Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Buittle - Castle of the Balliols

Buittle Castle stands on the Banks of the River Urr close to Dalbeattie in Kirkcudbrightshire. It consists of two castles, one dating from the 12th century and the other from the 16th.

Edward Balliol in 1332

The original castle was a motte and bailey , the stronghold of Allan, Lord of Galloway, whose daughter, Devorgilla, inherited it in 1234.

She married John Balliol of Barnard Castle and their son, John, was 'appointed' King of Scots in 1292 by Edward I of England.

When her husband died in 1269, Devorgilla had his heart embalmed and kept in a casket of ivory bound with silver. This casket never left her side and at her death in 1290 she was interred alongside her beloved husband in Sweetheart Abbey which she herself had founded.

Devorgilla made many changes to her father's castle and it is perhaps to her that we can attribute the present stone castle. This consists of an oval curtain wall following the outline of the motte. It was strongly defended by four round towers and a twin towered gatehouse and was to play a part in the Wars of Independence.

By 1312 Edward Bruce (the King's brother) had taken all the English castles in the south west except Buittle which he was anxious to capture as a Balliol property. The siege was to last several months but it eventually fell in February 1313. King Robert himself arrived to take the surrender and, in common with his policy, it was raised to the ground.

TOP: Motte gatehouse from inside bailey
BOTTOM: Motte from outside bailey
LEFT: Gatehouse in 1788 from inside bailey
RIGHT: Sweetheart Abbey from town of New Abbey

The death of King Robert in 1329 was England's opportunity. With the support of King Edward III, Edward Balliol (son of the late John) landed in Fife in 1332 and fought his way to Perth, crushing the Scots on the way at Dupplin Moor and had himself crowned king. He was soon chased out of Scotland but returned to reoccupy his ruined castle of Buittle until forced again to flee, this time to his fortified manor on Hestan Island. From there it was but a short step to England to surrender his claim to the Scottish crown into King Edward's hands. His reward was a pension for life and an English manor house in which he died in 1356 – the last of the Balliols*.

Hestan Island – the last refuge of Edward Balliol
LEFT: The restored 16th century tower house
RIGHT: Tower house in 1788 - note turrets

In the late 16th century a strong L-plan tower house was built with stones salvaged from the old castle. It itself was in ruin by the 1780s but restored the following century albeit relieved of its corner turrets. It now presents a rather stark appearance but has lately been taken in hand and the grounds are being landscaped. The old castle, however, is neglected and fenced off.

Tower house from bailey

* In 1333 Edward Balliol had surrendered the entire south of Scotland to Edward III for his support – this included Roxburgh Castle. It was not until 1460, a full 127 years later, that the Scots recovered the castle. The fact that Berwick has remained an English town to this day can, in a large part, be attributed to the Balliol sell out of 1333.

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 20 Dec 2019 Updated: 16 Oct 2023
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