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Also known as Marchmount, only fragments survive of what was once the most extensive and powerful castle in the borders. It occupied a site some 360 metres long and 90 metres wide, a curtain wall with corner towers once encircled the whole area but now only fragments remain along the south side.


It is not known exactly when the hill was first fortified but it was a fortress as far back as the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.
It was a favourite residence of David I, before and after his accession, it was he who made it a royal palace. His successors, Malcolm IV, William the Lion and Alexander's II and III all stayed here.


In 1124, Malcolm, son of MacBeth, was imprisoned in one of towers and, 22 years later his own son, Donald was held here. Roxburgh, along with Edinburgh and Stirling Castles were handed over to the English as security for the ransom demanded by Henry of England for the release of William the Lion after his capture at the Battle of Alnwick in 1174. King David planned and supervised his border abbeys from here and, in 1239 Alexander II married Mary de Couci here, his son, Alexander III was also born in the castle. 


John Balliol presented Roxburgh Castle to Edward I of England in 1290 and two years later the English  king celebrated the Feast of Pentecost here.


William Wallace was unsuccessful in an attempt to win it back in 1297 while trying to rescue Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, who was being held here.


It was won back in March 1313(1) by Sir James 'the good' Douglas and a group of around sixty men. They gained entry by using hemp ladders with hooks attached to scale the walls, surprising the garrison who were all feasting in the great hall. The warden and a few men took to the keep but surrendered the following day. Bruce then ordered the demolition of the fortifications, as he had with most castles, to prevent further occupation. Mary, Bruce's sister had earlier been hung in a cage from the castle walls, she was later released.


The Treaty of Northampton in 1329 gave Roxburgh to the the Scots, but during the reign of Bruce's son, David II, the son of John Balliol, Edward, who was contesting the throne, gave Roxburgh to his backers, the English, who repaired the damage done by Bruce. It was won back again in 1341 by Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie. He put the 40 strong garrison to the sword and was rewarded with the Governorship of Roxburgh and Sheriffdom of Teviotdale. The English regained possession in 1334 and attempts to win it back by the Douglas and James I were unsuccessful, it was to remain in English hands for over 100 years.


In 1460 a large army led by James II laid siege to the castle after totally demolishing the town of Roxburgh. On Sunday 3rd August, not long into the siege a Flemish gun, known as the Lion, burst on firing, killing the King instantly and severely wounding the Earl of Angus, George Douglas. Word was sent to James' queen, Mary of Gueldres, requesting that she attend and to bring the 8 year old Prince James with her. On her arrival she urged the army to continue with the siege, which they did by storming and winning the castle the same day.  The fortifications were once again demolished, though were partly rebuilt a few years later. The young James III was crowned at Kelso Abbey a week later.


In 1547 the Earl of Somerset, returning home from the Battle of Pinkie, made repairs to the buildings and left a garrison of 500 men. Three years later a treaty between Scotland's ally, France, and England, bound them to demolish the two Scottish castles they still held, Eyemouth and Roxburgh. The demolition was duly carried out and for the first time in centuries Roxburgh Castle was at peace.


In 1574 James VI granted the castle to Robert Ker of Cessford, from whom the Dukes of Roxburgh are descended. Floors Castle, the palatial mansion house which is home to the Dukes can be seen from the hill.  This was built for the 1st Duke, starting in 1718, to a design by Sir John Vanburgh, William Adam was involved in the latter stages of it construction. It was completely remodelled by William Playfair, on behalf of the 6th Duke, between 1838 and 1849. It has been described as the largest inhabited mansion in the U.K. This was the house used in the 1983 film; Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.


James Douglas attacking Roxburgh Castle.<br>Print available from
James Douglas attacking Roxburgh Castle; Angus McBride

On one occasion Roxburgh Castle was re-captured by the Douglases.  Black Douglas led is men over the walls and into the castle. Stealthily exploring the nearest rooms, Douglas came upon a women singing her child to sleep. As she sang ‘The Black Douglas shall not get ye,’ a leather-gloved hand was laid on her arm and a voice said: ‘I am not so sure of that!’


It was Black Douglas himself!



1.  Some sources state the date for this event was 19th February 1314

See also: Roxburgh Castle (later history)

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024