Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Castle


Location: Dirleton, East Lothian, Scotland  Map

Constructed: 13th century


Description of Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Castle is a medieval castle situated in Dirleton, East Lothian, Scotland in United Kingdom.  Dirleton Castle was constructed in the early 13th century in John de Vaux. It was badly damaged during Wars of Scottish Independence in the late 13th and early 14th century that became famous after production of "The Braveheart" with Mel Gibson.



The castle sits on a small rocky outcrop at the eastern end of a low ridge. Due to the elevated position, the trade route leading from Edinburgh along the coast could be well controlled.



In the early 12th century, the Barony of Dirleton, which extended to the Firth of Forth, came into the possession of William de Vaux. The de Vaux family had a wooden fortress built on the site. Probably in the 13th century this was replaced by the nucleus of today's Dirleton Castle. The stone needed for construction came from a quarry in nearby Gullane. Troops of the English King Edward I stormed the castle in 1298 and occupied it. Various enhancements were added during this time. It was not until 1311 that Robert the Bruce's troops retook the fort and partially tore down the extensions. Dirleton Castle passed back to the de Vaux family. In the time of David II, John Halyburton married the daughter of the House of de Vaux and Dirleton Castle became the property of the Halyburton family.

During the revolt against King David II in 1363, William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas captured the fort. After the recapture by the Halyburtons, the facility was extensively expanded and strengthened. The work lasted until the 15th century. During a visit, the Scottish King James IV provided funds for the expansion of Dirleton Castle. The Halyburtons grew in influence and Sir Walter Haliburton was installed as Lord High Treasurer of Scotland. His son John Haliburton was made a peer in 1450 as Lord Haliburton of Dirleton. After Patrick Haliburton, 5th Lord Haliburton of Dirleton had no male issue, the title fell to his daughter Janet, who married William Ruthven, 2nd Lord Ruthven, Provost of Perth, around 1515, ending the Halyburton era at Dirleton Castle .

Their son Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven inherited Dirleton Castle. He was implicated in the conspiracy to murder David Rizzio at the Scottish royal court. William, fourth Lord Ruthven was made first Earl of Gowrie in 1581. He was the leader of the pacts that King James VI. kidnapped and arrested (Ruthven Raid). After Ruthven's plans to seize Stirling Castle were exposed, he was convicted and beheaded. His widow, Lady Dorothea, initially gave up Dirleton Castle, after which the king gave the complex into the care of James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran. Before the end of the year, however, Lady Dorothea got the castle back. After two of their sons were hanged in the course of the "Gowrie Conspiracy", the family was stripped of all possessions and offices. Dirleton Castle fell to Thomas Erskine, 1st Earl of Kellie. However, Lady Gowrie was granted a right of abode in the castle.

His son Thomas Erskine, 2nd Earl of Kellie sold the estate and it eventually came into the possession of James Maxwell, later the first and only Earl of Dirletoun. In 1650 troops captured Oliver Cromwell's Dirleton Castle and briefly used it as a military hospital. In 1663 the castle was sold to John Nisbet, Lord Dirleton. In the same year, he had the nearby Archerfield House mansion built for himself. Dirleton Castle was abandoned and inherited in the female line. Only the parks and gardens continued to be used and cared for. Today the ruins belong to the National Trust for Scotland and are maintained by Historic Scotland. In 2019, Dirleton Castle was visited by around 32,000 people.



The castle complex follows the boundaries of the rock spur and is therefore designed as a distorted rectangle. In the south-west are the oldest parts with a central tower from the 13th century, in the south and east are the gates and the extensive buildings of the Halyburtons. A Ruthven house was built on the west side of the oldest parts of the fort. The rest of the western side and the northern side originally consisted of walls. The main gate is on the south side of the complex, where it was additionally protected by a moat. The south-western part is the best preserved, from the eastern part only the lower floors have been preserved, in the yard there are some foundations of smaller outbuildings.

The preserved remains of the oldest parts are grouped around the round tower in the southwest. The foundations of two other round towers from the 13th century lie on the east side of the fortress, but are built over by the newer buildings. The plan of the oldest parts is probably influenced by the Castle of Coucy, near which John de Vaux temporarily held the post of steward of a noble household. The large round tower has several floors, in which there is still elaborate and well-preserved masonry from the construction period. In the basement there is a complex vaulted ceiling and a decorated fireplace. On the first floor there are elaborate window niches with benches and also a high, elaborately designed ceiling. Hardly anything has been preserved of the furnishings of the other rooms in the old part.

The gatehouse and east wing have replaced older parts. Stone blocks from the predecessors and old foundations were partly used for its construction. The gatehouse was accessible via a drawbridge and equipped with portcullises. Throughout the east wing, the exceptional thickness of the east wall shows that it was built as an integral part of the castle. The basement was partially carved into the solid rock and used for a bakery and storerooms. On the first floor there was a spacious kitchen and adjoining the main hall, some rooms for the lord of the castle and the chapel. The original condition of the upper parts of the east wing is difficult to reconstruct.

The newest part is the so-called Ruthven annex in the southwest. It is a 16th-century three-story residential building of significantly less solid construction than the older parts. The windows are larger, the brickwork shows more decorative elements, there are remains of patterned floor tiles. The building was probably further subdivided by wooden ceilings and walls, of which hardly any traces have survived.