Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

The Tomb of Sir William Borthwick

Claiming to be one of the finest keeps in Scotland, Borthwick Castle – just 12 miles from Edinburgh in North Middleton, Midlothian – is one of the largest and best-preserved medieval castles in the land. It is protected on three sides by a steep fall in the ground and enclosed by a barmkin with corner towers.

Borthwick Castle
Borthwick Castle with the steep fall in the ground visible on the left

Famous for its connection to Mary Queen of Scots, Borthwick Castle is of superb quality, strongly vaulted and with a parapet projecting on bold corbels giving the castle a strong, purposeful – yet still aesthetically-pleasing – appearance. If you want to admire the interior of Borthwick Castle, it is available for exclusive hire. But if the budget won't stretch that far, you can at least take a peek at the tantalising photos on its website – click here.

An imposing fortress, Borthwick Castle was built in 1430 for Sir William Borthwick from whom the castle took its name. Sir William was born in 1411 but the date of his death is less certain.

We are fortunate that Sir William's tomb survives in the adjoining Borthwick Church. His effigy is lovingly placed beside that of his wife but, as he was married three times, we cannot be certain which one! Only the name of his second wife, Mariotta Hoppringle, is known but the tomb most likely pays tribute to his third wife who was mother to his heir.

Her hands clasped in prayer, her head rests upon pillows and her feet upon a hound. Her headdress is encrusted with pearls and a gilt cross hangs from her throat. Her body is clad in an embroidered kirtle tied at the waist by a girdle over which a mantle is secured by a gold chain.

Sir William is clad in the most up-to-date plate armour, his head resting on a great helm and his feet on a lion.

Borthwick Tomb
The tomb of Sir William Borthwick and his wife in Borthwick Church

Armour of the quality depicted on Sir William's body would have been imported from Italy and would have cost as much a Ferrari sports car would today. Traces of blue, green, black and gold paint indicate that the effigies were once brightly coloured and gilded. They no longer occupy their original position in the wall of the church due to a fire in 1780 and the subsequent rebuilding work that was carried out as a result.

There has been debate as to whether the tomb belongs to Sir William or his son but the style of armour is early which suggests the former is the more likely. A similar set of armour can be seen in the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, a Milanese example from 1440 whose articulated breastplate and fauld match that of our knight.

Milanese Armour
Milanese armour on display in the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow

Only about a dozen complete effigies survive in Scotland and we are particularly fortunate that Sir William Borthwick's is so easily accessible for us to admire.

CLAN CONNECTION - Clan Borthwick

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Photo of Borthwick Castle, top left, credit: Peter van der Wielen [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Added: 17 Nov 2018 Updated: 13 Oct 2023
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