The ruined remains of an early fifteenth century Tower House that was significantly upgraded and enhanced in the subsequent decades. Of particular note is the elaborate facade in the courtyard that was inspired from continental designs.
Notes: The castle is sign-posted from the A68. Proceed along the B6367 to Crichton village and continue to follow the signs onto an unnamed road that leads to Collegiate Church. Car parking is just beyond.
Courtyard Facade. The elaborate courtyard facde was added by Francis Stewart in the late sixteenth century no doubt inspired by his continental travels.
Stables. The building outside the castle is often mistaken for a ruined chapel - in actual fact it was used as stables.
Crichton Collegiate Church. Construction of this building started around 1440 by William Crichton possibly on the site of an earlier church.
Overlooking the River Tyne, Crichton Castle was originally built as a Tower House and subsequently expanded into an impressive quadrangular structure. Three powerful families - Crichton, Hepburn and Stewart - all owned the castle at various periods but each forfeited the estate when they rebelled.
HISTORY OF CRICHTON CASTLE
Crichton Castle has existed as a barony since at least the late twelfth century but the fortification itself was not started until circa-1400. At this time John de Crichton was granted the barony by Robert III and probably raised the Tower House in common with the contemporary trend favouring this type of lordly residence. The tower would have been surrounded by various ancillary buildings including a bakehouse, brewhouse, kitchen and stables. All would have been encircled by a curtain wall.
Upon John's death, Crichton passed to his son, William, who became a key advisor to James I. In 1432 he was appointed as Master of the King's Household and later became Sheriff of Edinburgh and Keep of Edinburgh Castle. James was assassinated in 1437 but William continued to prosper and in 1439 he became Chancellor. In 1440 he orchestrated the 'Black Dinner' where he sought to curtail the powerful Douglas Clan. William Douglas, Earl of Douglas was invited to Dinner at Edinburgh Castle and, after a cordial meal, a bulls head was presented indicating he had been sentenced to death. Douglas, along with his brother, were seized and executed without trial. This prompted a retaliatory attack in 1444 by James Douglas, Earl of Douglas who besieged William in Edinburgh Castle and probably also attacked Crichton Castle at this time. William was removed as Chancellor but was back in favour by 1447 when he was created Lord Crichton. The following year he was made Chancellor once more and in 1452 was present at Stirling Castle when James II murdered the Earl of Douglas. Concurrently with these events, Crichton Castle was being substantially upgraded. A Great Hall was added to the north of the Tower House around 1440 as was a new integrated kitchen.
William died in July 1454 and the castle passed to his son - James, Earl of Moray - but he passed away just one month after his father. His son, William, inherited but soon came into conflict with James III. He supported a rebellion headed by Alexander, Duke of Albany by garrisoning Crichton Castle. The revolt failed and William fled to Tain after which Parliament confiscated his estates and properties including Crichton Castle. Subsequently James III granted Crichton Castle to John Ramsey, a Royal Councillor. However, the King was defeated and killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn (1488) and John fled to England. The new King, James IV, seized his lands and granted them to Patrick Hepburn, Lord Hailes. Crichton was paired with Bothwell Castle, which was also granted to Hepburn, to create the Earldom of Bothwell.
Crichton Castle was attacked in 1559 by forces opposed to the Catholic Mary of Guise, widowed Queen of James V. James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell remained loyal to Mary despite a significant number of Protestant Lords planning her overthrow. He intercepted a convoy carrying significant financial support sent by Elizabeth I of England to the Protestant Lords. In retaliation they besieged Crichton and capture the castle subsequently garrisoning it with their own troops. Bothwell himself barely escaped capture.
James would be the last member of his family to own Crichton Castle. Although tried and acquitted, he was widely suspected of having been involved in the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots) in February 1567. Possibly with the connivance of the Queen, the discredited Hepburn kidnapped Mary on 27 April 1567 and took her to Dunbar Castle where she agreed to marry him. The couple proceeded to Edinburgh where they were married on 15 May 1567. But this spelled the end for Mary’s regime with key magnates rising in rebellion against her. On 15 June 1567 at Carberry Hill near Edinburgh she surrendered to her opponents and was imprisoned in 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 (1568) and fled to Carlisle Castle and subsequently a long imprisonment in England. Bothwell fled abroad to Norway hoping to enlist the support of Frederick II of Denmark but in his absence was found guilty of treason and forfeited his estates - including Crichton - and was eventually imprisoned in Dragsholm Castle. He spent 11 years there and was never released ending his days in dreadful conditions.
After Bothwell's forfeiture, Crichton Castle was granted to Francis Stewart and he later gained the Earldom. He made extensive modifications to the castle including adding the distinctive courtyard facade; a feature inspired by his travel on the continent in his younger years. His political career was defined by an anti-English stance, including promoting an invasion of England and murdering a pro-English courtier. Accordingly he spent some time as a prisoner at Edinburgh Castle but was ultimately released. In 1591 when he was accused of trying to kill the king by witchcraft and ultimately convicted of treason in February 1595. He fled abroad and died in poverty in Naples. Crichton Castle itself ceased being a major residence at this time and, in the seventeenth century, was sold for its building materials. The remains became a forgotten ruin until the writings of Sir Walter Scott re-kindled interest.