Hermitage is one of the strangest castles in the British Isles.  Built above the Hermitage Water the fortress consists of 2 deeply ditched wards with a rectangular tower house built eccentrically in the ravelin shaped inner ward.  It's impression is as dour and false as its morbid and misunderstood history.  According to ‘modern authority', Hermitage is an 'awsome ruin' with  'its long and turbulent history', the fortress being 'begun by Sir Hugh Dacre around 1360 and transformed beyond recognition by William 1st Earl of Douglas'.  It seems as ever, the story told from the few recorded facts gives a very different picture from the rather dire, taxpayer funded, government sponsored view which seems to merely expand without solid evidence the views of 2 good Victorian architects who made no claims to be historians.  Considering the poor scholarship of the 'offical souvenir guide' a brief appraisal of problems with their booklet is given here.

The early history of Liddesdale, in which Hermitage castle stands, is given in the history of English Liddel and Scottish Liddel.  Some of this must be repeated here to make sense of Hermitage castle.  The fortress is first mentioned in contemporary documents on 20 September 1300.  Then it was ordered that the lands of the lord of English Liddel, which then included Scottish Liddel, should be taken into royal custody.  This was nearly 6 months after the death of John Wake, the baron of Liddel.  That autumn it was recorded that much of Liddesdale had been destroyed by rebel Scots and that Simon Lindsey was to take custody ‘of Lidel and le Ermitage'.  On 10 November 1300, this order was expanded, ordering Simon to keep:

Hermitage castle, the mote of Lydel and the lands in the valley of Liddel both in England and Scotland belonging to the late John Wake saving the dower of his widow, Joanna...  Simon laying out in repair of the walls, houses and other things in the said castle £20.

There then followed a clause to the sentence that may have applied to Hermitage castle, but more likely to the English Liddel castle.  This ran:

also repairing the mote and the ditches around, strengthening and redressing the same and the peel and the palisades and making lodges within the mote if necessary for the safety of the men at arms of the garrison...

There is always a problem with translating the medieval word mote when dealing with castle sites - does it mean moat or motte?  The mention of the mote and ditches in this case quite obviously means motte and ditches as it would be meaningless to say repair the moat and ditches when they were to all intents and purposes the same thing.  Further, it would hardly be logical to make lodges within a moat, but within or on a motte makes perfect sense.  It can therefore be seen that this second clause most likely refers to the English Liddel castle, which appears to have once had a motte.  From this it can be seen that Hermitage seems to have been a functional masonry castle by the Autumn of 1300 as opposed to the functional wooden castle of the English Liddel.  The fact Hermitage castle existed in 1300 must ask the question as to how much further back the history of the castle can be taken?

It seems from the history of the Soulis family related to in the Scottish Liddel castle, that this fortress, or at least its site in northern or Scottish Liddesdale, was seized by King Edward I (1272-1307) in or around April 1296 when the Scottish kingdom of John Balliol (d.1314) was quashed.  It was then granted to the young John Wake who died before 10 April 1300 at the age of just 31.  In 1296 King Edward I (1272-1307) passed nearby when he stayed at Wheel, just 3 miles north-east of Saughtree on 24 May 1296 after leaving Roxburgh and Jedburgh.  He then went to Liddesdale (Valle Lydell) where he stayed until the 27th, a French chronicle noting his stay at Castelton on the Sunday, then he returned to Jedburgh via Wheel.  Possibly he visited Hermitage castle during his 3 day stay within the vale although this is not mentioned.  As Hermitage castle almost certainly already existed it seems odd that Edward stayed at Castleton where the alleged Scottish Liddel castle stood.  Even if it still existed, the Scottish Liddel castle must have been obsolete by this time.  Edward visited the district again in the autumn of 1298.  After being based at Carlisle from 8 September he moved to Stanwix on the 24th and then Kirkandrews on Esk on the 26th and 27th before moving into Liddesdale on the 28th.  By 30 September he was at ‘Roule' which was probably Wheel, before arriving at Jedburgh by 2 October.  Again his lack of a visit to Hermitage might be taken as evidence that the castle did not exist before 1298 and that John Wake was responsible for its construction in the 2 subsequent years.  However, 2 pieces of medieval evidence hold against this.  The main evidence comes from the Annales attached to the end of John Fordun's chronicle.  This states that:

King Henry of England, having assembled a very great army, came to Newcastle upon Tyne, to wage war against King Alexander of Scotland, because a certain castle had been erected by the Scots in the marches between Scotland and England, namely, in the valley of Liddel, which is called the Hermitage.  And King Alexander, having foreseen this, was not slow to meet him, with his army well-equipped, as far as Caldenle, where all the nobles had made a renewed fidelity to the lord king; and thus they proceeded with one accord as far as Ponteland, to meet together against the king of England, if he should enter the parts of Lothian.

The Gesta Annalia (Yearly Deeds) that this comes from was probably written up around April 1285 and apparently plagiarised another source.  As it was thus written within living memory of 1244 its information about Hermitage should be seen as authentic and not late fourteenth century fantasy. 

In February 1307, Johanna (d.1314), the widow of John Wake, claimed Hermitage and lands in Liddesdale back from the sheriff of Roxburgh, but was informed that William Soulis, who had a claim to the land, would also be informed and allowed to attend the inquest on the ownership of the land.  On 12 September 1307, Sheriff Robert Mauley of Roxburgh replied to King Edward II's enquiry that he was unable to place Johanna in seisin as the land was held by William Soulis (d.1321) who was abroad and that all the tenants of the lordship had fled into England.

Sometime in the last few years of the reign of King Edward I (1272-1307), the Master and Brethren of the Hospital of St Leonard at Berwick complained that they had been ejected from a carucate of land with appurtenances in Liddesdale by ‘thieves from Scotland who came by night and killed their brethren and their people who were there and burned their houses and destroyed all' during the time of Master William Feugers.  The land had then been occupied by the Soulis lords of the district until John St John (d.1302) during his wardenship of the district (which lasted from 3 January 1299 until his death at Lochmaben castle on 6 September 1302), ordered by the command of the king to verbally put them back into their land, out of which the lady of Wake (presumably Johanna, lady of Liddel from 1300 to 1306) and John Botetourt (d.1324) and William Soulis (d.1321) had afterwards ejected them and still keep them dispossessed.

