The small, ancient city of Perth is beautifully situated on the broad River Tay, amid mountains, moors, hills, woods, lochs and glens. Sir Walter Scott's description of it as "the most varied and most beautiful" is still justified. In the Middle Ages, Perth was a meeting place of the Scottish parliament and home of Scotland's kings. However, the ravages of war and of the followers of the 16th century reformer John Knox, have left few of its ancient buildings intact.
Perth was made a Royal Burgh in 1210, and fortified by Edward I of England in 1298. The city served as capital of Scotland for a century until in 1437, a band of rebels murdered James I of Scotland, and his widow and young son James II, moved the court to Edinburgh, which has remained Scotland's capital ever since. James I, a prolific lawgiver, had many enemies among the nobles, whose powers he had reduced. Early in 1437, rebels led by Sir Robert Graham galloped into the cloisters of Blackfriar's Monastery at midnight, where the king had been playing chess with his family in the royal lodgings. The conspirators forced their way in and James was slaughtered with 16 stab wounds in the chest.
The proud spire of St John's Kirk dominates the Perth skyline, and is, sadly, the only visible reminder of Perth's illustrious medieval past. Consecrated in 1243, much of the present building dates from the 15th century. There is some fine stained glass of the Renaissance, and a priceless collection of old pewter and silver sacramental dishes. Here in St John's Kirk, in 1559, after a long exile on the continent, John Knox gave a famously rousing sermon on church idolatry. Knox's fiery sermons launched the Reformation in Scotland amid a wave of destruction, most especially 'church wrecking'. In Perth alone, Knox's followers burnt down the monasteries of Greyfriars, Blackfriars and Charterhouse - these acts were repeated throughout Scotland. The damage inflicted on Perth during the Reformation, compounded that perpetrated earlier by a series of invaders who had literally smashed their way into the city. Edward I and Edward III of England, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce all played a part in destroying the old city. Oliver Cromwell's Roundhead army took the destruction further in 1651, when driving out the Royalist forces.
Scone Palace, the home of the Earl of Mansfield, is a 19th century castellated mansion built on the former site of the Abbey of Scone. The abbey was founded in 1114 by Alexander I, and destroyed by followers of John Knox in 1559. Scone was the coronation place of earlier Scottish kings, Charles II being the last crowned there in 1651. The Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, is said to have been brought to Scone in the 9th century by Kenneth MacAlpine, who united Scotland after defeating the Picts at Scone. The Stone was seized by Edward I in 1297 and transported to England and placed underneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. However, in 1996 the stone was returned, technically lent in perpetyity, to Scotland by the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth on the understanding that it can be temporarily taken back to London whenever it might be required for future coronations.
The Fair Maid of Perth's House, in Curfew Row, stands on the site of the 14th century home of Catherine Glover, the 'Fair Maid' of Sir Walter Scott's novel and Bizet's opera. The Salutation Hotel, built in 1699, still has a minstrel gallery near the bedroom occupied by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
At Huntingtower Castle, 2 miles north-west of Perth, a band of nobles, led by the Earl of Gowrie, kidnapped James VI in 1582, and held him captive for a year to force him to change his ministers. The castle, a castellated mansion in reality, has two medieval towers, linked by another built in the 17th century. The ceiling timbers are carved with scrolls, fruit and the faces of dragons and other animals.
To the north-east is Dunsinane Hill, an Iron Age hill fort enclosed by a strong rampart, said to be the site of Macbeth's castle, from which he scanned distant Birnam Wood.