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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1016136

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


By the 17th century, Craigmillar Castle had more or less achieved its final form. In 1661 the west wings were reconstructed for Sir John Gilmour who had just bought the barony from the Prestons-its owners since 1374 and recalled not only in armorial tablets but also in the P-shaped hollows of a pond outwith the southern walls, a pond once stocked to provide fresh fish for those within.

The east side of the courtyard, by contrast, had been rebuilt following the burning of the castle in 1544 by English forces under Hertford- they "gatt great spoylen since Edinburgh folk had "sowght to saifthare movables thairin". The outermost curtain, or rather precinct, wall was built then too, furnished with gunloops but not with battlements. A doocot was incorporated in its north-east corner.

These reconstructions and extensions did not conflict with earlier principles of fortification, however. The castle had continued to develop on medieval pattern; and the massive L-shaped tower-house continued to play a central role.

Built above a rocky 9m precipice, the original 14th century entrance faced west, protected by a shelving pitfall (now filled in) spanned in peace-time by a timber bridge. Stout doors, an iron yett, narrow passages and spiral turnpike stair added to an attackers problems. Above, the Great Hall occupied the entire first floor of the main block, fitted with a fine stone, probably 15th century fireplace, hooded and elaborately moulded. The original kitchen, at the same level, is known as Queen Mary's Room, her place of retreat in 1566 after the murder of Rizzio in Holyroodhouse; and here at Craigmillar the plot was hatched to murder her ailing husband Darnley.

In 1427, the massive enceinte was built around the tower, enclosing the present inner courtyard. Its walls are remarkably complete, with towers at each corner and parapet walks to the north, east, and part of the south. And whilst the tower-house carries a parapet rising flush from the wall, that of the curtain-wall projects-with openings in the floor through which unpleasant gifts could be dropped on to the attackers. This kind of parapet, though known earlier south of the Tweed, spread northwards only after about 1400. Furthermore, the north-east tower has openings for cannon to defend the main approach to the castleamongst the first such batteries in Scotland.

Craigmillar is probably the best example of a medieval castle surviving in Scotland, built according to 15th and 16th century principles of fortification, and it affords spectacular views of Edinburgh's Old Town skyline.

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

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