Prisons of War Exhibition – Edinburgh Castle

Prisons of War.

One of the exhibitions at Edinburgh Castle is the prisons of war exhibition.

It’s located within Dury’s Battery, which is at the top of the hill past the Royal Scots Museum.

The re-creation shows what life was like for the prisoners of war.

Prison Doors.

Of course, I found the prison doors most intriguing…

…a detail in architecture that I tend to notice more thanks in large part to having stumbled upon Norm’s (host of Thursday Doors) blog.

The first prisoners held at Edinburgh Castle were French privateers. These privateers were captured in 1758, which was soon after the outbreak of the Seven Years War (1756-1763).

In June of 1781, this prison was more crowded than at any other time. There were over 600 Frenchman, almost 100 Spaniards, a number of Dutchmen, 30 Americans, and a few Scots and Irish. Almost all who were held here were sailors.


Located in this section of the exhibition, we get a peek at the graffiti that they carved into the doors.

Ducatez is Spanish. Also carved into the door is Lefevre (French) and Garrick (presumed British or American). They were shipmates on the French shipย Le Rohan Soubise, captured off the east coast of Great Britain in April of 1781.


The other side of the display case contains another graffiti covered door.

Much of the graffiti is hard to see on this door due to age. Besides the letters and numbers, there are carvings of the types of ships in which the men sailed. The most common types of ships in which they sailed were “two-masted” brigs and cutters.


Not only did Edinburgh Castle house prisoners during the Seven Years War, ย it also housed prisoners during The American War of Independence (1775-1783) and The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Quite the history!

In 1811, 49 prisoners of war escaped through a hole in the south wall of the castle. Edinburgh Castle ceased to be used as a prison from 1814 and mostly due to the fact of the escapees.


While walking through the exhibition, I learned some interesting facts. One of those facts was that the prisoners held at Edinburgh Castle were ordinary seamen.

The officers of the seamen were “on parole”. In other words, the officers were able to stay in private accommodations.

The prisoners at Edinburgh Castle included young cabin boys, soldiers, ship’s carpenters, and cooks, as well as ordinary seamen.

Their sleeping accommodations were hammocks hanging from raftered frames.

Also, there are audio recordings playing that hint at what life may have been like at the time.

You can learn about their rations, healthcare, allowances, and more throughout the exhibition.

Visiting the exhibition.

Visiting the exhibition doesn’t take long and the entrance fee to Edinburgh Castle includes the exhibition.

There is quite a bit of interesting history and I would recommend taking the time to go through the Prisons of War exhibition if you are spending the day at Edinburgh Castle.

Have you toured this exhibition at the castle? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

Haven’t visited the castle? Is it on your “must see” travel list?

Update: I’ve had some people wonder how they missed this during their visit to Edinburgh Castle. I’ve included the YouTube trailer video from Historic Scotland.ย 

During my time in Scotland, I found both Edinburgh and Glasgow to be wonderful places. I discovered that I didn’t have near enough time to see everything that would have made my “must see” list.

I think that means that I must return again someday!

Let your light shine!


27 thoughts on “Prisons of War Exhibition – Edinburgh Castle

  1. I walked through this exhibition this past summer and found it really interesting. I loved the view of the city from the castle. The real highlight for me though was seeing the tattoo in the evening on the castle grounds.

    1. The view of the city was quite amazing! I was there at the beginning of June and they were building the framework to get ready for the tattoo. I’m sure that was spectacular to see.

  2. I would love to go to Scotland. I want to rent a car and just go from bed and breakfast to the next one. Oh and of course, try some of their golf courses.

    1. We did not attempt to rent a car. I was not prepared to drive on the opposite side of the road. Our trip was also short so we visited Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and a few small towns and used the train system. I’d love to explore more the next time I return and maybe I’ll work up the nerve to drive! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you!
      I adored Scotland and hope to make it back. We were not there long enough to see all that the cities we visited had to offer. We also decided that the Highlands would have to become a trip of their own.
      I hope that you have a wonderful trip!

  3. I’m trying to remember if we saw the prison or not. We definitely went around the castle, and the distillery, and lots of other places. I’ll probably dig the photos out later, and find pictures of the same things you took ๐Ÿ™‚ I think my favourite thing from our visit to Scotland was driving along the valley towards Stirling, and seeing the Wallace monument for the first time.

    1. There is also a military prison with garrison cells that I have photos of. I think we walked through every area possible!
      I saw the Wallace monument from Stirling Castle. We talked about taking a taxi to get closer, but after walking from the train station to the castle and around all day, we were ready to head back to the hotel.
      However, if I ever work up the nerve to drive on the opposite side of the road….I’m sure I’ll do a lot more exploring on a return visit.

  4. It’s on my Bucket List! Now that I’ve I have more Scottish heritage in my genealogy than I ever imagined it’s even more so!

    I had goosebumps reading your narrative and looking at these images. I image life for the seamen was pretty horrific in that prison during that time.

    1. I hope you get to check it off your bucket list Deborah!
      I can’t imagine that it was a good experience. They did give them a monetary allowance and clothing, but being confined to a prison must have been horrid. And it appears that it was mostly the “worker bees” that lived there.
      I’ve updated the post to include a YouTube video from Historic Scotland. It gives a little more of a glimpse of the exhibition.

  5. I loved the castle and the city and would love to go back again. It seems as though we might have gone through this, but I don’t recall, so it was great to visit through your informative and beautiful post. Thanks, Amy.


    1. Thank you Janet.
      I’m not sure if this is a newer exhibition as some people have mentioned not seeing it. I’ve updated the post to include a YouTube trailer from Historic Scotland showing this exhibition. I’m hoping that I make a return trip someday! -Amy

  6. Wow, loved these photos and your descriptions of them….We have been to Edinburgh Castle… did we miss this? Well another trip will need to be put on the Bucket List! I have to live until 145!

    1. Thank you!
      I’ve updated the post to include a YouTube video of this exhibition by Historic Scotland. Since they uploaded it in 2014, I’m thinking that perhaps this is a new exhibition. But you definitely should put a trip back on your bucket list! I’m right there with you at needing to get to 145 to mark everything off my bucket list! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Those old doors have so much texture and character. I can’t imagine what living in conditions like that must have been like. Great post Amy ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. The thick stone walls and battered wooden doors hint at a life that didn’t look very warm and comfortable. This is another reminder that ending up in any prison is near the top of my Must Never Do List.

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