Master William Feugers had died before 10 July 1281 when he held half a knight's fee at Castellevigton in Yorkshire.  He left a 50 year old son, which suggests that he was over 70 at the time of his death.  This might well suggest that the land they lost in Liddesdale was Hermitage and its surrounding lands.  This would make sense of the 1244 report of Hermitage castle being erected and the Soulis lords taking over.  Berwick hospital apparently lay at Horndean on the opposite side of the River Tweed to Norham castle.

The above suggests that Hermitage castle fell to King Edward I early in his campaign against King John Balliol (1292-96).  On 2 April 1296, the king appointed Robert Clifford (d.1314) of Appleby, Brough, Brougham and Pendragon castles, to form a force of 140 men at arms and 500 foot at the king's wages and do his utmost to take hostages from those areas that had already come to King Edward's peace.  These were Selkirk forest, Cavers Moor, Liddesdale, Eskdale, Ewisdale, Annandale, Moffatdale, Nithsdale and Galloway.  Presumably Scottish Liddesdale and Hermitage castle were then passed on to John Wake, who died early in 1300 leaving his widow, Johanna (d.1314), briefly in possession, before turning the land and fortress over to Simon Lindsay.  Thus on 30 October 1300, Edward I addressed a writ to his men to observe the truce granted to the Scots.  These men were Sheriff John Bourdon of Berwick, John St John [guardian of the West March], Lord Simon Lindsay of Wauchopdale (around Langholm), ‘guardian of the fortresses of Liddel and del Ermitage Soules', Constable Richard Hastings of Jedburgh, William Latimer the custodian of Berwick town, Earl Patrick Dunbar of March, Lord Robert Mauley of Dirleton, Sheriff John Kingston of Edinburgh and Simon Fraser, the custodian of Selkirk forest.  Hermitage castle seems to have changed sides by 14 June 1303, when King Edward, campaigning at Clackmannan, ordered Bishop Anthony Bek to protect Cumberland as he had been informed that a multitude of armed Scots, enemies and rebels, from Annandale and Liddesdale, were devastating the county.  Certainly this fits in with Johanna Wake's 1307 claim.

At the winter parliament held at Carlisle from October 1306 to February 1307, Johanna Wake (d.1314), on 19 January 1307, presented a petition asking for the king to intervene concerning the grant to her husband (John Wake, d.1300) of the Hermitage in the valley of Liddel (hermitagium in valle de Lydell).  She claimed that John had died seised of the land and that after his death she had held the third part of that heritage by the king's writ, and was seised of it for 3 years [1300-03].  Then she was removed from the land by Lord John Boutetourt (d.1324), who the same Joan pursued to the lord king, who reinstated her seisin until Michaelmas nearest [29 Sept 1304?], and before a year had passed by, she was removed by the sheriff of Roxburgh, so she entreats the lord king so that she might have reseisin of it again with it's issues.  The king replied affirmatively to this petition and gave Johanna a day to prosecute her request at mid Lent 1307.  It was also ordered for a writ to be sent to Chancellor John Segrave to supply all the writs concerning the land previously held by Nicholas Soulis (d.1296) in Liddesdale, which had been directed to him while he was guardian or justiciar of Lothian.  Johanna was also forewarned that William Soulis (d.1321), the heir of Nicholas, would be informed of the proceedings and could appear in court in February if he thought it expedient for him to do so.

Johanna presented her petition on the allotted day.  This stated that the king had given Baron John Wake (d.1300), Hermitage with its appurtenances in Liddesdale.  She repeated her claims as to what had happened to the barony since she was awarded her third as dower.  Then William Soulis (d.1321) entered a petition as son and heir of Nicholas Soulis (d.1296) stating that the king and parliament in London had earlier stated that no underage child in the kingdom of Scotland should be disinherited.  Therefore the lands in Liddesdale, the heritage of William, which were currently held by Lady Joan at the king's will, should be given to him so that he is not disinherited.  The court then asked why John Segrave had taken the lands into his hands and asked for the records to be searched on this matter and postponed the case for this to be done.  On 26 February 1307, the court met again and decided that as William Soulis was still under 21 he could not be given seisin of the land and so Johanna should have seisin at the king's will until it should be decided otherwise.  On 12 September 1307, Sheriff Robert Mauley of Roxburgh replied to King Edward II's enquiry that he was unable to place Johanna Wake (d.1314) in seisin of Liddesdale as the land was held by William Soulis (d.1321) who was abroad and that all the tenants of the lordship had fled into England.  It is uncertain from this if William had come of age in the intervening time, or whether the land had simply rebelled to him.  William initially seems to have remained within the peace of King Edward II as he appeared with that king's great supporter, Bishop Anthony Bek (d.1311), on 27 August 1310.  After this, possibly around the time of the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, William went over to the cause of King Robert Bruce (1306-29), no doubt taking Hermitage castle with him.  William Soulis (d.1321) would seem to have been in control of Liddesdale for Robert the Bruce on 14 February 1316, when he was one of the leaders who intercepted and routed an Edwardian raiding party from Berwick that had attacked the region of Melrose.  Quite possibly the Soulis family had been keeping one foot in either camp at this point - a standard noble position.  It would seem that the English Liddel castle, as well as Hermitage castle, were within the district, between Lochmaben and Carlisle, described in 1317 by William Dacre (d.1317+) as so utterly wasted and burned that there was neither man nor beast left in it.

