That castle rises on the steep
Of the green vale of Tyne:
And far beneath, where slow they creep,
From pool to eddy, dark and deep,
Where alders moist and willows weep,
You hear her streams repine.
The towers in different ages rose;
Their various architecture shows
The builders' various hands;
A mighty mass that could oppose,
When deadliest hatred fired its foes,
The vengeful Douglas bands.

From 'Marmion' by Sir Walter Scott

Crichton Castle is a short drive from Edinburgh and is found in a bleak location at the end of a track off the B6367 road near Pathhead. The existing ruin appears to be a homogenous building, with four ranges grouped around a central courtyard. However, many changes have been made since John de Crichton first built a great tower house in the late fourteenth century.

The earliest records of the barony of Crichton date from the thirteenth century. John de Crichton was granted the barony by Robert III. He is largely unknown, but his tower remains intact along the eastern side of the courtyard.

John de Crichton’s son, William, gained power and wealth in various positions entrusted to him by James I. James I died in 1437, and was succeeded by his son, James II, who was only six. At this time of William de Crichton was sheriff of Edinburgh, keeper of Edinburgh Castle, and master of the king’s household. In 1439 he became chancellor.

For the first two years of James II’s reign, Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Douglas and head of the ‘Black Douglas’ family, was Regent. When he died, William Crichton and Sir Alexander Livingston fought to overthrow the power of the Black Douglas family. In 1440 they invited William Douglas - the 16 year old sixth Earl - and his brother to dinner in Edinburgh Castle, even entertaining them at Crichton on the way. At the end of the meal, a black bull’s head, symbolising impending death, was placed on the table. The boys were given a mock trial before being beheaded, the incident becoming known as the ‘Black Dinner’.

In the civil war which followed, James II came of age and stripped William de Crichton of the chancellorship, declaring him outlaw. The following year, as he was holed up in Edinburgh Castle, Sir John Forrester of Corstorphine, an aide of the new earl of Douglas, besieged, stormed and partially demolished Crichton Castle.

William Crichton was not long out of favour. He was created Lord Crichton in 1447, and regained his chancellorship the following year. In 1450 he was able to lend James II £500, five times the amount contributed by the Earl of Douglas. He also invested his wealth in Crichton Castle, adding a gatehouse to the north of the tower house in 1440, and going on to transform Crichton into an impressive courtyard castle. The centrepiece was a three storied rectangular range on the south side of the courtyard, which Chancellor Crichton used as his lodging. The west range housed service and ancillary residential accomodation.

In 1449, William founded a collegeate church about 500 yards from the residence, so that priests could pray for the salvation of himself and his family.

When James II murdered William, the eighth Earl of Douglas, at dinner in Stirling Castle in 1452, William Crichton was, coincidentally (?), present.

In 1452 William died, and his spirit supposedly haunts the stables, even though in 1449 he founded a collegiate church about 500 yards from the castle, so that priests could pray for the salvation of himself and his family. His son and heir, James Crichton, died soon after him.

William, third Lord Crichton, had an affair with Margaret, the sister of James III, and as a result they had a child. After this he was implicated in a conspiracy against the king involving James’ younger brother, Alexander, Duke of Albany. In 1485 he was forced to forfeit all he owned and all his titles. Being lucky to escape with his life. From this point onwards the link between the Crichtons and their castle was broken.

James III gave the Crichton estate to a noble courtier, Sir John Ramsay of Bothwell. He was created Lord Bothwell and made Treasurer of Scotland, but with the king’s defeat and death at the battle of Sauchiburn in 1488, Bothwell and others fled to the English court, where he later died.

For his loyalty, James IV rewarded the second Lord Hailes, Sir Patrick Hepburn of Dunsyre, with the vacant barony of Crichton, combining it with the lordship of Bothwell. Crichton Castle remained a residence of the Lords of Bothwell from that time on.

