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Castles of Scotland
Tantallon Castle


Tantallon Castle3m 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, George.

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 lengthy siege.

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 sea.

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 1543.

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 Scots army.

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.


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