Site Name Roxburgh Castle
Alternative Name(s) Old Roxburgh Castle; Protector Somerset's Camp; Marchmount
Canmore ID 58412
Site Number NT73SW 12
NGR NT 71307 33729
NGR Description Centred NT 71307 37729
Datum OSGB36 - NGR
- Council Scottish Borders, The
- Parish Roxburgh
- Former Region Borders
- Former District Roxburgh
- Former County Roxburghshire
Roxburgh Castle, also later known as Marchmont, occupied a triangular hill flanked to the north and south by the Rivers Tweed and Teviot. Throughout its occupation the castle changed hands many times, reflecting the troubled history of the Borders as a whole. In the sixteenth century the Scots utterly destroyed Roxburgh Castle to prevent it being used again by the English.
The castle first appears on record in 1125, and from its earliest days it was an important centre of power at regional and national level and was often involved in key events in Scotland's history. In the Wars of Independence, the castle changed hands more than once, and in 1313 was famously taken by Sir James Douglas for the Scots who, with only 60 men, scaled the castle mount and put many of the unsuspecting garrison to the sword. By 1356, however, the castle had once more fallen to the English, who held both castle and town until 1460 when James II laid siege to the fortress with an impressive army drawn from across Scotland. The Scots, fearful that English forces might occupy it, finally destroyed the fortress in the sixteenth century. In the 1550s, English forces briefly re-occupied the site with the intention of rebuilding a fortress there.
Aerial photographs show that two ditches defended the approach to the castle between the Rivers Teviot and Tweed. Some fragmentary sections of curtain walling can be seen along the southern side of the promontory, facing the Teviot. These would have enclosed the whole area. Throughout its long history, the castle was increasingly fortified, especially during the century of English occupation. Two charters survive, describing in great detail the work that was done to the castle, giving a good account of how it looked by the fifteenth century when James II besieged it.
Text prepared by RCAHMS as part of the Accessing Scotland's Past project at http://www.accessingscotlandspast.org.uk
NT73SW 12 71307 33729.
(Centerd NT 7131 3373) Roxburgh Castle (NR) (Ruins). Protector Somerset's Camp (NR).
(Centred NT 7135 3353) Cauld (NR)
OS 6" map, Roxburghshire, (1918-38).
Roxburgh Castle. Marchmount, the castle of Roxburgh, once the strongest fortress on the whole Border but now almost wholly demolished, lies about three-quarters of a mile W of Kelso immediately above the junction of Teviot and Tweed, these streams flanking the site on two sides. The mount itself is a kaim, 70ft to 80ft high, with a summit roughly triangular in shape, pointing E (Calendar of Documents, J Bain ed. 1881), and measuring 800ft in length by 350ft across the base. The Teviot, which washes the foot of the S escarpment, renders other defences unnecessary on that side ; but along the N side a great ditch, still 12ft in average depth, shuts off the haughland lying between the mount and the Tweed. This ditch stops at the apex of the site where there seems to have been a foretower with another ditch in front of it to bar approach from the E. At the W end of the position a gully, which separated the mount from the ridge ending in the Gallows Knowe, has been extended, deepened and provided with a rampart on its counterscarp. Where this re-entrant dies out on the bank of Teviot the remains of an old dam, or "cauld", span the river. There is a local tradition that the purpose of the dam was to provide water for flooding the hollow; the levels now seems to be unsuitable, but none the less in 1545 Bartholomew Butler, who when York Herald accompanied the Earl of Hertford on his invasion of Scotland in that year, thought it a practicable proposal. (D Laing 1855). The "fosse" of the castle, by which is meant the great ditch, was excavated in 1400, (Calendar of Documents, J Bain ed. 1888), the year in which the re-entrant was extended. (Pell Records). A general view of the site is given in the air photograph reproduced as RCAHMS 1956, fig. 519.
The early castle was an enclosure containing, among other buildings, the church of St John. Both castle and church come on record in a charter granted by David I about 1128 (A C Lawrie 1905). The only other building of importance existing at this time was the tower, or donjon. In this tower David I imprisoned Malcolm, brother of the Mormaer of Moray, in 1134, (A O Anderson and M O Anderson 1936). Either in the same tower, or more probably in its successor, the Gascon governor, in February 1313-14, held out for a day after the rest of the castle had fallen by escalade to Sir James Douglas. A vivid picture of this exploit is given by Barbour, who describes the building as "the gret toure", (J Barbour 1894) a description confirmed by "la graunt tour" of Sir Thomas Gray (Scalacronica 1836). The tower in question is possibly to be identified with "le Doungyon vocatum Douglase Toure" mentioned below.
