Stirling Castle's Amazon warrior revealed

THE discovery of the remains of an aristocratic Scottish "Amazon", killed in battle during the Wars of Independence, is set to rewrite the history books.

Her skeleton was among the remains of five "high status" individuals - all of whom had suffered violent deaths - found beneath the paved floor of the "lost" Royal Chapel at Stirling Castle.

The woman - simply known as "skeleton 539" - was a robust and muscular female, standing 5ft 4in tall. Archaeologists had previously suspected she had been a courtier at the Royal palace during the reign of Alexander 11. But detailed forensic tests have now shown that she was ruthlessly killed by a warhammer during one of the key conflicts during the Wars of Independence.

She could have stood with Robert Bruce in the historic victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 or with William Wallace at the Scottish triumph at Stirling Bridge in 1297.

• In pictures: Stirling Castle skeletons reveal warriors' violent demise

And Historic Scotland has now used 3D facial reconstruction technology to bring the mysterious female "warrior" and a medieval knight found buried beside her back to life as part of a new exhibition linked to the refurbishment of the castle's Renaissance palace.

Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland's head of cultural heritage, said yesterday that the new discoveries about the grim fate of the lady and the four other skeletons found beneath the royal chapel were remarkable.

He said: "This discovery is unique in Scottish archaeology. And it opens up a new area of understanding of gender roles in battle."

He added: "It is extraordinary to find a group of individuals from the 1300s who are all exhibiting terrible wounds from death in battle. But then to find a woman among the group allows us to speculate on matters that otherwise we wouldn't have been able to imagine.

"Radio carbon dating places her death firmly within the period of the Wars of Independence - the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. And throughout that period there were also ten sieges when the castle changed hands between the Scots and English. This is exactly the period when the women lived and when she died. And we have specific evidence of her death in battle.

"The detailed analysis of her remains has given us a very clear of idea of her life - the fact that she was almost certainly a high status individual - and how she came to very sticky end."

According to the detailed forensic tests, skeleton 539 was a female, aged between 36 band 45 who died between 1270 and 1324. And she sustained several injuries to her skull at the time she died.

Mr Yeoman said: "She was brought down with terrible blows to the right-hand side of her head from an assailant who was above her, possibly on horseback.

"She was then finished off by somebody wielding a warhammer with a spike on the end of the it which was used to put two awful blows to the top her skull and undoubtedly killed her, piercing through to her brain. We have even found a match of the weapon which finished her off."

Richard Strachan, Historic Scotland's senior archaeologist, said: "The skeletons were a remarkable find and provided an incredibly rare opportunity to learn more about life and death in medieval Scotland.

"It was unusual for people to be buried under the floor of a royal chapel and we suspected that they must have been pretty important people who died during periods of emergency - perhaps during the many sieges.

"The fact that five of the skeletons suffered broken bones, consistent with beatings or battle trauma, suggests this could be what happened."


THE history books have only recorded one female as playing a principal role in battle during the Wars of Independence. She was "Black Agnes" – the Countess of Dunbar and the daughter of Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray – a close ally of Robert the Bruce.

In 1337, while her husband was fighting in the North, "Black Agnes", below, led the historic defence of Dunbar Castle against an English siege, outraging their leader, the Earl of Salisbury, when she refused to surrender.

For months the Countess and her small force held out against the English army, walking the battlements in defiance as the massive stones from the English siege engines battered the castle walls around her.

Agnes and her ladies even dusted the damaged walls where they had been hit with white handkerchiefs.

After five months the earl abandoned the siege. As they retreated his soldiers sang: "She makes a stir in tower and trench, that brawling, boisterous, Scottish wench; Came I early, came I late. I found Agnes at the gate."