Dirleton has its Day

DIRLETON Castle was begun in around 1240 by John De Vaux.  Following a turbulent history, the ruins and gardens are today maintained by Historic Scotland.

The Norman family of de Vaux settled in England following the Norman Conquest of 1066. John de Vaux was one of a number of Anglo-Norman knights invited to Scotland by King David of Scotland in the 12th century. He was given the barony of Dirleton and built a castle at Eldbotle, probably to the north west of  Dirleton, and Tarbet Castle, on the island of Fidra.

A later John de Vaux had been held prisoner as surety for the good conduct of King William. Once freed, he  succeeded to the barony and began building a replacement for Tarbet at Dirleton, which was recorded as a “castellum” in 1225.

A turbulent period started in 1296, with the outbreak of the Wars of Scottish Independence. Dirleton was on the the route between Edinburgh and the English border, and was heavily involved. In 1928, the castle was besieged for several months by English forces under Antony Bek, the Bishop of Durham. It was only when the English victory at Falkirk allowed the invaders to transfer their large siege engines that the castle was taken. The Scots won it back, only to lose it again in 1306, when the English commander Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, recaptured Dirleton. It was finally retaken by the Scots some time before 1314, and destroyed to discourage the English from taking any more interest in it.

The castle and lands of Dirleton then came into the hands of the Borders family of Haliburton [or Halyburton] when John Haliburton married into the de Vaux family, shortly before 1350. The Haliburtons restored the castle and made several improvements.

These included heightening the original towers, and constructing a new gatehouse to the south east. A large hall and tower house were also added to the castle in the 15th century, forming the east range. King James IV visited Dirleton in 1505, and was so impressed that he donated money to the masons employed there.

Towards the end of that year, Patrick, the last Haliburton of Dirleton died, and his estates were divided among his three daughters.

Patrick’s eldest daughter, Janet, married William Ruthven, 2nd Lord Ruthven in 1515, and the castle and lordship of Dirleton passed to the Ruthven family. Their son Patrick, was involved in the murder of David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots in 1566. Fearful of being caught, Patrick moved to England, where he died. Dirleton was left to his son William, who was made Earl of Gowrie in 1581.

Lord Gowrie also had strong political views and devised a plot, later known as the Raid of Ruthven, in which the 16-year-old King James VI was seized, in August 1582. Ruthven himself reigned in the king’s name for a time. Although the King was restored, and Gowrie was pardoned he was involved in a further plot to take over Stirling Castle, and was finally executed in 1584. His lands were forfeited to the crown.

James VI then handed Dirleton to the Earl of Arran but, the following year, the castle was restored to Lady Dorothea, widow of the first Earl of Gowrie, and by 1600 had passed to John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie, their second son.

Despite the clemency shown to the family for its treachery, Lord Gowrie and his youngest brother launched another attack on the king. This one failed, as they were caught and killed by Thomas Erskine of Gogar. The castle was forfeited once again and Dirleton was given to Erskine as a reward for saving the king’s life. Lady Dorothea was allowed to live there until her death in 1605.

Erskine sold the castle and it changed hands several times, eventually ended up belonging to James Maxwell of Innerwick, who was created Earl of Dirletoun in 1646.

In 1650 Oliver Cromwell’s army invaded Scotland and defeated the Scots Royalists at Dunbar. Cromwell took control of southern Scotland, but bands of Royalist moss-troopers, which included a team at Dirleton, continued to attack English supply lines until Cromwell instructed General Monck and General Lambert to take control of the castle.

Left to decay, the castle and estate were purchased from the widowed Countess of Dirletoun, by the lawyer John Nisbet in 1663. Nisbet built a new house at Archerfield keeping only the gardens around the castle.

During the 19th century, the village of Dirleton was modernised or ‘beautified’ and the head gardener David Thompson laid out two new parterres. The north garden was replaced during the 1920s with an Arts and Crafts style garden of herbaceous borders and the west garden was restored in 1993 using the 19th century plans of Lady Elgin.

The castle and grounds are now maintained by Historic Scotland and the gardens appear on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland.

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