There is nothing now to be see of tower or church. As the castle was continuously occupied during the four and a half centuries previous to its final destruction in 1550, and was alternately held and besieged by the forces of the two kingdoms, there must necessarily have been much repair and alteration, only a few particulars of which have been recorded (Calendar of Documents, J Bain ed. 1888; Rotuli Scotiae 1819;
L F Salzman 1952). But an account of the castle as it stood in 1416, when in the hands of Henry V, is preserved in the Public Record Office, London. (W R Cunningham 1923). . . . .
The place was besieged by the Scots in 1417 before major repairs could be effected, and men and munitions had to be hastily brought in. Artillery came from London- not the first time that the new arm had been seen here, as between 1382 and 1384 "gunpoudre" and "artellar" had been supplied to the castle (Calendar of Documents, J Bain 1888). In 1419, however, Henry V ordered Robert Fekenham, his master mason, to engage masons and carry out repairs forthwith; (Rotuli Scotiae 1819), and no doubt some of the defective timberwork mentioned in the survey had already been temporarily repaired. The accounts for repairing the walls were settled in 1419, and in the following year 500 stones of iron were purchased to make gates for the castle(Calendar of Documents, J Bain ed. 1888). In 1460, having been continuously in English hands for over a century, the castle sustained its most memorable assault. On Sunday, 3 August, "King James II, with ane gret oist, was at the sege of Roxburgh" (Auchinleck Chronicle nd). It was at this siege that King James II was killed. The Scots carried the castle by storm and it was "doung to the ground". The condition of the place thereafter may be inferred from a charter of 1488 in which James IV grants to Walter Ker of Cessford "castrum et locum castri vocatum le Castelsted" (Reg Magni Sig Reg Scot 1424-1513). This castlestead or site recurs in charters of 1500 and 1542. In 1545 the Earl of Hertford examined "the castell of old Rockesburghe, being within a quarter of a myle of Kelso" on Henry VIII's instructions, and reported that it was "altogither ruyned and fallen downe...(State Papers, Henry VIII 1830-52). "The building of the fortalice of Roxburghe" is mentioned in the arraignment of a Scottish traitor in October 1547 (R Pitcairn 1833). On the 15th of the same month Lord Grey of Wilton reports to Somerset that the work is well forward and sends him a "platt" or plan prepared by the surveyor, (Scottish Papers, J Bain ed. 1881), whose name was Rydgewey (W Douglas 1921). By rare good fortune this "platt" has been preserved in the library of Belvoir Castle, and it is reproduced here (RCAHMS 1956, fig.517). . . .
It is clear that this new fort covered only the western and higher part of the old site, about a third of which remained unoccupied. The plan is admirably drawn to scale, and a legend in the middle of the drawing states that "This Platte Contaynyth xl fotte to the inch". At top and bottom are shown the two rivers, the upper one labelled "The Watter of Tweed", the lower one, labelled "watter" at each end, is identified below as "The Watter off Tyvytt". The fort depicted is an oblong enclosure with the major axis running E and W, the SW corner containing the entrance. Towards the lower left-hand corner of the plan may be seen the beginning of the re-entrant referred to above. On the scarp of this re-entrant there is an external enclosure, evidently part of the older castle and not of the fort, containing "The Welle" at its SE corner (supra). The E side of the enclosure is bounded by "A Dyche", the outer work of the fort on this side. This ditch runs from the N edge of the mount to a bastion protecting the entrance of the fort, which, as stated above, lies at the SW corner of the enclosure and is here called "Ye gaatte". In the angle formed by the scarp of the ditch and the N side of the enclosure is a second bastion labelled "The Bell Mowntte"; as early as 1411 the castle contained "a great bell called 'Watchbelle' value ?40" stg., (Calendar of Documents, J Bain ed. 1881), from which
no doubt this mount took its name. The two bastions are connected by a curtain running parallel to the ditch and provided with a wall-walk on its inner side. In the base of the one beside the gate an angled passage leads to a little square chamber containing a gun-port which commands the entire length of the ditch. The Bell Mount is reached by flights of steps on S and E.