By October 1319, Thomas Wake (d.1349), the son of John Wake (d.1300) and Johanna (d.1314) had come of age and sent 65 men, presumably from English Liddel, to help besiege Berwick.  About November 1319 it became obvious from a letter to the king that men loyal to Edward II (1307-27) held Liddel, but that his enemies lay ‘about Hermitage' which Edward II's men had intended to ravage, but for the enemy being forewarned of their coming.  Further, the treacherous actions of Constable John Harclay of Carlisle had led the best and richest men of Gilsland and Liddel to go over to the Scots enemy, with more than 97 defecting from the barony of Liddel alone.  Finally, John le Mareschal and John Prendregest had surrendered the peel of Liddel to the enemy and joined the Scots.  This meant all Liddesdale was probably now brought under the control of William Soulis (d.1321) by the end of 1319.

On 7 January 1320, William was obviously trusted enough to be the first recorded amongst the knights sent south by King Robert Bruce to negotiate with Edward II.  The same year he witnessed the 6 April 1320 Declaration of Arbroath.  Immediately afterwards he was alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Robert Bruce.  This resulted in him being captured at Berwick with 160 squires in his retinue, they being dressed in his livery.  On 4 August he was tried for treason at Scone, found guilty on his confession, and stripped of all his lands including Liddesdale.  He was then imprisoned at Dumbarton castle where he died by 20 April 1321.  His cousin through his Comyn mother, David Brechin, and several others were executed for their part in the alleged plot.

With the forfeiture of the Soulis lands King Robert I (1306-29) then gave Liddesdale to his illegitimate son, Robert (d.1332).  He witnessed charters from 21 September 1323 as Robertus de Brus, Dominus de Lidalisdale.  It therefore seems quite likely that Bruce held all the barony, his rule being based upon Hermitage castle.  Bruce fell with so many others of the Scottish aristocracy at Dupplin Moor on 12 August 1332.  Despite his imposition on the barony, the story of the Soulis family did not quite end here, for William's daughter, Ermygarda, managed to acquire half the old tenements of her father.  Presumably she held these in tandem with Robert Bruce for she too witnessed charters for King Robert (1306-29).  With Edward Balliol's victory over the Brucites at Dupplin Moor and the death of Robert Bruce of Liddesdale, control of Hermitage castle was acquired by supporters of Edward III and Ermygarda's lands were passed to Balliol's cousin, William Warenne (d.1349+).  Whether this was done by King Edward Balliol's grant or not is uncertain.

On 16 March 1337, King Edward III, hearing that the men of Eskdale, Liddesdale, Ewesdale, Wauchopdale and Brettalach, our enemies and rebels, had raised wars against us, ordered Ralph Dacre (d.1339) to hold courts at Roxburgh and Dumfries to inquire who had given them arms and supplies to our deception and in contempt of us?  Sadly the reply to this did not survive, but in 1338, William Douglas (d.1353) surprised and captured a convoy of provisions on route to Hermitage castle.   He then proceeded to take the castle from William Warenne and stock it with the provisions he had just captured.  King Edward seems to have had no answer to this attack.  The castle is not mentioned amongst English holds in 1341, viz. Edinburgh, Roxburgh, Berwick, Jedburgh, Lochmaben, unless it was thought of as one of those ‘little towers of moderate powers of resistence'.

Some 4 years later on 3 September 1341, King Edward III (1327-77) granted a writ of protection to the prior of Canonbie (Canunby), which lay within the lordship of Thomas Wake (d.1349), for all those Scots as well as English who dwelt with him in the said priory and lordship.  This lordship of Liddel was obviously merely the English part of the Liddel valley and didn't include Hermitage castle.  The next year on 14 February 1342, King David II (1329-71) granted William Douglas (d.1353) full and free possession of Liddesdale.  Two days later on 16 February 1342, King David expanded on this grant commenting that this included all the lands in the Vale of Liddel with their appurtenances just as they had been held by William Soulis (d.1321).   This included the whole honour with its fees and fortifications and the homage and service of the tenants with the advowson of the churches, the mills and all liberties just as Soulis had held them before he forfeited them to King Robert (d.1329).  Quite clearly the English and Scottish lordships had been divided again.

William Douglas jeopardised all of this on 20 June 1342, when he attacked Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie and 3 of his men in Hawick church in a sacrilegious act rather reminiscent of what Bruce had done to Comyn 36 years earlier.  He then took the wounded Ramsay of Dalousie captive to his castle of Hermitage where he received neither care nor nourishment until he died 17 days later on 7 July.  Surprisingly, William received no censure for this, but received back his tenure of custody of Roxburgh and Teviotdale.

Douglas next came to the fore when he advised King David to invade English Liddesdale and take Liddel castle.  This the king and Douglas did in a most brutal manner.  After this Douglas advised that the king stopped his warlike operations against England and waited upon events.  However, the king decided to rashly push on and thus came to grief at Neville's Cross on 17 October 1346.  Both Douglas and his king were captured in the battle.  With this King Edward III seized back control of Roxburgh and all Liddesdale with Hermitage castle.  With all Liddesdale now in his possession King Edward III ordered, on 6 November 1348, that William Sandford should be put in possession of Wheel chapel in Liddesdale (Whele in Scotia) as William Emeldon, who had been given the church by Ralph Neville (d.1367), was unwilling to enter into possession.  This suggests that Edwardian control of Scottish Liddesdale was already uncertain.  Six months later on 15 March 1349, King Edward Balliol granted to his valet, William Stapleton, the lands which had belonged to Adam Delmain and John Fitz William Engleys in Liddesdale and in Hirdemanston in Tiviotdale as was confirmed by Edward III as overlord.  The earlier division of Scottish Liddesdale was also noted on 4 November 1349, when it was recorded that half the lands formerly held by William Soulis (d.1321) in Liddesdale had been delivered to William Warenne (d.1349+), the cousin (consanguineus) of King Edward Balliol (d.1364).  These lands had previously been in the hands of ‘our cousin Ermygarde' daughter and heiress of the said William Soulis.  It was also noted that Warenne had held that half in peace until William Douglas of Scotland (d.1353), now our prisoner, had occupied Hermitage castle with a powerful army.  William continued in occupation until he was seized at the battle of Durham (Neville's Cross on 17 October 1346) and the castle was recovered from him.  Considering these facts Hermitage castle was to be restored to Warenne.  The land was obviously still under Warenne's control on 10 February 1350, when 3,000m (£2,000) arising from certain border lands amongst which were Liddesdale, were ordered to be paid to constable of Roxburgh castle.  The castle then seems to have passed to Lord Ralph Neville of Raby in 1352.  He then exchanged the manor and castle of Ermitage with purtenances in Scotland and Cumberland with the king for 1 knight's fee.  This agreement seems to have been made to allow King Edward III to hand Hermitage back to William Douglas (d.1353).

