E of North
Berwick off the A198. Tel: 01620 892727
Set on the edge of the cliffs, looking
out to the Bass Rock, this formidable castle was a stronghold of the
Douglas family. It features earthwork defences and a massive 50ft-high
14th-century curtain wall with towers. Display includes replica gun.
The coastal fortress of Tantallon Castle
was built around 1350 by William 1st Earl of Douglas, nephew of Good Sir
James’, and originally based on a French Chateaux.
Before 1357 William had married Margaret,
sister of Thomas, Earl of Mar, and they had a son, James. Later, William
took as his mistress his brother-in-laws widow, also Margaret, who had
assumed the title of Countess of Angus and Mar. she too bore him a son,
William died in 1384 and his heir, James,
the second Earl, was killed four years later at the Battle of Otterburn.
This unhappy turn of events prompted the countess of angus to promote
the claim of her son, George, to her share of the douglas inheritance.
In 1389 she resigned her Earldom of Angus
in favour of George, who became the first Douglas Earl of Angus and lord
of Tantallon Castle. Thus the Battle of Otterburn resulted in the
division into two of the mighty House of Douglas.
The head of the main line now was
Archibald, illegitimate son of the Good Sir James’, Known to the
English as the Black Douglas’ because of his grim countenance in
warfare. His descendants became the Black’ Douglases, while the
Douglases of Angus became known as the Red’ Douglases.
In 1491, Archibald, the 5th Earl, entered
into a treasonable act with Henry VII of England to deliver James IV
into English hands. When this became known, Archibald was ordered to
confine himself to his castle at Tantallon, here he prepared for a
By October James IV was at Tantallon. An
artillery train was brought from Edinburgh Castle, other military
equipment from Leith, and seamen were dispatched from Largo, on the Fife
coast, to bring the Kings Ship, The Flower, to blockade the castle from
The records do not show the outcome of
the siege, however, Archibald was once more in favour with the king when
he received a present from the king of a black velvet gown for christmas.
In 1528 King James V besieged Tantallon
for 20 days but failed to take it by force but in 1529, while Archibald
the 6th Earl was in England, King James V bribed the garrison into
surrender and Tantallon was delivered to the king. He immediately set
about rebuilding Tantallons defences, which were not completed until
This can be seen because of the green
hued stone that was used in the rebuilding works.
In 1651 Cromwell ordered General Monk to
take Tantallon Castle and stop a force of 30 moss-troopers who it is
said had caused more damage to Cromwell's troops than the whole of the
So with a force numbering between 2,000
and 3,000 men he besieged Tantallon for 12 days. Finally with the castle
almost in ruin it was taken.
The ruination caused by this bombardment
can still be seen today. In 1669 the barony was sold to Sir Hew
Dalrymple but he made no effort to make the castle inhabitable.
At the end of the 19th century Sir Walter
Hamilton Dalrymple began to arrest the decay and did much to safeguard
the fabric of the castle until it came into state care in 1924.