CESSFORD CASTLE, TD5 8EG
Postcode: TD5 8EG
Lat/Long: 55.507706N 2.414081W
Notes: Located several miles east of Jedburgh, the castle is near the hamlet of the same name. Accessed via an unnamed road off the B6401 there are no signs. Off road car parking is just about possible.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
A ruinous ‘L’ shaped Tower surrounded by much depleted earthworks. A small fragment of the outer curtain wall also remains. The castle is unstable and access to the interior is prohibited. An few interpretation boards tell the story of the castle.
1. In 1679 James, Lord Somerville recorded that his ancestor – John Somerville, Baron Carnwath – had been invited by his cousin, Sir Robert Kerr, to Cessford Castle the same day they received news of the death of King Robert II. This would suggest the castle was in existence no later than 1390 but the account is dubious; firstly as it was written so long after the event and more so as the Kerr’s did not take ownership of Cessford until 1446. The first historical reference to the castle was made in 1453.
2. The final member of the Kerr family to live at Cessford Castle, Sir Robert Kerr, was raised to Lord Roxburgh in 1600 and in 1616 was made Earl of Roxburgh. His descendants latter became Dukes in recognition of their support for the Act of Union (1707).
Cessford Castle. The ‘L’ shape and deep walls - in places 4 metres thick - can be seen from this aerial photo.
A heavily fortified tower house reflecting its proximity to England and also its notorious border reiver owners, Cessford Castle was embroiled in both clan feuding and wars with the English. It was abandoned in the seventeenth century as its owners, rich from property seized during the Reformation, moved to more comfortable lodgings.
HISTORY OF CESSFORD CASTLE
Although an earlier fortification may have existed on the site, the first known castle at Cessford was built around 1450 by Andrew Kerr. Although effectively a Tower House, its proximity to the English border mandated extensive defences; in some places the walls were almost 4 metres thick (severely limiting the interior space) and the entire site was enclosed by a ditch and curtain wall. It was constructed in an ‘L’ shaped configuration with a rectangular tower, which included storage facilities and the Great Hall, augmented by an accommodation wing.
The strong defences of Cessford Castle are partially explained by the activities in which the Kerr family participated. They were notorious border reivers making their fortune through theft, robbery and violence that defined the lawless border region. This led them into regular feuds between other clans and different branches of their own. In particular they quarrelled with the Kerrs of Ferniehurst and also became embroiled in a feud with the Scotts of Buccleuch resulting in several like-for-like attacks during the mid-sixteenth century.
It wasn’t just Scottish forces that attacked Cessford – the castle saw regular action against the English during the reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-47). During this time Scotland declared war on the English in support of their ‘Auld Alliance’ with France. Culminating in the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Flodden (1513) in which James IV of Scotland was killed resulting in an extended period of instability in Scotland as various magnates vied to fill the subsequent power vacuum. The English sought to capitalise on the situation resulting in the Scottish Borders being regularly occupied by English forces. In 1519 Cessford Castle was reportedly attacked and burnt. The damage was clearly repaired for they attacked again in May 1523 when the castle was besieged by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The then owner was Sir Andrew Kerr, Warden of the Marches who surrendered the stronghold after a sustained artillery assault but he had delayed the English force sufficiently for their assault on Southern Scotland to have lost impetus. Although returned to Scottish hands, twenty years later the English attacked again burning the castle at last twice during the Rough Wooing (1543-50) – an attempt by Henry VIII to force a marriage between his son, Prince Edward (later Edward VI) and Princess Mary (later Queen of Scots).
The Rough Wooing became irrelevant by 1550 and peace was restored by the Treaty of Norham (1551). Soon after the Kerrs prospered from the Scottish Reformation which saw them acquire vast swathes of land from Kelso Abbey. However these were the twilight years for the castle as in 1603 the Union of the Crowns brought a lasting peace to the border - at least from large armies. As James VI (and I of England) sought to suppress the border reivers the then owner of Cessford, Sir Robert Kerr, sought to distance himself from the illicit activities of his descendants preferring to live within the law through income from his newly acquired estates. He sought more comfortable lodgings elsewhere and abandoned Cessford in 1607 with his descendants later building the mansion house known as Floors Castle.