Borthwick Castle, Midlothian – Clan Borthwick
One of the largest and best-preserved medieval fortifications in Scotland, Borthwick Castle has played a part in the lives of many key historical figures over the years, including Mary, Queen of Scots and Oliver Cromwell.
The property is also the historical seat of the Borthwick Clan and was first given to the family in the year 1430 when it was sold to Sir William Borthwick, later the first lord. William had been given a license to build a castle on the land by King James I after he had volunteered to be a substitute hostage in the ransom of the King in the year 1425 and would do so immediately, constructing a tower which would rise to 90 feet in height. William and his wife are still remembered as the builders of the castle today and their legacy is maintained by a tomb located in the nearby Borthwick Parish Curch, which includes two finely carved stone effigies of the couple.
The castle would later serve as a home for the infant King James V as he was looked after by the 4th Lord Borthwick, following his father’s death at the disastrous battle of Flodden in 1315. It would once again act as a refuge for the Scottish monarch when James’ daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed in the castle in 1567 as she fled from Edinburgh following the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley. She stayed at the castle with Lord Bothwell, the chief murder suspect, until a 1000 strong army commanded by Scottish barons surrounded the fortification and she was forced to flee, disguised as a man, before being arrested and taken to Lochleven Castle, where she was held in captivity.
An extract of a letter addressed to the Archbishop of Glasgow at the time describes the moment that Mary escaped from Borthwick, saying, “The Lordis came suddenly to Borthwick; Bothwell fled to Dunbar, and the Lordis retyred to Edinbrough. She followed Bothwell to Dunbar, disguised.”
In the following century, the castle would come under attack from the forces of Oliver Cromwell, an assault which left scars to the castle that can still be seen to this day through a large gouge in the stonework on the east wall. During the attack, Lord Borthwick was ordered to leave his castle by Cromwell as he and his Parliamentarian forces marched through Scotland towards Edinburgh, however, the Lord refused and Cromwell opened fire, before, after a few cannonballs, he reconsidered his decision.
The threatening letter which was sent to Borthwick by Cromwell ahead of the bombardment survives to this day and states, “if you necessitate me to bend my cannon against you, you must expect what I doubt you will not be pleased with.”
The Borwick family would leave the castle around the time of this raid and the fortification would become abandoned until its restoration in the late 19th and early 20th century. It would later be used as a place for storing national records during the Second World War and has since been leased as a conference centre before becoming a modern hotel.