On 3 November 1351, the still incarcerated William Douglas resigned his lands of Newlandis and Kylboughok to James Douglas (d.1420) his nephew.  Possibly this was to exempt these districts from English control.  Then, on 17 July 1352, William Douglas entered into an indenture with his king, he being his prisoner.  Douglas thereby bound himself to serve King Edward III and his heirs in all his wars except in those against the Scots unless at his own pleasure, with 10 men at arms and 10 hobelars at his own cost.  In return he would receive Hermitage, Liddesdale, half of Moffat, le Corehede and other lands in Annan and the Moffat Dales.  Consequently on 24 July 1352, Ralph Neville (d.1367) was ordered to deliver the castle and manor of Hermitage to William Douglas.  There can be little doubt that this agreement was the cause of his murder the next year in Etterick Forest by his third cousin, the Brucite William Douglas (d.1384).

William was dead by 14 October 1353, when Henry Percy (d.1352) and Ralph Neville (d.1367) were granted power to deal with Elizabeth the widow of William Douglas of Liddesdale and the matter of ‘her surrender of Hermitage castle and her children to our hands'.  In opposition to this, on 12 February 1354, the murderous William Douglas (d.1384) obtained a charter from King David II (1329-71) of the lands of Douglasdale, Lauderdale, Eskdale, the forests of Etrick, Selkirk, Jarrow and Tweed, the town, castle and forest of Jedburgh, the barony of Bedrule (Bethokroule) within Roxburghshire, the barony of Romanok within Peebleshire, the barony of Buittle (Botill) in Galloway, the lands of the farm of Rothirglen from his uncle, James Douglas (d.1330); the lands of Liddesdale (Lydellisdale) with the castle (Hermitage), the barony of Kirkandrews (Kirkandris) in Dumfrieshire, the lands of Heriotmore, Rethtre in Buchan, the baronies of Neell and Coull in Aberdeenshire, half the lands of Logy Achry in Perthshire, the barony of Cauerys in Roxburghshire, the baronies of Drumlangrig and Tareglys in Dumfrieshire; the barony of Westercalder in Edinburghshire, the lands of Graydone in Berwickshire from the part of William [should be Archibald] lord of Douglas and all the other lands that belonged to them, together with the leadership of the men of the shires of Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles and the Over Ward of Clyde.  Quite clearly in Bruce's Scotland, murder did pay.

Meanwhile King Edward III had to protect his lieges of Hermitage.  Thus on 8 October 1354, Elizabeth the widow of William Douglas, was taken under royal protection having given her oath and fidelity to her king.  The same day Elizabeth received Hermitage castle and Liddesdale for her life, with the castle and lordship being regranted to her, her husband and their heirs if she married an Englishman, but in the event of their being no issue the lordship and castle were to revert to the Crown.  Three barons were empowered to select an Englishman to guard the castle at Elizabeth's expense against their Scottish enemies until she might marry an Englishmen, but if she were to marry a Scotsman the barony was to be forfeit to the Crown.  On receiving William Douglas' half of the chirograph made recently with the king, this new letter patent should be given to her and the daughter and nephew of her deceased husband, hostages in England, would be set free.  Ralph was also ordered to receive the men of Liddesdale back into the king's peace if they wished to come.  The matter was settled the next year on 1 July 1355.  On that day King Edward III conceded to Elizabeth, the widow of William Douglas (d.1353), as well as to Hugh Dacre (d.1383), her new husband, Hermitage castle and Liddesdale.  Further, the king wished it to be known that he had made a convention with Elizabeth, the widow of the William Douglas who had come to our faith and obedience and who had paid us liege homage, having conceded to the same Elizabeth Hermitage castle and Liddesdale for all Elizabeth's life as long as she married an Englishman.  Therefore she had chosen to marry Hugh the brother of William Dacre (d.1361).  The king therefore commanded that ‘they let our people carry on and guard the aforesaid castle safely and securely for our work and against the Scots or others who have rebelled against us, unless they are surrounded, or in such danger that they cannot escape except by death...' and that he himself... confirmed by the jury... has received the homage and fidelity of Hugh himself for the castle and valley.... 

In August 1355, Thomas Grey and William Dacre (d.1361), the elder brother of Hugh, were captured at the battle of Nesbit by William Douglas (d.1384).  This was followed in September 1355, by a 9 month truce between England and Scotland and immediately broken by the Scots.  The result of these breaches of the truce was Edward III invading Scotland and devastating Lothian in the ‘burnt Candlemas' of January to February 1356.  Despite this the truce was reinstated in April 1356.

