About Edinburgh Riding of the Marches

The Edinburgh March Riding Association Limited was formed in Randolph MurrayNovember 2008 to facilitate the annual re-enactment of the Edinburgh Riding of the
Marches and all its associated traditions and to commemorate the return in the year 1513 of the Captain of the City Band, Randolph Murray clasping the Ancient Blue Blanket Banner with the tragic news of the defeat of the Scottish Army at the Battle of Flodden.

Pictured is William Hole’s impression of Randolph Murray returning from Flodden with the Blue Blanket.  This oil painting is currently displayed in the Trades Maiden Hospital in Edinburgh alongside the original Blue Blanket. 

The Common Land

Edinburgh’s Common Land, The Burgh Muir was part of the ancient forest of Drumselch, which is believed to have been gifted to the people of Edinburgh by David I in 1143 around the time of the foundation of Holyrood Abbey. Unfortunately many records relating to this and the early Ridings Of The Marches were lost when the Earl of Hertford sacked Edinburgh in 1544.

The Burgh Muir was an area to the South of Edinburgh City Centre upon which much of the southern portion of the city now rests, following expansions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Burgh Muir was famously used by Scotland’s Kings to gather their armies before doing battle with the English. This happened in 1542, 1523 and more famously in 1513 prior to their tragic defeat at Flodden.

A relic of this time still exists called the Bore Stone. The stone can be found at the northwest corner of the old Morningside Parish Church wall on Morningside Road. The Plaque mounted below the stone states:

“In which the Rstacks_image_90_1oyal Standard was last pitched for the muster of the Scottish army on the Borough Muir before the Battle of Flodden, 1513. It long lay in the adjoining field, was then built into the wall near this spot and finally placed here by Sir John Stuart Forbes of Pitsligo, 1852. Highest and midmost was desiret, The Royal Banner floating wide, The staff a pine tree strong and straight, pitch’d deeply in a massive stone, which still in memory is shown, Yet bent beneath the Standards weight. Marion.”  Using today’s street names, the position of the Burgh Muir can be plotted from Leven Street, Bruntsfield Place and Morningside Road in the West to Dalkeith Road and Peffermill in the East and as far South as the Jordan Burn. The Burgh Muir had a total area of approximately 5 square miles. The last large open area of common land remaining on the Burgh Muir is Bruntsfield Links, which lies alongside a former loch now known as The Meadows.

The Riding of the Marches

The first record of a Riding Of The Marches in Edinburgh was on All Hallows (Halloween), 31st October 1579. On this date, a group of towns-people gathered at the Provost’s house at 11am, from where they embarked on an inspection of the Marches of the Common Land led by the Captain of the Trained Band (Town Guard), Provost, Baillies and Burgesses. “Intimatioun” (intimation) of the event was given to the “nichtbouris” (towns people) and anyone who regularly made use of the Common Land, possessed a horse and failed to take part in the inspection was liable to be fined. The following extract was taken from the Edinburgh Town Council minutes, 30th October 1579: “….the Counsall ordains proclamatioun to be maid chairging all merchantis craftismen and utheris inhabitantis within this burgh to be in radynes the morn be xi houris to accompany the provest the baillies and counsall to vesy (examine/inspect) thair methis (boundary markers) and bounds as ordour hes bene on horsback and to proclame thair Allhallowes fair to begyn the morn be xii houris”.  The Riding Of The Marches was regularly held on All Hallows until 1583, when for a period of 21 years, until 1604 it was carried out on the eve of Trinity Fair, 4th December. Thereafter the inspection of the Common Land reverted to All Hallows until the demise of the practice in 1718.

In 1946 a special “Riding of the Marches” was held in Edinburgh to celebrate peace and the end of the war. Seventy riders took part and a large crowd, reported to be ‘approaching Royal visit dimensions’ greeted the riders in the Royal Mile.

In the ceremony in front of the Mercat Cross, the Lord Provost of the time said that the Riding had been “a picturesque method of uniting the past with the present”. In honour of the previous Captains of the Trained Bands, Treasurer Murray who led the ride was given the honour of Captain. Captain Murray went on to become Lord Provost of Edinburgh the following year in 1947. After 2 years of planning and the formation of the Edinburgh March Riding Association, the Riding Of The Marches returned to Edinburgh on Sunday 6th September 2009 and is now an annual event in honour of those who sought to protect the integrity of Edinburgh’s Common Land and defend the inhabitants of this city, tall and wide.

The City of Edinburgh Banner

In 2009, to commemorate the first modern day Riding Of The Marches in Edinburgh, a new City Of Edinburgh Banner was commissioned in consultation with the Lord Lyon King Of Arms. On 9th February 2009, local businessman and major private sponsor of the Riding of the Marches, Robert Miller presented the City of Edinburgh Banner to Lord Provost George Grubb. Mr Miller of RH Miller Town and Country financed the making of the Banner and presented it as a gift to the city. The new banner was made in Scotland and bears the Arms of the City of Edinburgh Council, which were first recorded in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in 1774.

The City Of Edinburgh Banner is held in the safekeeping of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh within the City Chambers. The Banner appears on public display several times a year when the Edinburgh Captain carries it on official engagements.

