The lands of Craigmillar were granted to the monks of Dunfermline abbey by King David I (d.1153).  Nearly 100 years later
in 1342 the Preston family were granted land in the area by King David II (d.1371).  This gave them 2/3rds of the estate before the rest of the land was granted by King Robert II (d.1390) to Sheriff Simon Preston of Midlothian in 1374.  It would seem either one of the early Prestons, the sheriff or another Simon Preston his son, or his grandson, George Preston, began work on the tower house which now forms the core of the castle.  Certainly the castle was standing by 1425 when a charter was sealed at Craigmillar by John Preston.  It is thought the courtyard wall was added by William Preston (d.1453) who drew on his continental travels for inspiration in the new  Craigmillar work.  In the late 1470s, Earl John Stewart of Mar, brother of King James III (1460-88), was held prisoner at Craigmillar, accused of practising witchcraft against the king and died there in suspicious circumstances in 1479.

In 1511 Craigmillar was made a barony.  It is thought the outer courtyard was built around this time, allegedly by Simon Preston (d.1520), the member of Parliament for Edinburgh in 1487, who had succeeded to the castle in 1478.  In September 1517, during an outbreak of plague in Edinburgh, the infant James V of Scotland was moved to safety at Craigmillar.  His French guardian, De la Bastie, had new locks made for his chamber and added two iron gates as well as a stable for the king's mule.  The family chapel within the outer court was first recorded in 1523.  In 1544, during the so-called Rough Wooing of Henry VIII (d.1547), the English, under the Earl of Hertford, burned the castle. Afterwards, Simon Preston (d.1569) had the castle repaired, with domestic ranges in the courtyard being remodelled.  Simon served as Lord Provost of Edinburgh for several years, and was a loyal supporter of
Mary Queen of Scots (1542-67), who appointed him to her Privy Council.

Queen Mary stayed at Craigmillar twice, in September 1563 and from 20 November to 7 December 1566.  She is traditionally said to have slept in the small former kitchen within the tower house, although it is more likely that she occupied larger accommodation in the relatively new east range.  On her second stay, Mary was still in poor health following a serious illness in October.  Several of her noblemen were with her, and suggested to her that her unpopular husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, could be removed, either by divorce or by other means.  An agreement, the 'Craigmillar Bond', was signed by Mary's Secretary of State William Maitland of Lethington, and several nobles including the earls of Bothwell, Argyll and Huntly.  The bond does not survive, but set out the conspirator's intent to remove Darnley.  Although Mary made it clear that she was unhappy with Darnley, it is claimed that she was not part of the conspiracy, and was probably unaware of the plot to kill her husband.  It was initially intended that Darnley would lodge at Craigmillar when he returned to Edinburgh, although he opted to stay at Kirk o' Field in the town, where he was murdered on 10 February 1567.  In 1572, after Queen Mary's flight into England, the Regent Mar used Craigmillar as a base during his siege of Edinburgh castle, which was being held by supporters of the exiled Queen.  King James VI (1567-1625)
was the guest of David Preston at Craigmillar in 1589.

On the death of Robert Preston in 1639, Craigmillar passed to a distant cousin, David Preston of Whitehill.  His son sold the castle to the Royalist, John Gilmour (d.1671), in 1660.  The castle was abandoned in the early eighteenth century and was ruined by 1775, when the antiquarian and poet John Pinkerton wrote Craigmillar Castle: an Elegy. 

At the core of Craigmillar castle is a fourteenth century L plan tower house, built on a rocky outcrop.  Wrapped around this on 3 sides is a fifteenth century courtyard wall, with ranges of buildings at the south-east, east and west and round towers on the corners.  Beyond th
is ward is a lower outer wall, enclosing a broad outer courtyard.  This contained gardens and a chapel.  Further gardens lay to the south, where the outline of a fish pond can be seen.

Why not join me at Craigmillar and other Great Scottish Castles this Spring?  Information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry