Craigmillar Castle

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Craigmillar Castle, a grand old ruin in Liberton parish, Midlothian, 3 miles SE of Edinburgh. Crowning the brow of a gentle eminence, it commands from its topmost roof a magnificent view of Arthur's Seat, the S side of the city, the firth and the shores of Fife, Aberlady Bay, and the Pentlands; and itself consists of a lofty square keep or tower, an inner ivy-clad court, and a quadrangular embattled wall, 30 feet high, with circular corner towers-the whole engirt by an outer rampart or else, in places, by a moat. The 'new part,' to the W, was added so late as 1661; the keep must be older than 1427 (the earliest date preserved); but much of the building, as it stands to-day, was reared most likely after its burning by Hertford in 1544. ' On the boundary wall,' says Sir Walter Scott, 'may be seen the arms of Cockburn of Ormiston, Congalton of Congalton, Moubray of Barnbougle, and Otterburn of Redford, allies of the Prestons of Craigmillar; whilst in one corner of the outer court, over a portal arch, are the arms of the family, three unicorns' heads couped, with a cheese-press and barrel or tun, a wretched rebus to express their name'-this sculptured fragment bearing date 1510. Within are the noisome dungeons, in whose partition "wall a skeleton was found bricked up (1813); the kitchen, with mighty oven; Queen Mary's bower, with two or three dubious relics; her bedchamber, measuring but 7 by 5 feet, yet having two windows and a fireplace; and the great banqueting hall, 36 feet long, and 22 feet broad, with walls 10 feet in thickness, chimney 11 feet wide, a barrel-vaulted roof, and deep embrasured windows, on the stone seat of one of which may be faintly traced a diagram of the old game of the 'Walls of Troy. ' The name of this place occurs pretty early in the national records, in a charter of mortification granted in 1212 by William, son of Henry de Craigmillar, whereby he gives, ' in pure and perpetual alms,' to the church and monastery of Dunfermline, a certain toft of land in Craigmillar, in the southern part leading from the town of Nidreif to the church of Liberton, which Henry de Edmonton holds of him. Later, Craigmillar belonged to one John de Capella, and from him it was purchased in 1374 by Sir Simon Preston, whose descendants retained it for nearly three centuries, and, during that period held the highest offices in the magistracy of Edinburgh. In 1478 John, Earl of Mar, 'ane fair and lustie man,' was here imprisoned by James III., his brother, and only removed to meet his doom by treacherous lancet in the Canongate; and James V., with Gawin Douglas, his tutor, was sent here during his minority, when the pest was raging in Edinburgh. Queen Mary, after her return in 1561, made Craigmillar so frequent a residence, that a neighbouring hamlet, where her French retinue lodged, retains to this day the name of Little France; in December 1566 we read of her lying here sick, and ever repeating these words, 'I could wish to be dead. ' Here, too, in the same month, her divorce from Darnley was mooted by Bothwell, Murray, Lethington, Argyll, and Huntly, in the so-called ' Conference of Craigmillar,' and propounded to Mary herself; and to Craigmillar it was at first proposed to have Darnley conveyed, instead of to Kirk of Field. Mary's son, James VI., is said to have planned at Craigmillar his matrimonial excursion to Denmark; and Mary's descendant, Queen Victoria, in 1842 drove by its ruins, which have been sketched and written of by ' fat, fodgel' Grose, Sir Walter Scott, Thomson of Duddingston, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Hill Burton, and many others.—Ord. Sur., sh. 32, 1857. See vol. i. of Billings' Baronial Antiquities (1845), and Historical Sketches of Craigmillar Castle (Edinb. 1875).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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