On 4 February 1357, William Douglas was created Earl Douglas, while the Balliol war was finally brought to an end by the Treaty of Berwick on 3 October 1357.  Not even a year later, Douglas recommenced hostilities against Edward III.  On 6 June 1358, King Edward appointed as his arbitrators, Thomas Musgrave, Thomas Grey and William Heron, to investigate whether Hermitage castle was captured by William Douglas (d.1384) during time of truce or not.  They were also to investigate whether Archibald Douglas and others had been captured by the English Borderers during the time of the truce or not.  That autumn the Cumberland Marches were attacked.  On 16 December 1358, Henry Percy (d.1368) and the keepers of the truce were asked to get information regarding the damage done to tenants of Margaret Dacre (d.1361, widow of Ralph (d.1339) and mother of Hugh of Hermitage (d.1383)) in Cumberland by our Scottish enemies both after and against the truce and bring the perpetrators to justice.  The king also allowed all the men inhabiting Liddesdale and the neighbouring valleys to be permitted to remain there, on them having given security to conduct themselves properly towards Edward's subjects.  The same day William (d.1361) and Hugh Dacre (d.1383) were informed that the inhabitants of Liddesdale would be allowed to remain under royal protection.  Hugh of course was no longer lord of Hermitage castle, that having now passed under the control of Earl William Douglas (d.1384).  Hugh Dacre had therefore held Hermitage for a little under 3 years.  The idea that he built the first, unfortified castle during this time of high tension is therefore seen as ludicrous, Hermitage being in Dacre hands merely from 1 July 1355 to May 1358.  Basically that gave Hugh only the summer building months of 1357 to build the castle.

Despite the devastation of the war, the peace restored in the late 1350s seems to have led to the economic recovery of the district by 1376 when the church lands of Liddesdale were valued at £21 6s 8d, while the value of the whole of Liddesdale came to £341 16s 5d.  Hermitage castle with Liddesdale, meanwhile passed into the hands of James Douglas (d.1388), the son of Earl William (d.1384) before 1380.  Earl James was killed at Otterburn in 1388 and Liddesdale with Hermitage passed to his widow, Countess Isabella Stewart (d.1410).  She appears not to have held it for long, if at all, for on 19 June 1389, King Richard II confirmed Malcolm Drummond [the husband of Isabella the daughter of Earl William Douglas (d.1384)] in all of his lands.  These included Liddesdale.  Presumably on his murder in 1402 the castle passed back to Countess Isabella (d.1408) and on her death to her nephew, Earl William of Angus (d.1437).  He was succeeded by his son, Earl James Douglas (d.1447).  On 24 September 1444 Robert Fleming of Cumbernauld bound himself to enter within ‘the iron gate of Tantallon or Hermitage castle upon 8 days' warning'.  Quite obviously Hermitage castle was fitted with a yett by this date.  On Earl James' death in 1447 the castle passed to his uncle, Earl George (d.1462), who on 24 May 1452, appointed his relatives of Cavers bailiffs of Liddesdale and keepers of the castle.  Despite these changes of ownership there seems to have been no violence at the castle.  It was only on 2 April 1481, that the king commanded that each lord should ‘stuff his own house and strength with men, vitals and artillery and to amend and repair them'.  This missive was particularly sent to Hermitage castle which was obviously seen as in the most danger.  A year later on 22 March 1482, 100 men were placed within the castle, but no fighting is known to have taken place here.

Earl George's son, Earl Archibald Douglas of Angus (d.1514), exchanged Hermitage for Bothwell castle on the Clyde with Earl Patrick Hepburn of Bothwell on 6 March 1492.  This occurred after he made a treasonable agreement with Henry VII of England (d.1509) on 16 November 1491, to make war on the Scots if they should attack England as well as deliver Hermitage castle and its lands to Henry who would supply Angus with equivalent lands in England.  The next year on 16 November 1493, Thomas Dacre (d.1525), the second great grandson of Hugh Dacre of Hermitage (d.1383), was appointed commissioner for England to treat about the limits of the Debateable Land and the site and boundaries of Canonbie (Canaby) monastery.  On 14 February 1540, Robert Maxwell of Caerlaverock (d.1546) was given £100 ‘for beting and mending of the Heremytage'.   This is the standard sixteenth century Scottish phraseology for repairing a castle.  Whether or not these repairs included the insertion of the gun ports and the making of the revelins is another matter altogether.

The Bothwell tenureship of Hermitage appears quite uneventful despite the attempt to paint this as ‘the bloodiest valley in Britain' - a phrase actually coined by the excellent humourous writer George MacDonald Fraser of Flashman fame in 1989.  Earl James Hepburn of Bothwell (d.1578) was visited here by Mary Queen of Scots in October 1566 after he had been wounded arresting border reivers.  The ride was later used as evidence by Mary's enemies that they were already lovers, despite the fact that no suspicions were voiced at the time and Mary had been accompanied on her ride by her councillors and guards.  Bothwell himself fled Scotland in 1567 after the battle of Carberry.  His nephew, Francis Stewart, was exiled in 1594 and the castle was allowed to fall into ruin with the accession of James VI to the English throne in 1603.  This royal event had rendered the castle's purpose as a border fortress, obsolete, while its isolated position made it unattractive as a home.

The medieval site at Hermitage is truly massive.  It stretches over 1,500' along the north bank of the Hermitage Water.  At the west end are a series of at least 3 rectangular enclosures, the easternmost one containing the remains of Hermitage church.  These earthworks are not impressive and their highly rectangular nature probably suggests that they are mainly agricultural, rather than military.  There are also agricultural earthworks on both sides of the river around this area.  A quarter of a mile east of the church stands the rebuilt ruin of Hermitage castle.

Hermitage castle is set in the middle of nowhere about 500' above sea level.  It is overlooked by a barren upland waste in places some 500' higher.  Its positioning for a castle is poor with little natural defence other than the easily fordable river to the south.  Further, the overlooking ground to the north and south would be excellent ground for placing artillery, whether torsion or powder powered, to demolish the fortress, other than for the fact this ground is boggy.  This position was summed up in the mid sixteenth century when Hermitage was described as ‘an old house, not strong, but evil to take by reason of the saturated ground about it'.  The fortress itself is set between small streams flowing into the Hermitage Water.  These appear to have been channelled to feed a wet moat around the castle earthworks.

