Castle of the Week 88 - Tantallon Castle
We are going to explore the historic castle of Tantallon in
Scotland. Tantallon is majestically situated on the edge of
sheer cliffs that plunge straight into the sea, from which
Bass Rock can be seen. Striking in its unique geographical
position, it was a formidable stronghold.
A showcase of 14th century defense, Tantallon retains a 12ft
thick curtain wall that reaches a height of 50ft. It protects
an inner courtyard behind it with an approximate area of 70m
X 44m, which contains the well that is 106 feet deep! There
are also foundations for a sea gate so the castle could be
supplied by sea.
The castle is separated from the mainland by a 20ft ditch dug
through the rocky headland. Earthen defense works form the
outer ward which contains a small stone gatehouse, and a 17th
century dovecot. This area would have been where all the
castle buildings and services kept the castle functioning.
Beyond the outer ward, a ravelin (triangular artillery
earthwork) was constructed.
Three towers graced the curtain wall with the middle tower
bearing the entrance to the castle, and the best preserved.
This 42 foot square tower contained four storeys of
residential rooms. The central tower also housed the
drawbridge, the portcullis, gate and three sets of doors and
machicolations to prevent entry to the castle. In the 1400s a
barbican was added to the front. Visitors today can walk
along the top of the curtain wall and visit the top of the
mid tower. The south-eastern end of the curtain wall holds
the remains of the East tower, and the other end holds the
remains of the Douglas tower.
The Douglas tower, at the northwestern end, was a structure
that was 6 storeys high and provided housing for the Douglas
family. It contained luxurious living quarters. The north
side also housed apartments which you can see outlined in the
map of the castle.
A brief summary of the castle history:
Tantallon’s history is a rocky one, starting with
William Douglas who became the First Earl of Douglas in
1358. He murdered his godfather and uncle, Lord Liddesdale,
who had betrayed Scotland by making a treaty with the
English. This secured his place as head of the Douglas
line. His sons would carry the Douglases into division;
with his illegitimate son George, came the rise of the Red
Douglases who became the Earls of Angus. His son James was
given the title of Earl of Douglas and through his
bloodline came the Black Douglas line.
Constant strife between the families and the crown caused
numerous battles and Tantallon passed between English and
Scottish ownership depending on the results. In 1491 the
Fifth Earl of Angus made an agreement to betray James IV to
Henry VII of England. James IV retaliated by besieging the
castle; damage was minimal and peace was restored.
In 1528 Tantallon was besieged by James V with two large
cannons and 20,000 men. The castle was equipped with its own
artillery and held the enemy off for twenty days. It was
acquired by James V a year later by negotiations. He
strengthened the defenses to fend off artillery attacks.
The Douglas family took control of Tantallon when James V
died and, in 1543, the English were offered the use of the
castle. By 1558 it was no longer inhabited. In 1611, after
the death of the 10th Earl, William, his son, the Marquis
of Douglas, somewhat restored Tantallon.
In 1639 the castle was taken by Covenanters and, during
Cromwell's invasion of Scotland in 1651, it was attacked by
General Monck. Tantallon withstood twelve days of cannon
bombardment with a force of fewer than 100 before it
surrendered. The castle suffered heavy damage and would never
be restored again. Scotland lost one of its mightiest castles
as it fell into ruin.
Modern day Tantallon is cared for by Historic Scotland
and has a visitors' center. It can be visited all year round.
Write-up courtesy of
Aerial photo and gate photo are used by permission and are
courtesy of Mot's
European Castle Page
Other pictures and maps are used with permission and are
courtesy of Burgenwelt.
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