Edinburgh Castle and a Penannular


This morning we awoke to a sunrise over the sea outside of Queensferry which is where the port for Edinburgh is located.

sunrise queensferry

Oh yes, and Edinburgh is not pronounced Edinborough, it’s pronounced Edinburg, or at least similarly with the Scottish brogue.  The Scottish brogue is comforting, homey.  It feels like the language of the people.

Today began with tendering into the port.  That means that the ship can’t get close enough to actually dock.  So they took 3 or 4 lifeboats and lowered them, amongst much swearing in languages I don’t understand, but it was still quite recognizable as such.  When they had trouble getting the flag raised on those boats, it didn’t do much to instill confidence.  In any case, we did get to port, eventually, but we were an hour late for our tour to begin.  Here’s our Carnival cruise ship, anchored beyond the bridge and we are standing in port

queensferry bridge

We were greeted one final time in port by bagpipers.  I’ve enjoyed those greetings so much.  Music touches the soul in ways nothing else can.  This ancestral music is ingrained in the lives of my ancestors, and therefore, in me.

The earliest known human habitation in the Edinburgh area is from Cramond where evidence was found of a Mesolithic camp-site dated to circa 8500 BC. Traces of later Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements have been found on Castle Rock, Arthur’s Seat, Craiglockhart Hill and the Pentland Hills. People have been here for a very long time.

By the time the Romans arrived in Lothian at the end of the 1st century AD, they discovered a Celtic Britonnic tribe whose name they recorded as the Votadini. At some point before the 7th century AD, the Gododdin, who were presumably descendants of the Votadini, built the hill fort of Din Eidyn or Etin. Although its exact location has not been identified, it seems more than likely they would have chosen a commanding position.

“Edin”, the root of the city’s name, is most likely of Brittonic Celtic origin, from the Cumbric language or a variation of it that would have been spoken by the earliest known people of the area. It appears to derive from the place name Eidyn mentioned in the Old Welsh epic poem Y Gododdin.

In 1603, King James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English throne, uniting the crowns of Scotland and England in a personal union known as the Union of the Crowns, though Scotland remained, in all other respects, a separate kingdom. In 1638, King Charles I’s attempt to introduce Anglican church forms in Scotland encountered stiff Presbyterian opposition culminating in the conflicts of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Subsequent Scottish support for Charles Stuart’s restoration to the throne of England resulted in Edinburgh’s occupation by Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth of England forces – the New Model Army – in 1650.

Edinburgh old map

In the 17th century, the boundaries of Edinburgh were still defined by the city’s defensive town walls, which you can see, along with the castle, in the drawing from 1670 by Wenceslas Hollar, above. As a result, expansion took the form of the houses increasing in height to accommodate a growing population. Buildings of 11 stories or more were common, and have been described as forerunners of the modern-day skyscraper. Most of these old structures were later replaced by the predominantly Victorian buildings seen in today’s Old Town.

By the first half of the 1700s, despite rising prosperity evidenced by its growing importance as a banking centre, Edinburgh was being described as one of the most densely populated, overcrowded and unsanitary towns in Europe. Visitors were struck by the fact that the various social classes shared the same urban space, even inhabiting the same tenement buildings; although here a form of social segregation did prevail, whereby shopkeepers and tradesmen tended to occupy the cheaper-to-rent cellars and garrets, while the more well-to-do professional classes occupied the more expensive middle storeys.

A census conducted by the Edinburgh presbytery in 1592 recorded a population of 8,003 adults spread equally north and south of the High Street which runs along the spine of the ridge sloping down from the Castle. The population rose rapidly, from 49,000 in 1751 to 136,000 in 1831, primarily due to migration from rural areas.

In the second half of the 1700s, Edinburgh was at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment, and had become a major intellectual center, earning it the nickname “Athens of the North” because of its many classical buildings and reputation for learning, similar to Ancient Athens. The University of Edinburgh was established by royal charter in 1583 preceded by the Royal College of Physicians in 1506.

My ancestor, George McNiel and his two brothers were supposed to have studied at the University of Edinburgh for the ministry before sailing for America where they arrived about 1750. He was born about 1720, so if this is true, he would have been in Edinburgh between about 1735 and 1750, or so. Below is an engraving from about 1753, so this would have been what George McNiel would have seen, if he was in Edinburgh.

edinburgh castle

We arrived in Edinburgh about half an hour after leaving the port and drove through the city to the old town to visit the castle.  Edinburgh castle was a heavily fortified castle built on a massive granite hill in the center of the city.

