A handsome tower house on an L plan, built in 1581 and still retaining its iron gate or yett.
A tale of two houses
In the heart of the parish of Gordon, in Berwickshire, stands Greenknowe Tower. The charming tower house was built for a member of the Seton family in the late 1500s.
However, the low-lying grassy knoll from which it rises may well be the mound of an earlier structure. This could be the location of the first Scottish castle, built in the 1100s, of that great Aberdeenshire clan the Gordons.
The Gordons were the greatest clan in north-east Scotland in the later Middle Ages, wielding power like kings. However, they were incomers to the region.
The first Gordon on record is Richard de Gordon, who around 1160 granted land on his Berwickshire estate to Kelso Abbey. We do not know where Richard’s ancestors came from, but they may have been Norman incomers, invited to settle in Scotland by David I (1124–53).
For 200 years the de Gordons remained in Berwickshire. They relocated north as a result of their support for King Robert Bruce in the Wars of Independence.
The king’s reward for their loyalty was the rich estate of Strathbogie. This had been stripped from the treacherous Earl of Atholl, who had destroyed Bruce’s supply base on the eve of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
The Gordons never forgot their Berwickshire roots. When the 2nd Lord Gordon became an earl around 1445, he chose to be known as Earl of Huntly, after a small hamlet immediately to the west of Greenknowe Tower. In 1506 the 3rd Earl changed the name of his grand Strathbogie residence to Huntly Castle.
The charming tower house itself was built in 1581 for James Seton, of the Setons of Touch, and his second wife, Jane Edmonstone. The date and their monograms adorn the lintel above the front door.
The tower is of the standard L-plan form, with a ground-floor vaulted kitchen and storage and family room on the upper four floors. The outside walls are crowned with attractive multi-corbelled angle turrets and crow-stepped gables.
These features were designed more for show than for any defensive purpose. There are a few gun loops to ward off intruders. Around the tower are foundations of outbuildings, including a stable.
By the mid-1600s, Greenknowe had passed to the Pringles. Walter Pringle of Stichel, a noted Covenanter (religious dissident) and author, lived there later that century. He may have refurbished the tower, enlarging the windows on the upper floors and adding an extension on the north side (incidentally the original approach to the property).
The tower was derelict by 1830 and extensively repaired around 1937 before passing into State care.
The location – all on its own on a tree-covered mound, a little to the west of the village of Gordon.
The tower house – a pretty structure built of local dark whinstone with red sandstone dressings.
The heavy iron yett – a cross-barred gate of iron, a rare survival of this once common defensive device.