Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

‘That chamber, where the queen, whose charms divine,
Made wond’ring nations own the pow’r of love,
Oft bathed her snowy limbs in sparkling wine,
Now proves a lonely refuge for the dove.’
– J Pinkerton ‘Craigmillar Castle: An Elegy’ 1776

Craigmillar Castle, a short drive from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is the striking ruin mostly built during the 14th and 15th century. The poem by Pinkerton refers to one of the castle’s most scandalous tales, a rumour involving Mary, Queen of Scots, and the ‘Craigmillar Bond’ of murder.

The lands at Craigmillar once belonged to the monks of Dunfermline Abbey before being granted in part to the Preston family by King David II in 1342, the remaining lands being granted in 1374 to Sir Simon de Preston. The tower house at the centre of the castle was built in the latter part of the 14th century by either Simon or his son Simon II. The first recorded mention of the castle was in 1425, when Sir John Preston, Simon I’s great-grandson, put his seal on a charter there. His son William was celebrated for presenting a reliquary to St Gile’s Cathedral containing the arm bone of its patron saint, the city fathers built the Preston Aisle in the cathedral in his memory. William also probably added the courtyard wall and other later features to the castle. William’s grandson Simon II also rose to renown but in a more hazardous manner, implicated in the death of a royal. King James III was fiercely paranoid and had asked Sir Simon to hold one of his younger brothers John Stewart, Earl of Mar in captivity, accusing his brother of practicing witchcraft against the King, following a dream he had in which a witch warned him he would be betrayed by his closest kin. James III already had his other brother Alexander, locked up in Edinburgh castle. After a short imprisonment Simon brought the earl to a house in the Canongate, and while there, in a bath, the earl had his throat slit and died.

In 1511 Craigmillar was elevated into a barony and the outer courtyard was built. In 1544 while still in the ownership of another Simon Preston the castle was attacked and burned during the so-called ‘Rough Wooing of Henry VIII’, this was an attempt to force a marriage between Edward, Prince of Wales and young Mary, Queen of Scots. Sir Simon had become one of Mary’s most loyal supporters over the years and she stayed at Craigmillar several times, during one of her stays Thomas Randolph, the English ambassador, advised her to find an acceptable husband. The man that was selected was Henry, Lord Darnley, who she subsequently married. The marriage was not to end well for Henry. By 1566 Lord Darnley had become a major political embarrassment and Queen Mary stayed for three weeks in Craigmillar in a deep state of depression. It is though that Queen Mary did not know of the ‘Craigmillar Plot’ that was hatched secretly while she was staying in the castle, this was when the three Earls of Argyll, Huntly and Bothwell met and decided to murder Lord Darnley. In early 1567 Mary suggested a stay at Craigmillar to Darnley, however Darnley disliked Preston and instead stayed in a house at the Blackfriars’ monastery. During the night of the 9th of February the house was blown apart by gunpowder, but Darnley’s corpse was found not in its ruins but in the courtyard, he had been strangled. Mary’s reign only lasted a couple more months before she was taken to Lochleven island and imprisoned.

Towards the end of the 16th and into the 17th century the Prestons faded from notoriety and in 1660 a descendant of the Preston’s sold the estate to Sir John Gilmour. The Gilmour family stayed there for around 100 years, adapting and adding to the old then rustic castle. In 1761 the castle was advertised to let but perhaps because of its size and the amount of work needed it wasn’t occupied for long and was a romantic ruin by 1775.

GPS: 55.92565, -3.14087

2 thoughts on “Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

  1. Wonderful pictures. I especially like the light captures on the interior shots. And thank you for including the Darnley story.

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