NS6859 : Bothwell Castle

taken 7 years ago, near to Uddingston, South Lanarkshire, Great Britain

This is 1 of 34 images, with title Bothwell Castle in this square
Bothwell Castle
Bothwell Castle
The red sandstone ruins of Scotland's largest and most impressive 13th-century stone castle, built on a bluff above the gorge of the River Clyde. Continually fought over during the 13th and 14th-century Wars of Independence, it changed hands several times, suffering partial demolition in the process. In the mid-14th century it became the property of the powerful Douglas family whose members carried out major alterations in the 14th and 15th centuries. The most notable feature is the great circular tower, or donjon, which was partly demolished when the castle was recaptured by the Scots in 1337. It has been described as "the grandest piece of secular architecture that the Middle Ages have bequeathed to us in Scotland".

In Roman times the valley of the Clyde was the main march route from the south west into Scotland, leading to the western end of the Antonine Wall. The remains of a Roman fort dating from the 2nd century AD have been found at nearby Bothwellhaugh.

Bothwell is one of the best documented castles in Scottish history. In the early 13th century the lands belonged to the Olifards (later Oliphants) who probably had a stronghold somewhere near the old Norman parish church at Bothwell. The site of the manse to the north east of the church has the worn-down remains of what could be the earthwork defences of an early Norman castle.

In 1242, on the death of Walter de Olifard, Justiciar of Lothian, the lands of "Botheuyle" passed, probably through marriage, to Walter de Moravia (Moray), a member of one of Scotland's most powerful northern families. He was probably the builder of the 13th-century stone castle and it may be his grave in Bothwell Church that is marked by a 13th-century tombstone showing a sword and shield with the three stars, or mullets (symbolic spurs), of the Moray coat-of-arms.

The castle consists of a large curtain-walled enclosure with a great round donjon, or keep, at one end. However, the original plan—which was never completed—envisaged a much larger, more or less triangular-shaped enclosure entered by a massive twin-towered gatehouse at the apex. The donjon may have been modelled on that of Chateau de Coucy in France. This was the largest stone keep in medieval Europe, built by the father of Marie de Coucy, who married the Scottish king Alexander II (1214-1249). As an important figure at court de Moray would probably have been among the Scottish lords who visited Coucy, which is believed to have influenced the design of other Scottish castles of the period, such as Dirleton Castle in East Lothian and Kildrummy in Grampian.

Because of its great size, strength and central position on an important crossing of the Clyde, Bothwell Castle played a conspicuous part in the 13th and 14th-century Wars of Independence.

In 1298-99, during the first War of Independence (1296-1328), the castle was held for Edward I, until its English garrison surrendered after a siege lasting 14 months. Its keeper reported to the English king that he had defended it "against the power of Scotland for a year and nine weeks" until all his companions had died "by famine and by assault".

In September 1301 Edward recaptured the castle after another siege in which he deployed a massive siege engine constructed specially for the purpose. In one of the outstanding military operations of the war a field army of 6,800 men, including 20 masons and 20 miners, arrived at the castle in August and awaited the arrival from Glasgow of "the belfry" (le berefrey). This was a tall wooden tower on wheels or rollers, several stages high with a drawbridge which could be dropped at the level of the wall-head. It required no fewer than thirty wagons to transport it on its two-day journey over the eight miles to Bothwell, and a corduroy road was laid up to the castle so that it could be wheeled against the walls. After the successful capture of Bothwell Castle it was taken to Stirling Castle for use in the next stage of the campaign.

Edward subsequently granted Bothwell and its lands to Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, whom he appointed Warden of Scotland. Under Pembroke the castle became the headquarters of the English occupation, controlling western Scotland (the great donjon is still sometimes referred to as the "Valence Tower"). In 1307 Pembroke took refuge in Bothwell after fleeing from defeat at the hands of Robert the Bruce (1306-1329) at the battle of Loudon Hill in Ayrshire. In 1311-12 the garrison consisted of the English governor, Sir Walter Fitzgilbert, 28 squires and 29 archers.

In 1314, in the weeks leading up to the battle of Bannockburn, Bothwell and Stirling were the only castles in Scotland remaining in English hands. After the battle senior figures in Edward II's army took refuge in Bothwell, but surrendered it immediately to the Scots on the arrival of Edward Bruce. It then appears to have been partly dismantled in line with Robert Bruce's policy of denying the enemy future strongholds - "lest the English ever afterwards might lord it over the land by holding the castles".

In 1336, during the second War of Independence (1332-1356), Edward III recaptured the castle and used it for two months as his winter quarters while attempting to subdue Scotland in the reign of Bruce's son and heir, David II (1329-1371). It is recorded that he ordered repairs to be carried out.

In the Spring of 1337 Sir Andrew Moray, Scotland's Guardian and the son of Wallace's co-commander at the battle of Stirling Bridge (1297), recaptured the castle after a short siege. Despite being its rightful owner, he ordered the deliberate demolition of the donjon in line with the Scots' by now traditional dismantling policy. In the words of a contemporary chronicler, who probably exaggerated the extent of the damage, the castle was "scattered from the foundations". Because contemporary chroniclers, reporting the event, speak only of "that stalwart tower" and "the tower of Bothwell", it is thought that the only stone buildings on the site up to that time were the great tower, or donjon, with its adjoining "wing" walls and the small round prison tower. The rest of the castle would have consisted of a wooden palisade enclosing timber buildings.

