Brief History / Mary Queen of Scots / Architecture / Occupants / Myths and Mysteries / Paintings, Photographs / Borthwick Church / Borthwick Village / Borthwick Castle Today Location and Maps / Links / Books
Every Borthwick and every descendant of a Borthwick loves to dream of ancient connections with Borthwick Castle and with one or other of the Lords Borthwick. Many families do of course have such a connection but the majority of us are not connected by blood at all, or if so only very distantly. In many cases the surname Borthwick was adopted by our ancestors just because they lived near the place named Borthwick, or perhaps because the family worked for the Lords Borthwick. Nevertheless all with the surname Borthwick are welcome members of the Borthwick Clan.
We all greatly enjoy discovering the history of the castle and its owners, and many Borthwicks in the world have visited there and perhaps even stayed at the castle as it is now a very exclusive hotel. Stories of the castle may also interest the many people without any genealogical connection at all to a Borthwick family who have an interest in the castle and/or have stayed there.
The purpose of this page is to gather together some of the history, myths and interesting facts about "our" castle. This is not a serious historical analysis - please treat it as a fun, but necessarily superficial look at the castle.
Please note that the historical information on these pages is a guide only. It has been gleaned from a wide range of sources, of widely varying credibility. PLEASE do not take it as 100% accurate. It would probably take a lifetime of research to develop an accurate and reliable history of the Borthwicks and their lands. There is much more to be researched and written before I would vouch for the information contained here. I don't believe that I will be able to vouch for it in my own lifetime!
I'd love to hear from you if you would like to share photos, history or stories of the castle on this page. I've posted the links to my own photographs below, and have also posted a painting shared by Thomas Williams and some pictures sent to me by other Borthwick researchers. If you have something you'd like to share here there is a link to my email address is at the end of this page.
Borthwick Castle is one of the most important historic buildings in Scotland. It is a twin towered baronial keep, built by the first Lord Borthwick (conflicting sources say that is was built by Sir James Borthwick,later Lord Borthwick, in 1420, or by Sir William Borthwick in 1430. Further research is required but I think it was probably built by Sir William, who later became the first Lord Borthwick.)
One history says that the castle was built on the site of an earlier motte castle known as Lochorwart, granted to Lord Borthwick by James I. Another states that in about 1378 the Borthwicks acquired the Lothian lands of Catcune, but before long they won from the Hays the much richer property of Locherworth and there built about 1430 the majestic Borthwick Castle. Whether the "winning" of the land from the Hays was through James I taking it from them and granting it to the Borthwicks I know not at this stage!
Here are some reported events relevant to the romantic history of the castle, and the Borthwicks themselves:
1420: In 1409 Margaret, daughter of William Hay, married William the 'Red' Douglas, 2nd Earl of Angus in an attempt to bring the 'Red' Douglases back into the fold of the 'Black' Douglas camp. With the death of William Hay in 1420, his son Thomas took over as Lord of Yester and started a dispute with the Borthwicks of Borthwick castle, Mid Lothian also 'Black' Douglas vassals. This led to local Lothian violence with the 'Red' Douglases delighted to help the Hays in their attacks, because they were protecting their 'in laws'. This minor civil war continued until Prince James, now King James I (1406-1437) returned to Scotland in 1424.
1430: In 1420 Sir William Borthwick was Captain of Edinburgh Castle and in 1430 he granted lands by King James and built the castle. (Possibly these were the lands lost by the Hays in the battles referred to above.) Sir William Borthwick's son was created Lord Borthwick in 1454. He died some time before 1458 and is commemorated by a splendid tomb in the old church of Borthwick. From 1430 onwards the Lords Borthwick had immense possessions and great influence in Midlothian.
1513 - The Battle of Flodden: In 1478 John Hay was created Baron Yester of Yester. In 1513 Baron Yester and his kinsman Hay Earl of Erroll of Slains castle, near Aberdeen gathered their forces together and marched south with King James IV of Scots (1488-1513) to harry the north of England. The King was also joined in this venture by several other noble Lairds, the aged Archibald 'Bell-the-cat' Douglas of Tantallon castle, Lord Borthwick of Borthwick castle (the King's cannon commander) , Lord Lyndsay of Byres castle, near Haddington and the Border veteran Lord Home of Home castle.
