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Tantallon Castle









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Reconstructions by Andrew Spratt - click images to enlarge

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Three miles east of North Berwick on a cliff top promontory jutting out into the Firth of Forth, opposite the Bass Rock Island, perches the great red curtain wall of of Tantallon castle, seat of the infamous Red Douglas family. The castle was built after 1350 by William 1st Earl of Douglas. Who having spent his youth in France at Chateaux Galliard in Normandy and as an adult fought at the battle of Poitiers in 1356 on behalf of the French King John II 'the Good'. It was no surprise then as to why Tantallon was based on a French Chateaux. The main curtain wall was protected by three towers, on the west end 'the Douglas tower' (almost a Donjon like that at Coucy-le-Chateaux north of Paris, which was also influential in the construction of nearby Dirleton castle a Century earlier), a central mid-tower gatehouse with drawbridge with conical roofed huge bartizans and at the east end a narrow D-plan ' East tower'. Infont of these were three ditches, two being great dry ditches and the outermost being water filled by the 'Tantallon burn' forming a deep moat protecting the southern landward entry. On the western side was a further group of outer ditches and wooden pallisades as far as the present day Castleton farm or 'castle-town' village as it would have been known. In the early 1500's these pallisades were replaced by outerwalls with gun-loops for cannon. Also a Ravelin (V-shaped) cannon platform was added to further protect these outer works.


Because of the belligerent, devious, debach and rebellious nature of the Red Douglases Tantallon sat centre stage for many plots, skirmishes, betrayals, clashes and sieges too numerous and complex to list and detail in entirety. Some of the key highlights being the plotted murder of James 2nd Earl of Douglas (half brother of the Red Douglas) at Otterburn in 1388,by the Black Douglases. Which resulted in an abortive attempt to seize Tantallon from the young Red Douglas. (This feud in turn led to the Red Douglas attacks on the Dalkeith Douglases, allies of the Black Douglases, in 1398.) In 1407 the skirmish with Royal forces protecting Prince James (later King James I of Scots 1407-1435) before the walls of Tantallon leading to the battle of Long Hermiston Moor. The casting down of the three severed heads of the Duke of Albany, his son and his Father-in-law in 1425 beside the captive, widowed Duchess of Albany in an effort to drive her insane. The clash with Black Douglas raiders burning the crops around Tantallon in 1443. The abortive siege in 1491 by King James IV (1488-1513) of Scots. The two sieges by King James V (1513-1542) of Scots in 1528/29 and finally the destruction of Tantallon by Oliver Cromwell in 1651 after a 12 day bombardment.


Today the huge red sandstone walls of Tantallon  bears the scars of these many conflicts but still stands proud like some kind of giant sentinel guarding the mouth of the Firth of Forth for any future would-be invaders.


One of the most impressive castles in Southern Scotland, Tantallon Castle is a large and once strong 14th century courtyard castle, now ruinous. It consists of a massively thick 50-foot-high curtain wall, blocking off a high promontory, the sea and the height of the cliffs defending the three other sides. In front of the wall is a deep ditch, and at each end are ruined towers: one round, one D shaped. The shell of a massive keep-gatehouse stands at the middle of the wall, and rises to six storeys. Within the castle walls are the remains of a range of buildings, which contained a hall and private chambers.


Tantallon news cutting


See also:


Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle
Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle
Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle Tantallon Castle
Photograhy by William Douglas - click images to enlarge


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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024