Fast Castle is wonderfully positioned on a promontory of land guarding the Firth of Forth. The castle has had a colourful history including extended periods of occupation by English forces, embroilment in several attempted coups and later, once abandoned and ruined, was used for smuggling and ship wrecking.
The natural defensive position of Fast Castle, situated on a headland jutting into the Firth of Forth, probably meant it was the site of the Iron Age promontory fort. However the first recorded reference to any defensive structure there comes from the first half of the fourteenth century. At this point we know the castle was occupied by English forces following their victory at the Battle of Neville’s Cross fought near Durham on 17 October 1346. During this battle a Scottish force, invading northern England in support of the French who were suffering at the hands of Edward III, were defeated resulting in the capture of King David II of Scotland. Seizing the opportunity afforded by the power vacuum caused by the King’s imprisonment, the northern magnates attacked. In conjunction with Edward Balliol (would-be claimant to the Scottish throne) Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and John Neville, Baron Neville de Raby invaded the Scottish borders. Fast Castle was taken by them at this time.
The castle remained in English hands even after the Second War of Scottish Independence ended with the Treaty of Berwick in 1357. However in 1410 a force led by Patrick Dunbar, second son of the Earl of March, seized it. Granted as the dowry for the Earl’s daughter, Fast Castle became property of the Home family (sometimes referred to as Hume and whose family seat was at Hume Castle) family. In 1503 they hosted Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII, at Fast Castle whilst travelling to Edinburgh and her wedding with James IV.
When Sir Patrick Home died in the early sixteenth century, his son Cuthbert Home succeeded him. But his tenure was short for he was one of the many Scottish nobles slaughtered at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. King James IV of Scotland also died in the battle igniting a power struggle between John Stewart, Duke of Albany and Alexander Home who now owned Fast Castle. Initially appointed as one of the counsellors to the Queen, he initially supported the return of the Duke to assume the role of Regent. But once in place the two men soon quarrelled and Alexander prepared Fast Castle for war. In 1515 he devised a plan to capture the young James V and hold them in Fast Castle but his plan failed and he was outlawed. The Duke of Albany attacked Fast Castle, successfully took it and installed his own garrison. A surprise attack by Alexander re-captured the castle but he had insufficient forces to hold it and therefore he slighted it to deny it to the Regent. In October 1516 Alexander was captured and executed.
Fast Castle was rebuilt by George Home in 1521 but war soon broke out again with the Rough Wooing (1543-50). In this conflict Henry VIII of England sought to compel a marriage between Prince Edward (later Edward V) and Mary (later Queen of Scots). George Home fought and was killed at the Battle of Pinkie (1547) after which his lands, including Fast Castle, were occupied by the English under the command of Sir Thomas Gower, Marshall of Berwick. The castle itself remained in English possession until returned by the Treaty of Norham in June 1551.
The castle was back in the ownership of the Home family by 1566 when they hosted a visit by Mary, Queen of Scots. Her regime soon destabilised resulted in her imprisonment at Lochleven, escape then defeat at the Battle of Langside and her subsequent flight to England. These events helped prompt a rebellion in northern England – the ‘Rising of the North’ – led by Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland and Charles Neville, Earl of Westmorland. It seems Lord Home supported them for when the rebellion was suppressed the Earl escaped to Scotland and Elizabeth sent forces to occupy the castle.
Fast Castle was returned to Scottish ownership in 1573 and thereafter passed to Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig, a descendant of Sir Patrick Home. He died in 1606 but he was posthumously implicated in the Gowrie conspiracy – allegedly an attempt to kidnap the King James VI – that had occurred six years earlier. He may well have been guilty as charged for he sold many of his lands and estates prior to his death including Fast Castle which was sold to Archibald Douglas of Pittendreich in 1604. George Home, Earl of Dunbar reclaimed the castle for his family in 1606 however, after his death, it was sold to James Arnott. Thereafter it was briefly re-acquired by the Home family until finally sold to Sir John Hall of Dunglas whose family held it until the twentieth century.
With the Union of the Crowns in 1603 the importance of Fast Castle declined and it was allowed to drift into ruin and eventually became a haunt for smugglers. On a more sinister note it was also used by ship wreckers who lit the castle to deceive ships into thinking they had found a safe haven. Instead they were smashed on the rocks, their crews killed and cargoes stolen. It is from this that the current name derives – Fast being a corruption of Faux; false.