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Scotland > Scottish Borders and the Lothians CRAIGMILLAR CASTLE



Postcode: EH16 4SY

Lat/Long:  55.925888N 3.140889W

Notes:  Found in the suburb from which it takes it name, the site is located on Craigmillar Castle Road. There is a small dedicated car park for visitors.


An impressive late fourteenth century Tower House which was significantly expanded into a castle in the mid-fifteenth century. On a clear day Edinburgh Castle is visible from the ramparts.

VISIT OFFICIAL SITE (Opens in new window)

Castle is managed by Historic Scotland.


1. The original Tower House at Craigmillar is similar in some respects to David's Tower at Edinburgh Castle. This had been constructed in the 1360s and was contemporary with the period when Sir Simon Preston was Sheriff of Edinburgh. It is likely it influence the design of the Craigmillar Tower.

Craigmillar Castle Layout. The castle started as an ‘L’ plan Tower House. Around 50 years later it was then enclosed by a substantial curtain wall. Dovecot Tower, the Chapel and the garden walls were added in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Initially a Tower House which was later significantly expanded, Craigmillar Castle was built by the Preston family. With its proximity to Edinburgh it became a favoured residence of Mary, Queen of Scots and it was here where the Earls of Argyll, Bothwell and Huntly had originally planned to kill her husband, Lord Darnley.


The earliest parts of Craigmillar Castle were built in the late fourteenth century by Sir Simon Preston. His family hailed from Preston Tower in East Lothian and he had acquired the Craigmillar estate from William de Capella in 1374. He constructed the four storey Tower House which was configured in the traditional style; storage vaults at ground floor, the Laird's Hall on the first and his accommodation of the floors above. It was an 'L' plan structure from the start with a fully integrated Stair tower providing access to the upper levels. The Tower's entrance was also part of this section with the arched access protected by two doors - one of which was probably an iron yett. In front of the door a rock cut ditch, covered with a removal wooden bridge, provided additional defence whist a small slit in the wall adjacent to the door enable visitors to be scrutinised prior to entrance.

The castle was significantly expanded during the fifteenth century with the construction of the curtain walls, the corner turrets and the East Range which probably replaced the Laird’s accommodation in the main Tower House. The West Range was also built around this time and may well initially have served as the Great Hall – the administrative centre of the castle.

In 1567 the castle became embroiled in the events surrounding the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (husband and consort to Mary, Queen of Scots). The Earls of Argyll, Bothwell and Huntly resolved to murder Darnley and he was invited to visit Craigmillar where the conspirators planned to execute their plan. Perhaps sensing danger he opted to stay in his town house instead but on the night of 9 February 1567 it was blown up. Darnley seemingly survived the explosion but was found strangled outside the burning building. These actions severely undermined Mary's reign and her subsequent marriage to Bothwell, one of the leading conspirators, was the end. Her key magnates rose in rebellion against her and on 15 June 1567 at Carberry Hill near Edinburgh she surrendered to her opponents. Escorted by the then owner of Craigmillar - Sir Simon Preston - she was taken to Lochleven Castle where she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, James. Whilst she escaped and rallied her forces she was defeated at the Battle of Langside, fought on 13 May 1568, and fled to Carlisle Castle in England. Bothwell fled abroad to Norway hoping to enlist the support of Frederick II of Denmark but the King imprisoned him in miserable conditions for the rest of his life.

After Mary’s reign the Preston family slowly drifted into obscurity and the castle was eventually sold to Sir John Gilmour in 1660. He was a lawyer who prospered during the reign of Charles II rising to become President of the Couirt of Session. To mark his new status he substantially rebuilt the West Range and the outer courtyard but by the mid-eighteenth century his descendants found the castle unsuitable for their needs and moved to Inch House in Gilmour instead. By 1775 the site was recorded as ruinous and it remained that way until taken into State care in 1949.

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