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Issue 11 - Floors Castle

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 11
November 2003

 

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Floors Castle

Floors Castle is dramatic and spectacular. Charles Douglas explains why and takes us on a tour

Floors Castle is one of the wildly dramatic flights of fancy which consolidated the reputation of William Playfair, architect of so many of Scotland’s more spectacular 18th century buildings.

In fact, when the house was begun in 1721, that other great Scottish architect William Adam had drawn up plans for a plain Georgian country house.

But when the 6th Duke of Roxburghe married he enlisted Playfair’s help, and under his supervision, the wings, many spires, domes and stone carvings were added, making Floors Castle look more of a fairy-tale palace than a country dwelling.

Entering through Playfair’s porte cochère on the north front, up into the entrance hall via a flight of stairs, visitors move into an oak-panelled room dominated by a majestic portrait of the 5th Duke of Roxburghe painted by Sir Henry Raeburn.

It was this duke who, as Sir James Innes of that Ilk, chief of Clan Innes, claimed the dukedom through the marriage of Lady Margaret Ker to his great grandfather.

From early times, the Roxburghe Estates were held by the Kers of Cessford, a powerful lowland Scottish family in the 16th century, whose head was responsible for maintaining law and order of the turbulent border between Scotland and England.

Some years later, the house was divided over support for Mary, Queen of Scots, and in 1600, for services to King James VI of Scotland, Sir Robert Ker was created Lord Ker of Cessford and Cavertoun, later 1st Earl of Roxburghe.

In the reign of Queen Anne, the 5th Earl rose to become Secretary of State for Scotland, and his contribution towards pushing through the Act of Union between Scotland and England in 1707, won him a dukedom. Following this, the family continued to enjoy good fortune, but towards the end of that century, romantic fate intervened to bring about the end of the line.

It is said that the 3rd Duke fell deeply in love with the German Queen Charlotte’s elder sister, but Hanovarian Court etiquette of the day decreed that it was entirely unsuitable for an older sister to become the subject of a younger sister, so the marriage was not allowed. Heartbroken, the couple pledged themselves to celibacy.

In 1812, the House of Lords recognised Sir James Innes as heir-general to the Roxburghe dukedom. But it had taken him 10 years to win and he had spent a fortune, so he was forced to sell the contents of the magnificent Roxburghe library collected by his predecessor.

The new Duke was now 76 years old and childless, which might have meant another line coming to an end.

But Clan Innes has a reputation for dogged determination. It was therefore not altogether astonishing that when he was over 80 years of age, his young wife should give birth to a son and heir.

This child inherited the dukedom from his father at the age of seven, and it was he who called on the services of William Playfair.

Today Floors Castle retains a large collection of fine paintings. In the hall are landscapes by Van Uden, Peter Tillemans, William Wilson and Jacob Ruisdale. The anteroom contains a celebrated early 16th century Brussels tapestry, and portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Godfrey Kneller and Norman Hepple.

In the sitting room there is a fine view of Floors by William Wilson dating from 1809, which shows the original rectangular William Adam design. While in this room, visitors are encouraged to look through the window where some 400 yards from the Castle, stands a holly tree marked with a white post.

This is the spot where, in 1460, King James II of Scotland was accidentally killed by an exploding canon while laying siege to Roxburghe Castle.

The most impressive room, in my opinion, is the drawing-room, which features a magnificent set of late 17th century Brussels tapestries brought to Floors by Duchess May, the American wife of the 8th Duke.

These are known as the ‘Triumphs of the Gods’ and depict classical scenes. The room is furnished with a Louis XV gilt suite of eight chairs and a settee covered in Beauvais tapestry with scenes from La Fontaine’s Fables. This same Duchess decorated the tower room which she modelled on a room at Versailles.

There are fine displays of porcelain and more impressive portraits. The 6th Duke began a collection of stuffed birds, and Playfair designed a room especially for them.

In the grounds, a great attraction is the walled garden 500 yards west of the castle. Floors has for many years been famous for carnations and the castle is self-supporting in flowers, fruit and vegetables.

While he welcomes many clan and family members, the 10th Duke admits to being rather indolent about clan business.

Although he is de jure 30th chief of Clan Innes, the Lyon Court will not recognise him until he drops the name Ker. As his estate and title came from the Ker side of his family, he is understandably reluctant to do this.

In the meantime, this most likeable and approachable of aristocrats is developing the various diversions of his estate, encompassing horse riding, fishing, archery, golf, and the Roxburghe Hotel, which provides weekend instruction on how to be a Scot.

Learn how to Scottish country-dance, toss the caber and eat haggis. It’s fun. Believe me, I have tried it out for myself.