Probably built on the site of an earlier fortification of Clan Gordon, Greenknowe Tower itself was constructed in 1581 for James Seton. Designed to be a residence rather than a fortification, it was only lightly defended. It later passed through the hands of multiple owners including the Pringle, Faiholm and Dalrymple families.
Greenknowe Tower was built in the late sixteenth century by the Seton family although the site itself may well have been fortified much earlier. The area was originally owned by the de Gordon family (today the village is known as Gordon) who were Norman immigrants that had been encouraged to settle in Scotland by King David I of Scotland (1124-53). The King saw this as a means to bring his country firmly under his rule for they brought with them their castle building skills and constructed fortifications in their allocated territories. The Gordons supported Robert the Bruce during the first War of Scottish Independence and prudently moved north into Aberdeenshire (where they built Huntly Castle).
The area passed through marriage to Alexander Seton in the late fifteenth century. His grandson, James Seton, built the Tower seen today in 1581 as a home for himself and his new wife, Jane Edmonstone. Constructed in the form of an 'L plan' tower house it was four storeys tall (five storeys in the Stair Tower) with elegant angle turrets albeit these were decorative rather than a practical defensive measure. A few gun-loops were installed for defence against small bands of raiders whilst a single wooden door, augmented by an iron yett (gate), provided access. The Tower would have been surrounded by supporting ancillary buildings including a brewhouse, bakehouse and stables.
In 1637 the estate of West Gordon was purchased by Walter Pringle of Stichel. His son, another Walter, was a Covenanter who was briefly imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle and regularly fined for his non-conformist views during the reign of Charles II. Thereafter the tower and estates passed to Adam Faiholm through his marriage to Isobel Pringle in 1720. It remained with their descendants until 1840 when it was sold to the Dalrymple family. By this time the tower itself had been abandoned and had become derelict. It passed into State care in 1937.
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Greenknowe Tower is an ‘L’ shaped Tower House that, whilst ruinous, has been relatively well preserved and is possibly built on the mound of an earlier fortification. Footings of a former out building are also visible and the original Iron Gate (also known as a Yett) is still in place.
L Plan. The castle was an L-plan structure with the four storey main block augmented with a five storey stair wing.