Hermitage Castle

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Hermitage Castle
Near Newcastleton, Roxburghshire, Scotland
GB grid reference NY495960
Hermitage Castle 06.jpg
Hermitage Castle
TypeFirst phase: motte and bailey
Second phase: tower house/keep with barmkin
Site information
OwnerHistoric Scotland
Open to
the public
ConditionPartially ruined
Site history
BuiltFirst phase: c.1240
Second phase: mid 14th century
Built byFirst phase: Nicholas de Soulis
Second phase: William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas
In useUntil 1705
MaterialsFirst phase: timber
Second phase: stone

Hermitage Castle is a semi-ruined castle in the border region of Scotland. It is under the care of Historic Scotland. The castle has a reputation, both from its history and its appearance, as one of the most sinister and atmospheric castles in Scotland.


Origins of the name[edit]

It is thought that the name derives from Old French: l'armitage – guardhouse. The castle was known as the guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain, and the "Strength of Liddesdale".

Hermitage Castle was supposedly built by one Nicholas de Soulis around 1240, in a typical Norman Motte and Bailey pattern. It stayed in his family until approximately 1320 when his descendant, William de Soulis, forfeited it because of suspected witchcraft and the attempted regicide of King Robert I of Scotland. Legend has it that Soulis's tenantry, having suffered unbearable depredations, arrested him, and at the nearby Ninestane Rig (a megalithic circle), had him boiled to death in molten lead. In actuality, he died, a prisoner, in Dumbarton Castle. Hermitage Castle is reputed to be haunted by Redcap Sly, de Soulis's familiar spirit.[1]

Under the Douglases[edit]

In 1338, the then incumbent, Englishman Sir Ralph de Neville was besieged by Sir William Douglas, The Knight of Liddesdale, known as the "Flower of Chivalry" (this sobriquet had to do with his abilities as a knight, although it is often misinterpreted by people with a rather romantic view of history). It was here that Douglas imprisoned, and had starved to death, his erstwhile comrade Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie.[2] Upon Douglas's death, brought about by a near kinsman and namesake, William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas, the Castle fell into the hands of the Dacre family for a time. Nevertheless, it soon fell back into the hands of the Earl of Douglas through inheritance, and it was he that enabled the construction of most of the present building, possibly with the help of John Lewin, master mason at Durham Cathedral. The Earl's sons provided the seed of the two famous branches of the house – the 'Black Douglases' (for the Earls of Douglas) and the 'Red Douglases' (for the Earls of Angus). By 1455, the Black Douglas line had so incensed the King that James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas was forfeited, never to return, and the beneficences that they had enjoyed passed to the Red Douglas line, including Hermitage Castle.

Under the Hepburns[edit]

King James IV was suspicious of the then Earl of Angus, Archibald, Bell the Cat and his relationship with Henry VII of England, and ordered him to relinquish The Hermitage to the Crown. On 6 March 1492 Patrick Hepburn, 1st Earl of Bothwell had a charter of the lands and lordship of Liddesdale, including The Hermitage Castle, etc., upon the resignation of the same by Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, the latter getting the lordship of Bothwell (but not the Earldom) which Patrick in turn had resigned for the exchange. The Hepburns of Bothwell, then rising in favour with the king, became keepers and lords of The Hermitage.

In time, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell held the castle. Mary, Queen of Scots, made a famous marathon journey on horseback from Jedburgh to visit the wounded Bothwell there, only a few weeks after the birth of her son. They were to marry shortly after the murder of her 2nd husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, regardless of the fact that Bothwell was implicated amongst the conspirators. After Mary's forced abdication following the confrontation at Carberry Hill, Bothwell, facing charges of treason, fled to Norway and his titles and estates were forfeited by Act of Parliament. Whilst attempting to raise an army to restore Mary to the throne, he was arrested by King Frederik's men for breach of marriage contract with Anna Throndsen, and imprisoned at Dragsholm Castle in Denmark, where he died insane and in appalling conditions. His mummified body could at one time be seen at nearby Fårevejle Church.

Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst was made keeper of Liddesdale and Hermitage Castle in 1584.[3] Bothwell's nephew, Francis Stewart, 1st Earl of Bothwell received a new creation as Earl of Bothwell, and was made Keeper of the castle. As a grandson of James V, albeit through an illegitimate line, he was viewed by some as a potential replacement for James VI. In 1591, Bothwell was arrested, tried, gaoled and forfeited for his supposed involvement with the infamous North Berwick Witches. He obtained a pardon in 1593 but again became involved in intrigue and he was again attainted, by Act of Parliament, on 21 July 1593. The Hermitage once again reverted to the Crown.

Under the Scotts[edit]

The following year, James granted the castle to Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch ("the bold Buccleuch"), a notorious Border reiver, Warden of the western marches, Keeper of Liddesdale, and leader of the daring and infamous attack on Carlisle Castle to rescue Willie Armstrong of Kinmont.


Hermitage Castle in 1814.

The castle became obsolete after the Union of the Crowns, in 1603 and fell into disrepair; by the turn of the eighteenth century it was a ruin. Hermitage gave its name to the Viscountcy of Hermitage, conferred in 1706 on Henry, third son of the first Duke of Buccleuch as a subsidiary title of the Earldom of Deloraine. This title became extinct in 1807. Some repairs to the castle were carried out in 1820 by the fifth Duke of Buccleuch. The Scotts are descended matrilinearly from the Douglases of Drumlanrig, a cadet branch, and sometimes use the surname Montagu-Douglas-Scott, thus maintaining a continuity with earlier times.


The castle remained a property of the Scotts until 1930, when it was handed over to the care of the Nation. It is now cared for by Historic Environment Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Government, and is open to visitors from 1 April - 31 October each year. It is closed during the winter season. The castle, together with a series of ancillary features, is protected as a scheduled monument.[4]

The castle is said to be haunted by Mary, Queen of Scots.[5]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Shadowlands: Famous Hauntings". The Shadowlands. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  2. ^ Balfour Paul, Scots Peerage, vol I, p.89
  3. ^ David Masson, Register of the Privy Council of Scotland: 1578-1585, vol. 3 (Edinburgh, 1880), pp. 699-700.
  4. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Hermitage Castle, castle, chapel, enclosures, deer trap, park boundary and farmstead (SM90161)". Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  5. ^ Haunted trail of Mary, Queen of Scots - News - Scotsman.com

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°15′20″N 2°47′36″W / 55.2556°N 2.7933°W / 55.2556; -2.7933