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The Castles of Scotland


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The Castles of Scotland are essentially similar to those of other western European countries, particularly England and France. But, as Scotland was relatively a poorer country, the castles there were generally on a smaller scale. They were the fortified private residences of a feudal nobility in its different grades, at a time when the administration of the country was mainly in their hands; at a time when a man of rank might have enemies among his neighbours, and so might have to enforce his will or protect his family, friends and property by his own military strength. Sir William Keith built the first tower at Dunnottar as a refuge from possible feudal enemies; the great tower at Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness was raised for John Grant in the early years of the sixteenth century as a protection against thieves and malefactors. Moreover a military equipment and domicile were the distinguishing marks of a man of rank. In Scotland, however, at least after the time of Robert the Bruce, fortresses were not regarded as necessary or even desirable elements in the defence of the country against hostile invasion. The English often captured them and used them.

The earliest castles, introduced to Scotland by Norman and Flemish settlers, were constructed of earthworks and timber or timber and clay buildings. A tower of this nature on a mound or "motte," as the chief residence, and an enclosure or "bailey" attached, each part having its palisade or "pele" and ditch about it, made up the motte-and-bailey type of castle. Nothing of these could survive but the earthworks, of which, out of many, the Mote of Flawick, the Bass of Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, and the great Mote of Urr in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright are particularly good examples. What is further important is the fact that the first castles of stone and lime were planned on the lines of the motte-and-bailey, a great residential tower in one corner and a lofty wall or curtain, usually also furnished with towers, to enclose an open space, in which arose other necessary buildings - a great hall, chapel, chambers, kitchen, offices, stables, etc.

These stone castles began to take the place of the older timbered structures some time about the middle of the thirteenth century. But of castles of this date we have only a very few partial survivals. Because of their advantage to the English in the War of Independence, Robert Bruce had most of them destroyed. Dunstaffnage, however, near Oban, he left unharmed, and its ancient walls remain, with round towers of slight projection at two of the angles. But the buildings within are of the fifteenth, sixteenth and, in one case at least, the eighteenth century.

Bothwell Castle, above a gorge in a bend of the river Clyde, still shows some of its thirteenth century work in the inner portion of its great tower. The rest of that time is but foundation upon which, for the greater part, the later walls of a more restricted enclosure were raised. But the original lay-out shows a five-sided court attached to the great tower, with lesser towers at the entrance and on the walls. That is, it followed the motte-and-bailey plan. In the War of Independence Bothwell served as the principal English base in the west, and received a body of English refugees in flight from Bannockburn. At a later date it was again in English hands under Edward III, but was captured by the Scots (1337), when its walls and the outer portion of the great tower were levelled to the ground. Subsequently the place was reconstructed on a reduced scale. Dirleton, in East Lothian, a few miles west of North Berwick, also preserves some of its thirteenth century building. It was captured and thereafter dismantled by General Lambert and Colonel Monk in 1650.

The simplest case of a stone castle of the motte-and-bailey or great tower and enclosure type is that still to be seen a few miles north of Elgin at Duffus. The reduced shell of the great oblong tower occupies the ancient motte-hill; the bailey wall sweeps round from its inner angles in a slightly angled polygon unbroken by any towers, and the ground sloping down from the ridge is still ringed by a ditch 130 to 250 feet away. But none of the stone building now in existence seems to be of an earlier date than the fourteenth century. Other castles recorded in the thirteenth century, but whose surviving structures seem to date, at the earliest, from late in the century following, when the turmoil of the wars of independence had died down, are the fine ruin of Caerlaverock, nine miles south of Dumfries, and Kildrummy in Aberdeenshire: some part of the latter may be of the earlier century.

Caerlaverock was captured by Edward I in 1300, a feat celebrated in a contemporary Anglo-French poem, but was twice destroyed by the Scots within sixty years thereafter. It is a triangular structure in a small lake banked up within marshy ground, and its shape follows the outline of the only firm site. In the late fifteenth century a house within the west wall was rebuilt, and in the early part of the seventeenth century the Maxwell who was created Earl of Nithsdale reconstructed the east side in the form of a handsome, decorated dwelling with a great hall along the south curtain, the latter now reduced to nothing but a few portions of wall.

