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Craigmillar Castle
Lothian, Scotland

[Sunday - 10/23/94] Although often forgotten in favor of the more famous Edinburgh Castle, Craigmillar is a substantial and historic ruin, lying only 5km (3 miles) from the center of Edinburgh. Although a building existed on this site from the 13th century, the current castle was built in the mid-15th century as the home for the Preston family. King James V (1512 - 1542) stayed at Craigmillar in 1517. The castle suffered at the hands of the Earl of Hertford during the English invasion of 1544. Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 - 1587), sought seclusion there after the murder of her secretary David Rizzio (1533 - 1566) at Holyrood Palace. Craigmillar was also where Mary's nobles, including the Earl of Bothwell (1536 - 1578) and William Maitland (1525 - 1573), plotted the demise of her second husband Lord Darnley (1545 - 1567).

The house was bought by Sir John Gilmour in 1660, who extended and significantly modernised the property. It was abandonded in the 18th century and given to the nation by the Gilmour family in 1946. It is now maintained by Historic Scotland.

A strong, imposing and well-preserved ruin, Craigmillar Castle consists of a 14th-century L-plan keep, surrounded by a 15th-century curtain wall with round corner towers. Early in the 16th century it was given an additional walled courtyard, protected by a ditch. The Prestons held the property from 1374, and built a new castle on the site of a much older stronghold. In 1477 James III imprisoned his brother John, Earl of Mar, in one of its cellars, where he died. The Earl of Hertford burnt the castle in 1544, after valuables placed here by the citizens of Edinburgh had been stolen by the English.

James V visited the castle to escape 'the pest' in Edinburgh. Mary, Queen of Scots, used Craigmillar often, and fled here in 1566 after the murder of Rizzio by, among others, her second husband Darnley. It was also here that the Regent Moray, Bothwell and William Maitland of Lethington plotted Darnley's murder. Mary's son, James VI, also visited. A walled-up skeleton was found in one of the vaults in 1813. The castle featured in the BBC production of Ivanhoe. Exhibition and visitor centre.

Craigmillar Castle was first mentioned in 1212 and purchased from John de Capella by Sir Simon Preston in 1374. The Prestons built a new castle on the site of an older fortress. In 1477, James III imprisoned his brother John, Earl of Mar, in one it's cellars, where he died. When it was besieged by the Earl of Hertford in 1544 (on behalf of Henry VIII), it was surrendered on the condition that is wasn't damaged, but it was burned nonetheless.

It was restored for Mary to live here in 1566-67 after the murder of her Italian secretary (and probably lover), Rizzio by her husband Darnley. During her stay, a band of conspirators (including Ar4gyll, Huntly, Bothwell, Maitland and Gilbert Balfour plotted to kill Darnley. Mary's room, in the south wing of the keep, is only 7' by 5', but contains 2 windows and a fireplace. Mary's son, James VI stayed here. It was altered to a comfortable residence in 1660 by John Gilmour.

The castle is somewhat notorious, because the plot to kill Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, was formulted here while Mary was in residence, 1566-67. The bailey of Craigmillar is unique in that it survives almost intact and is nearly 300' x 200'. It contains farm buildings, chapel, and gardens. The outer wall encloses a 1 acre courtyard.

The tower house, which form the core of the castle, was fortifed in the 1420s by a massive enclosure wall. It forms a large couryards with rounded towers in each corner. The enclosure wall is about 5' thick and 28' tall in some places. Ranges of buildings were erected along the inside of three sections. On the east corner of the larger enclosure wall is a rounded doocot, suprisingly riddled with gunports.

Craigmillar has an unusual history. While it always remained in private ownership, it served as a semi-royal residence, used as a sort of adjunct to Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House in nearby Edinburgh. It was particularly useful as a retreat for the royal household when plague hit the city, as it frequently did. The neighborhood surrounding the castle is often called 'Little France'; Mary's french courtiers often stayed here when she was in residence. A walled up skeleton was found in one of the vaults in 1813 during restoration work.

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