Gifted to James IV by Pope Julius II in 1507, the Sword of State was made by Italian craftsman Domenico da Sutri. It is part of the Honours of Scotland – Scotland’s Crown jewels – on display at Edinburgh Castle. The other priceless pieces are the Crown of Scotland and the Sceptre. All are objects of immense significance. The Honours of Scotland are the oldest Crown jewels in Britain and among the oldest in Europe.

The Sword of State represents an exceptionally high quality of decoration. Da Sutri took the arms of Pope Julius as the theme for the sword handle design. Oak trees and acorns symbolise the risen Christ and dolphins signify Christ’s Church. The base of the blade is etched on both faces with the figures of St Peter and St Paul. Inlaid gold lettering reads: “JULIUS II PONT MAX” (‘Julius II Supreme Pontiff’).

The wooden scabbard is covered in dark red velvet and mounted with silver-gilt metalwork. An enamelled panel features the arms of Pope Julius II and a symbol of the papacy. The rest of the scabbard is richly decorated with oak leaves, acorns, dolphins and grotesque masks.

The belt, woven in silk and gold thread, again bears the arms of the pope. A massive silver-gilt buckle with hinged prongs is used to fasten it.

The ornate style of all three items reflects the High Renaissance period in which they were made. The Sword of State has since 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. It is thought that the blade of the Sword of State was broken during these events, though the Sword and the Scabbard were reportedly already in a poor state of repair in 1633. Only with the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 could the Honours be returned 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 Sword of State 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 1507
1378 x 438mm
Property Information
Edinburgh Castle
Object Number
Access Status