Edinburgh city

Surrounding the city are actually 3 volcanoes, dormant now, but giving great height and character to the city itself.  One rises in the middle of the city.

In this photo of old town from above, you can see one of the volcanoes as well.

Edinburgh volcano

The castle itself holds, among other things, the Scottish crown jewels. I love mysteries, and there is a good one that goes along with the crown jewels.  In 1707, the crown jewels were sealed in a box.  I don’t remember the political problem at hand, but in 1818, Scotland’s sovereignty was restored and the box was opened.  When it was opened, there was the crown of course, and the sword and the scepter, but there was also another scepter that they have absolutely no idea why was included.  Personally, I think it was Merlin’s!

The oldest part of the castle and indeed, the oldest building in Edinburgh is St. Margaret’s chapel at the very top built by one of the earliest monarchs to honor his mother who died in 1097.  Very old and very small but so very full of history.

edinburgh st margarets

This is probably where Alexander Campbell said his final prayers in this lifetime. I don’t know if he was my direct ancestor, but I do know that he was my relative.

edinburgh castle chapel

The Kings were Celtic, but some of the wives became Christian and started bestowing names like Richard, James and Alexander on the sons instead of traditional Celtic, pagan, names.

Mary Queen of Scots gave birth here to the eventual King James I of England in the room known as the Mary Room or the Birth Chamber in June of 1566, which caused me to wonder about the DNA of the royal family and royal houses.

As I’ve traveled throughout the British Isles and learned about the history of the monarchy, it has become apparent that while the British monarchy was considered well, British, “the monarchy” as a whole was much more. In fact, the monarchs of the various countries and regions made it a point to marry strategically so that politics and power would come and go with spouses. So, I had to wonder, has anyone actually looked at and identified the DNA of the various “houses” of European royalty? How closely related are they? I’ll make it a point to do some research on this when I return home.

This castle was extremely well fortified.  It had 6 different gates at different levels, draw and drop bridges, a mote of course and it sat on top of a huge granite mountain, to begin with.  Here’s the castle from another angle.

edinburgh castle on hill

And a view across all of Edinburgh, from the castle compound.

edinburgh from castle

All of the heads of the clans would come here to meet.  I know my ancestors were here. The Campbells would assuredly have been included. They would have arrived for important meetings and walked on these very cobblestones where we step today.

edinburgh castle grounds

It’s easy to see through their eyes in a place like this as I walk in their footsteps.

Edinburgh castle argyll tower

We know, beyond a doubt that the Campbells were here, because the portcullis gate, the main entrance, above, is situated beneath the state prison, better known as Argyll’s Tower, as the 9th Earl of Argyll, Archibald Campbell, the Marquis of Argyll, was imprisoned there prior to his execution in 1685 by “the maiden.” I didn’t know this until after my visit when I was doing research on the history of Edinburgh castle. Amazing that I was in the right place and literally walked where my ancestors had been, and didn’t even know it.

Below, the Earl and his second wife, Lady Anne Mackenzie. His first wife was Lady Mary Stuart who was the mother of his 7 children, including son, Archibald, the 10th Earl and first Duke of Argyll.  You can see the Campbell pedigree chart here.

Campbell, Archibald

The Earl was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, ironically, within view of the Castle (in the background, below) where he met his demise.

Edinburgh greyfriars kirkyard

From the castle, we walked down High Street, the old town, now known as the “miracle mile” which is where all of the shopping is located.

Edinburgh high street

Jim and I found a Starbucks and had a nice coffee and then did some shopping. I bought myself something very Scottish, a penannular. This brooch or pin is used to pin and hold wool scarves. Mine is antique and beautiful. This one is from the National Museum of Scotland.


Below, a contemporary penannular at CeltArts (which is available to purchase) shows how a penannular is used. By the way, these aren’t just for women. Men wear them with the scarves slung over their shoulders.

Penannular tartan

One of my favorite things in old cities is the little alleyways between buildings that are connected above the alleyway.  They weren’t alleyways originally, but now they are both too narrow and too steep for anything but foot traffic.  I took pictures of several. Many are just wide enough for a person.

edinburgh alley

advocates close

In Edinburgh, there are several private schools for children and there is a lot of academic competition to be admitted.  There are two from which it’s believed that the inspiration for Hogwarts was derived.


