Working for the future
The survival of this majestic castle is testimony to a heroic campaign of restoration. John Goodall describes the development of the building and plans for the future
John Goodall looks at the heroic campaign of restoration at Thirlestane Castle, Berwickshire
There have been Maitlands at Thirlestane since the mid 13th century. The family formerly occupied what is today a ruin about two miles from the present castle at Old Thirlestane. This became the seat of the so-called Barony of Blyth, which was constituted by charter in 1563/4. The foundation of Thirlestane Castle followed some 30 years later at the hands of Sir John Maitland. In the 1580s, he enjoyed a brilliantly successful Court career and was appointed to the offices of Secretary of State, Keeper of the Great Seal and Chancellor of Scotland.
Sir John bought the Barony of Blyth from his father in 1581 and added to it, in 1586/7, an adjacent plot of land called Castlehill. This was probably the site of a 12th-century castle and—more certainly—the site of an artillery fort built in 1548 by the Duke of Somerset (and demolished two years later). his intention was almost certainly to create a new residence here and work to this was presumably under way when, in 1590, he was created Lord Thirlestane at the Coronation of Anne of Denmark as James VI’S queen.
Lord Thirlestane’s castle forms the core of the present building. It was laid out on a rectangular plan with a drum tower at each corner and a series of smaller turrets rising up the sides of the building (Fig 1). In The Border Towers of Scotland 2 (2014), Alastair Maxwell-irving points to a depiction of the building on a 1590s map by T. Pont as evidence that it had conical roofs on the towers and some kind of tower above the entrance front. It was designed with services in a vaulted basement and with its principal apartments on the first floor.
Work to the new castle was almost certainly completed in 1593/4, when a new charter united all Lord Thirlestane’s possessions and dignified them as the free lordship, barony and regality of Thirlestane. The castle would be next transformed after the paroxysm of the Civil Wars in the 1670s by his grandson, the earl and later Duke of Lauderdale. Born in 1616, Lauderdale was a formidable scholar and bibliophile with particular interests in history and theology.
Fig 1 above: The 1590s core of the castle was a rectangular block with drum towers at each corner. Fig 2 right: The castle today