Thirlestane Castle is set in the Border hills at Lauder. Built originally as a defensive fort in the 13th century, it was re-built in the 16th century as the home of the Maitland family, one of the most able and famous in Scotland.
The Maitlands came to Britain from France with William the Conqueror in 1066, and settled in Northumberland. In about 1250, Sir Richard Maitland married Avicia, the daughter and sole heiress of Thomas du Thirlestane.
It was this marriage that brought the lands of Thirlestane and others into the ownership of the Maitland family. The ruined remains of one of the family homes at that time can still be seen, two miles from the castle off the A697.
As the seat of the Earls and Duke of Lauderdale, Thirlestane Castle was enlarged and embellished over the centuries but it still remains home to the Maitland family – the Duke’s ghost is said to haunt the castle!
Old Thirlestane Castle
Old Thirlestane Castle is a ruined 15th century tower house built by the Maitland family, standing on a terrace above the Boondreigh Water. One of the earliest mentions of the lands of Thirlestane occurs in a charter around 1140, when Hugh de Moreville grants the rent of Thirlestane to Elsi, later the Sheriff of Lauderdale. Elsi’s son, Alan, was known as Alan of Thirlestane. There seems to have been an early castle here, as a Thomas de Thirlestane is said to have been born in Thirlestane Castle around 1200. His daughter, Avicia, married Sir Richard Maitland around 1250, and Thirlestane Castle became a Maitland property.
References to Thirlestane Castle being 13th century in date suggest that Maitland was responsible for building or extending the castle. Either it was remodelled and incorporated into a later tower, or replaced entirely, as the present ruins have the appearance of a 15th or 16th century Border keep.
Rectangular in plan, the castle would have measured around 10m by 7.3m, aligned approximately south-west by north-east, with a small tower extending to the south containing a spiral staircase which gave access to the upper two storeys.
It is also marked on Herman Moll’s map of The Shire of Berwick, drawn some time before 1732 and published in 1745, appearing as Thirlstain, while the Maitlands’ new home of Thirlestane Castle is referred to as The Fort.
Old Thirlestane Castle is called Thirlstane but marked as in ruins, while the new Thirlestane Castle is also now called Thirlstane, indicating perhaps that Old Thirlestane didn’t completely fall out of use until some time in the mid-18th century. Today, only the south wall and the stair tower survive, rising to a height of around 8.0m. Traces of the east, west and north walls can be seen in the form of raised mounds in the ground, extending to the north. To the north-west of the castle are a series of lumps and bumps which clearly define other buildings.
‘New Thirlestane Castle
Nestling in the gentle Border Hills, with its rose pink sandstone and fairytale turrets, Thirlestane Castle holds a uniquely important place in Scottish History. It is one of the oldest and finest castles in the land, and home to one of the country’s most distinguished families.
Thirlestane is a massive T-shaped castle based on the original keep of 1590, then extended with symmetrical towers by Sir William Bruce in the 1670s for the Duke of Lauderdale. Further wings and baronial update by William Burn in 1840. Interiors are a mix of 19th century and early Baroque. Good collection of paintings from 17th to 19th centuries. The castle has been extensively and sensitively restored from 1972.
Thirlestane Castle is one of the seven ‘Great Houses of Scotland’ and it’s fascinating story begins in the 13th century.
The Castle was originally a great stone keep but over the years became a grand ducal palace and then a grand country mansion. It is the ancient seat of the Earls and Duke of Lauderdale, and today it continues to be the Maitland family home.
There are so many fascinating things to see in this splendid building. Exquisite 17th century plasterwork ceilings, fine furnishings, pictures, Maitland family treasures, historic toys and a country life exhibition.
Explore the Entrance Hall, with a collection of weapons dating from 1745, and the Duke’s Grand Bed Chamber, one of the most impressive rooms in the castle.
In the Dining Room you will find a large collection of family portraits, and the kids will love the old family nurseries which are home to many Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian toys.
Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at the castle in 1745, after the victory at the Battle of Prestonpans, and you can admire the room he stayed in for yourself.