Robert Burns’ First Trip to Stirling

Here at SCHT we are celebrating Burn’s Night on the 25th January by looking back and learning about Robert Burn’s first visit to Stirling in 1787.

On his way up to Inverness Burns visited Stirling for the first time in 1787. He wrote to his friend, Robert Muir, about the stunning views of the Forth and the carse of Stirling and Falkirk that could be seen from Castle Hill, but the romantic ruins of Stirling Castle itself left quite an impression on our nation’s bard. He returned to the Wingates Inn (now the Golden Lion) on King street (then called Quality Street) where he was staying and wrote on a glass windowpane with a diamond pen given to him by the Earl of Glencairn. The poem he etched is known as the ‘Stirling Lines’:

Here Stewarts once in triumph reigned,
And laws for Scotland’s weal ordained;
But now unroofed their palace stands,
Their sceptre’s swayed by other hands;
Fallen, indeed, and to the earth
Whence grovelling reptiles take their birth,
The injured Stewart line is gone.
A race outlandish fills their throne;
An idiot race, to honour lost;
Who knows them best despite them most.

One of the people with whom Burns spent time in Stirling was a Dr Doig (1719 – 1800), Rector of the Grammar School. Burns described him as ‘a queerish figure and something of a pedant’, so he clearly wasn’t a fan… Burns was also entertained by Captain Forrester of the Castle, and Christopher Bell, a singing teacher.

The Golden Lion Hotel in the 1950s ©Stirling Council Archives

As revealed in the ‘Lines’, Burn’s was a Jacobite sympathiser, caught-up in the nostalgic romanticism of a failed movement. The Jacobite’s attempts to put the exiled Catholic Stuarts back on Scotland’s throne failed for the final time in 1745, over 40 years before Burn’s visit to Stirling. Despite this, the movement had an indelible impact on Scottish arts and culture in the years that followed through the bestselling novels of Sir Walter Scott which crystalised the Jacobite’s in the imaginations of reader’s as romantically doomed rebels. A teenage Queen Victoria was a fan of Scott’s work, and without any sense of irony declared herself a Jacobite…! Burns was right though, Stirling Castle was in a sorry state since the royal court removed from Scotland permanently to London in 1603, so the Castle and the precious Stirling Heads within it had been left to moulder.

Apparently, Burns later regretted writing his ‘Stirling Lines’, and he returned to the inn in October of the same year to smash the pane of glass he’d etched his poem onto. Despite this attempt to erase his verses, Stirling remains proud of his words, and on the day Stirling became a city, on March 12th 2002, Home – The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum had the ‘Lines’ carved into slate at the museum’s entrance. A statue of Robert Burns was also erected near The Smith in 1914, funded by Provost David Bayne and produced by sculptor Albert Hemstock Hodge.

From all of us at SCHT we hope you have a safe and happy Burns Night!

Posted by: katharine