The History of Leith

December 2, 2010

King David and Holyrood

It was the 14th September, the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, and King David was holding his Court in the Castle of Edinburgh. Like the pious man he was, the King had heard early mass in the great church of the Castle, ” with solemnity and reverence,” when ” mony
young and insolent baronis of Scotland” came to him and urged that they should go a-hunting; the king’s confessor, the pious and learned Alkwine, begged that so holy a day should be given entirely to contemplation. David, as so many of us do unto this very day, yielded
to the voice of the tempter, and went forth with his hounds. Now, it must be remembered that there then stretched all round on every side the Castle Rock of Edinburgh, the forest of Drumselch, and that it was full of ” hartis, hyndis, toddis (foxes), and siclike maner of beistis.” The great hunting party passed from the Castle down to the east, ” with sic noyis and dyn of rachis and bugillis, that all the bestis wer raisit fra their dennys.” When the hunters came below Salisbury Crags, the king
found himself separated from his courtiers in the thick forest, and then there broke on him the fairest hart that ever the eyes of man beheld. The king’s horse started and fled, but the hart charged and threw horse and rider to the ground. The king, half stunned, raised his arm
to shield himself from the thrust of the stag’s horns, when his hand clutched not the horns, but a portion of the true cross. When David came to himself, the ” fairest hart” had vanished ; the shouts of the hunters had died’ away; no noise broke the silence of the forest save the soft sound of the water of the Rude Well falling into its basin. The King returned to the Castle, and was charged by his good confessor to found a great religious house in honour of the ” Holy Cross, the Virgin Mary, and All Saints,” on the spot where the piece of the true cross
had been placed in his hand. So the site was chosen ; and so, too, the seal of the monastery and the arms of its burgh town, the Canongate, bore the stag’s head with a cross between its horns. Is it not cruel that to the men of our time there is denied the power of believing a beautiful old legend like this, while there are so many of
the dark stories about Holyrood which they are forced
to credit?

Source-Harrison 1919

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