Friday, 22 August 2014

Hermitage Castle - Liddlesdale (Home of the Border Reviers)

Hermitage castle stands as a monument to the bloody and violent history of the Border Reviers, the wars between England and Scotland, the occult and a romantic tryst between a Queen and her lover.  Steeped in myth and legend, Hermitage still looks chilling, frightening and sinister with more ghosts than you can imagine.  It stands as a gatehouse to the bloodiest of valleys and if walls could talk you would never believe the stories. 



The Soules crossed the English Channel with William the Conqueror.  Ranulf de Soules, the first to come to Scotland, held the position of butler at the Court of David I.  The first castle occupied by Ranulf was at Liddel Water, four miles from the Hermitage.  It was here that his servants murdered the second Lord Ranulf.  It was believed he was involved in the occult and black magic and folklore tells of him being boiled in molten lead.  It was after the above episode the family moved to the Hermitage. 
 
 

The original castle built by Lord Nicholas De Soules around 1240 has disappeared, due to being of a timber structure, although the original earthworks still remain and are probably the foundations for the current castle.  The construction of the castle nearly brought England and Scotland to war due to its strategic position controlling Liddlesdale. 
 
Dungeon - hole with no light, air, sanitation or water and no way out!!

Inner Courtyard
In 1296, Hermitage fell into English hands during the war of Independence.  Sir Nicholas still held claim to the castle when Lord John Balliol was enthroned as King John I in 1292.  In 1320, Nichols’s son, William, was accused of conspiring to kill the King Robert the Bruce.  As a result, he lost his lands, title and was imprisoned for life.  King Robert the Bruce granted Hermitage to his illegitimate son Sir Robert Bruce. 


The peace treaty of 1328 stipulated that property belonging to English lords in Scotland should be returned to them.  The Scots refused and it was only in 1332 that it was given to Sir Ralph de Neville. However, this was short-lived and in 1338, Sir William Douglas seized Hermitage.  Sir William was grieved that he had been overlooked for the role of sheriff of Teviotdale.  In 1342, he imprisoned the new sheriff and starved him to death.  After this, the king appointed Sir William to the post.  Sir William was taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346.  Sir William traded with his captors but King David II countered this pact by giving Hermitage to Sir Williams’s godson, another William.  Sir William and his godson faced each other in Ettrick Forrest in 1353 resulting in the death of Sir William.  However, young William could not claim Hermitage as Sir William's widow married Sir Hugh de Dacre, a Cumbrian Lord.  Sir Hugh resisted giving William, now the 1st Earl of Douglas, Hermitage until 1371. 
 
Douglas Tower
Earl William began transforming Sir Hugh’s manor house into a great rectangular tower house.  He died in 1384 and his son, James, the 2nd Earl was killed at the battle of Otterburn.  The Hermitage passed to George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus.  In 1463, Archibald became the 5th Earl and sided with the English.  In 1491, he reached a deal to ensure the Hermitage would remain in English hands.  However, the king, aware of the strategic importance of Hermitage, ordered him to exchange the castle for Bothwell Castle, held by the Hepburn’s.  The new owner was Patrick Hepburn, 1st Earl of Bothwell.  The later Earls of Bothwell proved fickle which resulted in periods of imprisonment and exile and Hermitage remaining under Crown control. 

Hermitage from the Chapel
James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was implicated in the murder of Henry, Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots.  In 1566, he was wounded in a skirmish with a notorious Revier, Little John Elliot of the Park, and taken back to Hermitage to recover.  Mary Queen of Scot’s heard of his plight and travelled from Jedburgh (25 miles) over open terrain to see him.  There were many rumours of them being romantically linked.  She remained with him for two hours then was forced to return to Jedburgh.  On the way back her horse fell into a bog and she contracted a fever from which she only just recovered.  Bothwell was succeeded by his nephew Francis Stewart, a violent and unstable character.  In 1594, he was forced into exile and Hermitage was sold to Sir Walter Scott of Branxholm and Buccleuch.  When James IV became James I of England the border wars became silent and Hermitage fell into decay.  Hermitage was eventually rescued by Sir Walter Scott, a descendant of the other Sir Walter and the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, who carried out expansive reconstruction.  Near to the castle there are the remains of a chapel.  There is a myth of an English baron called Cout of Keilder who terrorised the owner of Hermitage.  He died in a deep pool in Hermitage water.  Next to the chapel there is the, supposed, grave of Cout of Keilder.

In 1930, the state took over the upkeep of castle and chapel but the myths and stories remain.

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