Craigmillar Castle was originally a Tower House which was later significantly expanded into a substantial fortification. 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 assassinate 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 a traditional manner with storage vaults on the ground floor, the Great Hall on the first and high status accommodation of the levels above. It was an 'L' plan structure 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 entrance was a dry ditch, covered with a removable wooden bridge, whilst a small slit in the wall adjacent to the door enable visitors to be scrutinised prior to entrance. The design of the Tower House was similar in some respects to David's Tower at Edinburgh Castle, which had been constructed in the 1360s, and would have been well known to Sir Simon Preston who held the post of Sheriff of Edinburgh. It is likely it influenced the design of the Craigmillar Tower.
Craigmillar 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 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, Darnley opted to stay in his town house within Edinburgh but, on the night of 9 February 1567, this was blown up. Darnley seemingly survived the explosion but was found strangled outside the burning building. Mary's subsequent marriage to Bothwell, one of the leading conspirators, destabilised her regime. 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 thereafter fled to Carlisle Castle and a long exile 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 Court 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 reportedly ruinous.
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Craigmillar Castle consists of the remains of a late fourteenth century tower house with substantial modifications that converted it into a major fortification in the 1450s. On a clear day Edinburgh Castle is visible from the ramparts.
Craigmillar Castle Layout. The castle was 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.
Craigmillar Castle. The castle is still dominated by the original Tower House that was at its core.
Outer Curtain Wall. The outer curtain wall enclosed a courtyard and incorporated a round tower that also served as a Dovecot. Note the splayed gunport enabling flanking fire along the wall.
Inner Curtain Wall. The Inner Curtain Wall was a substantial structure. Round towers, equipped with gunports, dominated the corners whilst the parapet level was corbelled. It is not clear who built this major addition but it was probably constructed in the mid-fifteenth century.
Tower House. The original Tower House was built in the late fourteenth century.
Pleasure Garden. The earthworks adjacent to the castle are the remains of a seventeenth century pleasure garden.