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The Kings Knot – a history

Kings Knot From Stirling Castle
Figure 1: Colourised postcard of the Kings Knot from above. Image courtesy of The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that Stirling City Heritage Trust’s blue and green logo is a representation of the Kings Knot, a Stirling city landmark. You are probably familiar with the landscaped area beneath Stirling Castle called the Kings Knot, known locally as the cup-and-saucer, it’s a popular spot with locals, dog-walkers, and tourists alike, but do you know the history behind these geometric earthworks or why Stirling City Heritage Trust was established?

Figure 1: Colourised postcard of the Kings Knot from above. Image courtesy of The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

Stirling’s Royal Park was established by William the Lion in the 12th century. The Kings Knot was a central part of Stirling Castle’s Royal Park, and to really appreciate how special it is, it should be viewed from above. From the charmingly named Ladies Lookout in Stirling Castle (or via a satellite map image) you can more fully appreciate the scale and importance of this feature in the landscape, constructed for Charles I in 1627-9. Before that, in the 1490s, James IV had filled the Royal Park with fruit trees, flowers, ornamental hedges and fish ponds.  The Park was designed to be admired from the Castle, as well as wandered through by members of the Scottish court. The King’s Knot is covered in grass now, but it was originally an ornamental garden, similar to those found in the grounds of romantic chateaux in France. Its purpose was to enchant and impress visitors to the Castle; emphasising the wealth and status of the Stuart kings, proof that they were just as powerful and cultured as other European monarchs.

Figure 2: Sheep grazing the Kings Knot. Image courtesy of The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

King’s Park is now home to charming sandstone villas and buildings like The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, but it was once parkland, owned by the crown and used by the monarch and the members of their court for sports and leisure activities including hawking and deer hunting. Up on the castle esplanade, an area now used as a carpark and event space, jousting tournaments were held. More everyday buildings sat near the King’s Knot too, such as laundries and brew houses, which kept the people living and working in the bustling Castle fed and clothed.

In 1603 when King James was crowned I of England and VI of Scotland, the court moved permanently to London. The Castle and Park began to fall into disrepair, until Charles I made a short visit in 1633 after his coronation, and refurbishments were ordered to tidy the place up before he arrived. Later, in 1867, the Kings Knot was restored to its current form by notorious fan of all things Scottish, Queen Victoria.

Figure 3: Kings Park’s brand-new villas. Image courtesy of The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

Fast-forward to 2004, when Historic Environment Scotland established the Stirling City Heritage Trust (SCHT). We are one of seven city heritage trust’s across Scotland who all work together with local authorities and other stakeholders to promote the heritage and care of the built environment in our cities. So, when SCHT needed a logo that represented Stirling’s heritage, the Kings Knot fitted the bill perfectly. It’s a well-known local landmark which reminds visitors of the city’s ancient history.

With thanks to The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum for allowing us to share these great images from their collection.

Interested to find out more?

The Stirling Local History Society have information about a project which SCHT helped to fund, looking at the archaeology of the site. King’s Knot Survey – Stirling Local History Society (stirling-lhs.org)

Historic Environment Scotland have wonderful aerial images on their Canmore website: Stirling, King’s Knot | Canmore

King’s Park and the Royal Park are both in Conservation Areas which protect the important heritage of this part of the city.

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