The Scots crossed the river Tweed at Coldstream, stormed Wark castle, bombarded Norham castle with 'Mon's Meg' (great bombard held today at Edinburgh castle) into surrender, seized Etal castle and burnt down Ford castle after the King spent several days dallying with Lady Heron of Ford. This was a ploy on Lady Heron's part, by detaining the Scots King in her bedchamber it allowed the English Borders time to assemble their forces at Newcastle and Alnwick. As the Scots sat inactive encamped at Flodden hill, Archibald Douglas suggested the Scots army should either advance further into England or withdraw altogether. The King insisted that Douglas leave if he was too old to fight. Furious, Douglas departed leaving his two sons George and William to fly the Douglas colors at Flodden When the English did arrive they began filing across the valley towards Branxton ridge cutting off the Scots retreat route. Lord Borthwick pleaded with the King to let him fire a barrage on the English before they reached the other ridge. King James dismissed this suggestion as unchivalrous and insisted a salute was fired to acknowledge their arrival. Interestingly this salute was viewed as incompetence by the English who assumed the Scots gunners were firing over their heads unable to gauge their position. Lord Lyndsay begged the King to allow him to charge with his horsemen down the hillside to divide the English before they could assemble. Once again the King refused the sound guidance of his men and threatened to hang Lord Lyndsay from the gate of Byres castle on his return to Scotland if he did not hold his position. See Douglas History.
William, 4th Lord Borthwick, was killed in the Battle of Flodden in 1513, after which his son, William (d.1543), took responsibility of the young King James V in Stirling Castle.
18 November 1650: he Borthwicks adhered to the royalist cause during the civil war, and their castle was besieged after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. Oliver Cromwell, leader of the Roundheads in the Civil War, attacked the castle, but it was spared from the inevitable destruction when Cromwell offered John, the royalist 10th Lord Borthwick, honourable terms of surrender, which he accepted. First Cromwell sent a letter to Lord Borthwick, requesting the surrender of the house '....you shall have libertie to carry off your armes and goods and such other necessitate as you have.. ... You have harboured such parties in your house as have basely and inhumanely murdered our men: if you necessitate me to bend my cannon against you, you may expect what I doubt you will not be pleased with.' Borthwick initially resisted, but Cromwell's cannon quickly demonstrated that the castle walls were not the impregnable form of defence they had once been, creating the damage to the eastern wall and parapet still visible today, and Borthwick quickly came to terms, exchanging his castle for the lives of its defenders. Cromwell's letter hangs today, 350 years later, in the Great Hall of Borthwick Castle.
The Civil War resulted in the dethronement, trial and beheading of a Stuart King, Charles 1.
1687 - Mary Queen of Scots: The connection between the castle and Mary Queen of Scots is so famous that I've created a separate section for it below.
Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots (1542-87) and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell (1536-78) visited the castle in 1563 during a progress. Perhaps they liked it - or thought it a safe fortress - as it was in Borthwick castle that Mary and her new husband Bothwell sought refuge in 1567. On that occasion they were besieged here, Mary only escaping disguised as a man.
Here, with grateful acknowledgement to the excellent Mary Stuart site, is a chronology of Mary's brief but dramatic connection with the castle:
1 July 1563: Mary travels to Dunipace, Glasgow, Hamilton, Dumbarton Castle, Inveraray Castle, Dunoon, Eglington. Then on to Ayr, Dunure, Ardmillan, Ardstinchar, the Abbey of Glenluce, the Priory of Whithorn, Kenmure Castle, St Mary's Isle, Dumfries, Drumlanrig Castle, Crawfordjohn, Couthalley, Neidpath Castle, Borthwick Castle, Dalhousie and Roslin. She returns to Edinburgh in September 1563 after a visit at Craigmillar Castle.
1 May 1567: The nobles who had been coerced to put their names to the Ainslie Bond, in support of Bothwell's marriage to Mary, rapidly changed their minds when they saw Bothwell in such a powerful position. On 1 May 1567, they signed another bond whose aims were the liberation of the Queen, securing Prince James and bringing the dictatorship of Bothwell to an end. The ringleaders included Morton, Argyll and Atholl who had signed the Ainslie Bond. Maitland also deserted Mary's cause even though he had previously encouraged her to marry Bothwell.