It’s a beautiful city and the ultimate in what it means to be Scottish. It’s not unusual to see men walking around in kilts as a business suit, complete with kilt, coat and tie, or sometimes kilts and sweatshirts.  Kilts, here, are the ultimate in manly. For those who want to see what I mean, here’s a link for you. Yes, it’s family friendly, but word of warning, you’ll change your mind about kilts forever.

Edinburgh kilt

I had to laugh, because in Scotland, I’m reminded of this cartoon about restroom confusion.

On the return trip, our guide talked about history and then we were back at the docks.  The bridges here are very interesting and artful.  One, the suspension bridge at left below, reminds me of the bridge connecting the lower peninsula of Michigan with the upper peninsula at Mackinaw City and could be its twin.

Edinburgh bridges panorama

Our towel guy tonight wears a celtic tartan scarf with the beautiful penannular I purchased in the wonderful little antique shop below Edinburgh castle as we wandered.  I don’t know why these penannulars enchanted me so, but they did.  Probably because these reach back in time, probably to the beginning of Celts and shawls, to hold them in place.  They aren’t contemporary and they have character already.  They are quintessentially Scottish as well, and are heirlooms.  The shop had a few new ones too, and they are shinier and unscathed, but the antique ones had character. My ancestors wore penannulars, certainly, and now, so will I.

Our towel guy also has a little book from Edinburgh Castle chapel and a small contemporary watercolor painting of the castle.

Edinburgh towel guy

British Monarchy’s DNA

After I returned home, I set out to see if anyone had done any genetic work on the DNA of the British monarchy.

The answer, it turns out, is yes. In August 2013, Bradley Larkin published a paper about the Y DNA of the British Monarchy in honor of the birth of the Prince of Cambridge.

Bradley said: “A review was made of existing genetic genealogy findings that infer characteristics of the Y-DNA of members of the British Monarchy. Nine sustained Y-DNA lineages since the year 927 CE were noted as dynastic groups. Haplogroup and haplotype characteristics of three of the dynasties were presented with two more dynasties noted as testable but unpublished. Cultural and geographical origins of these dynasties were considered as context for their DNA haplogroups. Specimen candidates for further testing were identified noting that some will require Ancient DNA (aDNA) recovery and analysis.”

Bradley identified the dynasties of the British monarchy beginning in the year 927 and ending in 2013, as shown below.

  • Mountbatten/Romanov
  • Hannover
  • Windsor
  • Stuart
  • Tudor
  • Plantagenet
  • Blois
  • Wessex
  • Norman
  • Knytlinga (Viking)

Bradley then researched each dynasty and lineage. If lines have been tested, he provides the results. Several lines have no male descendants, so for those, we would need ancient DNA. The connections and interconnections are fascinating.

To view the detail and summary data about each dynasty, read Bradley’s paper here, especially the summary table near the end.



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10 thoughts on “Edinburgh Castle and a Penannular

  1. What a fabulous post. Ah, you brought back my memories of our trip to Scotland. I don’t believe I have any Scottish heritage, but have always felt such a kinship. I loved it there. We visited the castle in July of the year we went and it was 50 degrees. That was a wee bit cold for me! Fascinating about the monarchy DNA, too. I can’t wait to read a whole study about it (if it’s written in layman’s terms).

  2. I didn’t get to Edinburgh by boat, so I enjoyed your story. I keep looking for that Scot who endowed me with a love for bagpipe music. Every time I think I’ve found her, the name McCoy/McCay,is it Scottish or Irish? clouds the conversation. Your pictures are great.

  3. Roberta, you said…
    “So, I had to wonder, has anyone actually looked at and identified the DNA of the various “houses” of European royalty? How closely related are they? I’ll make it a point to do some research on this when I return home.”
    I’m sure you know, that will be a monumental undertaking. But it anyone can tackle it – my money is on you. You go girl! You are amazing!

  4. Roberta – I forwarded your story to a delightful Scottish lady who lives near me. I thought you might enjoy her comments:

    Dame Kathy (I am assuming you kinow “Dame” in Britain is something really super.)

    You have no idea how much I enjoyed the e-mail you sent me about Edinburgh and


    Found a mistake or two, but then I think I know it all.

    Folks in Edinburgh never call it Edinburg. Edinburgh is pronouned by Scots as

    Edin-burra. And as it says never as Edinborro.

