Brief history of Edinburgh in brief
A brief review of the history of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.
Edinburgh in the Middle Ages
Edinburgh started out as a fort. Castle Rock is an easily defensible position, so from the earliest times it was the site of a fort. In the 7th century the English captured this part of Scotland and called this place the Burgh of Eiden (burgh is an Old English word meaning strong).
In the 10th century the Scots reconquered the area. In the late 11th century, King Malcolm III built a castle on Castle Rock and a small town grew up nearby. In the early twelfth century Edinburgh was a flourishing community.
In 1128 King David I founded Holyrood Abbey. The Abbey was manned by Augustinian canons who gave their name to Canongate. (Door doesn’t mean a door in a wall, it’s from the old word “walk” meaning “way”).
In the Middle Ages there were friars in Edinburgh. The friars were like monks, but instead of withdrawing from the world, they went out to preach. In Edinburgh there were Dominican friars (called Black Friars because of their black robes) and Augustinians (known as Gray Friars). Both orders lived in convents on the southern edge of Edinburgh.
Medieval Edinburgh was famous for making woolen cloth. Nearby was the settlement of Leith, which acted as a port for Edinburgh. The main export product was skins. Cattle and sheep were sold at a market in Cowgate. They were then massacred in the village. After 1477 grain and hay were sold in the grass market.
In 1329 Edinburgh received a charter (a document giving the people of the city certain rights) a sign of its growing importance. However, in 1296 the English captured Edinburgh Castle. They held it until 1322. Edinburgh suffered from constant warfare between the Scots and the English. In 1385 the English burned St Giles Kirk and the Town Hall. Despite this, Edinburgh continued to grow, and by the 15th century it was the de facto capital of Scotland.
At the end of the 15th century the king built Holyrood House. The John Knox House was also built in the late 15th century.
By the year 1500 Edinburgh probably had a population of 12,000. It rose to about 15,000 by 1550. It seems very small, but the towns were small in those days. By the standards of the time, Edinburgh was a great city. As it grew, a suburb was built around the Canongate. Between 1513 and 1560 a wall was built south of Edinburgh to keep out the English.
However, the English attacked in 1547 and sacked Edinburgh Castle. They returned in 1547. Edinburgh was also besieged in 1571 during a civil war. Edinburgh also suffered from outbreaks of the plague. There were serious attacks in 1585 and 1645. However, each time Edinburgh recovered.
At the end of the 16th century, an English writer described Edinburgh: “From the King’s Palace in the east, the city rises higher and higher to the west, and consists chiefly of a wide and very pretty street.
The rest of the streets and alleys are poorly built and inhabited by very poor people. Huntly House was built around 1570 and the University of Edinburgh was founded in 1583. Canongate Tolbooth was erected in 1591. Lauriston Castle was built in 1593.
In the 17th century Edinburgh grew in size and prosperity. This was despite outbreaks of plague in 1604 and 1645. Meanwhile, in 1621 thatched roofs were banned in Edinburgh as they were a fire hazard.
The Gladstone Grounds were built in 1620 by Thomas Gladstone. Lady Stairs House was built in 1622. In 1623 George Heriot, a merchant left money in his will to found Heriot School. Moray House was built around 1628-1630. Acheson House was built in 1633. Parliament House was built in 1632-39.
In 1633 Charles I was crowned in Edinburgh. However, he alienated the people of both England and Scotland. In Scotland the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he tried to change the religion of the people by introducing a new prayer book. A riot started at St Giles Cathedral when someone threw a stool at the Dean’s head.
The riots spread to other churches in Edinburgh. After months of unrest, a national pact was drawn up requiring the king to respect Scotland’s religion. Prominent Scots signed it at Greyfriars Kirk. After that, the king lost control of Scotland.
In 1650, after the Battle of Dunbar, the English occupied Edinburgh. However, after his departure, Edinburgh continued to grow in size and prosperity. By the end of the 17th century, Edinburgh’s population had probably grown to around 50,000.
