Monday, May 30, 2011

Borthwick Castle again

Aunt Jean’s clippings continue to yield treasure. Among them she preserved an article by H. Drummond Gauld in the Weekly Scotsman, Saturday, November 6, 1926, on page 10, entitled “Scotland’s Ancient Strongholds. VII.—Borthwick Castle.” It goes into considerable detail, and points toward numerous qualities obviously still encoded in the DNA—of which the most important I have noted with italics:

“The seeker after relics of the old feudal days finds much to entrance him in a journey from Edinburgh to Carlisle, for the train in its journey south speeds through scenes where some of the most thrilling episodes in Scottish history have been enacted. Long ere the indented crest-line of the Pentlands fades from view, from the moment, in fact, that Criagmillar’s donjon-keep dips down behind the trees, a land of hills and moors is entered upon, a land of brawling burns and mystic glens where peace holdeth an everlasting sway and the only sound that breaks the silence are the splash of brooks, the bleat of sheep, and the lowing of kine, the call of the plover and the wild scream of the curlew—soothing sounds one and all of the open, lonely spaces of Nature. There, from many a rocky knoll, battlements of towers and castles hoary raise their stately outlines to the soughing winds of heaven, lending an atmosphere of dignity and romance, as only an ancient stronghold can, to the wide-spreading prospect.

“Borthwick Castle stands upon a peninsular knoll anciently designated the Mote of Langwarret formed by a bend of the North Middleton Burn and the Gore Water, which latter gives name to the neighbouring town of Gorebridge. The Mote originally belonged to Sir Willian de Hay, and ancestor of the Marquis of Tweeddale, from whom it was purchased by the first Lord Borthwick, who founded the castle.

“Borthwick superseded a less pretentious edifice called Catcune, the ruins of which stood but a mile or two away upon the beautiful banks of the Gore. This was the residence of the Brothwick family before it rose to power and eminence in Scotland. During their term of comparative obscurity, and while resident in lone Catcune, they promiscuously bore the titles of Catcune, Legertwood, and Heriot-Muir before they assumed the title of Borthwick of that ilk. We have here, therefore, an illustration of an ancient feudal estate taking its name from its progenitor and not, as was more commonly the case, the lands giving a title or surname to the holder.

Massive Stronghold.

“About the end of the fourteenth century there lived in the castle of Catcune a knight named Sir William Borthwick, who is recorded as having been a person of great parts, distinguished as an ambassador on certain important negotiations and concerned in most of the public transactions of his day. Him King James I. created Lord Borthwick some time previous to 1430.

“On June 2 of that year my lord of Borthwick was empowered under the Great Seal to erect on the Mote of Lochwarret a castle or fortalice and to surround it with walls and ditches. Then, on this position of strength, uprose the massive walls of Borthwick Castle which became the chief seat and title of the family. Such was the origin of a stronghold that it is reputed to be one of the finest specimens extant of that once numerous class of Scottish feudal castles which consisted of a single donjon or keep.

“The castle rises from an embattled courtyard of irregular shape, fully eighty yards in length, with an average breadth of forty yards. The curtain-walls—especially on the west side—where the castle was without any natural barriers of defence—were of immense strength. The angles were defended by massive towers and bastions, that flanking the gateway being drum-shaped. It was thirty-five feet in diameter, and as twenty-five of these were taken up with solid masonry the central chamber measured only eleven feet in diameter. This tower had a basement and first and second floors, all of which were furnished with large horizontal portholes, evidently intended for musketoons. The same species of embrasure perforate the western curtain. The moat of Borthwick is gone, but the spot where it existed may yet be traced. Gone likewise are the drawbridge and the massive portcullis bars.

The Grand Hall

“The arrangement of the interior chambers of the cistle is very simple, as they are all rectangular and parallel with the outer walls. Five well-stairs, constructed in the thickness of the walls, lead to the different apartments. The walls themselves are from ten to fourteen thick, and this amazing mass of stone and mortar is maintained but with little diminution throughout their entire height. They raise from a plain plinth, and are terminated by strong corbels upon which rests a low parapet. Their height, from base to parapet, is ninety feet, but if the altitude of the roof be taken into account the entire perpendicular of the structure is fully one hundred and ten feet.

“The great outstanding internal feature of Borthwick Castle is the grand hall, every corner of which is replete with the remains of pristine splendour. This spacious apartment, which is situated on the first storey and occupies the entire area of the principal building, is fifty-one feet long and about twenty-four feet in breadth. It is covered by a pointed barrel vault nearly thirty feet above the level of the floor. Here, in very sooth, a knight on horseback erect upon his stirrups might turn a spear with all the ease imaginable.

“The whole splendid chamber is of the finest ashlar work. There is evidence of the roof having been painted with such devices as occur in old illuminations, as over one part of it are still legible in Gothic characters the legend, ‘Ye Temple of Honor.’

One noteworthy feature of the great Hall is its magnificent fire-place, a cavernous recess measuring nine feet wide by three deep. How merry were the fires that blazed there in the days of old, when the Gore was solid in the grip of the ice and wild winds raved adown the Vale of Loquhariot! Near the fireplace is a ‘sedile’ or seat of honour for the master of the castle, with an enriched canopy and shield bearing the arms of my lord of Borthwick.

