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Issue 75 - Uncrowned King of Scotland

Scotland Magazine Issue 75
June 2014


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Uncrowned King of Scotland

Charles Douglas visits Melville Castle, Midlothian

His statue, created by Francis Chantray and Robert Forrest, stands on a 150-foot high plynth designed by the architect William Burn in St Andrews Square in Edinburgh. It depicts a man who in his liftime was referred to as “The Uncrowned King of Scotland”, “Harry the Ninth”, and “The Great Tyrant.”

The fourth son of a dynasty at the heart of Scotland's legal establishment, the political career of Henry Dundas saw him become member of Parliament for Midlothian, Home Secretary, then the United Kingdom's first Secretary of State for War in the Government of William Pitt the Younger. It ended with his impeachment for misappropriating public funds. Although totally exonerated, he never held public office again.

A central player in the Scottish Enlightenment, in opposing the abolition of slavery and in the expansion of British influence in India, Henry Dundas in 1765 married Elizabeth Rannie, the 14-year old daughter of Sir David Rannie, a shipbuilder who had amassed a great fortune trading with the East India Company

The Dundas family at Arniston and the Rannies, who had purchased the Melville estate in 1762, were neighbours and when Sir David died in 1767, his estate and fortune passed to his ambitious, and some might say unscrupulous Edinburgh lawyer son-in-law.

Although the couple went on to have four children, it was not a happy marriage and Elizabeth, left on her own for long periods in the country, embarked upon an reckless affair with a Captain Faulkener. She was rapidly divorced and cruelly forbidden to see her children ever again, dying aged 97 in 1847.

In 1793, Dundas married as his second wife Lady Jane Hope, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Hopetoun, and in 1802 he was created Viscount Melville. He died aged 69 in 1811.

Of course, all of this was in the background when in 1791, Henry Dundas commissioned the eminent contemporary architect James Playfair to demolish an existing tower house and design for him a castellated mansion in Georgian style principally for the purpose of entertaining on a grand scale.

The Melville Castle estate is situated some fifteen miles from the centre of Edinburgh, and records indicate that in the reign of King Malcolm IV, it was owned by Galfrid de Malleville, an Anglo-Norman knight who was appointed Sheriff of Edinburgh and Governor of Edinburgh Castle. The property remained in his family until the reign of King Robert II when, through marriage, it passed in 1371 to Sir John Ross of Halkhead.

Thereafter, the castle was owned by the Ross family over several generations, and in the
16th century was associated with David Rizzio, the Italian Secretary of Mary Queen of Scots, who retained an apartment in the original tower to indulge the popular diversion of the day – hunting.

From the early part of the 19th century comes the following ballad, but sadly the name of the author or composer remains unknown:

O Willie's gane tae Melville Castle,
Boots and spurs and a'
To bid the ladies a' fareweel, before he gaed awa',
Willie's young and blythe and bonnie
Loved by ane and a'
O what would all the laddies do
When Willie gaes awa'

The first he met was Lady Kate
She led him through the ha'
And wi' a sad and sorry heart she let the
teardrops fa',
Beside the fire stood Lady Gray,
Said ne'er a word of a'
She thocht that she was sure of him
Before he gaed awa'.

The ben the hoose cam' Lady bell,
“Guid troth ye need na craw,
Maybe the lad will fancy me and disappoint
ye all”,
And doon the stair tripped Lady Jean,
The flo'er amang them all,
“O lassies trust in providence,
Ye'll get guid husbands all.”

When on his horse he rade awa',
They gathered round the door,
He gaily waved his bonnet blue, they set up
sich a roar
Their cries, their tears brought Willie back,
He kissed them ane an a',
“O lassies bide till I cam' hame
And then I'll wed ye all!”

From the 18th century, subsequent generations of the Dundas family remained at Melville Castle until after the Second World War when the 9th Lord Melville moved into a smaller house on the estate and leased the castle to the army as a rehabilitation centre. It was later transformed into an elegant hotel but sold in the late 1980s and allowed to fall into serious disrepair.

In 1993, with collapsing floors and severe dry rot, the remaining estate was bought by William G. Hay, and the castle has since undergone a major restoration to once again become the elegant building that it had been in the past.

William Hay describes himself as being primarily a property developer and therefore had never really contemplated becoming a hotel owner. It began when he spotted the ‘For Sale’ sign on the gateway. To begin with he decided that it would be taking on too much of a challenge but nine months later he made and offer and it was accepted. Things happen in one’s life,” he says. “And it just happened.”

William had known Melville Castle well in the 1970s in its previous existence as a hotel, but he now found it boarded up and, despite a preservation order from Midlothian Council, on the brink of being condemned.

There were virtually no floors and the roof was open to the sky. William's original intention was to divide the rooms up into apartments and to lease them out for holiday homes, but it was such massive task to make things right to begin with that almost everything had to be put on hold until the building was made watertight.

After a massive expenditure, however, things began to take shape and Melville Castle Hotel has eventually re-opened with Lorenzo Menghini as the General Manager.

Today, with seven elegant public rooms and thirty two bedrooms of various sizes (including six attractive 2-storey gallery rooms), Melville Castle provides a fine and luxurious event venue available to hire for Scottish weddings, corporate meetings, team building, and private functions.