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Craignethan Castle

Craignethan Castle

As Master of the King's Works, Sir James Hamilton was responsible for construction work at royal sites such as Stirling and Falkland. However he produced his masterpiece between 1532 and 1540 when designing his own fortress of Craignethan Castle, the last great private castle of serious defensive capability to be built in Scotland.

Six miles north west of Lanark, Craignethan sits on a high rocky bluff that falls away steeply on three sides to the confluence of the River Nethan and Craignethan Burn below. A massive rampart and a deep dry ditch protected the western flank. The ditch concealed Craignethan's deadly secret which was covered over by rubble after the demolition of the rampart in the 1580s and then lay forgotten until 1964. At the bottom of the ditch, Finnart had constructed a caponier or covered tunnel from which his gunners could inflict withering fire on attackers. Its survival at Craignethan proves that Sir James was aware of the innovative work of the great Renaissance military architect, the Sienese engineer and artist Francesco di Giorgio Martini, inventor of the 'capannata' or little hut. Unfortunately the narrowness of the ditch at Craignethan restricted the gunners' field of fire, and the clouds of acrid gunpowder smoke given off by sixteenth century hand arms must have suffocated the troops posted in this ill ventilated corridor. The caponier was soon obsolete and its function given to a transverse wall at the end of the ditch.

Sir James Hamilton was implicated in a treason plot in 1540 and James V used this opportunity to execute his architect and confiscate his property. Soon back in Hamilton hands however, Craignethan was captured in 1568 after the Battle of Langside by the Earl of Moray, the Regent for the infant James VI. A siege was avoided when the Hamilton garrison decided to surrender without resistance. The Hamiltons had recaptured Craignethan through trickery by 1570 when they assassinated Regent Moray as he rode through the High Street of Linlithgow. The insane 3rd Earl of Arran lived at Craignethan in the 1570s but the castle's outer defences were largely demolished when the Hamilton family was indicted for their political crimes by James VI in 1579. After a brief life of fifty years, Craignethan Castle was abandoned and fell into ruin. It may have inspired Tillietudlem Castle in Sir Walter Scott's novel Old Mortality.

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