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Preserving the Past for the Future

War Damaged Buildings Part 1


Many of Scotland's buildings retain evidence of conflict - here are just some of them...


Click here to view Part 2 - War Damaged Churches

Cessford showing repaired breach

Cessford Castle with repairs to war damaged walling cleary visible

Cessford Castle (Roxburgh)


In May 1532 the Earl of Surrey attacked Cessford Castle then regarded as the 3rd strongest in Scotland (Dunbar and Fast being the others) and events were to prove this correct.

Eleven cannon opened up on the walls but did little damage. Meanwhile the barbican was entered by scaling ladders. Two culverins then fired at a blocked up window about 6 feet from the ground which was opened and enlarged. Brave gunners rushed the breach to shovel in 4 barrels of gunpowder but the vigilant Scots set a fire against them. The gunners were badly burnt and the powder wasted with no injury to the castle.

Cessford with its 14 feet thick walls

Cessford with its 14 feet thick walls. Since photo taken the castle has been consolidated

Cannon were being dismounted and the attackers injured by the accurate fire of the defenders. Surrey despaired until the owner, Sir Andrew Kerr, arrived on the scene. He feared the worst and offered to surrender the castle on condition of leaving with bag and baggage.

Surrey accepted with alacrity for, as he wrote to Henry VIII, if the defence had been continued 'I do not see how the castle could have been taken'.

Traces of the breach may be seen in the badly disturbed and rudely repaired masonry on the lower right of the top photograph.


Holyrood lower portion pockmarked

Holyrood Palace. Walling below string course pockmarked by shot

Holyrood Palace and St Mary's Haddington (Lothian)


The most devastating attacks that Scotland ever suffered occurred during what is known as the war of the 'Rough Wooing'.

Henry had determined that his son, Edward, be married to the infant Mary Queen of Scots and when the Scots reneged on the deal he resorted to terror.

On 10 April 1544 he issued the following oder to his forces:

'Put all to fire and sword, burn Edinburgh town, so razed and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what ye can of it, as there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God lightened upon them for their falsehood and disloyalty ... sack Holyrood House and sack Leith and burn and subvert it and all the rest, putting man, woman and child to fire and sword, without exception where any resistance shall be made ... spare no creature alive within the same'.

Spare no creature alive within the same

Holyrood Loop with filled in bullet holes

Widely splayed gun aperture surrounded by bullet marks (some filled in)

On May 4th the English Fleet appeared in the Forth. The Earl of Hertford landed with a force more powerful than any that Scotland could bring against it and began his work. He obeyed Henry's instructions to the letter. The town of Edinburgh was sacked, Holyrood Abbey was laid in ashes and the palace of James V was gutted. Only the castle, high on its rock, proved impregnable. The Earl returned to England by land destroying all in his path.

Haddington (St Marys Church)

St Mary's Church, Haddington, occupied by the French besiegers and peppered by the English

Worse, far worse, was to come. Scotland was down and out and the English settled down to garrison the Lothians and Dundee with their strongest force ensconced in Haddington.

France was to intervene on Scotland's behalf. On the 17 June 1548 a French fleet arrived at Leith. The English were now on the back foot. Closely besieged at Haddington and now at open war with France they had little choice but to evacuate that town and to send out peace feelers.

By the Treaty of Boulogne 13 March 1550 it was all over and Scotland was saved though at terrible cost.

Holyrood musket ball marked tower

A close up of the shot  marks on the rounds of the palace made by the Earl of Hertford's forces

The pockmarked walls of Holyrood House show that it was not given up without a fight whilst those on the walls of St Mary's Haddington were made by the English shooting at the French besiegers firing from the church tower.


Borthwick marks of Cromwells cannon

Borthwick showing the damage done by Cromwell's cannon

Borthwick Castle (Lothian)

After the Battle of Dunbar in September 1650 Cromwell set about reducing the 'great houses' which threatened his supply lines to Edinburgh. By November he was free to attack Borthwick. He wrote to its governor that he harboured 'murderers' and warning him that 'if you necessitate me to bend my cannon against you, you may expect what I doubt you will not be pleased with'.

General Lambert was ordered to Borthwick and took up position with 'two mortar pieces and 2 great guns'. The guns opened fire from a small hill behind the castle and soon pockmarked the walls. Lord Borthwick promptly capitulated and was allowed to 'walk away' with bag and baggage - a wise man!

The marks of Cromwell's cannon are clearly visible on the walls.


Stirling Castle with bullet marked forework

Stirling Castle with bullet marked forework

Stirling Castle (Stirling)

After the Battle of Inverkeithing 20 July 1651 the position of Charles II in Scotland was untenable. Drawing up his army on Stirling Park he marched into England having first reduced the garrison at the castle to a scratch force in order to augment his army.

Stirling Castle bullet marked Elphinstone Tower

Elphinstone Tower. Damage probably caused by Monk's mortars.

Cromwell followed him south but left General Monk behind to mop up. On the 6 August the latter appeared before Stirling Castle and ordered its surrender. He was ignored. Monk set up his ordinance at the same time his troops shot at the castle from the tower of the Holy Rude church only to be hotly peppered by shot in return.

Stirling bullet marked great hall

Stirling Castle's bullet marked great hall.

By the 12th of August his mortars were lobbing bombs into the castle which did 'much execucion'. On the 14th his other 'great guns' were brought into play. The highland garrison mutinied compelling their commander, Colonel Cunningham, to surrender. Three hundred men marched out of the castle.

The marks of the mortars are clearly evident on the fore wall and on the gable of the great hall. The west wall of the Holy Rude church is also splattered with the marks of gunfire.

Stirlilng Castle wall with bullet marks

Close up of Stirling Castle wall with bullet marks - not a place to have been standing!


See Part 2 - War Damaged Churches

Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle


Date posted: 20 Dec 2012Last updated: 04 Dec 2014


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