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Borthwick History Through The Centuries Including Castle and Church Stories

* In 1150, church records in Scotland refer to an existing church located on the site of the present Borthwick Parish church. This is the first known written record of this church. The establishment and construction of this church may have been as early as 1124 when an authority was granted by King David. The building was a small, “Norman” style church. Church services would have been Roman Catholic.

* In 1329, the King of Scotland named Robert the Bruce was killed in a battle. Before he died, he expressed his wish to have his heart taken to the Holy Land. In 1330, a young man named Robert de Borthwick- age 16- joined the Crusade to carry the heart of Robert the Bruce. In Spain the crusaders fought a fierce battle against the Moors. Robert de Borthwick fought heroically, at one point leading a charge to try to save William St. Clair and several other knights who had been cut off from the main army. Although Robert was unable to save the life of his friend, he was able to kill and cut off the head of the Moorish chief. This action is remembered by the Borthwick crest which prominently shows the profile of “the head of a Moor”.

* In 1421, Sir William de Borthwick was trying to have King James I of Scotland released from prison in England. In 1423, Borthwick, and several other prominent individuals voluntarily became hostages in order to expedite the release of King James. In 1424, after a large ransom was paid, James was returned to Scotland. Several years later, when Borthwick was finally freed from England, James I rewarded him by granting or lending him money to construct a Castle. The Borthwick Castle was constructed in 1430. At the same time, Borthwick also expanded the church building.

* In the Great Hall, a seat near the large fireplace was reserved for the Lord Borthwick. The seat was constructed to be a part of the wall within an indentation in the wall constructed to be several inches thinner only at this seat; this design is called a sedile. While being near the fireplace was a comfort, the real advantage was protection; no one could sneak up from behind the Lord Borthwick to try to stab him or to do him any harm. The sedile is near a door such that the Lord, if necessary, could quickly escape from the Hall.

* In 1440, William St. Clair started construction of the Rosslyn Chapel, located about 8 miles west of the Borthwick Castle. The purpose of the Chapel was to provide a secure burial vault for the St. Clair family. During this time William de Borthwick served as cupbearer for William St. Clair. The cupbearer tasted the food and drink to assure that no poison had been added to the meal. This was regarded as a position of great honor.

* George, the 2nd son of the 1st William de Borthwick, was a priest and served at the Borthwick church until he died in 1447.

* In 1449, control of the church was merged with a new church founded at Crichton by a man named Sir William Crichton. Eventually, this created a problem after the Church Reformation (probably the 1560’s to 1590’s) where support that should have been used for the Borthwick church was instead used for the benefit of the other church location.

* In 1452, William de Borthwick was granted the title of Lord, and became the 1st Lord Borthwick.

* The 1st Lord Borthwick died in 1483. Effigies(statues) of him and Lady Borthwick were made and are still displayed in the Borthwick Parish Church.

* In September 1513, the 4th Lord Borthwick and Robert de Borthwick were killed in the battle of Flodden Field. This Robert de Borthwick had advanced the art of artillery. He had designed and built advanced cannons which became known as the “7 sisters”. These cannons were used in the battle, but were still not enough to save the Scots from a terrible defeat at the hands of the English.

* Following the Flodden Field disaster, the 5th Lord Borthwick, also William, was rewarded for his loyalty by being given command of the important fortification at Stirling Castle and made responsible for the safety of the infant King James V, who was born in 1512.

* About 1540, the Reformation movement led by John Knox, was changing church practices throughout Scotland. At this time, the Borthwick‘s consistently opposed the new Reformation movement in the church. John, the 5th Lord Borthwick, was not in favor of the Reformation. The Borthwick Parish Church was very close to the Castle, and, he, obviously was not interested to change worship styles. He openly supported the Scottish monarchy, King James V and Mary of Guise, who also continued to favor the Roman Catholic faith. Their daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, born in 1542, would learn their faith as well. Mary would become a frequent house guest at the Borthwick Castle.