The Blue Blanket

The Blue Blanket is the affectionate name for the “Standard Of The Crafts Within The Burgh” of Edinburgh. This Standard is still held in great honour and reverence by the people of Edinburgh today. One school of thought believes the blanket (hand embroidered by the Queen) to have been presented to the craftsmen of Edinburgh by King James III after they rescued him from imprisonment in Edinburgh Castle. The present Convenery Of Trades does not rely on this part of the story as there is no concrete evidence available to prove that this happened.

The Blue Blanket is made of silk and is believed to have been a bright azure blue in colour though due to its age, the colour has completely faded.  It is inscribed with a saltire, a thistle, an imperial crown and the words “Fear God and honour ye King with a long lyffe and prosperous reign and we shall ever pray to be faithful for ye defence of his sacred Majesty’s royal person till death”. It measures ten feet, two inches long and six feet six inches wide and is now kept behind glass in the safekeeping of the Deacon Convenor Of The Trades in Edinburgh.stacks_image_112_1

The conditions that came with ownership of the Blue Blanket were two fold. Should the banner be unfurled, the Deacon Convenor Of The Trades will be granted an audience with the Monarch. The Blanket could also be raised to summon all the craftsmen of Scotland to fight in support of the Monarch. This happened in September 1513 with disastrous consequences.

Flodden, the Blue Blanket and The Captain

In September 1513, King James IV, having declared war on England, gathered his army on the Burgh Muir in Edinburgh. It is probable that the army was 50,000 strong with an estimated 10,000 men joining as they travelled south through the Borders. According to tradition Provost Alexander Lauder of Blyth led the Burghers out of the city by the West Bow to assemble, with the rest of the King’s army on the Burgh Muir before the march to Flodden. The Blue Blanket was unfurled and the Craftsmen also rose to fight alongside the King.stacks_image_118_1

The Battle of Flodden was fought on 9th September 1513 leading to the most disastrous defeat ever experienced by a Scots army. Bishops, Lords, Clan Chiefs, the Archbishop Of St Andrews and the King himself were among the estimated 10,000 dead Scots. The loss to Edinburgh on this occasion was particularly great. All magistrates and able-bodied men had followed their King into battle and very few returned.  The news of defeat at Flodden reached Edinburgh the day after the battle and the Edinburghers were said to be overwhelmed with grief and confusion. Weeping women crowded the streets, seeking word of their friends and loved ones. The bearer of this tragic news is said to have been Randolph Murray, Captain of the City Band, who had ridden from the field of battle having recovered the Blue Blanket.










The poem “Edinburgstacks_image_131_1h After Flodden” (Read the poem here) by William Edmondstoun Aytoun captures the feeling of despair in Edinburgh at that time and illustrates the part played by the Captain of the City Band.

There are several paintings depicting Randolph Murray with the Blue Blanket. Those featured above are by Sir Joseph Noel Paton, RSA. There is also a painting (shown left) hung in the European Room of Edinburgh City Chambers entitled News Of Flodden by William Hole, RSA.









The modern Blue Blanket

In 2011, after years of debate and planning, the Convenery Of Trades commissioned a modern representation of the Blue Blanket. The new Blanket made its first public appearance on Friday 9th September 2011 at Greyfriars Kirk for the Kirking of the Deacon Of Candlemakers, R. Peter Rae. To witness the Boxmaster Of The Incorporation Of Candlemakers Ian Robertson, carry the Blanket from the ancient Candlemakers Hall to the alter of the historic Greyfriars Kirk, was a fantastic experience for all present.

The Blanket made its next public appearance on Sunday 11th September 2011 atop the Mercat Cross, where Deacon Convenor Of Trades, Dr Gordon McAndrew and Lord Provost, Rev. George Grubb awaited the return of the Riding Of The Marches. At the head of the ride, Captain Iain Whyte caught sight of the Blue Blanket as he passed the Tron Kirk. Iain later said, “The excitement and sense of pride the sight of the Blanket generated within myself and amongst the riders was fantastic”.  As the ride approached the Mercat Cross, the Blanket could be clearly seen, flying resplendent against the backdrop of St Giles Cathedral. It was a truly moving moment to see the Blanket at the centre of these proceedings and it is the sincere hope of the Edinburgh March Riding Association that it returns every year. Read more about the Blue Blanket here.

The Flodden Wall

After Flodden, a need was identified for a defensive wall to be placed around the city. As Capital of Scotland, Edinburgh had become a bit of a political football and was regularly sacked by one English army or another. A new wall would help the inhabitants combat this, so work began in 1514 but wasn’t completed until 1560. Much of the Flodden Wall has now been demolished, however some sections still remain, most notably at The Vennel and Pleasance. While the Ports no longer exist, several of the areas still bear their Port names and brass plates in the roadway mark where the Ports once stood.


Each year, on the Sunday before the Riding Of the Marches in Edinburgh, the Captain and his First and Second Officers inspect the Flodden Wall boundary on foot. They visit Cowgate Port, Netherbow Port, The Castle, West Port, The Vennel, Society Port, Potterrow Port and finish the inspection at Pleasance. As a mark of respect for those men of Edinburgh that perished at Flodden, a moment of quiet contemplation is spent at each point on the journey. A pinch of stour from Flodden field (collected during the Coldstream Flodden Ride earlier that year) is used to mark each point on the wall.