Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Bothwell Castle - The Gatehouse

Bothwell Castle

Bothwell Castle - Scotland's largest and finest 13th century castle

In 1337 Sir Andrew Moray captured Bothwell Castle from the English and 'scattered it from the foundations'. For 25 years it lay in ruin until 1362 when Sir Archibald Douglas married the Moray heiress, Lady Joanna. This union brought Douglas wealth together with the ruined castle which he set about restoring. Work, however, was to continue for almost 100 years. What Archibald found and what he built has been argued over by academics. One thing is certain, around 1700 the Earl of Forfar abandoned the castle as a home and had it pulled down in order to provide materials for his new mansion.

Bothwell Castle Old Sketches

 Slezer 1685 and Cardonell 1788. Note NE tower and gap indicating position of former gatehouse.

The earliest representation of Bothwell Castle is by Captain John Slezer, engineer to Charles II, from around 1685. This is the sole depiction of those parts of the castle dismantled by Forfar (highlighted in orange) with the gatehouse to the left and the NE tower to the right. The former appears a building of some substance while the NE tower dwarfs all. Of these only the foundations of the gatehouse and fragments of the NE tower remain. When Cardonnel sketched the castle in 1788 it appeared much as it does today.

FEATURES-Bothwell Castle Artist Impression

Bothwell Castle as imagined by Historic Scotland

An artist’s impression of Bothwell by Historic Scotland is on display at the castle (above) but it must be treated with caution - especially with regard to the gatehouse.

The Castle is Rebuilt - Stage One

It is clear that neither the NE tower nor the gatehouse were part of the primary rebuilding programme - nor was the great hall. The first task that Douglas undertook was to build the north and east walls to enclose what remained of the old castle together with internal buildings. What the latter consisted of cannot be stated without excavation.

This begs the question where was the entrance? The only possible answer is a simple gate in the north wall similar to that found at Craigmillar Castle. Douglas, at this stage, may have more urgent requirements than a dedicated gatehouse.

The Castle is Rebuilt - Stage Two

Douglas was to die in 1400 so he had 38 years to work on Bothwell. Having enclosed the site and made it habitable he could now move on to grander schemes. We are hindered by our ignorance of what remained from the 13th century and how its footprint would influence future work but Douglas certainly gave up any idea he may have had of restoring the old donjon and opted instead for a modern tower house at the north east corner and a gatehouse in the north wall.

That the tower house is secondary to the enclosure wall is proved by the fact that it is butted onto its wall whose base course is preserved inside the tower. Further, beam holes were roughly hacked into the curtain which now became its inner wall. The entrance was at first floor level accessed by a drawbridge as can be seen in photograph (left) below.

FEATURES-Bothwell Castle Gatehouse

North east tower with raised entrance and drawbridge (masked by later hall)
Nantes, France, with similar 'coat hanger' drawbridge. This could suggest the gatehouse at Bothwell

The Gatehouse

The long suspected fore work was located fronting the gap in the north wall during excavations in 1981. It proved to be 10.35 x 5.75 m with walls 2.60 m thick, lime bonded with a tooled face. Internally there was a 'chamber' 4.6 x 2.3 m. There was no evidence of entrance or access to this chamber. That the fore work was later than the north wall was evident from the fact that it race bonded to that wall and its foundations were shallower. Additionally there was no evidence that the gatehouse (as we must now call it) extended beyond the wall and into the courtyard.

Historic Scotland depict the gatehouse as an oblong, machicolated tower with base course which projects north to the field and south to the courtyard. A wide entrance is placed at ground level with no apparent defences. This cannot be accepted.

Bothwell Castle plan sketch

Douglas work at Bothwell

Phase 1 (Green) - North and East Curtains.
Phase 2 (Pink) - Gatehouse, North East Tower and closing wall of Donjon. 
Phase 3 (Light Brown) - The Great Hall. (drawbridge now redundant)

The Gatehouse - an alternative interpretation

The 1981 excavations provided no evidence for a base course or courtyard projection. More importantly, no sign was found of an entrance.

An interpretation would suggest a raised entrance accessed by a timber ramp and drawbridge. The internal 'chamber' could be a pit for this drawbridge or perhaps even a prison. A pit prison is found in a similar location at Stirling Castle whose gatehouse resembles that at Bothwell in many respects. 

There is an intriguing possibility, one which can never be proved but which would be very much in the character of the castle. Bothwell exhibits many French features; the machicolations of the south east tower linked by arches and the round on the north wall upon a square buttress. Thus a French style gatehouse as  at Nantes could be imagined which would be both defensive and imposing - a truly ducal entry.

Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle

Added: 18 Jun 2013 Updated: 29 Mar 2018
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