All such castles, then, are essentially enclosures with lofty walls and towers, generally circular, on the line of the wall from which they project. Walls are very massive, particularly in the lofty great tower, where they may be as much as ten to fifteen feet thick, the former at Dirleton, the latter at Bothwell. The towers were lodgings. Other necessary structures, as specified above, lay within the curtain walls. A chapel was usual, sometimes in earlier days a separate building, as at Kildrummy and Rothesay, but later almost always an apartment in a range of building. Stairs are turnpikes or wheel-stairs. Walls and tower heads have parapets, and in the later buildings these are brought forward to rest upon stone brackets or corbels. When the spaces between the corbels are left open so as to command the face and bottom of the wall, we have the feature known as "machicolation" or "machecoling." Through these openings stones, lime or burning brands might be dropped upon assailants.

Such a finish in stone did not become common till the fourteenth century, and in Scotland is probably not earlier than the fifteenth. A hundred years later it was being treated as a purely ornamental feature, in which the parapet still projects but the openings are blocked by a lower line of alternate corbels. Elcho Castle, Perthshire, of the close of the fifteenth century, displays this change. So does the great tower at Craignethan Castle ("Tillietudlem") in Lanarkshire. Machicolation proper is then confined to the position over a door, either in the parapet or, as at Loch Ranza Castle in Arran and others, in a tiny projection from the face of the wall. Windows, especially on the lower levels, were narrow on the outside but expanded widely within, were sometimes barred, and apparently were closed with a wooden shutter. They gave air and light, but not till the close of the fifteenth century was glazing becoming common even in the noblest residences; linen or some such semi-transparent fabric was used instead.

It is in the new building that appears after we pass the middle of the fourteenth century that we discern a change in the castle plan. Hitherto the tower has been the typical form of residential quarters, the key to the lay-out as a whole; and the chief residence or great tower has occupied the most retired or strongest position. In many cases it substantially constituted the castle, having about it a relatively small court or close, known as a "barnekyn" or "barmkin," within a comparatively low wall. Threave Tower, in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, in which Archibald the Grim, third Earl of Douglas, died in 1400, is a castle of this kind. Loch wood, the headquarters of the Johnstones of Annandale, was described in the sixteenth century as "a fair large tower... with a barnekin, hall, kitchen, and stables, all within the barnekin." A tower with a barmkin was the typical residence of a Scottish laird. These free-standing towers did not differ essentially from those attached to a great castle; the lowest floor at least was vaulted in stone, and sometimes also one or more of the upper floors; the entrance was in many cases not on the ground but a floor above, and the wheel-stair in a corner of the wall. In the new greater castles, however, at the time noted above, we observe first a change in the position of the principal tower, and then later a decline in its residential importance in favour of the lower, longer building - horizontal rather than vertical in character - especially known as the Hall.

The first stage is illustrated in the reconstituted castle of Edinburgh. The English invaders on their return in 1337 had found the site, as the result of Bruce's treatment, an open grazing ground with the ancient chapel of St. Margaret, a lean-to shed and a stable as its only erections. They raised a new wall and within it various houses of timber and clay. The place was soon recovered by the Scots, and in 1366 David's Tower began to be built, a great tower projecting from the line of the front wall. Most of it was beaten down by cannon in the siege of 1573, and what remained was covered over by the half-moon battery of a subsequent reconstruction, where it was discovered and cleared for access within recent years.

