Hermitage Castle, Roxburghshire
Minor road off B6399
Hermitage Castle is a Border fortress of some importance. Over the centuries it has been fought over and held by both Scottish and English nobles, due to its key strategic position between both countries. For many years those who ruled the castle were above the law.
The castle is a very foreboding fortress and long have I wanted to visit this unique ruin. It certainly does not disappoint, both in its walls which remain mighty and to full height, and in its history which is extensive and dark in legend.
Access to the castle is via a short walk from the road where there is limited parking but so well worth drive finding the castle, which is well sign-posted.
~ History ~
1130's ~ The Lordship of Liddlesdale is granted to Ranulf de Sules by King David I of Scotland. The family had crossed from Normandy with William the Conqueror and invited to Scotland, along with other Norman and Brittany lords to help the King secure his throne. They soon establish a timber-built castle to secure their lands, called 'Lydel' castle.
1207 ~ The second Lord Ranulf, nephew of the first, is murdered by his own servants within his own castle.
1240's ~ Another earth and timber castle is erected nearby for the de Sules family and given the name 'Eremitage-Soules'. King Henry III of England claims that the building of a second castle is clear evidence of Scotland's hostile intentions, which brings both countries to the brink of declaration of war.
1300 ~ The English, seeing the strategic importance of both castles, manage to secure both for themselves. King Edward I charges their upkeep and defence to Simon Lindsay. He is ordered to spend £20 on repairs to Hermitage Castle.
1310 ~ The De Sules family briefly regain their castles.
1320 ~ William de Sules is charged with conspiring to kill Robert the Bruce, due his father's earlier claim to the Scottish throne. As a result, he is forced to forfeit his lands and titles and sentenced to imprisonment. Bruce grants Hermitage Castle to his illegitimate son, Sir Robert Bruce.
1328 ~ A peace treaty between Scotland and England stipulates that the castle should be returned to 'the Disinherited', along with other lands and titles to those who had supported Robert the Bruce's rival King John Balliol. Hermitage is claimed by Thomas Wake. However, the Scots refuse to make good this promise regarding Hermitage Castle.
1332 ~ Wake and other 'Disinherited' lords who suffered the same fate, land with an army in Fife to press home their claims. Their army is led by Edward Balliol, the former King John Balliol's son. Their army defeat King David II's army at the Battle of Dupplin. The lords are successful in reclaiming their lands and titles. However, Wake is only permitted to reclaim Liddel Castle, with Hermitage Castle taken by Sir Ralph de Neville, of the powerful Northumberland family.
1338 ~ Sir William Douglas, notorious 'Knight of Liddesdale' seizes Hermitage.
1342 ~ Sir Alexander Ramsay, Sheriff of Teviotdale, is imprisoned in the castle and starved to death by Sir William, having been overlooked for the position by the King. Following Ramsay's death, Sir William is appointed to the position.
1346 ~ Sir William is taken prisoner, captured with the King at the Battle of Neville's Cross, across the border in England. He is taken to the Tower of London, where he is eventually persuaded upon release to serve and hold Hermitage Castle for the English King Edward III.
1353 ~ Sir William is killed by his god son, also named William Douglas, after the two confronted each other in the Ettrick Forest. He is however unable to take Hermitage Castle for himself due to William's widow receiving protection from Sir Hugh Dacre, a powerful English Lord.
1360's ~ De Sules timber tower house is demolished and in its place a fine stone tower house is built for Lord Dacre.
1371 ~ The Douglas's finally get their hands on Hermitage Castle. William later places its care in the hands of his son, Sir James Douglas.
1400's ~ The Douglas's complete the remodelling and building of the castle, including a massive stone keep.
1388 ~ James Douglas is killed at the Battle of Otterburn. His lands and castle pass to George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus and illegitimate son of the chief of the infamous 'Red Douglas's'. Further building work is undertaken including the building of corner towers to strengthen the main tower house.
1463 ~ Archibald 'Bell the Cat' Douglas becomes the 5th Earl.
