Craignethan Castle

Craignethan Castle from the west

Craignethan Castle is a ruined castle in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. It is located above the River Nethan, a tributary of the River Clyde, at NS816464. The castle is two miles west of the village of Crossford, and 4.5 miles north-west of Lanark. Built in the first half of the 16th century, Craignethan is recognised as an excellent early example of a sophisticated artillery fortification,[1] although its defences were never fully tested. The castle is notable as the last purpose-built fortress to be constructed in Scotland.[2]



The barony of Draffane, in which Craignethan was located, was a property of the Black Douglases until their forfeiture in 1455. The land was granted to the Hamilton family, and in 1530 was given by James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran to his illegitimate son James Hamilton of Finnart.

James Hamilton of Finnart had travelled in Europe, and had become an accomplished architect and military engineer. Appointed Kings Master of Works, he was responsible for the defences at Blackness Castle, as well as the renaissance facades of Linlithgow Palace. At Craignethan, he set out to build a "showcase" to display his talents in both domestic and military architecture.[3]

Despite his earlier Royal favour, Hamilton was executed for treason in 1540, and his properties were forfeit to the crown. The Hamilton family, in the person of the 2nd Earl of Arran, regained Craignethan Castle two years later. The second earl added a large outer courtyard to the west of the castle. Arran, who became Duc de Châtellerault following Mary, Queen of Scots' marriage to the French Dauphin, served as regent in her infancy. However, he later opposed Mary's second marriage to Lord Darnley, and was forced to surrender his castles at Craignethan and Cadzow.

The situation was reversed once more following Mary's abdication, when Arran aided her escape from Loch Leven Castle, and regained his castles. Arran's son, Lord Claud Hamilton, is said to have entertained Mary at Craignethan on the night before the Battle of Langside in 1568.[4] The battle, at which the Hamiltons fought the forces of Regent Moray, ended in defeat, and Mary was forced to flee to England. Craignethan and Cadzow were surrendered again, Moray came in person to the castle to receive the keys on 15 May 1568.[5] Lord Claud attempted to recover the castle by force in October,[6] and his brother Lord John began to starve out Moray's soldiers in November. The Hamiltons regained the castle by March.[7]

Feuding continued between the Hamiltons and the opponents of Mary. In 1570, Moray was shot in Linlithgow by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh. A treaty was signed between the parties in 1573, but by 1579 the Hamiltons were outlawed, and Lord Claud fled to France. Levies of troops were raised to capture Craignethan and Cadzow, and both surrendered to government forces. Claud's older brother the 3rd Earl of Arran, who had been confined at Craignethan since 1575, their younger brother David, and mother were captured and taken to Linlithgow.[8] Craignethan was slighted by James Hamilton of Libertoun, this involved the demolition of the north-west tower and the massive west wall, the 'inner barmkin', which was tumbled into the ditch, rendering the castle relatively defenceless.[9]

Craignethan was regained by the Hamiltons, but was sold by Duchess Anne in 1659. The new owner, Andrew Hay, a covenanting laird, built himself a two-storey house in the south-west corner of the outer courtyard. In 1730 Craignethan was sold to Archibald Douglas, Duke of Douglas. The property passed through his descendants, the Earls of Home, and the ruins were stabilised by the 12th earl in the late 19th century. The property was given into state care by the 14th Earl in 1949, and is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument managed by Historic Scotland.


Craignethan is built on an imposing site above a bend in the River Nethan. Steep slopes protect the castle on the south, north and east sides, but the castle is actually overlooked by higher ground to the west, making it far more vulnerable than it appears. Craignethan's defences are therefore concentrated towards the west. The castle comprises a low central keep, within a rectangular walled courtyard. To the west is a deep ditch and beyond, a larger outer courtyard.


The rectangular keep measures 21m by 16m, and was originally of two storeys plus an attic. Attic and roof are now gone, but the walls are complete up to decorative corbels which supported a parapet walk. Round bartizans top each corner, and machicolations guard the door. Inside, the keep differs from the usual tower house layout in several ways. The entrance leads into a large stair lobby on the main hall floor, which was more commonly located on the first floor. Below this level are subterranean vaulted cellars containing four rooms, a prison, and a well. Access was from the main entrance lobby or direct from the kitchen.

