The Sceptre is thought to have been a gift to James IV from Pope Alexander VI in 1494. Along with the Crown of Scotland and the Sword of State, it is part of the Honours of Scotland – Scotland’s Crown jewels. The priceless treasures, all objects of immense significance, are on display at Edinburgh Castle. The Honours of Scotland are the oldest Crown jewels in Britain and among the oldest in Europe.

The Sceptre is an example of High Renaissance Italian craftsmanship. In 1536 it was remodelled by Edinburgh goldsmith Adam Leys, who also added to its length.

The Sceptre’s finial (head) is formed from a globe of polished rock crystal, held up by stylised dolphins and three figures. These depict St Andrew, St James the Great and the Virgin Mary. On top of the crystal globe sits a gold orb, capped with a single large pearl.

The lower part of the Sceptre comprises a silver gilt rod, hexagonal in shape, with three divisions. It is decorated with urns, oak leaves, grotesque masks, thistles and fleurs-de-lis.

The Sceptre has been present at many of the major royal ceremonial events over the past five centuries. But the Honours of Scotland have also had a turbulent time. In 1650 they were removed for safekeeping (possibly at Stirling Castle) ahead of Oliver Cromwell’s siege of Edinburgh Castle. Following the Scottish coronation of Charles II in 1651, unable to return them to Edinburgh Castle, the Honours were taken to Dunnottar Castle before being smuggled out during a siege and hidden at Kinneff Kirk. Only with the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 could they return to Edinburgh Castle.

In 1707, following the Act of Union between England and Scotland, they were locked in a chest and sealed away. In 1818 Sir Walter Scott, the famous novelist, rediscovered the Honours.

The Sceptre is on loan from the Commissioners for the Keeping of the Regalia.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle has witnessed many of the defining events in Scotland’s history. Sieges were fought over the mighty stronghold. Royalty lived and died within its walls. Just the sight of the Castle Rock has terrified and inspired countless generations.

Fierce Iron Age warriors defended a hill fort here, and the nation’s oldest poetry tells of a war band feasting here for a year before riding to their deaths in battle.

The castle’s royal connections go back 1,000 years, and the city’s oldest building stands on the site. David I built St Margaret’s Chapel around 1130, as a tribute to his devout mother.

Edinburgh has been besieged more than any other castle in Europe, and the Scots and English struggled over its control during the Wars of Independence. In 1314, Thomas Randolph, a relative of Robert the Bruce, led a daring night raid to reclaim it from the English.

Over the last 200 years, Edinburgh Castle has become a national icon. Today it is Scotland’s leading tourist attraction and a chief element of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Home of royalty

Scottish monarchs commissioned grand buildings here – both as secure lodgings and to show off their wealth, power and good taste. The castle’s royal role continues today.

Monarchs who sheltered here include:

  • Queen Margaret (later St Margaret), who died here in 1093
  • Mary Queen of Scots, who gave birth to James VI in the Royal Palace in 1566

Edinburgh was among Scotland’s chief royal residences during the 1400s and 1500s.

Bonnie Prince Charlie – Mary’s great-great-great grandson – captured Edinburgh but failed to take the castle during the 1745–46 Jacobite Rising.

Army headquarters

Edinburgh Castle became more important as a military base from the late 1500s onwards.

After the ‘Lang Siege’ of 1571–3, the castle’s military strength was repaired, maintained and improved. Additions included:

  • the distinctive Half Moon Battery
  • a huge garrison
  • a secure jail for prisoners of war

The military presence remains unbroken – Edinburgh Castle is still an active base today. It also houses three military museums, the Scottish National War Memorial and the Prisons of War exhibition.

Find out more about Edinburgh Castle


Date Made
Pre 1494
l 861mm (l 33 7/8")
Time Period
Property Information
Edinburgh Castle
Object Number
Access Status