Go To Edinburgh Guide

What's On
Visit Edinburgh

History of Edinburgh

Home > History

Edinburgh started as a fort. Castle Rock is an easily defended position so from earliest times it was the site of a fort. In the 7th century the English captured this part of Scotland and they called this place Eiden's burgh (burgh is an old word for fort). In the 10th century the Scots re-captured the area. Late in the 11th century Malcolm III built a castle on Castle Rock and a small town grew up nearby. By the early 12th century Edinburgh was a flourishing community.

In 1128 David I founded Holyrood Abbey. The Abbey was manned by Augustinian canons who gave their name to Canongate. (Gate does not mean a gate in a wall it is from the old word 'gait' meaning road.

In the Middle Ages there were friars in Edinburgh. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach. In Edinburgh there were Dominican friars (called black friars because of their black costumes and Augustinian friars (known as grey friars). Both orders lived in friaries on the southern edge of Edinburgh.

In the Middle Ages Edinburgh was famous for making wool cloth. Nearby was the settlement of Leith which acted as Edinburgh's port. The main export was hides. Cattle and sheep were sold at a market in Cowgate. They were then butchered in the town. After 1477 grain and hay were sold in the Grassmarket.


In 1329 Edinburgh was given a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights) a sign of its growing importance. However in 1296 the English captured Edinburgh castle. They held it until 1322. Edinburgh suffered in constant warfare between Scots and English. In 1385 the English burned St Giles Kirk and the Town Hall. Despite this Edinburgh continued to grow and by the 15th century it was Scotland's de facto capital.

At the end of the 15th century the king built Holyrood House. John Knox's House was also built at the end of the 15th century.


Complete history of Edinburgh

Humans have settled the Edinburgh area from at least the Bronze Age, leaving traces of primitive stone settlements at Holyrood, Craiglockhart Hill and the Pentland Hills for example.

Where the name Edinburgh came from

The etymology of Edinburgh traces the origin of the city's name. The name comes from the Brythonic language. The poem Y Gododdin shows that the name derives from Din Eidyn (Fort of Eidyn) from the time when it was a Gododdin hillfort