A more obvious case is that of Tantallon Castle, the historic seat of the Earls of Angus, "the Red Douglas," that occupies a promontory on the rock-bound coast two and a half miles east of North Berwick. It was in existence by 1375. A fifty-foot wall bestrides the promontory behind a mighty ditch and terminates at each end in a tower, while the principal residence was the Mid Tower on the wall in the position indicated by its name. Through its base is the entrance, which was further extended outwards in a forework. A work of this kind, usually in the form of two parallel walls with an outer entrance, was known as a barbican. One was added to the gateway of Kildrummy in the fifteenth century, and another example is to be seen at Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness. In this century it became usual to narrow and prolong the entrance, always the most sensitive place, as can be seen at Dirleton and Caer-laverock. At Tantallon the handsomely-built stairways with chambers in the heart of the main wall are a very distinctive feature. Other lodgings occupied the remaining sides overlooking the sea. The castle was battered into surrender by the cannon of Monk in 1651, but was occupied as a residence for about another fifty years.

A similar case of about the same time is the episcopal castle of St. Andrews. The main tower is in the same position, and the entrance passed under it before it was shifted to the ground floor of a later building on the west of the tower. At St. Andrews may be seen the unique relic of an old mine and countermine pierced through the sandstone under the ditch during the siege of 1546.

Such is the general lay-out of one brief period. With the beginning of the fifteenth century we enter upon the phase of fuller departure from the old motte-and-bailey plan, when the hall encroaches upon the tower. The departure is definite in the well-preserved structure of Castle Doune, on an elevated site by the river Teith, which was built just before the beginning of the fifteenth century.

What we see, in this case, is a novel prominence given to the long rather than lofty building hitherto recognizable as the hall, for which the usual place had been somewhere in the enclosure. It is now brought to the front alongside the great tower and occupies what under earlier conditions would have been a line of wall. From this stage the keynote to the castle plan is given by buildings of this hall type instead, as formerly, of the tower type. In time the tower shrinks in importance, and may even disappear, while what had been curtain wall is, as far as necessary, absorbed in ranges of building. An alternative name for a structure of the hall type was "palatium" or "palace," and many castles erected on such lines were styled "palaces" in Scotland, whatever the rank of the occupier. A plan thus based, therefore, may be called a palace-plan. In its complete development it gives us the four-square building with internal court such as Linlithgow Palace, which grew to its present form by successive reconstructions on these lines. It could then be described, in the seventeenth century, as "a palace built castle-wise." Such was the structural idea that, beginning with the fifteenth century, slowly transformed the old conception of a castle.

In the extension, during this century and later, of castles begun on a humble scale we find the tower and hall combination followed. Craigmillar Castle, in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, has its nucleus in a late fourteenth or perhaps fifteenth century tower. This was enclosed with lines of continuous building, save for the curtain wall with machicolations on the north face. There had to be a partial reconstruction after the place was burned by the Earl of Hertford in 1544.

Crichton Castle, in the same county, the "loved resort" of Sir Walter Scott, extended itself on similar lines' - first, a single tower, then ranges of building in the fifteenth and the late sixteenth century to form a quadrangular enclosure. The northern range is of a character unique in Scotland. It was erected after 1581 by Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, nephew of Queen Mary's Earl, and with its colonnade and faceted stonework is clearly an imitation of an Italian palace. Castle Campbell, near Dollar, still known by its ancient name "The Gloume," developed in a way similar to Craigmillar on a motte-and-bailey site overlooking the valley of the Forth. As a Campbell hold it was burnt during Montrose's campaign of 1645.

A nother instance of development on palace lines from a fifteenth-century tower is Fyvie Castle on the river Ythan in Aberdeenshire. The tower became one end of a front nearly 140 feet long with another terminal tower to give symmetry. At this stage it was styled a "palace" by the historian Leslie.

Glamis Castle, Forfarshire, had its origin in such a block of building, to which at the beginning of the seventeenth century was added, at the south-east corner, a great square tower, and at the end of the century a corresponding tower on the north-east. It was referred to as a particularly lofty "palace." Similar in plan, but with the south-east tower round, is Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire. In front is a court with lower buildings of the seventeenth century.

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Pictures for The Castles of Scotland

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