In 1362 the castle became the chief residence of Archibald "the Grim", 3rd earl of Douglas and later Lord of Galloway (Threave Castle), who acquired it through marriage to Joanna de Moray. He completed the north and east curtain walls and the north-east tower - the latter being a lofty tower house housing the lord's private quarters and evidently designed to replace the partially demolished donjon. In 1398 Douglas founded the nearby collegiate church at Bothwell where he was buried two years later.

His heir, Archibald, the 4th earl, completed the courtyard by adding the south curtain wall, the round south-east tower, the great hall and the chapel. Despite his nickname, "the Tyneman" (Loser), acquired after his capture at the battle of Homildon in 1402, his military prowess induced Shakespeare to write of the "renowned Douglas whose high deeds...and great name in arms" were held in regard "through all the kingdoms that acknowledge Christ" (Henry IV, Part I). Later appointed Lieutenant-General of the French army, he was rewarded with the Duchy of Touraine shortly before his death fighting an English army at Vermeuil in France in 1424.

The Douglases, Scotland's most powerful baronial family in the Middle Ages, owed their rise to prominence to the friendship between King Robert the Bruce and his trusted lieutenant, James Douglas.

The family first appears in Scottish history in the person of William Douglas, who unsuccessfully defended the town of Berwick at the outset of Edward I's military conquest of Scotland in 1296. After joining forces with Wallace and Moray in the revolt of 1296-97 Douglas was arrested and had his estates in Douglasdale, Lanarkshire, confiscated. He died a prisoner in the Tower of London in 1299.

His disinherited and embittered son, James, nicknamed "the Good" or "the Black" Douglas (from his dark features), joined forces with Bruce for the subsequent campaign of guerrilla warfare which finally led to the re-assertion of Scottish independence. Barbour, in his 14th-century epic poem 'The Bruce', devoted as much space to Douglas's deeds as to those of Bruce himself, portraying him as the epitome of the chivalric hero despite his having committed what would by today's standards be regarded as war atrocities. (This did not prevent his famous second name becoming one of the most popular boys' names in Scotland after Bruce's first.) Knighted on the field of Bannockburn, where he led one of the four Scottish contingents, he subsequently led a number of daring raids into the north of England, earning such a fierce reputation that English mothers are said to have lulled their children to sleep with the reassuring words, "Hush thee, hush thee, do not fret thee, The Black Douglas will not get thee!". He died in 1330 carrying Bruce's heart on crusade in Spain (brought back to Scotland in a casket secured with a key by a comrade called "Lockhart" and buried at Melrose Abbey).

In the following centuries the family's power grew to rival even that of the royal house of Stewart. The Stewarts had in a sense acquired the Scottish crown by accident - through Walter the Steward's marriage to Bruce's daughter, Marjorie - over the heads of a family whose members were inclined to feel that they were Bruce's true successors in terms of military prowess. The Douglases could boast that they had led armies into England and defended Scotland against invasion on more occasions than the kings themselves, and since, on account of their scattered estates, they were able at times to put more armed men into the field than the king, it is hardly surprising that the Stewarts came to perceive them as a threat.

In the second War of Independence (1332-1356) Sir James' brother, Archibald, appointed Guardian of the Realm during the minority of Bruce's son and heir, David II (1329-1371), was killed leading the Scots into battle at Halidon Hill near Berwick in 1332. His son, William, created 1st earl of Douglas, (Hermitage and Tantallon castles) died in 1384.

In 1388 James, the 2nd earl, was killed in a famous engagement on the border known as the battle of Otterburn (or "Chevy Chase" by its English name). The event gave rise to both Scottish and English ballads which disagreed on the result, although the former, recounting a Scottish victory, is much closer to the detailed account contained in Froissart's Chronicles
The title then passed to a natural son of the "Good" Sir James - Archibald "the Grim", who was said to have earned his nickname from his fierce countenance in battle. When he died on Christmas Eve 1400, he was, thanks largely to his acquisition of Bothwell, the most powerful noble in Scotland.

In 1455 various attempts to curb the family's growing power, including the political murders of Archibald and William, the 6th and 8th earls (at Edinburgh and Stirling castles respectively), culminated in the defeat of James, the 9th earl and his brothers at Arkinholm (near modern Langholm) and the subsequent siege of Threave Castle in Galloway. James fled into exile, but the Douglas name continued in a junior branch of the family, known as the "Red Douglases" (to distinguish them from the more direct descendants of Sir James,"the 'Black Douglases").

After James II's (1437-1460) forfeiture of the Douglas estates in the same year, the Crown granted Bothwell to successive owners until it became the property of Patrick Hepburn, Lord Hailes. In 1492 he exchanged it at the King's request for Hermitage Castle south of Hawick in the Borders. This meant that Bothwell became the property of a "Red Douglas", Archibald, "Bell-the-Cat", 5th earl of Angus (of Tantallon Castle).

In 1669 the castle was acquired by Archibald Douglas, 1st earl of Forfar, who, in 1700, partly demolished the castle for use as a quarry when building a new nearby Palladian mansion. The north-east tower was reduced to its foundations and a large gap created on the site of the gatehouse tower in the north curtain wall. Forfar's heir, the 2nd earl, completed the new mansion before his death fighting for the Jacobite cause at the battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. The mansion was demolished in 1926.

In 1859 the castle was inherited by a member of the influential Border family, the Homes. In 1935 the earl of Home placed it in state care. It is now maintained by Historic Scotland.
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NS6859, 92 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Friday, 10 April, 2015   (more nearby)
Tuesday, 16 June, 2015
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 6885 5934 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:48.5681N 4:5.6546W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 6886 5935
View Direction
WEST (about 270 degrees)
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