Craigmillar Castle lies just beyond Duddingston in the parish of Liberton on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh. Because of its size, strength and nearness to Edinburgh, Craigmillar was a popular haunt of the Stuart kings who enjoyed its comfort and convenience. It was they who caused it to be remembered for some of the darkest and most sinister happenings in Scottish history.
This 14th Century building, only partly ruined. was built on a massive but simple " L " plan on the southern verge of a 30-foot rock which falls away from the base of the tower in a steep cliff. The central tower measures 53 by 49 feet on the longest sides, and is built of close-textured reddish grey rubble. An attacker would have had a difficult time storming the castle, as once he had made his way
round two sides of the tower he would then have had to cross a timber decking over a sunken ditch, and afterwards tackle the iron yett as well as the outer door of the portal. Inside the tower a narrow vaulted passage leads to the basement and to a newel stair which leads to the upper floors of the house. The passage and stair take up all the wing in this section.
The main building has a large vaulted store sub- divided by a wooden loft of which the tower half is again divided with a secondary stone partition. The main openings to this cellarage are narrow loops, though doors have been made in the walls at a later date to give access to the additional buildings that adjoin this tower. One inner door closes the cellars while another shuts off the newel stair. The vaulted hall on the first floor of the main building has a large, richly moulded fireplace at its upper end and includes three large windows with stone seats.
These were altered during the 16th or 17th Century and leaded glass put into the upper sections and wooden shutters fitted below. Beside the fireplace, a door opened into a small privy which has since been converted into a passage leading to the newer buildings. At the north-east corner of the hall is a mural closet which experts suggest may have been built over a pit or prison, as happened at Conlongan Tower, Dumfriesshire. The stair from the basement stops at hall level on a landing which has to be crossed to reach the second flight which then carries on up to the roof. This arrangement was planned as a defence measure but had the other advantage of leaving space in the wing free for three private rooms which could be entered from the newel stair.
The room at hall level
was originally a kitchen but was made into a living room at a later date when a newer kitchen was built.
In 1427 a quadrangular curtain wall was built round the tower house to form a courtyard about 120 by 80 feet. Made of coursed rubble with occasional oyster-shell pinnings, the wall is cornered by stout round towers and topped by one of the best preserved machicolated parapets to be seen in Scotland. Only the north-eastern tower, which faced the main approach to the castle, is provided with cannon openings which look rather like inverted keyholes. The rest of the wall was serviced by large round openings set high in the towers to
take large guns.
In the north curtain of this wall is the plain arched main entrance with a stone slab depicting the Preston Arms and the name Craigmillar. Overhead on the battlements stands the lion rampant of Scotland, a special concession to the Lord of Craigmillar, who as tenant-in-chief was entitled to place it above his own arms. Other additions were made to the original castle over the centuries. In 1544, after the castle was burnt by Hertford, the east range containing cellars, kitchen, private room and bedchambers, was added, in 1661 the western range was reconstructed by Sir John Gilmour, President of the Court of Session. This was designed slightly differently to the usual 17th Century wing in that the principal apartments of kitchen, dining room and withdrawing room were all on the ground floor and opened into one another without a corridor. All these additions improved the comfort of the castle but did nothing to help the defensive integrity of the old tower-house. However, about the time of its restoration in 1544 a precinct wall was built round
the quarter acres. The entrance to this yard lies in the castle enclosing an area of about one and a north wall and is flanked by a round tower at the north-east corner which is deceptively fitted up as a dovecot but bristled with gun-loops. The precinct is divided into an outer court in front with gardens either side. Also included in the courtyard were farmyard offices and an external chapel built of grey and red freestone with crow-stepped gables.
Although Craigmillar has been altered drastically over the years, the traditional and conservative lay-out of the castle remains the same. resulting in what is now a castle of the High Middle Ages, an extremely strong fortress home able to withstand almost any form of attack.
Historically, Craigmillar Castle is even more interesting than architecturally. In 1347 the barony was acquired by the Preston family who founded the castle. In 1544 the castle was partially destroyed by the English forces but was still occupied, for in 1566 the young Queen Mary fled here for peace and quiet from the turmoil of Holyrood and Rizzio's murder. Also at Craigmillar the famous "band" was signed between Argyll, Huntly, Bothwell, Maitland and Sir James Balfour, which resulted in Darnley's murder. It has never been established
whether the Queen was involved but certainly she was in residence at the castle when the plot was hatched. In 1572 civil war broke out following Queen Mary's abdication and Craigmillar Castle was garrisoned by the Regent Mar, against Edinburgh. In 1660 the barony of Craigmillar was bought from the Prestons by Sir John Gilmour, one of the most upright judges of his time. Located three miles from the centre of Edinburgh off the Old Dalkeith Road.
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