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Bothwell Castle






Bothwell CastleBothwell Castle is one of Scotland’s greatest castles. It owes its origins to Walter of Moray, a northern aristocratic family who acquired Bothwell in 1242. He (or his son William, known as ‘the Rich’) created the mighty castle in a spectacular display of feudal pride.

Their dream was never completed, probably because of the outbreak of the Wars of Independence in 1296. No matter, for what they did achieve – and what still holds us enthralled today – is the great donjon, or tower. Dr W. Douglas Simpson, erstwhile librarian of King’s College at the University of Aberdeen, has justifiably described the building as ‘the grandest piece of secular architecture that the Middle Ages has bequeathed to us in Scotland’.

Not surprisingly, the Morays’ great castle figured prominently in the Wars of Independence with England. Siege followed on siege. The most momentous was Edward I’s great siege of 1301.

The Morays envisaged a vast stone castle of enclosure covering 1.5 acres (0.75 hectares). This was to have had a mighty twin-towered entrance gatehouse and other circular towers projecting from its formidable curtain wall. Only the donjon, the main residential tower, was ever fully built. It measured 20m in diameter, and stood over 30m high. Although it was partially destroyed in 1337, it is still remarkably impressive – one of the greatest military works of medieval Scotland.

In August 1301, when the Wars of Independence with England were at their height, Bothwell endured a major siege. Edward I of England, ‘Hammer of the Scots’, brought 6,800 soldiers to the castle. A huge siege engine, called le berefrey (‘the belfry’), was hauled from Glasgow. It was a tall siege tower, with ladders inside to enable the attackers to fight their way onto the castle battlements. The garrison surrendered within the month.

After the wars, Bothwell Castle passed to another powerful noble family, the Black Douglases. They rebuilt it in a form not envisaged by their predecessors. This too is impressive, with an array of fine-quality later-medieval secular architecture. After the Black Douglases were overthrown in 1455, the castle reverted to the Crown, and its later history was relatively uneventful.

After the last recorded siege in 1337, the mighty donjon was partially dismantled. The castle lay derelict until 1362, when Joanna Moray, heiress of Bothwell, married Archibald ‘the Grim’, 3rd Earl of Black Douglas. Archibald and Joanna completely rebuilt Bothwell to a different design. This included a lofty new tower house (now gone), with a great hall and chapel beside it.

In 1758, Douglas Castle burnt down, forcing Archibald, the Duke of Douglas to find alternative accommodation. He divided his time between Holyrood Palace, where he had apartments, and Bothwell Castle. He began the reconstruction of Douglas Castle (unfinished in his lifetime) to plans from John Adam, with the intention, it was said, of building a house 10 feet wider and 10 feet higher than the duke of Argyll's new seat at Inveraray.

By 1759, construction was underway on a new Bothwell House -or perhaps a re-build of the existing one. Architect George Paterson, possibly the same George Paterson who worked on Mount Stuart, altered the house for the Duke.

The hall and chapel still stand, and are impressive examples of later medieval castle architecture, and are open to the public.


The name Bothwell is of Gaelic or Celtic origin and probably was used to describe people from the lordship of Bothwell, located near Glasgow some 9 miles (14 km) E of Uddingston in the South Lanarkshire region of Scotland.


There are several theories to explain the origin of the name, including one rather fanciful one about how Archibald "The Grim," third Earl of Douglas, was prompted by remorse to found the Collegiate Church of St. Bride in 1398.


According to the legend, he summoned two of his best archers and ordered them to aim at the rising sun and shoot their arrows as far as possible. Wherever the furthest arrow landed was where the altar of the church would be placed.


When the arrows were found, they were side-by-side, whereupon the Earl is said to have exclaimed "Both well shot."


However, since Bothwell Castle, where the Earl resided at that time, long predated the founding of the church, the story is clearly apocryphal. (Bothwell Castle was built by the Moray family in the 13th century. The castle later passed into the hands of the "Black" Douglas family, then became the property of the Crown in 1445 and was subsequently acquired by the Douglas Earl of Forfar and the Earls of Home, who finally passed its ruined remains into state care.)


A reconstruction drawing of Bothwell Castle showing how it might have looked around 1420.
Courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland


Douglas arms in Bothwell Castle

Douglas arms in Bothwell Castle

(click to enlarge)


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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024