Bothwell Castle

Had all gone smoothly, Bothwell would have stood amongst the most formidable fortified sites in Europe. Nothing of its intended size would be considered again in Scotland until the construction of Fort George, the largest and most powerful artillery fort in Northern Europe, over 500 years later. War, however, has a habit of laying waste the best-laid plans, in this case Scotland’s Wars of Independence (1296–1357).  In spite of this, the antiquarian W.D. Simpson described the red-hued ruin as “the grandest piece of secular architecture that the Middle Ages have bequeathed to us in Scotland.”

The castle home to two of Scotland’s great families, the Murrays and the Douglases, both of which were on the front lines of Scotland’s feudal wars. Bothwell was besieged by a 6,800-strong force of Edward I’s men in 1301. A huge siege tower was specially constructed in Glasgow for the task, and the castle fell to its assault. However, Robert the Bruce’s guerrilla tactics left it increasingly isolated; it held until after Bannockburn, when panicked English nobles retreated behind its walls in the wake of the Scots’ victory. It was fated to once again be held by English troops under Edward III, who made Bothwell his Scottish headquarters. In a bittersweet twist of fate, it fell to Andrew Murray, descendant of the castle’s founders, to tear it down so it could never be of use to the enemy again.

The Douglases assumed up the mantle, with Archibald ‘the Grim’ giving the castle much of its current shape. By the 1500s, however, its glory days had passed and it was abandoned in the late 17th century in favour of a more fashionable country house. As a testament to Bothwell’s strength, the mansion house has long since vanished – 800 years later, however, and the old castle is still one of the most formidable in the realm.

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