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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016869

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Edzell Castle, perhaps more than any other fortifIed house in Scotland, illustrates the impact of the change in attitude towards domestic comfort and architectural grandeur that took place in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in Scotland. The simple L-plan towerhouse was extended to provide a courtyard house with formal pleasure garden or pleasance, incorporating a summer house and bath house, and at a short distance to the east a dovecote and the home farm, all executed with a degree of intellectual and architectural flair. The tower and courtyard house are now ruined and the farm steading has been replaced and altered during successive agricultural improvements, but the most signifIcant element in the composition and the one that lifts Edzell beyond its contemporaries is the pleasance. This comprises a walled, parterre garden incorporating within its classical framework various heraldic and symbolic sculptured panels and architectural devices which are unique in Scotland and give Edzell Castle a distinctive place in the history of European Renaissance art.

The original manorial centre of Edzell is represented by an earthwork castle close to the site of the original parish church 350m south of the present castle (NO 583687). This old castle was the seat of the Stirlings of Glenesk who, about 1357, gave place to the Crawford Lindsays. In the frrst half of the 16th century the Lindsays built the fme tower-house that forms the core of the present castle. The courtyard house was added to this tower around 1580 and the pleasance added in 1604. The 'lichtsome Lindsays' were a gay, gifted, gallant, turbulent and tragic family who retained possession ofEdzell until 1715 when the estate was sold to the Earl of Panmure. The man responsible for the expansion of the original towerhouse was Sir David Lindsay, Lord Edzell. He was the eldest son of the 9th Earl of Crawford by his second wife. David succeeded his father as the laird of Edzell in 1558 when only seven or eight years old. He was educated by James Lawson, a colleague of John Knox and travelled widely with him on the continent. There he developed his taste and scholarship and displayed an enlightened approach far in advance of his time. He was knighted in 1581, became a Lord of Session in 1593 and a member of the Privy Council in 1598. In addition to his scholarship and magnifIcent taste he demonstrated boundless energy and carried out a number of estate projects including a large scale afforestation policy and mining operations in Glenesk. There he used his overseas contacts to obtain the services of Bemard Fechtenburg and Hans Ziegler, mining engineers of considerable standing, from Germany. It was also from Germany that he obtained the prints from which the sculptured panels of the pleasance were copied. He died in 1610 leaving the family in extraordinary debt.

After the estate passed to the Earl of Panmure in 1715, the lands were almost immediately forfeited owing to his involvement in the Jacobite rising that year. The York Buildings Company obtained possession and began the process of despoiling the mansion and its policies. The final ruin came in 1764 after the Company was declared bankrupt. The beech avenue was felled and the floors and roofs stripped out and sold on behalf of the creditors. In the same year the forfeited Panmure Estates were repurchased by William Maule, Earl Panmure of Forth. On his death in 1782 the estates passed to his nephew, the 8th Earl of Dalhousie. In 1932 Lord Dalhousie placed the pleasance under the custody of HM Office of Works (now HBM, SDD). The remainder of the ruins were also placed in custody in 1935. Since then the structure has been consolidated and the garden reconstituted.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

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