* Also about 1540, as a result of his criticism of the Reformation Movement of the Church, the Lord Borthwick was declared guilty of contempt of the “Ecclesiastical Court of the See of St. Andrews”. William Langlands, an officer of this court, was sent to deliver a “letter of excommunication” to Borthwick Castle. On the way, however, he was intercepted by several of the Lord’s friends, who took the letter and then threw Langlands into the mill dam lake south of the castle. The letter was soaked in wine. Then, after Langlands had dried out, he was forced to eat the now flavored letter. Likely the subject of some derisive laughter, he was sent on his way back to St. Andrews with a stern warning that any future attempts to excommunicate the Borthwicks would be met in a similar fashion.

* In 1560, the Reformed Protestant religion was formally ratified by law in Scotland. John Knox is appointed minister of St. Giles, the main church in Edinburgh.

* On June 6th, 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots and her new husband, the Lord Bothwell, went into hiding at the Borthwick Castle. They had become fugitives as people suspected them to be responsible for the recent murder of Mary’s former husband. They were welcomed at the castle because William, the 6th Lord Borthwick, was one of Mary’s closest friends. Just as Mary, the Lord Borthwick was not in favor of the Church Reformation. Bothwell stayed only that night and then left the Castle. By June 11th a large armed force had surrounded the Castle. Mary disguised herself as a page boy, climbed out of a window in the Great Hall, and used a rope to lower herself to the ground. She was able reunite with Bothwell, but they were both captured on June 15th. Bothwell was sent to prison in Denmark and died nine years later, probably due to poor living conditions in the prison. Mary was sent to prison in England and remained captive for the next 20 years. At this time, she was falsely implicated in a plot to kill the Queen of England, and, thus, she was executed.

A large painting of Mary, Queen of Scots now hangs in the great hall of the Borthwick Castle.

* In 1567, Thomas Cranston was appointed to be the first minister of the Borthwick Parish Church, marking a further transition from Roman Catholic to Presbyterian Reformed. But Cranston only serves 2 years, then there is no minister until John Colden serves only in 1586. The church is again without a minister until James Hunter is appointed for 1593 and 1594. Eventually, a petition by the Presbytery of Edinburgh noted that “the church had been destitute of the practice of religion for several years on account of the absence of a stipend for a minister”. As a result of this petition, King James VI declared the Borthwick Church independent as of April 3rd, 1596, effectively ending the 1449 merger with the Crichton Church. This occurred during the ministry of Adam Colt, who is the minister from 1595 to 1597.

The Church is able to list all of the ministers of the church for every year dating back to James Hunter in 1593.

* In 1606-7, there is mention of repairs and improvements to the church. A man named Dundas was persuaded to pay most of the cost of the changes in order that his family could have a burial vault in the church. Several of the changes were made to conform to the Presbyterian Reformed church design of the sanctuary.

* In 1650, Oliver Cromwell and his army invaded Scotland. On November 18th, Cromwell’s artillery fired 3 cannonballs into the upper wall of the Castle. They knew that the fireplace in the sitting room was at that location so they perceived that this was the weakest part of the Castle wall. This caused considerable stone damage high on the outside wall, damage which is still visible today. The wall affected is on the opposite side of the Castle from the twin towers side that is seen from the driveway. Cromwell sent a letter demanding the surrender of the Castle. This very letter has been framed and is now displayed at the Castle. The text of the letter is as follows:

SIR- I thought fit to send this trumpet to you, to let you know, that if you please to walk away with your company, and deliver the House to such as I shall send to receive it, you shall have liberty to carry off your arms and goods, and other necessaries as you have. You have harbored such parties in your house as have basely and inhumanly murdered our men: if you necessitate me to bend my cannon against you, you may expect what I doubt you will not be pleased with. I expect your present answer; And rest your servant. – Oliver Cromwell

John, the 9th Lord Borthwick wisely decided to take his family and goods and abandoned the Castle, thus saving the Castle from any further damage or destruction. One source says that he negotiated terms with Cromwell to be allowed 15 days to leave, however, the story at the Castle is that he simply left.