The main castle seems to consist of 2 or 3 wards running northwards from the river.  The northernmost section consists of a rectangular enclosure on the north side of a west to east running stream that empties into the Hermitage Water some 500' east of the castle proper.  This stream has obviously been recut in a straight line through the castle site and possibly this is a post medieval devolvement that split the ‘outer' ward from the ‘middle' one.  The current outer enclosure is about 200' east to west by 120' deep and consists of a poor rampart on its north and west fronts, while the east front has been eroded away by a stream.  Towards the castle to the south there is a more powerful rampart, apparently thrown up by recutting the stream ditch.  As this enclosure is on a slightly south facing slope it is possible that it was once a garden.  South of this is the middle bailey which may once have been part of the outer enclosure.  This middle ward is now roughly rectangular with straight, chamfered corners, being now about 200' wide by 140' to 160' deep.  The south-east portion of the ward has been dug into by an artillery ravelin built upon the ditch of the old inner ward in which the masonry castle stands.  The whole ‘middle ward' was ramparted and to east and west has a wide, flat bottomed moat which is now dry.  Beyond was a counterscarp.

The inner ward was slightly smaller than the middle ward, being about 220' east to west at its maximum extent and similarly 190' north to south.  It may originally have been rectangular, but has been much altered.  Specifically it has had artillery revelins added to the west and north-east.  These both project outwards powerfully into what was probably the line of the original ward ditch.  Other than on the ravelins there is no rampart.  Surrounding the whole is a great moat up to 60' wide and 15' deep.  There is slight evidence that the moat may once have been revetted and to the north-east are the remnants of an abutment which suggests that the original entrance to the castle was where the current causeway and path lies.  The original early ‘castle' was entered from the south, while the later tower house was entered from the west, relatively near to where the abutment lies.  There was also a causeway here that led to the middle ward, but this has been cleared away in the nineteenth century.  Further, a glance at the 1814 engraving of the site, shows clearly that this portion of the earthworks has been much altered if the engraving is true.  This shows no ditch to the south, but mounds of turf, which were no doubt cleared away when the castle was refurbished in the nineteenth century.

The First Masonry
The first surviving masonry on the site is almost certainly what Historical Scotland wrongly call Dacre's Castle.  In fact, even the idea that only an Englishman could build such a structure - as obviously masons could not cross an artificial boundary like the Anglo-Scottish border - is fantastical.  Quite obviously the person who decided this silliness has never looked at such Scottish ashlar builds as the keeps at Bothwell, Dalhousie, Direlton, Loch Doon, Morton or Kildrummy.  Similarly, they never mention which Northumbrian manor house their 'Dacre Castle' looks like, presumably because no such thing exists.

What is assumed to be the early building complex consists of a small courtyard, 26' north to south by 14', which would appear to have been the centre of a complex of buildings to north, east and west.  What lay to the south is uncertain, but currently the later main entrance to the castle lies here in the later  tower house wall.  To the north of the courtyard stands a spiral stair accessed via a Romanesque style doorway with chamfered jambs.  Two further similar doorways lie to east and west along this wall and both were locked with deep drawbars.  These 2 doorways led into rooms of which part of the courtyard walls only survive.  These were subdivided into 2 via east to west running cross arches which terminated in buttresses on the courtyard side.  A single, large rectangular window remains in the eastern room.  This suggests that this chamber was originally residential and most certainly not defensive.  The junctions of the remaining walls with the encasing  tower house are most uncertain.  The southern end of the ‘early castle' east wall most certainly forms a butt joint against the south wall of the tower house, suggesting that the tower house predates the supposedly earliest structure.  The southern junction of the western wall does not reach the tower house at all, although the lower jambs of a later door do butt against it here.  The crosswall on this side - or at least the traces of it - appears to be a later addition inserted into the ashlar wall, although it is possible that this was an arch, like its compatriot to the east.  The ‘early castle' east wall at first floor level obviously penetrates the south wall of the tower house, though this does not seem to be true at ground floor level.  The  tower house wall, where it is penetrated, is also of a higher quality ashlar masonry.  Quite what has happened here is hard to say.  Certainly the masonry at the west wall junction is quite obviously uniform, there being no trace of the ‘early' ashlar east wall within it.  Similarly the junctions to the north are worrying.  The northern end of the west wall clearly butts against the north wall of the tower house and has been cut to do so at ground floor level.  Above, at first floor level, there is an irregular scaring in the tower house wall, similar to the junction of the first floor east wall into the south tower house wall.  The implication appears to be that the courtyard and associated walls post dates the tower house.  This is the opposite to received wisdom.  Perhaps then the exterior walls of the buildings around the courtyard were totally destroyed before the  tower house was built.  Certainly this problem requires further investigation.

Such problems with the ‘early castle' are multiplied by the odd stairwell.  This runs from the ground floor up towards first floor level.  Before first floor level is reached a flight of straight steps run up to the east through the wall to the destroyed first floor of the east chamber.  On the west side, at first floor level, a level passageway runs westwards to the western chamber.  This is a most odd design.  Further, the stairwell itself is made of a better ashlar than the courtyard and obviously continued on up to a further stage or the roof of the original buildings.  Some time after the 1920s, the later stone filling in this vice was removed, leaving an ugly third round gash and no trace of the original walls on the remaining two thirds of the stair well.  There is also a large blocked window at second floor level in the tower house wall.  This would have been obscured by the western building wall if the early building was still there.  The question therefore is, was the window blocked when the building was constructed - again reversing the conventional wisdom that the courtyard is an earlier feature than the encasing  tower house.  Apparently this ashlar masonry contains some mason's marks, particularly the letter R, supposedly in a fourteenth century script.

The Tower House
At some point in the castle's history the tower house was built.  This structure was 45' north to south by 80' east to west.  To the south-west was a small, projecting gatehouse, some 15' square.  This allowed a first floor entrance, although all trace of approaching steps or forebuilding is now gone.  The exterior of the gatetower has also been refaced, leaving no trace of the original gate.  Internally the north side of the gate passageway remains and shows that there were 2 portcullises, one set in the exterior wall and one in the interior, both positioned centrally in the tower house wall.  The gate passageway had a flagstone floor and presumably a constable's chamber above from where the portcullises could be operated.  Possibly this was originally a chapel, with the portcullises blocking either the east or the west window into the tower presuming their mechanisms were linked and they counter weighted each other.  The rear wall facing into the tower house at this point would appear to have been wooden, judging from the joist holes in the surviving wall.  The original entrance gate was about 9' high and rectangular.  When it was filled in a gun port was placed in its lower portion.  This presumably happened in the early sixteenth century, possibly when Robert Maxwell (d.1546) repaired the tower before 1540.  The gatetower appears to have risen 4 storeys high, one more than the attached tower house, whose fourth storey is a later addition.