15 May 1567: Mary and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, her third husband, are married in Edinburgh according to Protestant rites at 10 a.m. The nobles were not happy.
7 June 1567: Bothwell and the queen left Edinburgh on 7 June, and headed for the impregnable fortress of Borthwick (or Botherwick) Castle where they hoped to muster their own forces.
9/10 June 1567: The Earls of Morton and Hume, with eight hundred of their Borderers, appeared at Borthwick Castle. The nobles demanded Bothwell's head and Mary's renunciation of the Earl and his influence. Bothwell, a suspect in the murder of Queen Mary's second husband, Lord Darnley, just a few months before, fled the castle's sheltering 110-foot towers and the asylum offered by the 6th Lord Borthwick, leaving his wife and queen behind.
11 June 1567: Mary managed to escape through a narrow window (right) disguised as a pageboy, and rode off to meet Bothwell at Black Castle, stronghold of the Wauchopes, Bothwell's henchmen, at Cakemuir. From there, Mary and Bothwell went to Dunbar to muster an army.
15 June 1567: The nobles seized Edinburgh. The queen mustered about three thousand men, and marched upon the capital. The forces confronted each other at Carberry Hill near Musselburgh, where, after a day spent in parleying, Mary surrendered to the nobles, and Bothwell was allowed to ride off in the direction of Dunbar. The queen was taken to Edinburgh on 15 June, and on 17 June she was conveyed a captive to Lochleven Castle, which stood on an island in the lake. On 23 June, she was forced to sign her abdication of the throne, and to confirm the appointment of Moray as regent, to govern during the minority of her son.
Mary Queen of Scots Mary died upon the scaffold at Fotheringay Castle in the North of England in 1587. Bothwell had died nine years earlier in a Danish prison. See Castles site.
This mediaeval style painting of the castle was painted by Thomas Williams, who is married to a Borthwick descendant. Thank you Tom!
From 1296 the Wars of Independence with England cut off much artistic influence from that country. The same period saw the demise of the curtain-walled castle and in its place the rise of the tower house at the hands of a fragmented but wealthy baron class. These were, in effect, hall houses built vertically for security and, in that form, constituted the birth of a style of building which became uniquely Scottish. (from NZ Architecture)
Borthwick Castle is a massive imposing tower castle erected as an impressive fortified dwellings in Scotland on a strong position near Middleton in Midlothian. It stands on the summit of a knoll on the periphery of the romantic Borders immortalised by Sir Walter Scott.
The castle is a magnificent U-plan keep with projecting wings, separated by a deep narrow recess. Borthwick is the tallest tower house in Scotland at a height of 110 feet, with fine ashlar walls, exceptionally strong. The back measures 71' and the slightly longer arm 68'. It has been described as Gothic revival incorporating part of 12th century apse together with 15th century additions.
The south tower of Borthwick Castle has seven storeys, the north eight. Floor levels differ from those of the main block but come level at parapet level. The walls are up to 14 feet thick at lower levels.
The parapet is supported on machicolated corbels with open rounds at each corner, except on the damaged east side where the wall has been rebuilt. The tower is surrounded by a curtain wall which had several round towers, one which survives as the gatehouse. The wall and gate-tower are well supplied with shot holes, though there are none on the tower-house itself. There was a drawbridge as well as the outer gate and a portcullis. The eastern side was protected by a dry ditch.
The main entrance is, as usual, at first floor level in the north wall. It is now reached by a stone stair and small bridge, originally there would have been a movable timber staircase. A ground floor entrance, directly below the main door, leads into the vaulted basements. Just inside a turnpike stair rises to the first floor guardroom, just inside the main door. There are three chambers below the hall, the basement of the south wing contains the well, and in the north a dungeon on two floors.
