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Traditions and Stories of Scottish Castles
Crookston Castle

There is perhaps no character throughout the whole range of Scottish history that so completely awakens the enthusiasm of Scotsmen as Mary, Queen of Scots. The tale of her gay youth, her happy early years, the heavy clouds of misfortune which encompassed her middle life and deepened into the darkest misery, until finally completed by the thrilling horror of her tragic end—all form a life-drama which cannot fail to move the most stolid hearer to pity. This is not the place to narrate the oft-told tale; but as marking some of the great epochs in her eventful life, attention may be directed to some of the Castles which are inseparably associated with her name. The first of these is Crookston Castle, where she spent her honeymoon with Henry, Lord Darnley.


Crookston Castle

Three miles south-east from Paisley, on the Glasgow Road, there stands the ancient Castle of Crookston, which, though seldom mentioned in connection with Queen Mary, has still a most pathetic relation to her history. The green lane, flanked with hawthorn hedges, which strikes off the main road at Hillington Bar, leads up a gentle ascent for about half a mile, bringing the traveller, somewhat unexpectedly, at Once upon the Castle. Ere reaching this altitude, however, he must cross the course of the extinct Glasgow and Ardrossan Canal (now a railway line), and pass the entrance to Hawkhead, one of the seats of the Earl of Glasgow. Though thus reached by an easy slope, and quite free from the appearance of any precipitous elevation, the position of the Castle ~s most commanding. Upon three sides—south, east and west—the fertile fields of Renfrewshire are stretched at the base of the hill; while towards the north the Bowling Braes stand forth in a bold outline, their base being laved by the waters of the Clyde. Southwards no eminence is ‘visible, save the dim figure of Neilston Pad in the distance; while the intervening space is filled with "gentle slopes and groves between," giving evidence of a richly fertile soil, and an industrious agricultural population. The gleaming silver line which meanders through the plain marks the course of the White Cart as it "rins rowin’ to the sea"; and near the spot where the Castle stands it receives the tributary water of the little rivulet, called the Levern.

Though never of great extent the Castle seems to have been compactly built, and designed in a lawless age to withstand a powerful enemy. Its position as a look-out station has been admirably chosen; and so commanding is the site that a few retainers might have held a considerable force at bay with comparative ease. The first Castle was probably built by Robert de Croc, apparently a scion of a Norman family, who was proprietor of the estate about 1190, and whose name survives in a corrupted form as "Crookstoun." In 1330 the estate was purchased by Sir Alan Stewart, a kinsman of the Stuarts, Seigneurs of D’Aubigny, famous in the history of France and Scotland. Sir Alan, in 1361, granted the Castle and estate to Sir 3. Stewart of Darnley; and thus they ultimately came into the possession of Henry, Lord Daruley (1546—67), centuries afterwards, with whom we have to deal.

The remains of the present Castle probably belong to the 13th century (1290—1390), though the exterior arrangements plainly indicate that there was a Keep of some kind here long before that date, though the ruthless hand of Time has cleared all the relics away. But in 1488, when James IV. was fighting for the Crown after his father, James III., had been killed at Sauchieburn, he attacked his opponent, the Earl of Lennox, grandfather of Darnley, at Duchal, and besieged Crookston Castle, bringing " Mons Meg" from Edinburgh for the purpose. Surely this shows that even at that time the Castle was of considerable importance..

The main interest in Crookston of the present day, this "grey and antique tower," is more nearly connected with love than war. Here it was, according to tradition, that the youthful Henry Danley, then its lord, led his beauteous but unfortunate Queen to spend their honeymoon. And those battered and time-worn walls, through whose "looped~ and windowed raggedness" the mystic moonlight strays, have resounded to the voice and harp of a Chastelard or a Rizzio, whilst yet the fortunes of the martyred Queen were unclouded.

Could one gleam of prophetic foresight have been given to bride and bridegroom to display the future of either, how incredulous and horror-stricken would they have been at that festal hour! And yet, within a few years, the gay gallant had descended into the wretched, brutal, jealous husband, whose insatiable fury was not restrained from murder, even by the presence of his Queen. And the loved and lovely bride, whose day-dreams in Crookston Castle were of love, romance and song, might have shrunk in terror from the fearful doom which awaited her newly-wedded lord; or quailed before the shadow of the scaffold upon which she must ultimately. meet her own. Yet, as Horace sang of old:-

"The Deity, prudent and careful,
Encloses the future in night,"

and so Crookston witnessed nothing save dance and song; whilst joy was unconfined during the few happy days which Mary spent within its bounds. And when her hard fate was upon he; not without sad regret must she have thought, amid the gloom of Fotheringay, upon the pageants and revelries of Crookston, which had formed for her a sunny memory of other days. After a visit to Crookston Castle the Glasgow poet, William Motherwell, wrote thus :—

"Beneath yon tree—
Now bare and blasted—so our annals tell
The martyr Queen, ere that her fortunes knew
A darker shade than cast her favourite yew,
Loved Darnley passing well—
Loved him with tender woman’s generous love,
And bade farewell awhile to courtly state
And pageantry for yon o’ershadowing grove—
For the lone river’s banks whose small birds sing,
Their little hearth with summer joys elate—
Where tall broom blossoms, flowers profusely spring;
There he, the most exalted of the land,
Pressed with the grace of youth a Sovereign’s peerless hand."

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