Originally a fortified manor house, Hailes Castle was upgraded into a substantial fortification by the Hepburn family. It was attacked twice by Henry Percy (Hotspur) and seized by the English during the Rough Wooing. Later Mary, Queen of Scots briefly stayed at the castle just before her marriage to James Hepburn. Following their downfall, the fortification was neglected and fell into ruin.
Hailes Castle was raised circa-1220 by Hugo de Gourley, a Northumbrian Knight, and occupied a position near the wealthy borough of Haddington which was on the main road between Edinburgh and England. The fortification was built upon a rock bluff overlooking the (Scottish) River Tyne but, as the site was in close proximity to higher ground, it was clearly never intended for defence against a well equipped army. The castle acquired its name due to the associated manor being called 'Hall' which became corrupted overtime into Hailes. The original fortification occupied around half of the footprint of the later castle with the original parts being the eastern tower and the curtain wall running along the rocky cliff edge.
The de Goulay family were retainers of the Balliols and accordingly, during the Wars of Scottish Independence, supported John Balliol. He was one of the many claimants for the Scottish throne following the death of Alexander III and his grand-daughter, Margaret Maid of Norway. Edward I of England was invited to arbitrate and he chose John whom he hoped would be a pliable vassal. However, the new Scottish monarch refused to co-operate with demands for troops to serve in Edward’s continental war and accordingly the English King invaded and quickly defeated Balliol at the Battle of Dunbar (1296). Scottish resistance continued and Edward I was obliged to invade again in 1298. The de Goulays augmented the defences at Hailes at this time but, when the English army entered the region, the key fortresses in the area - Dirleton Castle and Yester Castle - soon fell to the invaders. Records mention a further castle captured at this time and this is believed to refer to Hailes Castle.
If Hailes was one of the fortifications captured, it was recovered by the de Goulay family soon after. They continued to support the Balliol cause although, following the defeat of Sir William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk (1298), it seemed as though the English intent was to keep the Scottish throne vacant. The situation changed in 1306 when Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne. Edward I's timely death in 1307 afforded Bruce the opportunity to consolidate his power before achieving a decisive victory at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314). Due to their support for the deposed Balliol family, the de Goulays forfeited Hailes Castle which David II later granted to Sir Adam Hepburn.
Over the next hundred years, the Heburns made numerous upgrades to Hailes Castle including adding the west tower and a substantial curtain wall. This upgraded structure was sufficiently robust to withstand an assault in 1400 by the Northumberland magnate Henry Percy (Hotspur). A further attack the following year was also repulsed. However, the defences proved less successful in 1443 when Archibald Dunbar overwhelmed them and massacred those inside. Nevertheless the castle was recovered by the Hepburns who, by this stage, had become prominent figures in Scottish politics. In 1488 Patrick Hepburn was created Earl of Bothwell.
In July 1547 the castle was involved in the War of the Rough Wooing. John Borthwick, Lord Borthwick was appointed by the Regent to hold Hailes Castle against both the English and its then owner, Patrick Hepburn, who opposed the Scottish regime. However, following the English victory at the Battle of Pinkie (1547), the Lothian was occupied by the invaders and Hailes Castle was seized. An English garrison was installed under the command of Lord Grey of Wilton although the castle was re-captured the following year and eventually returned to the Hepburns.
The last member of the family to own Hailes Castle was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. He gentrified the castle by expanding the residential structures including adding the Tower House. However, James had a chequered career. 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 Earl kidnapped Mary on 27 April 1567 and took her to Dunbar Castle where she agreed to marry him. The couple proceeded via Hailes Castle to Edinburgh where they were married on 15 May 1567. However, 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 in England. James went abroad to Norway hoping to enlist the support of Frederick II of Denmark but the King imprisoned him within Dragsholm Castle. He was never released and spent the last ten years of his life chained to a pillar in total misery. His Scottish properties, including Hailes Castle, were forfeited.
Over the subsequent years Hailes passed through numerous owners including the Stewart and Seton families but both neglected the property. Furthermore, Oliver Cromwell ordered the structure to be slighted to prevent its use against Commonwealth forces following his victory at the Battle of Dunbar (1650). By the early eighteenth century the then owner, Sir David Dalrymple, had built a new residence - named "Newhailes" - and the old castle was left to ruin. Its final owner was Arthur Balfour, former Prime Minister, who bequeathed it to the nation in 1926.
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Hailes Castle consists of the remains of a small castle dating largely from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. It is located on the banks of the River Tyne.
Hailes Castle. The castle occupied a position on top of a rocky bluff overlooking the River Tyne.
Curtain Wall. The remains of a substantial curtain wall protected the front of the castle but only a portion of it now remains.
Main Block. The hall block was added by the Hepburns after they took control of the castle in the fourteenth century.
Thirteenth Century Castle. Portions of the early thirteenth century castle built by Hugo de Gourley are incorporated in the eastern tower and the curtain wall that runs along the rocky bluff.