The magnificent mediaeval hall occupies the whole of the main block, being 50 feet long and 37 feet high at the centre of the stone vault. There is a minstrel gallery, a massive hooded fireplace at the south end, a 40-foot vaulted Gothic ceiling, a medieval armor collection, and (today) an alcove bar with a full collection of single-malt whiskies. Lord Borthwick's stone seat of honour, a sedile, is carved into the wall of the Great Hall, beneath the Borthwick coat of arms. From this seat he could see every entrance into the castle, and quickly escape via his own private staircase if necessary.
Alexander Nisbet, a 17th-century heraldic chronicler, said of the vaulted stone ceiling: 'It is so large and high that a man on horseback could turn a spear in it with all the ease imaginable.'
The kitchen, also with a large fireplace occupies the north wing, while in the south a private chamber, next to which is a garderobe of advanced design, employing removable containers to remove waste rather than the usual method of letting fall to the ground outside. This is directly above the well so the usual method would not have served. There are a further three floors above the hall, the chapel and a drawing room immediately above and bedrooms over them. The top storey is vaulted to carry the weight of the pitched flagstone roof. The wings contain bedrooms and servants quarters accessed by separate turnpike stairway's in the thickness of the walls.
Reminders of the cruel realities of medieval life at Borthwick include the small stone cells of the dungeon that honeycomb the basement, and the iron manacles displayed upstairs.
Best of all Borthwick Castle is a complete structure and largely unaltered. (Although Betsa Marsh suggests that what one sees now represents less than half the original structure as Oliver Cromwell destroyed three of its towers.) The Castle was abandoned not long after Cromwell's visit but was fully restored between 1890 and 1914.
The Barony of Borthwick first appears in the Scottish Borders in the 12th C. associated with the Borthwick Water. By the early 15th C. the family gained lands in Midlothian, where they built Borthwick Castle.
The early Borthwicks were warriors and this is reflected in the castle's history. The best legend of all I think has it that a popular sport at the castle was inviting prisoners to jump the twelve foot gap between the towers with hands tied behind their backs. Those who succeeded were granted their liberty.
As mentioned above the Castle was abandoned not long after Cromwell's visit in 1650.
What happened to it between 1650 and 1890!
In 1813, a tree grew through the 20-foot-tall Great Hall fireplace, wedging out the massive stones. The Borthwicks restored the chimney breast and, almost a century later, in 1903, renewed the Hall's woodwork.
The castle was purchased and fully restored between 1890 and 1914 by a member of the Crookston branch of the family, who did not at that time hold the title.
Since the death of the 21st Lord in 1910, the title has been claimed by the head of the most senior branch, that of Crookston, who also owned Borthwick Castle. John Henry Stuart Borthwick (b.1905) was officially confirmed by the Lyon Court in 1986 as 23rd Lord Borthwick. He died in 1999 and the title passed to his son, John Hugh Borthwick. The Borthwick family remains associated with Edinburgh and Midlothian. See ©1995-2001 Gazetteer for Scotland.
In the early 1970s, electricity and central heating were added and workers cut into the 13-foot-thick stone walls to create bathrooms.
Helen Bailey, who leased the castle from the Borthwick family, brought it up to its current genteel standards and lovingly and authentically restored their ancestral home before handing it on to the present owners.
During WWII Borthwick Castle was used as Repository of the Official Public Records. It remained a Borthwick possession into the latter half of the 20th century. It was sold and restored for use as a conference centre before changing hands again to become the Borthwick Castle Hotel.
Betsa Marsh is eloquent:
It seems that there is even a Psychic Tour of Scotland that takes in Borthwick Castle!
There are many photographs, painting and engravings of this wonderful castle.
Turner's painting, done in 1818, can be seen on the Indianapolis Museum of Art site. It was a gift to the Museum in memory of Dr. and Mrs. Hugo O. Pantzer by their children.
The site notes that watercolor landscapes were Turner's first and, perhaps, foremost achievement, and they provided a steady income throughout his 60-year career. Turner produced more than 1,500 finished watercolors, totally independent of his work in oils. Nearly half of these were commissioned views, destined to be engraved in the vast array of illustrated books aimed at the English armchair traveler or antiquarian. Borthwick Castle was commissioned in 1818 for Sir Walter Scott's Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland and engraved the following year. Then at the peak of his powers and popularity, Turner participated in the enterprise by the publisher's demand over Scott's objections. Turner's genius in this artistic genre was his ability to take a rough pencil sketch made on the spot and in his London studio work it into a total environment in watercolor. Turner energizes his environment with the powers of nature. Borthwick Castle is rendered as an abiding presence in a landscape that is as ancient as time, but transitory as a gust of wind preceding a storm.
