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Right: Borthwick Castle by Robert Gibb (1801–1837), Left: Borthwick Castle by Collins, 1912

Borthwick Castle’s History – “The finest keep in Scotland”

For 600 years Borthwick Castle has played its part in history and witnessed key moments in the lives of key historical figures including Mary, Queen of Scots and Oliver Cromwell.

The Castle was built in 1430 by the Nobleman Sir William de Borthwick.

“a castle or fortalice, to surround the same with walls and ditches, and to defend it with gates of brass or iron; and also, to place upon the summit defensive ornaments, by which is meant battlements and turrets.”

- Sir William de Borthwick

Having purchased the lands from Sir William Hay of Yester, Sir William de Borthwick built the tower to an impressive scale: 74 feet in length, 68 in breadth, and in height, from the area to the battlements, 90 feet.

“a great and strong tower within and without, and of great height, the wall thereof being above 15 feet in thickness towards the foundation.”

- Sir William de Borthwick

In The Beginning: 1430

Borthwick Castle is one of the finest and best preserved 15th century keeps in Scotland.

An imposing fortress composed of a massive double tower surrounded by an embattled wall, it is much admired for the beauty of its proportions as well as the solidity and accuracy of its masonry. It is the culmination of a rich 600 year history which starts with its creator, Sir William de Borthwick, and continues through some of the most dramatic episodes in Scotland’s past. The castle sits on a knoll – the ‘Mote of Lochwart’ – at the centre of a small but well cultivated valley, well positioned to guard the road south to the Borders from Edinburgh.

The interior of Borthwick Castle has seen little structural alteration over the years. The Great Hall is on the first storey and is 40 feet long, with a music gallery perched above and a lofty roof. The roof and walls would once have been adorned with colourful paintings and motifs, with inscriptions including “ye tempil of honour” and storeys including a small room that is believed to have been the bedchamber of its most famous resident, Mary, Queen of Scots.

1567: A Refuge For Mary, Queen Of Scots

This extract from a letter addressed to the Archbishop of Glasgow, describes the anxious moment in which Mary Queen of Scots fled from Borthwick, dressed it is believed as a man:

“June 11th, 1567. The Lordis came suddenly to Borthwick; Bothwell fled to Dunbar, and the Lordis retyred to Edinbrough. She followed Bothwell to Dunbar, disguised”

She and Lord Bothwell had fled here from Holyrood in Edinburgh after the murder of Mary’s husband Lord Darnley, with Bothwell the chief suspect.

On 11th June, a number of Scottish barons including Morton, Mar, Hume, and Lindsay, alongside a 1000-strong army on horseback, surrounded Borthwick Castle. Bothwell had advance warning and had time to ride off with a few attendants, and while Mary waited, the insurgent nobles rode to Edinburgh to build their support.

When Mary got word that the provost and citizens of Edinburgh did not oppose them, she immediately resolved on flight. Assuming the disguise of a page, Mary mounted horse, and pursuing a by-path through the glen east of the present farm of Aflieck-hill, she arrived at Black Castle, where she was met by Bothwell.

1650: Cromwell’s Attack

One of Borthwick Castle’s most striking features is a large gouge in the stonework of the East wall. Historians believe that this was created in 1650 by Oliver Cromwell as his Parliamentarian forces marched through Scotland en route to Edinburgh.

The 10th Lord Borthwick was instructed by Cromwell to leave his castle, he refused, and the resultant damage from Cromwell’s cannons can be seen to this day.

As a result of this no member of the Borthwick family inhabited the castle until 1810 when J. Borthwick of Crookston bought it back.

Modern Times

Major renovation work was carried out in 1913, including replacement of internal timbers, rebuilding and repair to the outer wall and extra story on the gatehouse as well as new outbuildings.

The secure nature of Borthwick continued to be of use in the 20th century when during the Second World War it was used as a safe store for the country’s national treasures. In 1973 the castle was converted to a conference centre and then a hotel.

The latest chapter in the castle’s evolving history started exactly 100 years after its last major refurbishment, when in 2013 a remarkable overhaul was started. This involved entirely replacing all the previous centuries improvements, from electrical to plumbing to roofing and drainage as well as kitchens and all eleven bathrooms.

With the addition of the state-of-the-art off-site biomass heating centre, and breath-taking luxurious furnishings, the castle now stands as a warm homely yet imposing retreat for all year use.

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