Not a member?
Register and login now.

Issue 85 - Sentinel to a Turbulent Past

Scotland Magazine Issue 85
February 2016


This article is 2 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.

Copyright Scotland Magazine © 1999-2018. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.

Sentinel to a Turbulent Past

Charles Douglas visits Borthwick Castle in Midlothian

With its twin towers and haughty appearance, Borthwick Castle retains a formidable sense of defiance as it rises boldly against the Midlothian landscape. Situated only a few miles from the small hamlet of Gorebridge, off the A7 between Edinburgh and Galashiels, it dates from the 15th Century and gained its main notoriety when the 25 year old Mary Queen of Scots took refuge here for three weeks in 1567 following her ill-fated elopement with the 4th Earl of Bothwell. Some buildings resolutely withstand the test of time and although five centuries have since passed, Borthwick Castle remained under the ownership of the noble Borthwick family until very recently, albeit leased out as a luxury venue which rightly capitalizes on its colourful past. With its great stone hallway, towering ceilings and thick stone walls, the interiors provide an uncompromising time-warp into an age of knightly chivalry, betrayal and romance.

There is an apocryphal legend that the Borthwicks arrived in Scotland with Julius Caesar's Legions. However, an Andreas Borthwick, who is thought to have originated from Hungary, does appear to have accompanied the fugitive Saxon prince Edgar the Aetheling and his sister Princess Margaret to Scotland from England in 1061. In doing so, he was well rewarded by Margaret's future husband, King Malcolm IV.

In August 1330, a young William Borthwick was among the group of Scottish knights chosen by Sir James, Lord of Douglas to escort the embalmed heart of King Robert I to the Holy Land and happily was among the survivors after they were diverted to fight in the Battle of Teba in Andalusia. In 1357, the battle scarred William received a Charter for the lands of Ligerwood, near Lauder. In the following century, the family acquired land in Midlothian.

The castle seen today at North Middleton was erected on the site of an earlier structure and became the Borthwick family's ancestral seat. In 1452, another Sir William - created 1st Lord Borthwick for having been sent to England as a hostage for the ransom of the young James I - obtained a license to erect a castle or fortalice. Well-preserved medieval effigies of himself and his lady can be seen in the nearby parish kirk of St Kentigern, which retains a 15th Century aisle also thought to have been built by him.

Borthwick Castle was originally a stone enclosure fortress centred on an unusually tall tower house with walls up to 14 feet (4.3m) thick and 110 feet (34m) in height. The design is 'U-shaped' with a 12 foot (3.7 m) gap between the projecting, slightly asymmetrical, towers. A surrounding defensive courtyard originally stood with round towers, each pierced with shot-holes at the corners. Apart from the large cannon scar on one face, the fine sandstone ashlar walls are virtually complete; unusually, none of the original narrow windows have been enlarged.

The battlements, which are carried on massive projecting corbels with corner roundels, have lost their stepped crenelations and no longer survive to their original height. However, the tower retains two arched doorways, both unaltered. One, at ground level, leads into the partly subterranean kitchen and storage vaults. The second is straight above it at first-floor level and leads directly into the stone-vaulted Great Hall, where the entrance is approached by a reconstructed stone bridge.

The magnificent Great Hall is 40 feet (12m) long and the barrelled Gothic ceiling is painted with pictures of the castle; the words 'De Temple of Honor' are also visible, written in Gothic characters.

The Borthwicks consistently supported the Royal House of Stewart and fought and died with James IV at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. The 4th Lord Borthwick was charged with the protection of the infant James V and became Governor of Stirling Castle. John, 5th Lord Borthwick, was a loyal supporter of Mary de Guise when she governed Scotland on behalf of her infant daughter Mary, Queen of Scots and in turn, John's son William (the 6th Lord Borthwick) became the young Mary’s close friend and confidant.

It was at Borthwick Castle that the Queen and her newly acquired third husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, took refuge in June 1567. The couple had not been at the castle long before they were told that Lord Morton and the Queen's half-brother, the Earl of Moray, were advancing on the fortress with a thousand men. They intended to arrest Bothwell and bring him to trial for the murder of Mary's second husband Lord Darnley, which had occurred six months earlier.

Leaving Mary to face her outraged lords, Bothwell rapidly departed for Dunbar to raise an army of his own. However, she refused to allow him to be implicated (although he undoubtedly was) and told the force surrounding the castle that he had already left. While Morton and Lennox were busy re- appraising the situation, she escaped through a window in the Great Hall disguised as a pageboy and rode off to meet up with Bothwell.

In 1650, the castle was attacked by Oliver Cromwell's forces during his invasion of Scotland, but surrendered after only a few cannon shots were fired; Lord Borthwick and his retinue were permitted to vacate the castle unharmed. Thereafter, the direct line of Borthwick male succession failed and the title became dormant. It was momentarily restored in 1762 and then, following two centuries of family disputes, once again confirmed by the Lord Lyon King of Arms in 1986.

In the interim period, the Borthwicks relocated to a more suitable family residence nearby and as a result, their Castle remained largely uninhabited until 1914. During World War II it was used as a repository for national treasures and in 1973 was leased and converted into a hotel, its magnificent medieval setting serving as an ideal backdrop for romantic wedding receptions. It was later sold.

In June 2013, the castle was closed for an extensive refurbishment. There are now 11 uniquely designed bedrooms with lavish en- suite bathrooms and magnificent, yet intimate, lounge and dining areas. Guests can enjoy exclusive use of the castle and its surroundings for holidays, family celebrations and events. With private hire comes a dedicated castle team to provide a highly professional service and personal touch.

Atmospheric and picturesque, this care- worn and precious survivor of Scotland's historic wars and turbulent past is a place to unashamedly immerse yourself in the glories of the past and to celebrate the future in style.

Visitor Information

Borthwick Castle
North Middleton
EH23 4QY

Tel: +44 (0) 1875 820 514