Sunday, 13 October 2013

Tantallon Castle

Even in its ruinous state, Tantallon Castle remains a potent, awesome expression of landed power in fourteenth century Scotland. The castle  occupies a most dramatic position at the end of a headland jutting out into the North Sea with more often than not the waves crashing on the rocks below. The castle was built over the course of the 1350's by William Douglas who had inherited the estate, which included North Berwick, from his father and uncle. In 1358 he was created 1st Earl of Angus by King David II, son of Robert the Bruce, only the third creation of an earldom since the twelfth century. The magnificent scale of the curtain wall, four meters wide, at Tantallon  can be seen as the display of his new found wealth and status. The curtain wall at Tantallon is not even surpassed in its visual impact by the curtain wall at Miravet in Spain built by the Order of the Temple. In the course of the 1380's the Douglas family split into two branches, the Black and the Red. For the next three hundred years Tantallon was the principal seat of the cadet branch, the Red Douglas's, one of the most powerful landowning family's in Scotland.

Three towers project from the curtain wall.The earl's and his family had their private lodgings in the north tower. The gatehouse was in the middle and the south tower was most likely used for guest accommodation. This was a residence designed for the display of power. The earls entertained their sovereigns, the rich and mighty and foreign dignitaries against the backdrop of their magnificent castle on top of the cliffs with the Bass Rock off the coast.

To service the needs of the castle and its visitors the forecourt in front of the curtain wall, protected by the outer defenses was originally filled with service buildings, brew-house, bake-house, workshops and stables of which the only survivor is the seventeenth century doocot. Built in the lectern style with crow stepped gables at either end it had nesting boxes for one thousand birds.

On three occasions during its history Tantallon was transformed from a luxury residence into a fortress.In 1491 it was besieged by James IV and again in 1528 by James 1528. On both occasions Tantallon proved to be impregnable. It was the English invasion of Scotland in 1651 by Crmwell who sent General Monck to take the castle that brought Tantallon's history as a powerful stronghold, and a residence to an end. The upright medieval walls could not withstand the battery of a modern artillery barrage, the damage of which can still be seen. The castle's position had meant that it was incapable of being adapted to withstand modern bombardment. The castle was abandoned to the birds leaving one of the most awesome ruined castles in Scotland.

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