In Reformation times, the tower of the green knowe or 'grassy hill' near the village of Gordon in Berwickshire was surrounded by the marshy ground of the Gordon Moss. It was also protected by a number of architectural features which make Greenknowe Tower, built in 1581, one of the classic Scottish tower houses of the late sixteenth century. An L shaped castle with two rectangular blocks meeting at right angles, the entrance to the tower was built at the corner point where the two wings meet, allowing defenders to shoot at troublemakers in front of the door from two directions. The entrance enjoyed the added security of a stout iron yett that made tackling the thick wooden door an even tougher proposition. Three comer bartizans or turrets acted as lookout towers and their gun loops afforded a safe position for picking off enemies below. A clockwise spiral staircase within the tower gave right-handed defenders the possibility to use their unhindered sword arm to dispatch an attacker below. A low barmkin wall sheltered the stables and storehouses as well as marking out the perimeter of the castle complex.
Greenknowe Tower was built by James Seton of Touch, a branch member of one of the most illustrious family systems in Renaissance Scotland. The Setons were granted lands near Tranent in East Lothian in the twelfth century and despite their knightly pretensions, they appear to have amassed great wealth through their involvement in the medieval coal trade between central Scotland and London. Once rich, they were eligible marriage partners for the noblest houses in the kingdom, and thus acquired lands and houses throughout the Lothians and as far north as Pitmedden Castle in Aberdeenshire. The main Seton estates were in East Lothian and Greenknowe on the road between Lauder and Kelso represented the southern most tip of the family holdings. In the early sixteenth century the castle was acquired by the Pringles of Stichel whose most famous scion was the prominent Covenanter and writer Walter Pringle, imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle in 1660 for his radical Presbyterian beliefs.
Ironically given Walter's devotions, Greenknowe is a perfect example of the new kind of tower house that sprouted up throughout Scotland following the re-distribution of church lands and property at the Reformation. The funds that had once been gifted to the Catholic Church to help maintain collegiate churches, sing votive masses and decorate chantry chapels were now available to build comfortable dwellings such as this fine tower for the lesser gentry.
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