HERMITAGE CASTLE, TD9 0LA
Postcode: TD9 0LA
Lat/Long: 54.9337N 3.9595W
Notes: Located around 8km north east of Newcastleton, Hermitage Castle is sign-posted. A large lay-by provides parking for approximately a dozen cars.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
An impressive stone Tower surrounded by extensive earthworks set in very picturesque scenery including a river side setting. The remains of the church that served the castle are also in the immediate vicinity.
1. Sir William Douglas, Knight of Liddesdale, had been overlooked by King David II for the post of Sheriff of Teviotdale. In revenge he seized the appointed Sheriff, a Sir Alexander Ramsey, and starved him to death at Hermitage. The King, too weak to oppose such a powerful magnate, appointed Sir William as Sheriff.
Hermitage Tower Layout. The first stone structure was Lord Dacre’s small central stone tower but this was quickly augmented by successive members of the Douglas Clan. The precise layout of the earthworks surrounding the castle, particularly the extent of the Outer Bailey, is not fully understood.
Situated on a key route into Scotland, Hermitage Castle has been described as the 'guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain'. Originally built by a Norman settler it was taken by the English during the Wars of Independence, seized by the Douglas clan and was the scene of a Royal scandal between Mary Queen of Scots and the Earl of Bothwell.
HISTORY OF HERMITAGE CASTLE
The de Soules family had invaded England with William the Conqueror and were substantial landowners in Northamptonshire. In the early twelfth century Ranulf de Soules was one of a number of key Normans that David I of Scotland invited to his court; Ranulf was appointed as butler to the King and was granted the lordship of Liddesdale in which Hermitage is sited. He initially built Liddel Castle around 1115 but his descendant, Lord Nicholas de Soules, relocated his main resident to the site of Hermitage Castle in 1240. This was an earth and timber structure and although the precise configuration of this initial structure is unknown, the absence of any evidence of a motte or stonework from the period suggests it was probably in an earth-and-timber ringwork fort. Nicholas was one of the claimants for the Scottish throne which was eventually settled by Edward I of England on John Balliol. The subsequent Wars of Independence that broke out in 1296 resulted in Hermitage Castle being captured by Edward I and being placed under the control of Sir John Wake. But Edward I died in 1307 and the war ultimately ended with Robert the Bruce being recognised as Robert I of Scotland. At this time Nicholas de Soulis earlier claim to the throne had severe implications for his family - his son William forfeited the castle in 1320 when he was accused of the attempted murder of Robert I (the Bruce) and imprisoned for life in Dumbarton Castle. Robert granted Hermitage to his illegitimate son, Sir Robert Bruce.
A peace treaty was signed between England and Scotland in 1328 which instructed the restoration of property in Scotland originally owned by English Lords. Hermitage fell under this category based on Sir John Wake's occupation in 1296 but, despite the treaty, the Scots initially refused to handover the castle. Eventually it was handed to Sir Ralph de Neville from Northumberland but his ownership was short-lived; in 1338 Sir William Douglas, Knight of Liddesdale seized the castle. Shortly after William was also a prisoner after his defeat and capture at the Battle of Neville's Cross (1346) - taken to the Tower of London he forged a treasonous pact with the English to allow access for their armies through Liddesdale. Upon learning of the agreement David II sought to divide and control; he immediately confiscated the castle and granted it to William's godson, William Lord of Douglas. At the Battle of Ettrick Forest (1353), the forces of the two Williams met resulting in the death of the Knight of Liddesdale. However it would be a further eighteen years before the victor finally obtained possession of Hermitage. After the battle the widow of Sir William Douglas, Knight of Liddesdale married Lord Hugh de Dacre who took possession and around 1360 replaced the old timber castle with by a more substantive stone structure, a fortified manor house. In 1371 he seems to have relented and passed the castle to William.
William started an extensive building programme and rebuilt Hermitage Castle into a Tower House; the central tower of the current day ruins. His son, George Douglas, Earl of Angus made further modifications by adding the four towers on each corner. It remained with the family until the late fifteenth century when Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus - whom James IV suspected of treason with the English - was ordered to exchange the castle for the less strategic Bothwell Castle. Patrick Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell and a loyal follower of the King became the new owner of Hermitage Castle.
Patrick's descendants however were less loyal. James V confiscated Hermitage Castle for a period as did Mary Queen of Scots. During this period in State ownership various modifications were made including adding gunholes. The family recovered the castle but they remained notorious - by 1566 James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell was rumoured to be the lover of Mary, Queen of Scots. This rumour was fuelled in October when, hearing that James had been wounded in a skirmish and taken to Hermitage, she road out at night to see him. Less than a year later he was implicated in the murder of her husband Henry, Lord Darnley. As Mary’s regime destabilised – and following her abdication following her the defeat at the Battle of Carberry Hill (1567), Bothwell fled Scotland for Scandinavia. Whilst trying to raise an army he was arrested and imprisoned at Dragsholm Castle in Denmark where he remained held in appalling conditions until he died (allegedly totally insane). Hermitage Castle itself was taken into State ownership.
The castle was restored to the Bothwell family by James VI but was once again seized in 1594 when it was sold to Sir Walter Scott - an ancestor of the later writer and an individual who had gained fame for leading an attack on Carlisle Castle to rescue Willie Armstrong of Kinmont. But these were the twilight years of the castle - with the Union of the two Crowns in 1603, the role of Hermitage as a border fortress declined and it drifted into ruin.