The ground floor of the towerhouse contained the ‘early castle' as previously described and a square well in the north-west corner.  The first floor must have been similar to the floor below, divided into 3 equal chambers by the ‘early castle'.  Access to the basement was gained from here via the ‘early castle' vice.  This was also the only apparent access to the upper floors.  The first floor had 3 lights facing south, only one at the east end of the north wall and one loop facing west.  There was a fireplace in the east wall and possibly another over the main basement entrance to the south.  The second floor apparently consisted of one chamber, although it may have been divided by a crosswall, possibly an upper level of the surviving ‘early castle' east chamber below.  This floor again had 3 loops facing south and 2 north.  There was also a single loop facing west, covering the apparent entrance to the inner ward.  This was later blocked by the building of the North-West Tower.  Finally, a top or third floor was added to the tower when 3 different sized square corner towers were added to all corners but the south-west where the gatetower was.

The Three Square Towers
Oddly the 4 towers added to the corners of the tower house were all of different sizes.  The smallest at 22' square was to the north-east and was called the Prison Tower due to the small prison set in its basement.  This was accessed via a dog-legged passage from the tower house at first floor level.  A gun port was also added facing east at this level in the sixteenth century, while a garderobe was in the north-east corner.  At second floor level another dog-legged passage led through the tower house wall, while loops were made tight against the east and north walls.  At third floor level loops were provided to north and east, while a garderobe was set in the north-west corner.  The base of the tower has a gentle sloping plinth.

The next largest was the Postern or Well Tower at 25' square.  A diagonal passageway was cut through the tower house wall for basement access, while within was a well in the south-east corner and an inserted gun port to the west covering the south entrance to the castle.  In the north face of the tower was a postern equipped with a portcullis operated from the first floor.  This chamber could be reached via the oddest stone steps set on an arch against the east wall of the tower.  This more resembles a Hollywood film set rather than a medieval castle.  The reason for this is that it is almost certainly dating only from the 1830s.  A more normal dog-legged passageway was cut through the side of the tower house south-east loop embrasure for access to this level.  There was also a loop in the tower facing the east.  The second floor was entered from a conventual doorway cut through the tower house wall.  However, as this was not angled it was necessary to cut back the interior of the west wall of the tower to allow entrance.  A loop was also fitting along this set back.  For some reason the south and east walls were similarly setback, although neither south corner was.  In the east wall a mural passageway serviced the projecting garderobes.  This would have had 3 exit chutes, but they are all currently blocked, while only one seat survives to the north internally.  Presumably the rest of the structure, or maybe its upper storey, has been factored out in the nineteenth century rebuilding.  Again the base of the tower has a gentle sloping plinth, but at the summit are the remnants of a pointed vaulted roof.

The third largest tower was to the north-west and was 28' square.  Internally it had a square basement with the 2 northern corners chamfered off.  There was also a drain running through the tower on this side and served by a slight ditch along the north front of the tower house.  The tower was entered at first floor level by a normal doorway.  The irregular shaped room within had a gun port to the east, a large window to the north and another gun port to the west.  The second floor had plain loops to north and east, but was blind to the west, although part of the south face had been chamfered off to allow light into the otherwise blocked tower house loop.  The summit of this chamfering was a single large lintel supported on 2 corbels forming a shoulder headed roof.  Such a style was typical in the period 1250 to 1350.  Internally on the top floor the north-west and south-east corners of the tower house were chamfered off to allow more room in the towers.  Once again the base of the tower has a gentle sloping plinth and the remnants of a pointed barrel vaulted roof.

The Kitchen Tower
The final building stage of the castle would appear to have been the addition of the largest of the 4 corner towers, the Kitchen Tower.  This is obviously of a different built to the rest of the castle with the masonry consisting of more courses of narrow slabs than the rest of the structure which tends more to large rectangular blocks.  Even so, the date difference is probably not large as the fitments are generally similar throughout the castle.  This tower must have been the last addition to the castle as it meshes with the later top floor of the tower house which appears to have been built contemporaneously with the other 3 corner towers.  The south-west corner of the tower house was demolished to allow easier access to the new tower which was built from the first as 4 storeys.  The destruction of this corner of the tower also allowed the upper storeys of the old gatehouse to be utilised as part of the new kitchen tower.

The ground floor of the tower was used as a kitchen which was accessed via a flight of steps down from the first floor of the tower house.  The kitchen was lit via 3 loops, one to the west and 2 to the east.  A great oven occupied the south-west corner of the tower.  The first, second and third floors were residential and were equipped with fireplaces and garderobes, the top floor having an unusually ornate window containing an oculus to the south.  This floor was also the only one with an instep, but only on the south side.  The blocked window loops in the fortress and the differing heights of various fitments suggests the tower was upgraded from time to time and the floor levels changed.  The oculus and great south window are probably sixteenth century.

The Upper Storey of the Castle and the Nineteenth Century Remodelling
It is plainly obvious that much rebuilding has gone on in the castle during the great restoration of the 1830s.  Unfortunately this was so thorough it is difficult to tell real medieval architecture from Gothic revival.  As a singular example of this, the fireplace in the south-west corner of the Kitchen Tower fits across 2 storeys and has had the broken jagged edges, which once must have been there, covered over with a new facing.  However, its now perfect remains cannot have been functional as it stands.  The masonry has been patched up preserving what is left, but leaving the viewer uncertain as to what is patching and what original.  This is true throughout the castle where all the remaining fitments are in near perfect condition.

