Thirlestane Castle is a castle set in extensive parklands near Lauder in the Borders of Scotland. The site is aptly named Castle Hill, as it stands upon raised ground. However, the raised land is within Lauderdale, the valley of the Leader Water. The land has been in the ownership of the Maitland family since 1587, and Thirlestane served as the seat of the Earls of Lauderdale. The castle was substantially extended in the 1670s by the first and only Duke of Lauderdale. Further additions were made in the 19th century. The castle is now cared for by a charitable trust, and is open to the public.

History of the castle
Before the 13th century, a large fort or castle was built on Castle Hill near the Leader Water, defending the southern approach to Edinburgh through Lauderdale. Upon its redundancy in the early 16th century, it passed to Robert Lauder of that Ilk, who gave it in dowry to his daughter Alison and her husband George Wedderhede. This couple, and their son, were all murdered in feuds, Alison in 1547. Records are wanting but presumably the lands reverted to her parents, her mother being Alison Cranstoun. They both died in the second half of 1567 leaving only young grandchildren as heirs. The Cranstouns sold Castle Hill on 27 January 1587 to Sir John Maitland (d.1595). During the war with England called the ' Rough Wooings' the site had been occupied by a large English artillery fort and garrison. By the 22 March 1587, Maitland was 'busily occupied with his masons at the building of his house in the Fort of Lauder.'

The Maitland family
The Maitlands came to Britain from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066, originally settling in Northumberland. They gained power and influence as a result of military service but largely due to their contributions to law and the arts in the 16th century. William Maitland of Lethington, was Secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, his younger brother was Sir John Maitland, Secretary of Scotland, who acquired Thirlestane in 1587. In the same year he built a large square keep or tower house upon the foundations and walls of the original fort. In 1590, Sir John was appointed Lord Chancellor of Scotland, and was ennobled as Lord Maitland of Thirlestane. This new nouse near Lauder was to replace the Maitland's original but now decaying Thirlestane Castle, a peel tower situated a mile to the south. Its ruins are still extant, and are shown on the Ordnance Survey map of the area. Lord Maitland's son was created the 1st Earl of Lauderdale in 1624. His son was John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale (1616–1682), one of the most important Scottish figures of the late 17th century, being appointed Secretary of State for Scotland in 1660, a position carrying unrivalled power and influence. He employed the architect Sir William Bruce to transform the castle into a residence suitable for conducting the affairs of state. Between 1670 and 1676 the substantial alterations included the addition of the two front towers and the grand staircase, in addition to extensive internal modifications creating lavish staterooms with magnificent plasterwork ceilings. By the 19th century, in more peaceful times, the castle took on the role of a Scottish country mansion for the Earls of Lauderdale. In 1840 the Edinburgh architects David Bryce and William Burn were engaged to design extensions to the castle. Their additions consist of two large wings flanking the central keep and a south wing, constructed around a central courtyard, housing new kitchens, pantries, laundries and servants' quarters.

The castle today
Captain Gerald Maitland-Carew inherited the castle in 1972 from his maternal grandmother, Ethel, Countess of Lauderdale, wife of the 15th Earl. At this time, the castle was in a serious state of disrepair, requiring extensive renovation. In 1984 the castle was gifted to a charitable trust established to ensure its preservation, and major repairs were carried out, assisted by financial grants awarded by the Historic Buildings Council and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. In addition to the grounds, the castle itself and its interiors, Thirlestane is noted for fine collections of paintings, furniture, porcelain and an historic toy collection. The castle is open to visitors from April until September.

Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator
  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com