“’Twould take long to relate of the splendours of this noble keep, of The Lady’s Bower and The Minstrels’ Gallery, of Earl Bothwell’s bedroom and the newel stairs to the towering battlements, of the chapel, the drawingroom, the garderobes and the garrison quarters, of the draw-wells, the corkscrew stairs and the dungeons.

Royal fugitives.

“There is scarce a castle in braid Scotland whose history we investigate but the name of that most hapless of all queens, Mary of the Scots, leaps into a prominent place. Her lot was a sad one, her end tragic, and yet after an imprisonment so close and fraught with danger as to have worn down the spirit of the most courageous men, she, a woman, fared forth to death at the end of it all with a calmness and serenity that merits the greatest admiration.

“You remember that after the murder of Darnley at Kirk o’ Field and the marriage of Earl Bothwell to the Queen, the confederate Lord Argyle, Morton Lindsay, Athol, Glencairn, and many others with their retainers marched to Stirling with the ostensible purpose of protecting the child Prince James, who was in ward in the castle there under the Earl of Mar. While they put that face upon their doings insurrection was really the work they contemplated. When all was in readiness they marched forth upon Edinburgh town hoping to swoop suddenly upon Holyrood and seize my lord of Bothwell in his lair. They were baulked by a traitor in their ranks, Argyle, whose hands, like Bothwell’s, were red with Darnley’s gore. The regicide, having been privately warned, fled in hot haste, and with him went the Queen.

“So at nightfall, when the wind howled around the Mote of Lochwarret and all was dark in the valley, came Bothwell and Mary spurring fast to the Castle of Borthwick. My lord, now fully alive to the intentions of his associates, saw that he must either fight or perish. Bracing himself to face the alternative, he left Mary under the charge of Lord Borthwick, and fared forth to Melrose to summon the Borderers to his standard. But even with his own vassals he was thoroughly out of favour, and found to his chagrin that Lord Home had forestalled him and had drawn the men of Liddesdale into the field against him. Soured and disappointed, he turned his weary steed northwards again, and rejoined the Queen at Borthwick.

The Queen’s Escape.

“Then on a warm night in June in the year 1567 there was the galloping of horses about stately Borthwick, the muffled tramp of infantry and the clash of steel; but, as his foes came surging on, Bothwell slipped out by a secret postern gate among the trees, and, with none to guide his footsteps across the Gore and through the woods save the Master of Crookston, fled away into the darkness.

“On the night following the escape of Bothwell a cavalier, booted and spurred, stole forth from his chamber unattended and, gliding stealthily down a turret staircase by a torch’s spluttering light let himself down from a window in the banqueting hall. You may see the place to this day. Though the height cannot be less than eighty and twenty feet the cavalier reached the ground in safety, and, passing through the same low postern by which Earl Bothwell had escaped, vanished into the gloom of the night-enshrouded wood. Thus escaped Queen Mary of Scots from foe-leaguered Borthwick.

Cromwell’s Assault.

“Nearly a hundred years passed away after that adventurous night of flight, and then once more the battlements of Borthwick looked down upon the hosts of a foe. As the fifth Lord Borthwick had been a faithful adherent of Queen Mary, his great grandson, John, the eighth lord of the line, was a supporter of King Charles during the Civil War. After the unfortunate battle of Dunbar in 1650, and while the troops of Oliver Cromwell were devastating the Lothians, Borthwick Castle held out right gallantly, and the garrison employed themselves to the last in annoying the enemy.

“And so the black muzzles of the cannon belched down destruction on the brave old pile, blowing in the wall and forcing the garrison to capitulate at last. Whether by fortune or by the advice of spies, Cromwell directed his artillery against the very part of the wall which was most likely soon to yield to his cannonade, there being a chimney at that place which renders the masonry less thick than it is throughout the rest of the building. Here is a copy of the summons which the stern Protector of the conquered land forwarded by a herald or trumpeter to the garrison of the castle:—‘For the Governor of Borthwick Castle, these:—Sir, I thought fitt to send this trumpett to you, to let you know, that if you please to walk away with your company, and deliver the house to such as I shall send to receive it, you shall have liberty to carry off your armes and goods, and such other necessaries as you have. You harboured such parties in your house as have basely and inhumanely murdered our men; if you necessitate me to bend my cannon against you, you must expect what I doubt you will not be pleased with. I expect your answer and rest your servant. O. CROMWELL.’

“Notwithstanding this very characteristic and significant epistle, the Governor of Borthwick, supposed to have been Lord Borthwick himself, held out the stronghold until the cannon were opened upon it and then surrendered it upon honourable terms.

“‘The masons wha biggit yon auld grey wa’s haena sair heid the day.’ So spake an amiable ploughman as he and his team went jingling down the hill-road upon their homeward way. The homely phrase bore in upon my mind, and as the dusk deepened and the towering ramparts frowned ever darker upon the valley they had sentinelled for full five hundred years, my mind was filled with awe and veneration. The diligent hands that had fashioned that lofty keep, laboriously piling stone upon stone till the mighty battlements were attained at last and the task was done, were comingled with their native earth long centuries ago, and yet the inanimate structure they had reared, a structure more like a creation of Titans than of puny men, still stands upon the grassy Mote, macking their little lives in seeming imperviousness to the passage of the ages.”

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