Interior view of the French prisoners' vault

Prisons of War

Pirates and prisoners of war were held in the vaults below the Great Hall in the 1700s and 1800s. This prison recreation offers a glimpse into the grim way of life they had to endure.

Prisoners of war came from France, America, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and Poland. Most were sailors, many of them Americans fighting in the War of Independence. An early depiction of the ‘Stars and Stripes’ flag is scratched into a door.

The first prisoners were French privateers caught in 1758, soon after the Seven Years War began. The youngest held was a five-year-old drummer boy captured at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Some tried to escape. One prisoner hid in a dung barrow, but was killed when it was tipped over the castle wall.

Caribbean pirates were held in the vaults before they became a prison of war. In 1720, 21 members of Black Bart’s crew were captured off Argyll. They had come to Scotland to retire. Instead, most were hanged below the high water mark off Leith.

The entrance to the Prisons of War is located within Dury’s Battery. This is at the top of the hill, past the Royal Scots Museum and through the set of gates directly ahead.

Prisons of War0:36