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Issue 18 - Queensbury's jewels

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 18
January 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Queensbury's jewels

Charles Douglas visits Drumlanrig, in Dumfriesshire

The view from the hill is of rolling Dumfriesshire hills surrounding a plateau upon which sits a magnificent, quadrangular castle built of pink sandstone. Steeped in romance, this is Drumlanrig, home of the ninth Duke of Buccleuch and 11th Duke of Queensberry.

Surrounded by the 120,000 acre Buccleuch Estate, and grand Victorian gardens, the building, which has been described as “the most glorious residence in the British Isles,” was completed in 1691 by William Douglas, first Duke of Queensberry, who is said to have so appalled at the tremendous costs he incurred that he could not bring himself to move in.

His son, the second Duke, had no such inhibitions, but was rather more preoccupied with drawing up the Act of Union between Scotland and England, thus creating one single parliament for the two nations. There are those who think it ironic, therefore, that Queensberry House, the second Duke’s town house in Edinburgh, has been incorporated into the revived Scottish parliament building which opened two months ago.

Throughout the centuries, many of the old families of Scotland have either lost their lands or have disappeared altogether. Not so the Scotts of Buccleuch (Newark Castle, Bowhill, Dalkeith Palace ) who married into the fortunes and estates of both the English Montagu family (Boughton, Northamptonshire) and Scottish Douglas family (Drumlanrig), and who have consistently cultivated and administered their properties with integrity and skill, pioneering new trends in agriculture and forestry.

Their crowning glory is to be seen at Drumlanrig, the interiors of which today housethe finest collection of furniture, paintings, china and silver in Scotland, not least among them items inherited through the marriage of Anne Scott, aged 12 (who became Duchess of Buccleuch in her own right) to the 14 year old Duke of Monmouth, the ill-fated natural son of King Charles II and Lucy Walter, who was herself a descendant of King Edward I of England.

The positioning of this great house, built on a former defensive keep, is blatantly strategic. Situated in close proximity to the River Nith, and north of Dumfries, it shields the fertile plains of Ayrshire to the West from invasion from the South.

For 13 generations from the 14th century it passed unbroken from father to son until the death of the third Duke of Queensberry in 1778. And once the great Scottish architect Sir William Bruce, and James Smith, son-in-law of the King’s Master Mason, Robert Mylne, had both had a go at it, what a legacy it turned out to be.

The entrance into the front hall is from a horseshoe staircase under colonnades. The entrance hall features fine oil paintings, a magnificent French long case clock, a rare Italian statuette and 17th century chairs set against a background wall covering of Douglas Hearts stamped on gilded leather. The Douglas Heart motif recurs in the centre of the fire place, and above is a section of tapestry needlework believed to have been worked by Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was imprisoned in England.

The morning room is situated in the south east corner of the castle, and here can be seen the much-admired portrait by John Merton of Jane, the present Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry, when countess of Dalkeith in 1957. On the opposite wall is the portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, one of several versions by Van Dyck.

Next on the tour is the oak staircase with a balustrade adorned by eight curved giltwood sconces in the style of Thomas Chippendale (d.1779). On the wall are Holbein’s Sir Nicholas Carew and Rembrandt’s Old Woman Reading. An equestrian portrait of King William III, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, still bears traces of damage inflicted by the supporters of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (The Young Pretender) when he
invited himself to Drumlanrig on his retreat northwards in 1745.

The oak panelled dining room was originally the entrance hall, with access from the courtyard through the large oak studded door between the two fireplaces. Above these are wood carvings believed to be by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721). Gibbons worked extensively for Anne, duchess of Monmouth and Buccleuch, at Moor Park and at Dalkeith Palace.

Next is the bedroom occupied on 22nd December 1745 by Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The four poster bed is of Indo-Portuguese origin and dates from the late 17th century. The set of William and Mary high back chairs by Daniel Marot have Hungarian pattern needle work thought to have been worked by Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch, herself.

Hanging over the fireplace in the ante-room is Allan Ramsay’s portrait of Archibald, third Duke of Argyll. Opposite is a large 17th century Flemish ebony cabinet with gilt metal work, probably brought over by the duke of Monmouth. There is a wife Anne, Duchess of Monmouth and Buccleuch, and to the left, one of William, first Duke of Queensberry, while to the right is his son James, second Duke, with his wife Mary, signed by Sir Godfrey Kneller. The tapestry here was woven in Brussels in the late 17th century and shows an extensive river landscape with a group of leopards sporting in the foreground, with flowering plants, trees, building and hills beyond.

In the well proportioned drawing room, with its Grinling Gibbons carvings, there are two French cabinets of outstanding merit believed to have been presented by King Louis XIV of France to King Charles II, who in turn gave them to his natural son, Monmouth. Both were made for the Palace of Versailles c.1675. A cabinet almost identical to the larger is now on display in the Paul Getty Museum, USA, while the smaller boasts a companion in the Wallace Collection, London.

The glass fronted, Boulle style cabinets c.1800 contain items of porcelain, including a version of the well known Meissen Monkey Band, and the Dresden Tailor Mounted on his Goat. The Boulle table with red tortoiseshell and brass inlay and the kneehole writing tables are of Louis XIV period. The crimson velvet settees belonged to Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth, and bear her monogram.

The white bedroom is the final room to be seen on the tour of the house. Portraits here include Mary, duchess of Buccleuch by de Laszlo 1932, and Catherine (Kitty), Duchess to third Duke of Queensberry (1701-1777) by Jean Baptiste Van Loo c.1730. The latter duchess risked exclusion from court because of her backing for John Gay, her secretary, whose plays were considered rather too scandalous for popular consumption.

For lovers of great antiquities, the interiors of Drumlanrig are a treasure trove not to be missed. Unfortunately, in August 2003, thieves posing as tourists stole Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna with the Yarn-winder from the wall beneath the staircase, thus obliging Buccleuch Estates to introduce a rigorous range of security measures which, under the circumstances, visitors will surely understand. They do not, however, detract
from the enjoyment of a visit.

And if gardening is your specific interest, the ongoing restoration of the Victorian gardens is well in hand. Working closely with seed collector Alan Clark, the Earl of Dalkeith, the heir to the dukedoms, and Drumlanrig’s head gardener Robbie Black, have introduced new areas of rhododendron plants with seed collected from the wild in China and the Himalayas.

The country park also provides visitors an opportunity to enjoy the countryside with waymarked walks, cycle routes and a visitor centre. The farmland, woodlands, lochs and rivers around the castle provide suitable habitats for a wide variety of wildlife, and a Ranger Service operates from the stable yard adjacent to the castle.