Only 12 miles from Edinburgh, Borthwick Castle is set in an ideal position to guard the road south from that great city to the Borders. A massive structure consisting of some 30,000 tons of stone, Borthwick has been described as the “Greatest Keep in Scotland” and the most complete example of its kind in Europe.
Borthwick Castle was built in 1430 by Sir William de Borthwick who was granted a royal charter by King James I. Once the refuge of Mary Queen of Scots and the Earl of Bothwell, it was besieged by Oliver Cromwell in 1650; the damage from which remains to this day.
The Great Hall has a pointed vault some 30 feet high. Above this there is a second chamber of almost the same height with a rounded vault, which is currently divided into two levels. The walls were hung with tapestries and the ceiling was painted with frescoes. One can still make out the phrase ‘ye tempil of honour’ on the west side although on the east the phrase ‘ye tempil of religion’ is now indecipherable.
Mary Queen of Scots stayed at the Castle in June 1567, one month after her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell; Lord Darnley having been murdered in February of that year. The couple had not been at the Castle long before word came out that Lord Morton and Lord Lennox were advancing on the Castle with a thousand men, meaning to take Bothwell by force so that he might be brought to a proper trial for Darnley’s murder. On hearing this, Bothwell left for Dunbar to raise an army, leaving Mary to face insurgent lords. She refused to let Bothwell be incriminated and told the army who had surrounded the Castle that he had left. While they were re-appraising the situation she escaped through a window in the Great Hall disguised as a page and rode off from Borthwick Church to rejoin Bothwell.
During the Second World War the Castle was used as a repository for irreplaceable documents and manuscripts from the National Library of Scotland and art treasures from the National Gallery of Scotland. These were stored for safe keeping in the vaulted chambers below the Great Hall, it being reckoned that if the Castle was bombed the two vaulted ceilings would protect the lower chamber. In any event only one bomb fell near the Castle and no damage was done.
The present Lord Borthwick, Harry the twenty-fourth Baron, has only recently been granted that title having spent much of his long life researching his ancestry. He has twin sons who also have children and leased the Castle to Helen Bailey in 1973 who opened it as a wedding venue and hotel in 1975.