* In 1672, John the 9th Lord Borthwick died without an heir, therefore, the title of Lord Borthwick was now interrupted. The Castle was then reoccupied in 1672 by Henry Borthwick of Neathon. But he also died later that same year and the title of Lord was lost again.

* In 1727, Henry Borthwick made a claim to become the new Lord Borthwick. It took 35 years until 1762 until the House Of Lords ratified his claim and Henry became the 10th Lord Borthwick. But 10 years later, Henry died and the title was vacant again.

* In 1775, the church was destroyed by a fire. The wooden roof was gone but most of the stone walls remained standing. A new church building was constructed by 1778. The stone walls from the old church were left standing. Eventually, some of the stones were plundered for other construction projects.

* The Castle was unoccupied through a long period of time in the 1700’s and early 1800’s. A tree grew in the fireplace of the Great Hall; the tree became so large that after it was finally removed in 1813, the fireplace had to be repaired before it could be used again.

* In 1860-1864, the church was enlarged to its current size. The Architect utilized the “best of the ruins” from the original 12th century building into the design. Perhaps the most notable minister that the church has ever had, Walter Waddell, became the minister in 1860 when the building expansion started. It is said that he was very well liked and drew a large congregation to his services. He remained as minister until his death in 1904, a period of 44 years.

* After many conflicting claims through the years, the title of the 23rd Lord Borthwick was given to Major John Henry Stuart Borthwick in 1986. After his death in 1996, the title passed to his son, John Hugh Borthwick, who is now the 24th Lord Borthwick.

* The “Ghost” at Borthwick Castle- One of the guest rooms, the “Red Room” is thought to have a “presence”, There has even been an “exorcism” performed recently to try to pacify the situation. In the Great Hall, there is a photograph taken of a scene of the Great Hall placed in a frame which stands on a serving table; the lower right part of the photograph shows some reflected light, which, with some imagination, is considered to be a picture of the “ghost”.

One legend says that a young servant girl bore an illegitimate Borthwick son in the room. At that time this situation was considered totally unacceptable, therefore, the maid and baby, potential threats to the title, were quickly put to the sword.

The most prominent story concerning the “ghost” tells of a time when the Borthwicks discovered their chancellor was embezzling money from the family coffers. He was both living in the Red Room and using the room, which is equipped with shelves to aid organization, as his office.

“Eschewing the nicety of a performance review, they intercepted the chancellor on his way home from Edinburgh one evening and before any law enforcement or trial could take place, canceled his contract by burning him to death”.

The story about the ghost that I heard during my stay there was that one night three people were staying in the Red Room. Two people were in the bed and a cot had been set up for the third person. They turned the lights out and in the dark carried on talking about the ghost. It was at this point that the cot, which had not been set up properly, gave itself a “readjustment” by dropping slightly and making a sound. This provided these three people with a good laugh, and continues to be an amusing story for castle guests.

* During World War II(1939-1945) the Castle was considered strong enough to store Scottish Public Records as well as treasures from the National Library and the Royal Museums of Scotland. The Germans must have noticed this as they sent an aircraft over the castle. The plane released a bomb, which exploded on the ground near the castle, but caused no damage.

* Helen Bailey, who leased the castle from the Borthwick family, has overseen the redevelopment of the Castle. In the early 1970s, electricity and central heating were added and the Castle has been operating as a bed and breakfast hotel since 1973. Recently(since about 2012) we have heard that the castle has reverted to private ownership and is no longer a hotel.

* Today, the road to the Castle descends gently and curves to the right when you see the Borthwick Primary School on the right side of the road. The road then straightens out for a short distance and you see the Borthwick Parish Church and cemetery on the right. This is at the intersection of the road and the long driveway to the Castle. The Castle driveway appears to be the continuation of the road and continues straight for about 300 yards to the Castle. The road curves to the left and descends into the valley below the Castle.