And here is a wonderful engraving sent to me by a Borthwick descendant. The engraver is not known.
The original church on the site was built in the 12th century. The Borthwick churchyard and steeple are in the right foreground of the picture at the top of this page. The castle itself is over 3 times as tall as the church steeple but the perspective in this picture is deceptive.
David Kidd proprietor of Inveresk Paper Mills, Edinburgh, Scotland, invented the "gummed" envelope in the 1850's. In 1863 he paid for the rebuilding of Borthwick Church, at a cost of 3400 pounds, about $300,000 at today's prices. Today there are pews in the Church reserved for Kidd family. (This material about David Kidd and Borthwick Parish Church is taken from a much larger article "A brief History of Borthwick Parish Church" by Margaret McLean M.A. published in 1987."
Midlothianís more interesting churches featured in Doors Open Days, including Borthwick Parish Church, Borthwick Village by Middleton on the A7, described as dating from the 12th century with later additions. Also contains two 15th century effigies regarded as amongst the finest examples of Scottish monumental sculpture.
The famous Scottish historian, the Reverend Dr William Robertson (1721-93), was son of the parish minister of Borthwick, Midlothian. Born in the parish in 1721, Robertson was Principal of Edinburgh University for over thirty years. He was elected joint-minister of Greyfriars Kirk and was successively appointed Chaplain of Stirling Castle, Chaplain to His Majesty in Scotland, Principal of the University and Historiographer Royal for Scotland.
The parish church has records for birth dating from 1706, for marriages from 1700 and for deaths from 1784. These are held in the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh and copies on microfilm may be consulted in the Midlothian Studies Centre in Loanhead and also in LDS Family Centres around the world. Monumental inscriptions for Borthwick can be found at the Local Studies Centre in Loanhead.
The Hamlet of Borthwick is sign-posted at the village of North Middleton, a small village on the A7, 12 miles south of Edinburgh. The following description appears on the GENUKI site:
The castle is now a 10-room luxury hotel (two of the rooms are in the cylindrical tower at the entrance). The owners have won worldwide acclaim for gracious hospitality and personal attention to all those guests who have entered this Stately Home.
According to Teresa Deeb Shrimpling's site which offers a photographic tour: "If you ever wondered what it was like to be transported into another century well, look no further. This is the place to do it and you will not need to stretch your imagination. Everything is as it was then (except of course for the comfort of modern life), and I promise you an unforgettable experience. I spent one night in this Castle, in the Mary Queen of Scots room, and it will forever stay branded in my memory. The walls are oozing with history and atmosphere and the quietness of the surroundings is heavenly. What's more, the staff will kindly oblige to give you a historical tour and introduce you to the resident ghosts."
The visitor will step straight into The Great Hall where tables are set banqueting style for dinner and breakfast. In the winter, a log fire burns in the huge fireplace. To the right of The Great Hall, you will be led up a windy stone staircase with high steps. This is where you will find some of the bedrooms, including the room in which Mary Queen of Scots once stayed. You can actually sleep in the bedchamber of Mary Queen of Scots.
Gatherings of the clans bring "lots of traditional music and dance events" to the Great Hall, where dinner is served by the light of candles and a fire beneath the Gothic ceiling. Four stone staircases lead to the castle's eight guest rooms (the gatehouse has two more) and to the dungeons.
All the guest rooms contain tea/coffeemakers, hair dryers, and excellent comfortable furnishings. Five contain four-poster beds, and each has a scattering of antiques and chintzes. All the bedchambers, tastefully furnished in period style, have showers and toilets en-suite; the bedchambers, once occupied by the tragic Queen and the ill-fated Bothwell, have four poster beds and are available to guests. Twentieth century amenities and central heating have been introduced without obtruding upon the medieval ambience which never fails to enchant even the most sophisticated of travellers.
