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Cutaway drawing of Borthwick Castle12 miles south of Edinburgh amidst the beauty of gentle, verdent-green landscape.

Our Legend Continues …

This magnificent 650 year-old Castle, known as “Scotland’s Greatest Keep”, is a phenomenal structure consisting of some 30,000 tons of Ashlar Stone, which was quarried in our local town of Middleton.

Borthwick Castle was built in 1430 by Sir William de Borthwick who was granted a royal charter by King James I of Scotland.

Mary Queen of Scots stayed at the Castle in June 1567, not long 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 the insurgent lords. She refused to let Bothwell be incriminated and told the army surrounding the Castle that he had left. While they were re-appraising the situation she escaped through a narrow window in the Great Hall disguised as a page boy and rode off from Borthwick Church to rejoin Bothwell.

The Great Hall has a 40 foot vaulted ceiling.  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.

Borthwick Castle showing Siege Damage

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.

If a castle could speak, Borthwick would have a remarkable story to tell, full of drama and pathos.  Although it cannot speak, it can and does communicate through an indefinable, mystical thing called “atmosphere”.  As people of all ages from all parts of the world have testified, a visitor would be completely lacking in discernment and sensitivity to remain unmoved by the vibrations of its historic past.

Visitors can see the window in the Great Hall through which Mary climbed on her way to rejoin Bothwell, stand on the very spot on which she touched the ground, pass through the same postern gate and then along the same glen over which she rode.

They can see and absorb the same surrounding beauty that must have lightened her heart even when it was heavy with care and foreboding.  They can eat in the Great Hall where she and her husband dined and danced, and sleep in the same bedrooms.

They can also look up at the twin towers and the “Prisoner’s Leap”, perhaps visualising the terrible fear of those prisoners who had chosen to risk death by jumping from one twoer to the other to gain their freedom in preference to continued incarceration in the dungeons below.

The Lords of Borthwick, and the Castle they built and lived in, justly won a place in the history of Scotland.

Today it stands..

Our Legend Continues …