The gate of the fort opens into "The Base Cowrtte". This court widens towards its inner end where a doorway admits to the main enclosure. On the E it abuts on "A Mount". This mount is reached from the enclosure by a forestair, and in its base there is an embrasure, containing a gun-port from which the base-court can be raked with fire. On the N side of the main enclosure an angled curtain, interrupted midway in its length by a projecting tower which contains a gun-port facing W, runs from the Bell Mount to "A Mowntt" at the NE corner. This latter mount, reached from the S by a flight of steps, communicates with a little tower projecting N, in which there is a gun-port facing E. The E side of the enclosure is also protected by "A Deiche" and a curtain on the scarp of this ditch extends from the mount last mentioned to the SE corner, where it juts out to the E before returning along the S of the fort. In this projection there are two gun-ports facing along the ditch. Behind this E curtain and also behind the W part of the N curtain there are platforms for guns. Behind the remainder of the curtains there are wall-walks. The curtain on the S is interrupted midway by "Ye Captyns Logynge". This building, which is entered from the main enclosure, abuts on the mount beside the base-court. It is entered through the well of a projecting stair-tower and contains two rooms on the ground floor. The one first entered, the bigger of the two, has a large kitchen-fireplace on the W and its E end is partitioned off. A doorway at the NW corner admits to the inner chamber, which has a fireplace in the W gable. On the E of this "lodging" and abutting on the S curtain is a second building, "The Brewe howse (Calendar of Documents, J Bain 1888). Evidently a wooden building, for the "frame" was brought from Wark. (Calendar of Documents, J Bain ed. 1888), and Backe howse". This has two doorways in the side next the enclosure and an oven in the E gable. Against the gun-platform on the E stands "The Store hows", a long range divided up by partitions, lit and entered from the W. and having a large fireplace in the N gable. Against the gun-platform and wall-walk on the N there are two sets of "Logyngis". A third building, which surrounds a little triangular court, is not given a name.
As a military work this new fortalice had but a short life. In terms of the peace treaty concluded between France and England at Boulogne in 1550, Edward VI evacuated Scotland and demolished the forts that he had erected at Dunglass, Eyemouth, and Roxburgh. And in the sequel, Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1533 granted "terras et baroniam de Auld Roxburgh cum castri loco", etc. to Andrew Ker (Reg Magni Sig Reg Scot 1546-1580).
A plan of the castlestead as it now appears is given in RCAHMS 1956, fig.514. The E and W gates of 1416 (supra) can readily be located at either end of the site. At the former may be seen foundations of a foretower and at the latter there are fragments of a gate-house. There are considerable remains of the curtain that ran between the two along Teviotside, and in some places it still stands to a maximum height of 13ft- this is all that remains of the wall that was rebuilt to a height of 30ft in 1378. The two posterns of 1416 can still be identified in the curtain and, farther E, the "round tower towards Teviotside". This last was probably D-shaped and had a vaulted basement. Its masonry is regularly coursed and squared and is built with pinnings, contrasting with the rubble masonry of the curtain. On the outer side of the curtain provision for timber bratticing can still be seen. Of the N curtain and its central tower only two inconsiderable fragments are left. On the W side of the one to the W. there is a mound standing about 12ft higher than the reminder of the site ; this is obviously the "Bell Mount" of 1547, and its position suggests that it is the site of the donjon called the Douglas Tower. If this is the case it may also be the site of the "great tower" of 1313-14, as well as of the tower of 1134 (supra). On the W of the mound runs the ditch of 1547, and in front of that lies the enclosure that contained the well. The two fragments of masonry at the S end of the ditch are probably remains of the mount beside the gate. The E ditch of 1547 has disappeared ; there is some trace however, of the curtain in front of which it ran. Illustrations of some of the foregoing features are given in RCAHMS 1956, figs.520, 521, 522, 523, 524, 528 and 529.
There is no visible evidence for the tradition of 1649 (W Macfarlane 1906-8), that there were "vaults underground that went to both... Rivers".
RCAHMS 1956, visited 14 June 1932.
Roxburgh Castle is as described above.
Revised at 1/2500.
Visited by OS (RDL) 4 December 1963.
This site was visited in the course of fieldwork by Dr. T.C. Welsh in 2000
for further details see MS/767/6