Borthwick Castle is known for its excellent cuisine, personal service, and authentic medieval ambience. The evening guests dine in the magnificent setting of the candlelit Great Hall where a four course meal is prepared by the gourmet chef who describes his cuisine as 'modern British with a strong bias for Scotland's natural larder.' A comprehensive wine list is complimented by a fine selection of malt whiskies. While the castle caters for banquets of up to 50 guests, it especially welcomes those in search of that intimate dinner for two. In either case, the experience is unforgettable.
Relax in the elegantly proportioned State Room with its beautifully arched windows, tapestries and the small chapel once used by Mary Queen of Scots on her visits to the castle.
A full-length portrait of Mary, in royal regalia, hangs next to her pageboy's window, along with a copy of her arrest warrant, signed by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
As an off-season retreat, Borthwick Castle is an idyllic setting with open countryside yet Edinburgh's city centre, with its theatres and other attractions, just 20 minutes away. A full sporting programme can be arranged close by, to include archery, game and clay pigeon shooting, fishing, falconry, golf and horse riding.
For guest one of the best features of a stay at the castle is a tour through the castle's public rooms and bedrooms, including the Queen's bedchamber and the Red Room, decorated with red paint and red flocked wallpaper.
Another enthusiastic visitor says:
Borthwick is one of the great historic castles recommended for weddings. With its romantic history it is not surprising that people want to be married here. This castle has been strongly recommended by wedding consultants - for a couple wishing to get married or even a couple wishing to spend a few days in baronial splendour. The restaurant which offers a superb range of locally obtained food caters for a maximum of 50 yet is ideal for a couple requiring an intimate meal.
Exclusive Use of Borthwick
According to various Scottish tourism sites, Borthwick Castle may be hired on an exclusive basis as a unique venue for corporate meetings and entertainment, intimate weddings or a gathering of the clans!
Borthwick Castle is about twelve miles south-east of Edinburgh, and just over a mile and a half south-east of Gorebridge, Midlothian. (NT369597). The Castle is situated 3/4 mile along a country lane which passes the school and Borthwick Church on a private roadway that leads to the Castle gates.
Gorebridge expanded in the early 19th century as a market town but also produced gunpowder at Stobs Mills until 1875. Coal mining developed especially after the railway line was in place (1847). The town's spectacular views and the beautiful Arniston Glen made Gorebridge a popular holiday resort in the 19th century. (Source: ©1995-2001 Gazetteer for Scotland)
Address: Borthwick Castle Hotel & Restaurant North Middleton Midlothian EH23 4QY Scotland Phone 01875 820514 Fax 01875 821702 All major credit cards are accepted Open mid-March to January 2nd
Mary Queen of Scots
Prints and Paintings
Books and articles that contain information about Borthwick Castle include the following:
The Buildings of Scotland: Lothian except Edinburgh. McWilliam, Colin (1978) Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex
An Illustrated Architectural Guide. Thomas, Jane (1995) Midlothian: The Rutland Press, Edinburgh
Dream Sleeps : Castle & Palace Hotels of Europe by Pamela L. Barrus, Carole T. Meyers (Editor) Castle & Palace Hotels of Europe Why spend your vacation in a boring hotel chain when you could be staying in a castle? It's not just a matter of opulence and splendor (not that there's anything wrong with a taste for grandeur)--there's history and romance, too. Want to experience the flavor of Scotland's past? You can sleep in Mary Queen of Scots' bedroom at Borthwick Castle and dine by candle and firelight.
Castles and Fortresses by Robin S. Oggins A marvelous work that actually covers all the aspects of the medieval castle, instead of restating the common facts found in every history text book. Castles and Fortresses in clearly written and the text is supported with glorious photographs and diagrams. An absolute-must have for anyone researching or just interested in the subject. Accept no substitutes. Recommended bu Architects Attic. http://www.architectsattic.com/Store/Books/booksoncastles.htm
The Ins and Outs of Borthwick Castle Helpful background history, though no images, of the castle that once held Mary, Queen of Scots prisoner, by Betsa Marsh at British Heritage Magazine.
2001, Ann Carson. All rights reserved.
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