Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Dryburgh Abbey - a Mecca for English attacks

Scotland's abbeys were not immune from attack by the English, especially along the Scottish border.

All the border abbeys – Melrose, Kelso (which underwent a regular siege), Jedburgh and Dryburgh – were at one time or another destroyed by English armies. In fact, their present appearance has much to do with their regular ‘visitor’, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford better known as ‘Protecter Somerset’. He acted on the orders of Henry VIII but in spite of his efforts to subdue Scotland he was expelled by their French allies in 1550.

His nemesis came in 1552 when his nephew, Edward VI, decided that his head would look much better detached from his body.

Dryburgh Abbey north transept in 1788 – much the same state as now
The heavily bullet-marked Dryburgh Abbey north transept, the burial place of Sir Walter Scott and Earl Haig

Dryburgh was first destroyed in 1322 when Edward II’s soldiers, retreating from Scotland, vindictively set it on fire when its bells rang in celebration. Edward was later murdered in Berkeley Castle.

It took 60 years to restore just in time for Richard II in 1385, after another unsuccessful invasion of Scotland, to camp his army in its grounds. They left the following day leaving Dryburgh ‘devastated by hostile fire’.

The damage was extensive, probably disastrous. Richard later appeared to have felt some remorse but his nemesis came when Henry IV (no remorse) had him starved to death in Pontefract Castle.

Dryburgh Abbey's Chapter House with beautiful 'dog tooth' detail

In 1523 the Earl of Surrey plundered the Scottish borders – Kelso and Jedburgh Abbeys were torched followed by Dryburgh.

In September 1544 Edward Seymour (see above) attacked Dryburgh with ‘great damage done’.

A detached vault boss, St Andrew, Patron Saint of Scotland – AWOL when wanted?

This misfortune was followed by an even greater one for on Friday 4th November 1544 Sir George Bowes arrived from England with 700 horsemen – the surprise was complete. His troops set about pillage and destruction. An account sent to Mary of Guise related that the English had:

Burnte the town and abbey, saving the church, with a great substance of corn and gote very much spoilage and they tarried so long at the said burning and spoilage that it was Saturday at eight of the cloke at nycht or they come home.

The town of Dryburgh and its abbey were never rebuilt.

After such a history it is surprising that anything of Dryburgh remains. Signs of its destruction are everywhere and nowhere more noticeable than the walls of the north transept which are pock marked by musket balls – it certainly deserves its place alongside our Scottish castles.

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 04 Jul 2022 Updated: 13 Oct 2023
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