Meanwhile, the Botanic Garden was founded in 1670 (it moved to its present site in 1823) and Holyrood House was rebuilt in 1672. In 1685 a statue of Charles II was erected in Edinburgh and in 1688 the Canongate Kirk was built.
In the early 18th century Edinburgh continued to grow. By mid-century it was severely overcrowded. The Lord Provost decided to build a new town to the north of Edinburgh. In 1767 a contest was held to decide the best plan. The winner was a young architect named James Craig. Consequently, new wide streets, circuses and crescents were built in the New Town.
In 1759 the city fathers also drained the Nor Loch, a body of water north of Edinburgh. The North Bridge was built in 1772. The Assembly Rooms were built in 1787. Craig’s work was continued by men like Robert Adam who designed Charlotte Square in 1791.
The Royal Edinburgh Society was founded in 1783. One of the founding members was the great economist Adam Smith.
Although Georgian Edinburgh was not a center of manufacturing, there was a significant shipbuilding industry in the port of Leith.
In the 19th century Edinburgh failed to become a manufacturing center and lost its position as Scotland ‘s number one city to Glasgow. The only major industries in Edinburgh were printing and brewing. Edinburgh remained a city of lawyers and bankers.
Edinburgh was also famous for its literary figures and was called the Athens of the North. However, alongside the elegance of the upper and middle class, there was a great deal of poverty and overcrowding. Like other cities, Edinburgh suffered from cholera outbreaks in 1832 and 1848-49.
Despite its failure to become an industrial center, Edinburgh grew rapidly during the 19th century. The population was less than 100,000 in 1801, but increased to 170,000 in 1851.
Princes Street was completed in 1805 and by the early 19th century the New Town was complete. In the mid-19th century, many Irish immigrants came to Edinburgh fleeing famine.
Meanwhile, services in Edinburgh improved. The Nelson Monument was erected in 1816 and the National Monument in 1829. The Scott Monument followed in 1846. The National Gallery was built in 1857.
Also, the railway reached Edinburgh in 1842 and the Royal Infirmary was founded in 1870. The National Portrait Gallery opened in 1889. Also, after 1895, Edinburgh was illuminated by electric streetlights.
In 1847 Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was born in Edinburgh in 1859.
In the 20th century, Edinburgh remained a city of banking, insurance, and other service industries. Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s famous flower clock was made in 1903. Edinburgh Zoo opened in 1913. Usher Hall opened in 1914. The Scottish National War Memorial was built in 1927.
In the 1920s and 1930s Edinburgh council began the task of clearing out Edinburgh’s slums and built council houses on the outskirts of the city to replace them. After 1945 many more council houses and flats were built.
Meanwhile, services in Edinburgh continued to improve. The City Museum opened in Edinburgh in 1932. The Portobello Pool was opened in 1933. The first Edinburgh Festival was held in 1947.
During the 20th century, Edinburgh’s old insurance, banking, printing and brewing industries continued to prosper. Then, at the end of the 20th century, tourism became an increasingly important industry. The Museum of Childhood opened its doors in 1955.
The Traverse Theater opened in 1963 and the St James Shopping Center in 1970. The Commonwealth Swimming Pool was built for the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in 1970 and the City Arts Center opened in 1980.
Cameron Toll Shopping Center opened in Edinburgh in 1984. Princes Mall followed in 1985. Also, the Gallery of Modern Art opened in Edinburgh in 1984. The People’s History Museum opened in 1989.
The Gyles Shopping Center opened in 1993 and the International Conference Center in 1995. The Scottish Tartan Museum opened in Edinburgh in 1997 and the Museum of Scotland in 1998. In 1999 the Dynamic Earth exhibition opened.
Also in 1999 a Scottish parliament was opened in Edinburgh after a 292-year vacuum.
In the 21st century Edinburgh continued to prosper. Ocean Terminal Shopping Center opened in 2001. A tram system was built in Edinburgh. Today the population of Edinburgh is 482,000.
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