To help untangle this sorry mess it is possible to fall back on 3 old sketches of the castle, thankfully from 3 different angles.  Sadly these all concentrate on views of the castle from the north and east and none show the extraordinary west front.  However, what they do show gives a very worrying picture of the disastrous 1830 rebuilding.  The first sketch was by William Scott Junior in 1810.  This gives great detail and shows that the Kitchen tower was pretty much as it is now, except for the fact that its ruined battlements have been removed, the corbelled out summit apparently having had some 5' of its height removed.  Further, on its eastern face a rectangular window has been shrunk in size on its ground floor and a small loop apparently filled in.  Within the south curtain many more modifications have taken place.  These include the apparent filling in of a drain chute similar to that found on the south face of the Kitchen Tower, the blocking of a large first floor window immediately above this and apparently the opening up of the south door.  The worst crime to Medieval architecture on this front though, is the addition of the gable to the machicolations nearly overhanging this door.  The greatest disfigurement of all, however, has been reserved for the poor, abused east front of the ruin.

The Well Tower has been massively augmented in the 1830s.  A first floor loop to the south has been filled in from the ragged gash it once was.  Above on the second floor another ragged gash has been converted into a narrow loop similar to the blocked ones in the Kitchen Tower.  Finally, the ludicrous gable has been added to the remains of the roof vault.  The worst crime against medieval architecture, however, has been reserved for the west front in its entirety.  Quite clearly from this and the other early sketches, the centre of the western front between the Well and Prison Towers had collapsed.  The Well Tower's north front had totally gone, leaving a ragged tear from next to the top floor doorway, running diagonally to the ground where the jagged edge shows that even the quoins at ground level had gone.  The enceinte only reappears with the Prison Tower and this similarly was lacking its south side - the unevenness of this front, compared to the straightness of its north front, showing that this too had lost it's quoins.  It is therefore plain that the ludicrous massive arch between the 2 towers is not a replacement of a medieval structure, unique in the world, but a mock-Gothic fantasy. 

The top of the projecting garderobe is also shown in the sketches as heavily damaged.  Clearly this was totally repaired and unnaturally regularised in the 1830s.  The Prison Tower also has suffered further indignity by having its second floor rectangular window removed and all external trace of it obliterated.  Also another of the ludicrously unmedieval gables has been added at this end of the structure.  The old 1814 engraving, tends to confirm all these modifications, although this artist was not as fastidious as Scott.  He does, however, appear to show that more of the internal section of the Prison Tower had collapsed.

Finally, there is a pre-restoration sketch of the north front of the castle.  This too shows much abuse to the fortress fabric.  Firstly, it confirms that there were no gables on the castle's east end.  It also shows that the Prison Tower was rent on its north face from near the ground up to the top of the second floor.  Further, no narrow loops are shown at all on this front, despite there now being 5 there at the present time with 1 each in the Prison and North-West Towers and 3 in the north curtain.  Instead, in the north curtain, there are 2 large rectangular windows directly under the second hoarding doorway from the east where there is now merely a plain wall.  Further, the easternmost hoarding doorway is not there either, the wall at this point having collapsed.  Although the gun port in the North-West Tower is not shown a rectangular window is on the floor below this.  Again, no window is shown at gun port level in the north wall of the tower, despite there being one there now.  Also, the narrow loop now seen above it was, before the 1830 rebuilding, a rectangular window similar to the one now seen beneath it.  The most noticeable feature, however, is the broad gash from the ground up to the second floor to where there appears to have been a rectangular window.  This has now all been filled in with a well cut, red sandstone ashlar work.  This work is also seen at the base of the North-West Tower and must show rebuilding work.

This leads to the final point about the rebuilding - the west facade.  Is this original or nineteenth century mock-Gothic fantasy?  Oddly this arch is much more poorly built than that to the east, while the masonry directly above the arch has less narrow levelling courses within its structure than the walling on either side.  That said, the masonry coursing does seem uniform.  However, on the south corner of the North-West Tower several blocks of protruding stone are evident which suggests the arch was originally intended to spring out much lower down and this design was changed for the higher arch before building.  This probably clinches the matter that the west front arch is also only dating from the 1830s.  With these monstrosities stripped from the castle ruins, there would be left a normal tower house with 4 towers on the corners.

Dating the Castle
The dating of elements of the castle come down to the guesswork of the architects David MacGibbon (1831-1902) and Thomas Ross (1839-1930) in the late nineteenth century.  Unfortunately they were totally taken in by the mock-Gothic rebuilding of the 1830s and the lack of research into the early castle origins.  They therefore plumped for a mid fourteenth century date and thoughtlessly allocated its building to a big man, William Douglas (d.1353), simply on the grounds that he ‘would naturally erect a rectangular keep in the style then prevalent'.  And that's it.  The entire ‘history' of Hermitage summed up in a nutshell, without evidence, in what is otherwise an excellent book on trying to sort out military architecture.  What is stunning is that the baseless assertions of these men who were not historians, have been accepted by people who claim to be historians ever since.

Although it is clear where previous dating attempts have gone astray, what date should really be applied to the various parts of Hermitage castle?  That question is not so easy to answer and will probably always remain a mystery, even with excavation considering the site clearances that have occurred.  The tower house with corner towers does bear some resemblance to other northern castles, namely the minute Dacre and Dally castles as well as Tarset.  The latter 2 are reckoned to be thirteenth century and Scottish built, even though they are in Northumberland.  Dacre was the fortress of Hugh Dacre (d.1383), but the current remains are assigned, without evidence, to the latter half of the fourteenth century.  So really this fails to advance any dating argument anywhere.   The only thing that can be said is that the shoulder headed windows that abound throughout the castle tend to date from 1250 to 1350.  This suggests that the Kitchen Tower was complete by this date.  This in turn might suggest that the tower house dates back to the 1240s and the central courtyard is the remnant of a real hermitage, perhaps part of the carucate of land lost by Berwick hospital in or before 1244.

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


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry