Andrew Spratt contributes:
To the north of the East Lothian village of Aberlady
behind the Victorian St Mary's Kirk, lies a few scattered stones of the
ancient castle of Kilspindie. The present ruin contains the base of a
doorway with a length of wall punctuated by oval gun loops of an early
1600's style and represent "the castell tower and fortalice biggit by
Patrick Douglas of Kilspindie." noted in a document of 1612, when
King James VI of Scots (1567-1603/25) granted the estate to the Hay
family. Although there was perhaps an earlier Towerhouse on site built by
the 'Red' Douglases in the early 1500's. Anciently the lands of Kilspindie
are said to have been held by the Spens of Kilspindie. But this may have
been in their role a vassal or tenant to a greater Over-Lord, possibly the
Gospatricks (later known as Dunbar after their key coastal fortress.) From
the Spens the Kilspindie estate appears to have passed to the Douglases
then to the Hay family.
Nearby are two other interesting historic ruins, the
Carmelite Friary with its fish ponds and the great courtyard castle of
Luffness, now only traceable by grassy mounds and a 'modern' 17th century
Towerhouse on the site of the original Keep. Which was itself part of a
huge quadrangular courtyard with corner towers surrounded by a fresh water
ditch. In fact, Luffness was claimed to be one of "the keys to the
Kingdom." and allegedly takes its name from the tomb of a Viking
called 'Lofda' buried on site. This conjures up visions of Viking
longships sailing into Aberlady Bay, then known as Lofda's point, to land
their ill-gotten booty. There is also a second Viking tomb and during
rebuilding work when these skeletons were discovered then quickly
re-interred, one was said to be seven feet tall possibly 'Lofda' himself.
Both 'Lofda' and his un-named companion appear to have been important
sub-commanders to 'Anlaf the Dane' a notorious Viking raider in the area
in the mid 10th century. However, the castle and the Friary are of a much
later date being from the late 12th century onwards. At that time being
held by the Gospatricks, Earls of Dunbar with links to the Lyndsays,
Bickertons and Hepburns. Also within the Carmelite Friary is the tomb of a
David De Lyndsay.
The original tower of Kilspindie raised by the
Douglases may have been oblong in plan as suggested by the conjectural
reconstruction. And would have been surrounded by an enclosing 'Barmkin'
wall with gatehouse protecting stables, brewhouse, barns and such like.
The 'Barmkin' in turn would have been surrounded by a deep ditch. Also the
land around must have been a tidal salt marsh which would have added to
the defensive position. The late great Historian and Novelist Nigel
Tranter suggested the castle's ditch was filled by the tide and trapped
there by wooden dams when the tide withdrew, which sounds entirely
probable, since the castle sat so far out in Aberlady Bay. Today the Bay
appears to be nothing but mud flats. However, in 1500 the Bay was deep
enough to allow merchant vessels to land their cargo for transport to the
inland market town of Haddington.
Locally the Douglas family held several towers,
including Whittinghame, Longniddry and eventually Kilspindie. But the
jewel in their crown would have to be the great curtain walled, coastal
fortress of Tantallon
perched on cliffs opposite the Bass
Rock Island. Tantallon was built after 1350 by William, 1st Earl of
Douglas and passed in 1389 to his illegitimate son George 'the Red'
Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus. Tantallon had many flamboyant and fiery 'Red'
Douglas owners. One of note, and starting the connection with the
Kilspindie, being Archibald, 'Bell-the-cat', (after his murder of King
James III's friends at Lauder Brig in 1482), 5th Earl of Angus. Who, in a
feud with Spens of Kilspindie tore off Spen's leg with one stroke of his
great sword. This appears to be how the lands of Kilspindie passed to the
Douglases. Also later Douglas of Kilspindie used the title 'Greysteel'
which may refer to the sword stroke used to obtain the lands of Kilspindie.
In 1528, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus was
counted as a 'rebel' along with his brother Sir George of Kilspindie by
King James V of Scots (1513-1542). Resulting in the unsuccessful siege of
castle in 1528, followed by the successful assault in 1529 (through
starvation and bribes) along with the seizure of Kilspindie likely by
crown forces. The 'Red' Douglases then fled into English exile until the
King's death in 1542. On their return to the Lothians the Douglases
immediately sided politically with the English. In 1543, the English
Ambassador, Sir Ralph Sadler hoped to buy the marriage of the infant Mary
Queen of Scots (1542-1567/87) to the English Prince Edward through bribes
to various Scots nobles. Such Lairds became known as 'assured Scots'
because they favoured this union as well as English gold. Archibald
Douglas Earl of Angus and his brother Sir George as 'assured Scots'
offered their 'protection' to Sir Ralph Sadler housing him in Tantallon
castle as a place to store and distribute these bribes.
