Several miles south of the East Lothian town of Gifford
on a high roughly triangular promontory where the Hopes water merges with a
lesser burn sits the broken remains of Yester castle. Consisting of a
fragmented vaulted keep on the east side and at the apex of the site a
section of 14th century curtain wall, showing evidence of lean-to buildings
with a small postern gate. Underneath this 14th century masonry is the
famous subterranean Goblin Hall, presumably created by mysterious forces. In
reality it is but the basement vault of the original rectangular keep first
raised by the alleged wizard Hugh de Gifford some time before 1267. This
Gifford keep was illegally occupied by the English in 1308 and was
consequently stormed by the Scots then cast down to ground level in accord
with King Robert the Bruce's (1306-1329) policy of making castles
unserviceable to the English.
After the turbulent years of the wars of Independence
Yester was rebuilt as a courtyard castle. On the south side of the site
today is a dry fosse about 50ft.wide by 20.ft deep. Originally this was
water filled as a stepped dam wall running from east keep divided the Hopes
water so that half carried on it's usual route and half ran across the fosse
to meet the lesser burn creating a three sided moat.
In 1357 Yester passed by marriage to the Hays. The name
Hay dates back to 8th century France. Although in Hector Boece's fables a
farmer called Hay and his two sons helped defeat the Danes at the battle of
Luncarty in 971 AD. Certainly the Hay heraldry consists of three spade
shaped escutcheons which supposedly represent the bloody farm implements
used by the Hay trio to dispatch the 'viking' raiders.
Returning to recorded history a La Haya de Puits was a
commander with William the Conqueror's army in 1066. A William de Haya was
butler to King William 'the Lion' of Scots (1165-1214). Also de Haya's
eldest son was one of several hostages held in England with the King of
Scots after he was betrayed and captured at the siege of Alnwick castle in
1174. On the King's return to Scotland de Haya's two sons were granted the
lands of Erroll in the north and Tweeddale in the south. De Haya's younger
son Robert became the ancestor of the Hays of Yester. Sir Gilbert De la
Hay,3rd Lord of Erroll was co-regent of Scotland in 1225 and married Lady
Idonea Comyn,their son Gilbert fought for King Robert the Bruce he was
rewarded with the lands of Slains, near Aberdeen and hereditary position of
Lord High Constable of Scotland.
In may 1400 William Hay of Yester accompanied
'Red' Douglas Earl of Angus of Tantallon castle
to a meeting at Bothwell
castle with Archibald the 'Grim' 3rd Earl of Douglas, to defuse an ongoing
feud between the 'Red' Douglas and James Douglas of Dalkeith (Archibald's
ally) over possession of the lands of Liddesdale. The 'Red' Douglas and his
allies had burnt the lands around Dalkeith castle and other estates
throughout Scotland "To recover from James Douglas all mails and rents of Liddesdale which he wrongfully occupies." Eventually an agreement was made
where the 'Red' Douglas faction would end their attacks in exchange for some
of the Liddesdale lands.
In 1402 William Hay of Yester marched on Newcastle with
the Scots army under the command of Archibald 4th Earl of Douglas. After
retiring from Northumberland the Scots carrying much booty were intercepted
and routed by 'Hotspur' Percy and his expert Welsh archers at the battle of
Homildon Hill, near Wooler. William Hay along with the
Earl of Douglas was
among the many nobles unhorsed and captured during the battle. By 1403 Hay
of Yester was back in Scotland signing land charters for the still captive
Earl of Douglas. At this time a dispute arose between the Percies and King
Henry IV of England over who could claim the ransom money for the many Scots
nobles taken at Homildon. This led to open rebellion where 'Hotspur' Percy
led Welsh and English rebels against King Henry at the battle of Shrewsbury.
During the battle 'Hotspur' was killed and the rebels defeated.
In 1406 a form of rebellion was also brewing in Scotland.
The Stewart of Albany the ambitious brother of the weak willed King Robert
III of Scots (1390 -1406) who had been responsible for the death of Prince
David at Falkland Palace was plotting to kill Robert's remaining son Prince
James. So rushed plans were made to send the Prince abroad. For some strange
reason David Flemming with Prince James and the 'leading men of Lothian'
tried to seize Tantallon castle from the young 'Red' Douglas who's father
had died after Homildon Hill possibly in an effort to use this as a safe
stronghold to house the Prince before his evacuation to France. However the
'Red' Douglas's grandmother, a fiery individual and her kin the Sinclairs of
Herdmanston were in no mood for political games and their verbal rebuke
broke out into actual violence with Flemming and his 'strong band' fleeing
with the Prince to the nearby North Berwick castle. From here the Prince was
taken to the even safer Bass Rock Island castle opposite Tantallon in the
Firth of Forth, to await a ship to France. Meanwhile the decoy royal army
led by Flemming raced from North Berwick back up the coast drawing a rebel
army out from Edinburgh castle led by
James the 'Gross' Douglas (an ally of
Albany). The royal army was 'overtaken' and routed at the battle of long
Hermiston Moor and Flemming killed. Unfortunately all this sacrifice was for
nothing for the Prince en route to France was captured by the English and
held captive for 18years.