The keep is divided internally by a wall running west to east. South of this wall on the ground floor is the hall, measuring 6m by 12m. The hall was accessed from the entrance lobby to the west, and was lit by three large windows. A fireplace stood in the internal wall, and a minstrel's gallery overlooks from the west wall. The hall ceiling was a stone vault, and the room fills the whole height of the keep. North of the internal wall was the kitchen, and a private room. Above these, within the height of the keep, were two additional rooms accessed from below. Another four rooms were located in the attic. The roof was a double gable, the central valley supported by the internal wall.

Inner courtyard

The inner courtyard measures 49m by 25m, with walls strengthened by rectangular towers at each corner. The entrance was via a dog-leg passage through a gate tower midway along the north wall. The west wall was designed to stand up to artillery bombardment, and was up to 5m thick. It was destroyed in the late 16th century, and only the foundations remain. It is thought that the west wall was as high as the relatively low keep, and that this arrangement would have protected the keep from bombardment from the higher ground to the west.[3]

Of the towers, the south-east was the largest, and is the only one still standing. Known as the "Kitchen Tower", it may in fact have housed the chapel.[3] It is of three storeys, the lowest a subterranean vaulted chamber. Gunloops in the upper parts overlook the eastern approaches to the castle. Each of the four towers had space for storage and service areas, as well as additional accommodation for guests.

The defences of the original castle were completed by a ditch, 3.5m deep and 9m wide, at the base of the west wall. This ditch, originally crossed via a drawbridge, was filled in when the castle was slighted, and not re-excavated until the 1960s. In the base of the ditch a caponier was uncovered, a highly unusual feature in a Scottish castle. The caponier was accessed from the south-west tower, and comprised an enclosed tunnel with gunports overlooking the ditch, allowing the defenders to fire on any attackers attempting to cross or bridge the ditch. The only other surviving caponiers in Scotland are at Blackness Castle, also designed by James Hamilton of Finnart, and a later example by Theodore Dury at Stirling Castle.

Outer court

The outer court was less heavily defended than the inner, and was added in the 1540s by the 2nd Earl of Arran. The court would have had service buildings around the perimeter, and possible gardens at the centre.[3] There are towers at the two western corners, the north-west including a dovecot. The south-west tower was incorporated into Andrew Hay's House, the two storey dwelling built here by Andrew Hay in 1665. Gunloops are located along the west wall, which contains the main gate halfway along.

Walter Scott

It is widely reported that Craignethan Castle was the inspiration for "Tillietudlem Castle", in Sir Walter Scott's novel, Old Mortality.[10] This may or may not be the case, but when a nearby railway station was opened in 1876, on the Coalburn Branch of the Caledonian Railway, it was named Tillietudlem, and a nearby hamlet has since adopted this name.[11]


It is said the headless ghost of Mary Queen of Scots began appearing in the castle after her execution [12]


  1. ^ See Tabraham (1997) p.102, and Mason (2000) p.94.
  2. ^ Tabraham, p.102
  3. ^ a b c d Mason, p.94-98
  4. ^ This story is questioned by Lindsay (1986), p.164, who suggests that an alternative tale placing Mary at Castlemilk on the eve of the battle, is "topographically more plausible".
  5. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 2 (1900), 407.
  6. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 2 (1900), 516.
  7. ^ HMC Salisbury Hatfield, vol. 1 (1883), 374:CSP Scotland, vol.2 (1900), 630.
  8. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 5, (1907), 338.
  9. ^ Register of the Privy Council, vol. iii, (1887), 189: Order given by Council to James Hamilton to proceed, July 1580 (e.g., NAS E22/4 f45v.)
  10. ^ Mason states that Scott denied the connection, although Lindsay (1985) reports that Scott considered buying and renovating Craignethan as an alternative residence to Abbotsford.
  11. ^ Railscot page on the Coalburn Branch, [1]
  12. ^


  • Coventry, Martin The Castles of Scotland (3rd Edition), Goblinshead, 2001
  • Lindsay, Maurice The Castles of Scotland, Constable & Co. 1986
  • McKean, Charles, 'The Castle of the Bastard of Arran', PSAS, vol. 125, (1995), 1069-1090
  • McIvor, Iain, 'Craignethan Castle', in Apted, Gilyard-Beer & Saunders ed., Ancient Monuments and their Interpretation, Phillimore (1977), 239-261.
  • Mason, Gordon The Castles of Glasgow and the Clyde, Goblinshead, 2000
  • Salter, Mike The Castles of South West Scotland, Folly Publications, 1993
  • Tabraham, Chris ''Scotland's Castles, BT Batsford/Historic Scotland, 1997

External links

Coordinates: 55°41′48″N 3°53′07″W / 55.69656°N 3.88532°W / 55.69656; -3.88532

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