Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Bothwell Castle Reconsidered

Bothwell Castle Gate

Donjon, Prison Tower and Postern with masonry 'junction'

Allan Rutherford and John Malcolm have challenged the accepted chronology for the construction of Bothwell Castle *.

Conventional wisdom (much influenced by Douglas Simpson) holds that the building of Bothwell was interrupted by the outbreak of the Wars of Independence in 1296. All that had been achieved by this date was the Donjon (or Moray Tower) with its northern wing wall and the southern wall as far as the prison tower. The large outer enclosure with its gatehouse and associated wall towers got no further than their base courses.

Bothwell saw much action during the wars with the castle 'repaired' by the English in 1336 only to be destroyed by the Scots in 1337. Bothwell then lay in ruin until 1362 when Archibald Douglas began its reconstruction. Much of what we now see dates from this period.

Is this the true sequence of events? No, according to the authors. They claim that a close examination of the masonry reveals that the 13th C work is not confined to the Moray Tower and its appendages but also to the southern curtain wall as far as the later, 15th C round tower. Further, the lower courses of the square northeast tower also belong to original build. They envisage the outer enclosure fortified by wooden defenses mirroring the projected plan.

Bothwell Castle Stone Face

Douglas Arms above Postern - inserted?

Simpson had argued that there was a 'masonry junction' immediately to east of the postern gate and that this represented a change from the 13th C wall to that of the 15th. Additionally, the plaque over the postern with the Douglas arms could not be earlier than the reoccupation of the 1360s.

The authors counter (see the attached pictures) stating that the so-called ‘junction’ is, in fact, a frame around the gate and that quoins clearly link this element to the curtain wall running to the east. The Douglas arms are an addition as the 'snecking’ of the masonry surrounding the plaque and its uneven bedding prove.

In conclusion we must now imagine a greatly enlarged Bothwell with the unfinished circuit completed by timber defenses upon the projected foundations.

* Scotland's Castle Culture

Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle

Added: 29 Feb 2012 Updated: 28 Mar 2018
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Comment by: David Campbell on Fri, 6th Apr 2012, 11:29 amRef id: 14

Very interesting article. What a castle this must have been when it was complete. One of Scotland's finest.

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