Most of the masonry has been removed from Roxburgh Castle but extensive earthworks remain and the views over the Rivers Tweed and Teviot are impressive. Floors Castle is not a defensive fortification but a stately home set in extensive grounds.
Floors Castle Estate Entry
Notes: Roxburgh Castle is not sign-posted but easy to find as it is directly adjacent to the A699. There is a small lay-by next to the access point for the site. Strong footwear is recommended! Floors Castle is a major tourist attraction and well sign-posted but, if visiting the castle rather than the tearoom, ensure you use the Kelso entrance detailed above.
Floors Castle was built by John Kerr, Duke of Roxburghe in 1721. Between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries the Kerrs (originally from Cessford Castle) had been notorious border reivers who had made their fortune through theft, robbery and violence in the lawless border region. However, when James VI of Scotland also became King of England, the Government took steps to suppress the border reivers. The head of the family at that time, Sir Robert Kerr, sought to distance himself from the illicit activities of his ancestors and, having profited from the Scottish reformation in which he acquired vast swathes of land from the suppressed Kelso Abbey, instead lived off income from his estates.
The Kerrs abandoned the stronghold of Cessford Castle in 1607 and moved to a more comfortable residence at the site of Floors Castle which had formerly been owned by Kelso Abbey. Their new home was known as the House of Floris and, although details of this structure have not survived, it was probably some form of Tower House.
In 1707 the then owner, John Kerr, actively supported the Act of Union and was rewarded by being created Duke of Roxburghe. To reflect his new status, he demolished the House of Floris and built Floors Castle. Despite the name, this new structure had no defensive features - it was a country house built to a symmetrical design devised by William Adam, an Edinburgh architect. The site was extensively remodelled and 'romanticised' by William Playfair between 1837 and 1847. It is now open to the public.
A key border fortress on the River Tweed, Roxburgh Castle was built by David I of Scotland but changed hands on multiple occasions. James II was killed whilst besieging the site and it was subsequently stormed and demolished. Floors Castle, the stately home of the former border reiver Kerr family, stands nearby.
HISTORY OF ROXBURGH CASTLE
Roxburgh Castle, also known as Marchmount Castle, was built by King David I of Scotland no later than 1125 (the year it was first mentioned in records). At this time parts of northern England were under Scottish control and construction of Roxburgh was doubtless an attempt by that King to cement his authority in the region. The configuration of the castle at this time is not known but it was superbly sited. The River Tweed ran further south than it does today and would have been as close to the castle as the River Teviot is to the south-east. Furthermore, at some stage in the castle's history, the River Teviot was partially dammed effectively meaning the castle was surrounded on all sides by water filled defences. A curtain wall would have surrounded the summit of the escarpment on which the castle was built and would have been augmented by towers one of more of which may well have been a Donjon (a Keep like structure).
The castle came into English hands for the first time in 1174. Two years earlier, William I (the Lion) of Scotland had sought to reclaim Cumbria and Northumberland which had previously been under Scottish control whilst England had been distracted with the Anarchy. Henry II of England had taken them back but was distracted on the continent trying to keep his vast empire together. William invaded northern England but his campaign ended in humiliation when he was captured at the Second Battle of Alnwick (1174). Roxburgh Castle was handed to the English as part of the settlement that saw him released. English control was relatively short-lived however - it was sold back to the Scots in 1189 by Richard I to fund his participation in the Third Crusade.
Roxburgh stayed in Scottish hands for the next century and accordingly was instrumental in shaping the English-Scottish border. Although positioned south of the River Tweed, the Treaty of York (1237) defined the border based on the holdings at the time and thus Roxburgh formally became part of Scotland. For this reason the border veers south between Wark and Roxburgh rather than continuing to following the River. With the exception of Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Debatable Lands, the border as defined is essentially the one that exists to this day.
The castle came into English hands in 1291. Following the death of the Alexander III, promptly followed by his only heir (Margaret), Edward I of England had been asked to arbitrate between rival claimants to the Scottish throne. Seizing the opportunity to make the country his vassal, Edward first demanded all Scottish castles under Crown ownership were placed in his custody - Roxburgh was one of those handed over to his control. He announced his verdict at Berwick Castle on 17 November 1292 in favour of John Balliol and Roxburgh was ceded to the new King. But within a few years, John had defied Edward igniting the First War of Scottish Independence. The Scots were defeated at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) and the English overran the Scottish Borders with Roxburgh once more coming under English control.
The death of Edward I in 1307 followed by the weak and ineffective rule of his successor, Edward II, led to Roxburgh being recaptured. One by one the castles in English control in Scotland were besieged with Roxburgh being retaken in 1313. The operation was led by Sir James Douglas ("the Good Sir James") who, with sixty men, approached the castle under cover of darkness draped in black cloaks to fool the defenders into thinking they were simply cattle. They scaled the walls and surprised the garrison. The following year the defeat of a large English army at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) saw the war swing firmly in Scotland's favour and Roxburgh remained in Scottish hands for the remainder of the conflict.
The First War of Scottish Independence came to an end in 1328 but Edward III - once freed from the influence of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March – resumed hostilities in 1332. After the English victory at the Battle of Halidon Hill (1333), his forces overran the Scottish borders and Roxburgh Castle was recaptured again. English interest soon shifted to France and the Hundred Years War but the Second War of Scottish Independence rumbled on and the castle was attacked and retaken by a Scottish force led by Sir Alexander Ramsey in 1342.
The Scots made further attacks on Roxburgh in the decades that followed. In 1398 Archibald Douglas (later Earl of Douglas), sacked Roxburgh town but failed to take the castle. This was repeated in 1411 by William Douglas and in 1417 the castle itself was besieged although it withstood the attempt aided by the provision of artillery. Another siege, led by James I himself, was repulsed in 1436 and the Scottish King was then driven off by the arrival of an English force mustered by Thomas Langley, Prince-Bishop of Durham. The King fled leaving his large artillery train to be captured by the Roxburgh garrison.
Following the overthrow of Henry VI of England, James II of Scotland invaded England having been promised Berwick-upon-Tweed by the deposed Lancastrian regime. The Scottish King attacked Roxburgh Castle who deployed his extensive artillery train against the fortress. Always an artillery enthusiast, James was killed during the siege when one of the siege guns exploded. The Queen, then at Hume Castle, rushed to the scene and within a few days the young James III had been crowned at Kelso Abbey. Under the command of George (the Red) Douglas, Earl of Angus, the Scots then stormed Roxburgh killing all within. The castle was slighted to prevent any further military use.
Roxburgh remained an abandoned ruin until 1547 when it was captured by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset during the 'Rough Wooing' - an English attempt to force a marriage between Edward VI of England and Mary, Queen of Scots. The English saw success at the Battle of Pinkie (1547) and shortly after re-occupied the site of Roxburgh Castle which was rebuilt as an artillery fort perhaps not dissimilar to the arrangements at Norham Castle. However, despite having destroyed the Scottish army at Pinkie, Somerset failed to capitalise on his success and lacked resources to sustain the garrisons across Scotland needed to control the country. Peace was agreed at the Treaty of Norham (1550), a clause of which directed Roxburgh Castle to be demolished. This was duly carried out in 1551 and it was never rebuilt by either country.
Roxburgh Castle Layout. The configuration of the medieval castle is largely unknown although the River Tweed (on the left) ran significantly closer to the castle than it does today and, at some point, the River Teviot (right) was dammed to create a flooded obstacle to the south (not shown). A contemporary plan of the sixteenth century artillery fort does still exist which shows this short-lived structure was significantly smaller than the medieval castle occupying only part of the escarpment.