Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Blackness Castle (Lothian) - Past and Present

Blackness Castle stands on a rocky outcrop on the southern shore of the River Forth near Linlithgow in West Lothian.

The tall tower that dominates the site was built in 1449 by George Crichton, Admiral of Scotland. Four years later the castle changed hands when Crichton's son unwisely sided with the Earl of Douglas in his quarrel with King James II. That energetic monarch soon appeared before Blackness and within two weeks his artillery had battered it into submission. Blackness became a royal castle and the king transformed it into one of the strongest fortresses in Scotland.

Blackness Castle (1)
Blackness Castle's tall tower was constructed in 1449 with its battlements being built much later in the 1920s.

The round staircase tower was added in the late 17th century when Blackness was converted to a State Prison

In 1650 the Scottish garrison at Blackness presented an obstacle to Cromwell, hindering his crossing of the Forth. He attacked it by land and sea and the garrison capitulated. The extensive damage caused by his cannon is still visible on the walls today.

Blackness Damage
The damage done to Blackness Castle by Cromwell's cannon can still be seen. The whiter stones lower right indicate replacement masonry

Blackness was repaired to serve as a State Prison. Under the Act of Union of 1707 it was nominated as one of the four fortresses in Scotland to be perpetually maintained and garrisoned – along with Edinburgh, Stirling and Dumbarton.

By the 19th century Blackness was redundant but found a new lease of life as an ammunition depot. The castle was mutilated, walls were cut down and the courtyard roofed over. In 1874 the military decamped and the redundant depot passed into the care of the Office of Works who embarked upon a 'heavy handed' restoration.

Blackness Jetty
Jetty for landing munitions with 19th century barracks either side of the medieval tower
Blackness 1870
Blackness as an ammunition depot photographed in 1870 – note hipped roof covering reduced central tower

A popular venue for films, Hamlet, Outlander and Mary Queen of Scots have been shot at Blackness Castle. It is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland .

Blackness Colours
Scottish colours captured by Cromwell

Painting by SCA member Brian McGarrigle from originals on show in the British Library


Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 27 Aug 2019 Updated: 16 Oct 2019
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