, possibly some sort of parterre arrangement. The polygonal-shaped building discovered in previous excavations and located towards the middle of the area retained by the low S wall, along with a drain or sump lying towards the NE corner of the area, may have been integral to the formal layout. These were heavily altered and damaged by later occupancy of the Palace block. Certainly the polygonal building was used as a cistern serving 19th century lavatories.

In general the extent of damage to the 16th century layout was such as to have almost entirely removed most features and surfaces predating the extensive pipe laying and resurfacing activities of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the Chapel Royal, the excavation begun in the summer of 1994 continued to bedrock, removing the remaining tips of debris which had been deposited as levelling for the floor of the Chapel Royal (built in 1594). This exercise resulted in a trench over 5m deep, the lower fills of which contained considerable amounts of firebrick and metal slag, apparently evidence of a demolished forge or foundry. Elsewhere within the Chapel Royal, traces of two earlier structures were found, one of which is assumed to be the late 15th century precursor to the 1594 chapel, and which in turn had truncated a smaller, as yet unidentified rectangular lime mortared stone building.

G Ewart and P Sharman 1995

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology

Watching Brief (9 May 2016 - 26 May 2016)

NS 7898 9411 A watching brief was carried out, 9 – 26 May 2016, during minor excavations to allow the installation of footings for a new handrail upright serving the wall-walk stairs in the NE portion of the Douglas Gardens. The initial excavation trench revealed in situ sandstone masonry steps, and as it was not possible to install new concrete footings without disturbing existing structures and deposits, work was halted. A second small trench was then excavated which avoided the in situ masonry.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Historic Environment Scotland

Paul Fox - Kirkdale Archaeology

(Source: DES, Volume 17)


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions