Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Drochil Castle - A Regent's Folly

On 24 November 1572, James Douglas, Earl of Morton was elected Regent of Scotland.

Drochil 1788
Drochil Castle in 1788
Drochil 18
Drochil Castle photographed in 2018

Morton had solicited the support of Queen Elizabeth of England and a week after his election he wrote to her:

"The knowledge of your Majesty's meaning has chiefly moved me to accept the charge of Regency, resting in assured hope of your favourable protection and maintenance."

Morton was an English puppet and relied upon the close support of Elizabeth. However, his nemesis came on the 31st December 1580 when he was accused of complicity in the murder of Darnley and beheaded* – a ploy to remove him for, as he justly complained, many others had 'airt and pairt' in that affair!

His office had allowed him access to the public purse and with this boost he began to construct a palatial residence for himself in remote Peeblesshire. So it was that 10 miles from the town of Peebles itself – Drochil Castle was built and its arrival was heralded as such:

"This mighty earl, for the pleasure of the place and salubrity of the air, designed here a noble recess and retirement from world business."

James Douglas Earl Of Morton
James Douglas
Earl of Morton

However, three years after the building of Drochil began Morton was dead. It is often stated that Drochil was never finished but this canard can be dismissed as it was in use for dispensing justice in the 1580s and thereafter. Perhaps, however, the decoration and embellishment of the internal rooms, such as the grand gallery, was never completed and one could speculate that the formal gardens with their associated water features, along with the hunting park, lay unrealised from the plans.

Drochil was a 'white elephant' and no member of the extended Douglas family ever chose to live there and by 1670 it was roofless.

Drochil Corridor Entrance
LEFT: Drochil's central corridor, a unique feature for a Scottish castle more commonly seen in France
RIGHT: Entrance with the 'hearts, mullets and fetterlock' of Morton on triangular pediment

Its Z-plan is unique in Scotland for its design reflects that of France with a central corridor linking the rooms. It is unfortunate that such an important part of Scottish heritage has been allowed to fall into irretrievable ruin.

* Morton was beheaded by the 'Maiden' a crude form of guillotine ironically introduced to Scotland by Morton himself. It is now on view in the National Museum of Scotland , Edinburgh

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 04 Aug 2019 Updated: 16 Oct 2023
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