In November 1559, Crichton was besieged then sacked by 50 soldiers of Lord James Stewart because the fourth Lord Bothwell had seized money which Elizabeth I had sent from England to support the Protestant Lords in their fight against the Catholic Regent, Mary of Guise. In 1562, Mary Queen of Scots attended the wedding of Lord John Stewart, her half-brother, to Janet, Bothwell’s sister.

Little of the fabric of the castle was changed until Francis Stewart, James Hepburn’s cousin and an illegitimate grandson of James V, was created earl of Bothwell in 1581, on his return from Italy. Francis was a colourful character, highly intelligent, but also violent and wild. His doings often led to him having to leave Scotland and he was therefore well travelled, especially in Spain and Italy. He set about transforming the castle in the continental style. He cosmetically improved the Chancellors lodging and heightened the west range to include a second kitchen. His finest achievement was his complete rebuilding of the north range, including an arcade of seven bays, a scale-and-platt stair, and diamond shaped facetting on the facade. This was revolutionary stuff in Scotland at the time.

James VI dined at the castle in 1586, but the earl’s wildness got the better of him and he soon after found himself accused of witchcraft and fled abroad again, this time for good.

James ordered that the castle be destroyed, but this didn't happen, although Crichton ceased to be a Lord's residence. It was briely inhabited by Scott of Buccleuch before Charles I restored the castle to Francis Stewart's son, also named Francis. Bad feeling persisted between the two men. One day when Scott was riding past Crichton, Francis had him arrested for not doffing his cap as he passed, throwing him into the pit prison. However, Francis soon saw the error of his ways, and released Scott to a sumptuous feast, whilst he took his place in the pit.

Francis was eventually forced to sell Crichton, and troubled by debt he followed in his father’s footsteps and fled to the continent.

The castle was eventually bought by a Dr Seaton, who subsequently sold it on to the Hepburns of Humbie in 1649. By 1659 the masonry was being removed for building work, and the castle was falling into increasing disrepair. Forty years later the property was sold again, to Primrose of Carrington, ancestor of the Rosebury family. In 1754, Sir James Justiss became Crichton’s new owner, and he sold the castle to Livingstone. The Pringles were the next owners of the increasingly ruinous castle, selling to Patrick Ross, who in turn sold it to Sir John Callender in 1786. The Callender family still have connections with the estate, and live nearby.

Interest in the castle increased with the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Marmion’ in 1815. The novel’s eponymous hero was the fictional owner of Crichton. The ruins became better tended, and some restoration work was carried out.

In 1926 the castle was given into the care of Historic Scotland by the then owner, Henry Burn Callander of Prestonhall.

Crichton! though now thy miry court
But pens the lazy steer and sheep;
Thy turrets rude, and totter'd keep,
Have been the minstrel's loved resort.
Oft have I traced within thy fort,
Of mouldering shields the mystic sense,
Scutcheons of honour, or pretence,
Quarter'd in old armorial sort,
Remains of rude magnificence.
Nor wholly yet has time defaced,
Thy lordly gallery fair;
Nor yet the stony cord unbraced
Whose twisted knots, with roses laced,
Adorn thy ruin'd stair.
Still rises unimpaired below
The court-yard's graceful portico;
Above its cornice, row on row
Of fair hewn facets richly show
Their pointed diamond form;
Though there but houseless cattle go
To shield them from the storm;
And, shuddering, still, may we explore,
Where oft whilom were captives pent,
The darkness of the Massy-More;
Or from thy grass-grown battlement,
May trace, in undulating line,
The sluggish mazes of the Tyne.

From 'Marmion' by Sir Walter Scott


Crichton Castle at About Scotland

Crichton Castle at Caledonian Castles

Douglas Landmarks - Crichton Castle

Travels in Scotland - Crichton Castle

CastleXplorer - Crichton Castle

Pictures of Crichton Castle

Crichton Castle, Scottish History Online

Other Reference

Crichton Castle by Christopher J Tabram/W Douglas Simpson - Historic Scotland Guidebook (Edinburgh HMSO)

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