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Postcode: ML11 9PN

Lat/Long:  55.696339N 3.886632W

Notes:  Castle is sign-posted and accessed via a single track road that connects with Southfield Road near Tillietudlem. There is a small car park overlooking the castle.


A sixteenth century Tower House surrounded by contemporary artillery fortifications. The castle was slighted in the late sixteenth century and is now ruinous. The caponier, one of the first of its kind in Scotland, is accessible.

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Castle is managed by Historic Scotland.

Caponier. Derived from the Italian word capannata, meaning 'little hut', the aim of the caponier was to allow the defenders to fire on anyone attempting to cross the ditch. The implementation at Craignethan was flawed as the field of fire from the gun ports was too narrow and the caponier poorly ventilated.

Inside the Caponier. The cramped conditions within the caponier would soon have made it intolerable for the defenders as it would have quickly filled with thick smoke.

Scotland > Argyll, Clyde and Ayrshire CRAIGNETHAN CASTLE

Craignethan Castle was an artillery fortification that, at the time of its construction in the 1530s, incorporated the very latest military concepts including a caponier. Embroiled in national events during the turbulent reign of Mary, Queen of Scots the castle was ultimately slighted and went out of use after just 50 years.


Craignethan Castle was built by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart who was an illegitimate son of James Hamilton, Earl of Arran. A committed Catholic he served under James IV and was knighted in 1513 before his master's death at the Battle of Flodden. He then supported Regent John Stewart, Duke of Albany during the minority of James V and this included extensive travelling abroad in France and Italy. With the death of his father in March 1529, Finnart became guardian of his legitimate half-brother - James Hamilton, Earl of Arran (and later Duke of Châtellerault). His rise to power continued and he was assigned as Master of the King's Works where he used his continental experience to enhance multiple sites including Blackness Castle, Falkland Palace and Stirling Castle. He also built castles for himself - Cadzow and Craignethan were started around 1532 - with the latter designed from the start as an artillery fortification.

Situated some six miles north-west of Lanark, Craignethan was built upon a rock bluff overlooking the confluence of the River Nethan and Craignethan Burn. This steep scrap protected it on three sides whilst a deep ditch provided defence for the west. At the base of this ditch was a caponier - a feature common in later fortifications but state-of-the-art in the mid-sixteenth century. Such defences, the name of which was derived from capannata (little hut), enabled enfilading fire along the base of the ditch. It was perhaps a little too revolutionary for it lacked sufficient ventilation for the early firearms used within and was replaced with a transverse wall at the other end of the ditch. Despite these impressive defences, the defensive nature of the castle was undermined by the high ground that overlooked it from the west - described by one contemporary as "situate in a hole, and commanded on every part".

Finnart's career came to an abrupt end in July 1540 when he was arrested and accused of plotting against the King. It was alleged he had designed a throwing machine and had attempted to kill James V whilst at Linlithgow Palace with a projectile. He was placed on trial, convicted and beheaded in short succession. The castle, along with the rest of Finnart’s possessions, was taken into Crown ownership. When James V died in 1542, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran became Regent. He restored his former half brother's estate to his heir with the exception of Craignethan Castle which he kept for himself. The castle was only ever a secondary residence for him however; his main seat was at Kinneil House (on the line of the Antonine Wall).

In 1554 Arran was replaced as Regent by Marie de Guise, mother to Queen Mary. He continued to be involved in Scottish politics however and was briefly exiled in 1566 for opposing the Queen's marriage to Lord Henry Darnley. By the time he returned in 1567, Mary's regime had collapsed and she was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle where she had been forced to abdicate. He aided her escape and hosted her at his castles of Craignethan and Cadzow on her way to the secure fortress at Dumbarton. However she was intercepted and her forces defeated at the Battle of Langside on 13 May 1568. Due to his support for Mary, Craignethan Castle was attacked and captured by James Stewart, Earl of Moray who was Regent for the young James VI. His hold was brief - Lord Claud, third son of the Earl of Arran, re-captured the castle utilising siege apparatus seized from the Government. Claud provisioned the castle for a counter-siege but the Government lacked the ability or energy to dislodge him. This was a mistake for 23 July 1570 Claud launched an attack from Craignethan that intercepted and killed Regent Moray at Linlithgow.

In May 1573 the fall of Edinburgh Castle ended the final resistance in support of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Hamiltons came to an uneasy peace with the Government but it was only fleeting - the Catholic family ultimately fell foul of the Protestant regime of James VI and were forfeit in 1579 with the surviving members fleeing to England. Craignethan Castle was slighted to prevent further military use.

John Hamilton (later Marquis of Hamilton), along with a number of other exiles and with the support of Elizabeth I, raised an army and invaded Scotland in 1585. Rather than fight, James VI capitulated and rescinded Hamilton's forfeiture. Despite Craignethan's defences having been destroyed, the Tower House remained in use and was probably occasionally occupied by the Marquis. It was sold to Andrew Hay in 1659 who built the new range in the Outer Courtyard. In 1815 the castle became famous as the inspiration for Tillietudlem Castle in Sir Walter Scott's novel Old Mortality.

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The outer bailey including Andrew Hay’s house on the left. Note  the high ground beyond the main gate which fundamentally undermined the defensive features of the castle.