Roxburgh Castle

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Alternative Names Old Roxburgh Castle; Protector Somerset's Camp; Marchmount
Site Type CASTLE
Canmore ID 58412
Site Number NT73SW 12
NGR NT 71307 33729
Former Region BORDERS
Former District ROXBURGH
Datum OSGB36 - NGR
NGR Desc Centred NT 71307 37729

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Roxburgh castle
Posted by Andrew Spratt on 15 December 2013
On a high tree covered mound between the Teviot and Tweed rivers sits the rubble remains of the once majestic Roxburgh castle. The castle was fought over time and again by Scots and English, as originally it was a Royal Scots castle from at least 1128. But, like Berwick, it was seized and occupied by hostile English, thus the castle became a thorn in the side of Scotland and the local people suffered as a direct consequence.

It was finally destroyed by armies of King James II of Scots (1437-1460) and George the Red Douglas. Unfortunately, the King was killed during the siege when one of his cannons exploding also wounding the Red Douglas. The Queen who had been staying at Hume castle, raced to the siege with the young Prince James to encourage the disheartened army. Douglas was well enough a few days later to crown King James III (1460-1488) at Kelso Abbey, and with their new boy King Roxburgh was taken by storm and slighted. Later, an earth and timber fort was erected on the site in 1547 by the English, but this too was thrown down by the Scots. This goes some way to explain the state of the remains today.

What is misleading about the strength of the castle is, that since 1460 the flow of the Tweed has moved north away from the site by a considerable distance. Originally the Tweed and Teviot almost merged around the site; so a great fosse was cut between the rivers and a partial dam of the Teviot was used to flood the fosse into the Tweed, creating a three sided moat - an ingenious piece of engineering in itself. But taken that this island was capped by at least eight towers linked by battlements and a Donjeon towerhouse it would have presented a formidable appearance to any would-be attacker.

In 1314, James the Black Douglas and his men (allegedly disguised as cows) chose to attack by stealth at night using Sim Leadhouse's latest invention, special rope ladders that hooked onto the end of spears, then at spear's and arm's length, these unfurled ladders were raised and snagged onto the castle battlements. Probably by scaling the gatehouse, Douglas and his archers quickly silenced the guards, seized the courtyard and opened the gates to allow his men 'grazing' nearby to throw off their animal hides and enter by storm. After the death of the Black Douglas in 1330 Roxburgh, along with several other Scots castles, fell back into English hands.

In 1356, the Black Douglas' nephew, William,1st Earl of Douglas, unable to attack Roxburgh directly set upon the Governor and his marauding army as they passed through Ettrick Forest, and he 'slew great numbers'. In 1385, William's son, James, 2nd Earl of Douglas having burnt the lands from Newcastle to Berwick and sacked Wark castle resolved to take Roxburgh. However, the siege was quickly abandoned when a huge English army marched north. In 1417, Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas besieged the castle with a large army. Surprisingly, the English were able to hold off the Scots and somehow during the siege, cannons were smuggled into the castle from London and were used to bombard and scatter the Scot camp.

In 1436, King James I (1406-1437) with his own cannons also made an abortive siege but because of a split in the Scots camp the siege disintegrated into a complete fiasco.

Finally, Roxburgh castle was destroyed in 1460 at the price of King James II's life. It took a royal death to unite the squabbling Scots in one purpose- to fell this royal fortress once and for all. In the 1416 survey of Roxburgh for King Henry V of England, one of the towers was called the 'Douglas Tower' - a fitting tribute to the Black Douglas assault and the persistence of his kin who tried again and again to shed this thorn from Scotland's side.

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