This greatly angered the Douglases old rivals the
Hamilton family led by James, 2nd Earl of Arran, 'Governor' of the
Kingdom. By November Arran ordered Sadler to return to England and
commanded Lord Borthwick to prepare siege cannon for an assault on
Tantallon. But Sadler refused to withdraw and continued to hide behind
Tantallon's walls "of such strength." Arran then demanded that
the Douglases should "...cause the said ambassador depart out of your
said house of Temptallon" (Tantallon). Fearful Sadler wrote to
England "..the Governor (Arran)...will besiege this house of (Tantallon),
which is strong enough to abide his siege..." He went on to explain
the castle had plenty of cannon, gunpowder and coal but not enough food to
resist a length siege if blockaded. This was the key factor in the
surrender of Tantallon in 1529 due to lack of food, where King James V of
Scots had blockaded by land and sea as well as a prolonged bombardment.
The English failed to send supplies and Arran's
proposed siege under Lord Borthwick was not forthcoming, since Sadler
himself explains, writing from Berwick
on the 12th of December 1543, "Mr Douglas came yesterday to me (at
Tantallon) with an honest company of gentlemen....their number four
hundred or there abouts, and hath this day brought me hither to
safety." Later Douglas and his brother Sir George were arrested by
Arran and taken to Hamilton castle.
With the failure of Sadler's diplomacy and bribes the
English, by 1544, resorted to fire and sword to try and win Mary's hand.
Hence the days became known as the wars of the 'Rough Wooing'. Castles,
Abbeys and villages throughout the Lothians and Borders were stormed,
sacked and burnt. Men, women and children were all put to the sword. It
should also be noted that the English invaders avoided assaulting
Tantallon, allegedly because of lack of suitable siege cannon. They also
camped close to Hugh Douglas's Longniddry Tower without attacking it
because Hugh was an 'assured Scot' and likewise neither is there mention
of assaults on Whittingham or Kilspindie, while other towers nearby were
sacked. Perhaps showing English diplomacy to protect Douglas interests in
Out to sea the English support fleet under Captain 'Clynton'
sailed up the Firth of Forth to raid the coastal prison fortress of
Which was described as 'the ship that never sailed' , because of its shape
and position. The reason was this raid may have been that the English,
mistakenly believed the infant Mary Queen of Scots was held at Blackness
during their 'Rough Wooing' invasion. As Sadler indicated in a letter of
July 1543 to King Henry VIII of England that , (Governor Arran).."will
go to Linlithgow
(Palace) until his whole force assemble, and if his enemies come forward
he will remove the Queen to Blackness, which is impregnable."
'Clynton' attacked at night burning ships stationed
alongside and releasing captive prisoners before as the English chronicler
puts it, "..after a great conflict between the castle and our
vessels, " the fleet withdrew without the infant Mary but among those
liberated were Douglas Earl of Angus and his brother Sir George, who had
been incarcerated by Arran for their collaboration. It later came to light
that Douglas while captive had sent word to King Henry that if he invaded
Scotland, Tantallon would be handed over for English use. This may have
been the real motivation behind the sea raid. Nothing more than an
elaborate jail break to ensure Douglas and his brother would still be
Unfortunately for the English the Douglases gratitude
was short lived on discovering some of the English land forces under Sir
Ralph Evers had inadvertently sacked Melrose Abbey, desecrating William
the 1st Earl of Douglas's tomb, the original forefather of the 'Red'
Douglases. Therefore, Douglas and his brother had no choice but to
Consequently, in 1545 the Hamitons and 'Red' Douglases
set aside their differences to join forces and intercept an invading
English army led by Sir Ralph Evers at the battle of
Ancrum Moor, near
Melrose. Initially the Douglas/Hamilton horsemen faked a retreat over the
hillside hotly pursued by the English cavalry. Their infantry followed on
too but were soon left some distance behind. Over the ridge hidden from
view the Douglas/Hamilton horsemen dismounted to add their lances to the
long phalanx of pikemen and spearmen foot soldiers assembled by their
Border allies the Leslies and the Scotts.
The English cavalry were taken totally by surprise,
undaunted they charged down onto the forest of spears. But without their
infantry hakbutters (riflemen) to help breakup the Scots ranks their
horses were torn to pieces and thrown riders crushed underfoot. Then the
confused and breathless English infantry arrived at the top of the ridge,
but before the hakbutters could present an organised sustained fire, they
too were torn down in the Scots charge. At this point mercaneries within
the English infantry ranks switched sides to the Scots. With the defeat
complete Evers, for his sins against the Douglas tombs at Melrose, was
then skinned and his skin used to make purses for the Scots men-at-arms.
In 1547, the English returned to the Lothians again,
defeating the Scots army at the battle of Pinkie, near Musselburgh. They,
in 1548, then setup a fort at Haddington and sacked castles in the local
area. Luffness appears to have be casted down at this time to enable
English supply ships to land unchallenged while transporting men and
munitions to Haddington. Because of Kilspindie's position on the Bay it
too may well have suffered destruction. This would explain the appearance
of the new "castell toure and fortalice" built by Patrick
Douglas before 1600. By 1612, Kilspindie was granted to Alexander Hay
through his marriage to Patrick's widow. Kilspindie is not mentioned
during Oliver Cromwell's sacking of Lothian castles in the 1650's but by
the 1700's the castle had already been stripped for building material
elsewhere in Aberlady ( ie the walls around St Mary's Kirk being a likely