    The high point they are referring to at the start where a stronghold might be built for

    safety is, of course, where Edinburgh Castle is located.Back in 800 AD or earlier at the top of the

    volcanic plug where Edinburgh Castle is today was a fort of some kind. Up there

    huddled around the castle were huts, etc. for the locals. For safety, of course.

    Now, the volcanic plug goes from the Castle downhill like a spine and ends up at

    Holyrood Palace – a mile.

    The early early homes were built on either side of the spine. There was no way

    to expand outward so they built up sometimes to 14 or 15 floors – hence Edinburgh had the

    first skyscrapers. Of course, no plumbing so you can imagine the “toilet” situation.

    “Slops” were gathered in “potties” and thrown out the windows down into the street.

    Because the folks doing he throwing didn’t want it all to fall on a passerby they

    shouted the words “Gardey loo” which was the Scottish version of the French –

    regardez l’eau.

    I believe Edinburgh was the worst smelling city in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    Also in those many homes built down on both sides of the spine lived lords and

    ladies side by side with ordinary workmen and their families.

    Now, on the north side of the castle rock was a loch. Evil smelling no doubt.

    They drained that loch in the 1700’s and made the Gardens. Then they started

    to build north of Princces St. which is north of the loch the new Town.

    All terraced homes with plumbing. The rich moved there and the poor folks took

    over the High St., – Royal mile.

    When I lived in Edinburgh parts of of the High Street were awful and slummy.

    Now, when I went home 7 years ago we learned it’s all very trendy and expensive

    to live on the Royal Mile. Yes, they fixed the plumbing!

    You can go into a lane off the High Street and come out into courtyards with

    views to the south and a drop down. Homes there, too. Some of our famous

    worthy people lived there because Holyrood Palace was at the bottom of the

    Royal Mile and which ever King or Queen ruled. The Palace was put together

    a thousand years ago.

    They mention three volcanos, extinct. I only know of one and that is Arthur’s

    Seat, the top of which can be seen in one of the pictures. When looked at in

    a certain way Arthur Seat is shaped like a reclining lion – 800 odd feet. The Salisbury Crags

    are nearby made of lava and high. We used to play there. Lots of wide open areas

    for children. I don’t think children will play in that huge expanse any more because

    of the way the world has gone. Maybe large boy scout groups or girl guide groups.

    Gorgeous place. Because Queen Elizageth II is on the throne it is called the Queen’s

    Park. When Charles gets on the throne it’ll become the King’s Park.

    Those who think King Arthur was definitely not from Cornwall or Wales

    think he lived on the west coast of Scotland and one day sat up on top of the

    extinct volcano and it was named Arthur’s Seat. The Queen’s Park where Arthur’s

    Seat is is enormous with lakes, woodlands, etc. The city is all around it.

    My High School was a a hill looking at Arthur’s Seat. What a view we had of that

    whole area.

    Mention Edinburgh and it’s history and I am off and running writing about it. Many

    thanks for sending your e-mail in the first place.

    And that is that. I am going to send your e-mail on to other Edinburgh folks

    who live in Hemet, Riverside and Banning. Many thanks.

    A DNA newsletter – sounds interesting.

    Lady Ella

  5. Thank you for this post and your beautiful photographs, Roberta. Our family has participated in the “Kirkin o’ the Tartan” more than once (in Washington, D.C., and in North Carolina at MacRae meadows). My brother marched with the “Bruce” clan at at least one of these events. We had a “Bruce” grandmother a few generations ago in the New England side of our family and it is from her that we have this line of descent. My brother wore the colors (in his kilt), as did his wife (in her sash), when they were married this year. After attending the “Kirkin o’ the Tartan” in MacRae meadows my ears were ringing with the sound of bagpipes –and I could hear them, playing, long after the music had ceased! I’ve heard this is a common experience — bagpipes seem to have an “afterlife.” There are the songs, of course: Scotland the Brave, Scotts Wha Hae, and once you’ve heard these songs played on the bagpipes, and a group of men singing them, very loudly (as they must be heard above the bagpipes), you’ll know them for life!!! Bagpipes work that way!

    Thank you again for allowing this reader to experience your adventure with you.

  6. I look so forward to your emails. Years ago I was in Scotland and visited
    Sterling Castle too. Takes me back years. You are so wonderfully eloquent in your delivery and one can feel they are right there too with you both. A HUGE CANADIAN thank you to for sharing with others, Susan

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