1491 ~ Archibald switches loyalty away from the Scottish Crown and his treasonous dealing with the English are discovered. He is ordered to exchange the strategically important Hermitage Castle for Bothwell Castle.
Patrick Hepburn, 1st Earl of Bothwell, is now the new owner of Hermitage.
1513 ~ Adam Hepburn, 2nd Earl of Bothwell, is killed alongside King James V at the Battle of Flodden, leaving a one-year-old heir to succeed him. The Crown assumes control of Hermitage.
1531 ~ The eighteen-year-old 3rd Earl of Bothwell Patrick, is discovered in illicit talks with King Henry VIII of England. He is taken to Edinburgh and forced to hand over his lands and castles to the Scottish Crown.
1540 ~ Bothwell is banished from the Kingdom.
1542 ~ Following the death of King James death, Patrick seems his fortunes improve.
1550 ~ Patrick is discovered to have treasonous dealing with the English in a deal to hand Hermitage Castle over to the English, in for return for marriage to and English bride. He is again exiled. The castle again returns to The Crown.
1556 ~ James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell, is stabbed by Little Jock Elliot, a notorious reiver or border bandit. James has difficulty getting back to Hermitage due to the prisoners held there have overcome their guards and taken the castle against him. Elliot however is shot and later dies of his wounds.
1566 ~ Mary Queen of Scots rides 25 miles to Hermitage castle upon hearing that James Hepburn, her lieutenant of the Borders, had been killed. He was infact alive but badly wounded whilst making arrests among notorious reivers, border bandits, the Elliott's of Liddesdale. Mary and her entourage are forced to ride across rough terrain, and at one particular difficult point, Mary herself falls from her horse into a bog. When she later returns to Jedburgh her exhausting journey causes her to collapse and brings her close to death.
1567 ~ James Hepburn is implicated in the assassination of Mary's second husband, Henry, Lord Darnley. Three months later he abducts the Queen and rides with her to his castle at Dunbar. They are married a short time later.
Within months Mary's forces are defeated at Carberry Hill, forcing James into exile. He flees to the Isles of Orkney, the to Norway, but is captured and imprisoned in the Danish Castle of Dragsolm, where he later dies.
1594 ~ James is succeeded by his nephew, Francis Stewart, but soon falls out with King James VI, and is stripped of all his titles and is also exiled.
The Privy Council instruct Sir Walter Scott to take possession of Hermitage Castle.
1596 ~ Sir Walter rescues a local reiver, Kinmont Willie Armstrong, from wrongful arrest in Carlisle Castle.
1603 ~ King James VI of Scotland, becomes King James I of England, ending Hermitage's role as a Border fortress, and soon falls into a state of disrepair.
~ The evil Lord Sules ~
The evil warlock Lord Sules, who practices black magic, and always clad in the deepest black, is implicated in the disappearance of children from the village. Rumour has it that their body parts and blood are used in his ever more powerful spells and sorcery. It becomes well known that he cannot be killed by hanging or by iron weapons, as he is protected by demons.
A mighty champion, the Cout o'Kielder, a giant of a man clad in magical armour, comes forward and attacks the evil laird. Such is Soules cunning that the Cout is slain by drowning in the Hermitage Water.
The local people, having seen their champion slain by the dark arts of the evil Laird, become utterly despaired and so turn to Thomas the Rhymer, a well known Seer. He tells them that ke knows of a way to kill him.
Under darkness the local people take the guards of the castle by surprise, seizing de Soules, dragging him off to a nearby stone circle. The evil warlock is bound in rope, but this cannot hold him. So, instead he is boiled to death in a cauldron filled with molten metal until his flesh has been dissolved and his bones melted.
Ghostly cries and screams of agony of his tortured victims can be heard from the castle ruins, which have partly sunken into the ground due to the castle foundations not being strong enough to hold the evil wickedness its walls have witnessed, and are cursed forever to keep their secrets.