Midden pottery offers clues to Scots kings and queens

Pottery found in a medieval rubbish heap may once have sat on the tables of Scottish kings and queens, according to a leading archaeologist.

The fragments were discovered in the royal midden beneath the walls of Stirling Castle. Picture: PA

The fragments, including part of a beer or wine jug, were discovered in the “royal midden” beneath the walls of Stirling Castle.

They date from the 15th to the 17th centuries, when the fortress was home to the Stuart kings and the young Mary, Queen of Scots.

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Other finds included a gunflint from around 1651 when the castle was besieged by Oliver Cromwell; a 15th-17th- century lead horse harness badge depicting St Andrew and pieces of 19th-century clay tobacco pipes.

The objects were dumped over the castle walls over hundreds of years as rubbish and found this summer during work to maintain paths.

Dr Murray Cook, the Stirling archaeologist who supervised their recovery, said the pieces shed light on the everyday lives of those who occupied the castle over several centuries.

He said: “These fragments of pottery cover the period when Stirling Castle was home to kings and queens from James I to James VI, including the young Mary, Queen of Scots, and they would have been used by the royal household.

“The oldest piece was once part of a locally made jug that would have been used for wine or beer around the 15th century. At some point it’s been broken and discarded as rubbish but before that it could easily have been on the table of King James III or James IV.

“James IV built the magnificent Great Hall, the biggest in Scotland, in 1503. It’s tempting to imagine the jug from which this piece came sitting on the table at a banquet.

“The later sherds come from vessels from the 16th and 17th centuries, so they could potentially have been used at the time of the coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots or the crowning or baptism of her son, King James VI.”

A report in to the finds recommends that they are reported to the Scottish Treasure Trove Unit for allocation to a registered museum’s collection. Stirling is one of the largest and most important historic castles and palaces in Scotland. Surrounded on three sides by cliffs, the imposing fortress was the seat of the Stuart dynasty and the crowning place of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1543.