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Traditions and Stories of Scottish Castles
Cathcart Castle

Cathcart Castle

It is worthy of note that, whilst Crookston Castle witnessed the earlier and happier portion of Mary’s variegated life, Cathcart Castle, which is all but visible from it, was the scene of her final downfall. The latter stands about seven miles from Crookston, and nearly two miles south-east of Glasgow, upon the Mearns Road. An inconsiderable pathway which leaves the main road a short space beyond the bridge over the Cart, leads past the Castle gate, which is not surrounded now by any vestige of garden ground. Unlike Crookston, it must have afforded little advantage to its inmates in the matter of defence. it is easily approached on all sides, and is more like a pleasure-palace than a stronghold. There are arrow-slits m the walls, and the appearance of an attempt at fortification; but the surrounding locality affords too easy access for this to have been of much avail. Yet the outlook from one of the windows in the upper chamber, still called Queen Mary’s Window, is very lovely. The ground upon which the Castle stands slopes gently down to the river’s brink, whose silver sheen glimmers faintly here and there amid the overhanging boughs of birch and ash and nodding beech. Due north from this point of view lies the field of Langside, where was fought the final and decisive conflict which terminated Queen Mary’s career in Scotland.

The lands of Cathcart belonged in the 12th century to a family bearing that name, and so continued till 1546, when the Sempill family acquired them through marriage. The original Cathcart family was represented in 1740 by the eighth Baron, who repurchased the ancestral property. The Castle, which had been built in the 15th century, was partly demolished by this Baron Cathcart, and has not since been occupied. In 1814 the tenth Baron was created. Earl Cathcart, and the members of the family have long been distinguished in military history; Cathcart House, which took the place of the old Castle, was built by Mr James Hill, Solicitor, Glasgow, who acquired part of the estate in 1788, and from him it passed, in 1801, to Earl Cathcart, when the rest of the estate was purchased by him.

The undulating lea, now called "Battlefield," is completely commanded from "Queen Mary’s Window," and it was doubtless from here that the hapless Queen watched with breathless interest the contest upon which her own future depended. After her daring and romantic escape from Lochleven, she made her way to the east coast so as to mislead her pursuers; then doubling back, she sought to reach Dumbarton Castle, which was then held by her partisans. Taking the road by Hamilton, she was soon joined by many of the Lowland gentry, with their retainers, and found herself at the head of a small but well-appointed army. Fearful of risking a conflict with her hall-brother, the Regent Moray, who then lay with his troops at Glasgow, she took the south bank of the Clyde, intending to cross to the Dumbarton side when safe from interruption. But the intelligence which Moray had received of her movements enabled him to checkmate her plans. Detaching a strong body of his troops he occupied the field at Langside, which lay directly on her line of march, thus leaving her no option save either to dare the battle or fall helplessly into an ambuscade betwixt the two portions of his army. The confidence of the Queen in her cause decided her to adopt the former course, and in a fatal hour for her the armies engaged in deadly conflict. The position of Cathcart Castle, which overlooked the field of battle, afforded the most favourable spot from which to observe the course of the strife, although, from its proximity to the combatants, perhaps not the safest place for so precious a prize.

That she occupied Crookston Castle for this purpose is not a reasonable supposition, since its distance from Langside and its situation would effectually prevent her from obtaining early intelligence of the course of the battle. And her flight to Dundrennan Abbey after the disastrous issue of the conflict was much more easily accomplished from Cathcart than from Crookston. Yet one must remember that so weighty an authority as Sir Walter Scott mentions the latter place as the position which she held, though perhaps the romantic and poetical contrast between her earlier and later days at Crookston might influence the poet to adopt this theory even though not supported by facts. One thing is certain, that local tradition ascribes this melancholy interest to Cathcart, and even points out the particular spot where the ill-fated Queen beheld the overthrow of all her hopes. And thus, by a curious combination of circumstances, two Castles standing upon the banks of the same river, Cart, and separated by but a few miles from each other, serve as landmarks, tear-fraught and sad, recording the joys and sorrows of Scotland’s fairest Queen—her time of love and her time of war.

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