In 1407 the Earl of Douglas appointed 'his very dear
squire' William Hay as Sheriff of Peebles. Later he also gave Hay lands in
Galloway. By 1418 Douglas ordered his men to 'impose distress' on the people
of Galloway for refusing to pay their rent to their new Master William Hay.
Showing that he like his father Archibald the 'Grim' ruled by fear and force
In 1409 Margaret, daughter of William Hay married
the 'Red' Douglas 2nd Earl of Angus in an attempt to bring the 'Red' Douglases back into the fold of the 'Black' Douglas camp. With the death of
William Hay in 1420 his son Thomas took over as Lord of Yester and started a
dispute with the Borthwicks of Borthwick castle, Mid Lothian also 'Black'
Douglas vassals. Which led to local Lothian violence with the 'Red' Douglases delighted to help the Hays in their attacks, because they were
protecting their 'in laws' . This minor civil war continued until Prince
James, now King James I (1406-1437) returned to Scotland in 1424. In 1478
John Hay was created Baron Yester of Yester.
In 1513 Baron Yester and his kinsman Hay Earl of Erroll
of Slains castle, near Aberdeen gathered their forces together and marched
south with King James IV of Scots (1488-1513) to harry the north of England.
The King was also joined in this venture by several other noble Lairds, the
aged Archibald 'Bell-the-cat' Douglas of
Tantallon castle. Lord Borthwick of
Borthwick castle (the King's cannon commander) , Lord Lyndsay of Byres
castle, near Haddington and the Border veteran Lord Home of Home castle.
The Scots crossed the river Tweed at Coldstream, stormed
Wark castle, bombarded Norham castle with 'Mon's Meg' (great bombard held
today at Edinburgh castle) into surrender, seized Etal castle and burnt down
Ford castle after the King spent several days dallying with Lady Heron of
Ford. This was a ploy on Lady Heron's part, by detaining the Scots King in
her bedchamber it allowed the English Borders time to assemble their forces
at Newcastle and Alnwick. As the Scots sat inactive encamped at Flodden
hill, Archibald Douglas suggested the Scots army should either advance
further into England or withdraw altogether. The King insisted that Douglas
leave if he was too old to fight. Furious Douglas departed leaving his two
sons George and William to fly the Douglas colours at
When the English did arrive they began filing across the
valley towards Branxton ridge cutting off the Scots retreat route. Lord
Borthwick pleaded with the King to let him fire a barrage on the English
before they reached the other ridge. King James dismissed this suggestion as
unchivalrous and insisted a salute was fired to acknowledge their arrival.
Interestingly this salute was viewed as incompetence by the English who
assumed the Scots gunners were firing over their heads unable to gauge their
position. Lord Lyndsay begged the King to allow him to charge with his
horsemen down the hillside to divide the English before they could assemble.
Once again the King refused the sound guidance of his men and threatened to
hang Lord Lyndsay from the gate of Byres castle on his return to Scotland if
he did not hold his position.
After the English had assembled and heralds had exchanged
various demands a short cannon bombardment between the armies ensued in
which the Scots came off worst. Lord Home's mounted Borderers charged across
the valley and routed the English right flank. Instead of following up this
success the Homes simply collected booty from the dead and fled the field.
Lord Home suggested let the King do as well. King James leapt from his horse
planning to lead his pikemen on foot. The Douglas brothers implied that this
was lunacy. Angered by this rebuke the King tore his royal surcoat from his
breast plate to show that he was fighting as an ordinary man-at-arms and
demanded that his nobles climb down off their horses and descend on foot
with the pikemen. The nobles did as they were commanded, King JamesIV, the
Douglases, Baron Yester of Yester, Hay Earl of Erroll and many other Lords
were all killed.
From 1544 to 1549 the English failed to bring about the
marriage of Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) to the English Prince Edward by
use of bribes and hence had resorted to force burning castles and villages
throughout Scotland. So the days became known as the wars of the 'Rough
Wooing'. In 1547 Yester castle was attacked by a small English pioneer
force, while the main army marched up the coast from Berwick in sight of the
English fleet. The castle was strongly defended by the 4th Baron Yester and
eventually the pioneers abandoned their siege and moved northwards to link
with the main English army and fleet at Pinkie near Musselburgh. Baron
Yester also fought and distinguished himself at the battle of Pinkie, where
the Scots army were totally annihilated by combined use of land and ship
based bombardment. The Baron was thrown from his horse in the confused Scots
retreat, captured by the English then imprisoned in the Tower of London for
After Pinkie the English planned to secure a permanent
base at Haddington and to ensure this base's safety, castles in the
immediate vicinity were to be seized. In 1548 Yester was one of the first
targets to be stormed by the English with the aid of local 'assured Scots'
who favoured the marriage of Mary to Edward. Soon after Yester was again
re-captured by the Scots and the 'assured Scots' punished. Cockburn of
Ormiston, Douglas of Longniddry and Lord Brunstane all had their Towers
In 1557 William Hay 5th Baron Yester abandoned Yester
castle as a residence in favour of a new Towerhouse nearby on the site of
the present day Adam's style Yester house. By the late 1600's Yester was
already in a very ruined state as recorded in prints of the day. As with so
many other Lothian castles it became used as the local quarry and like a
child's sandcastle being swept away by the tide, more and more masonry was
swept away as time progressed leaving the fragmented, mysterious ruin that
we see today.
Contributed by Andrew Spratt
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