Fifth Stop: Crichton
We got a chance to explore Crichton Castle one sunny afternoon, thanks to our hosts Jane and Roger from Penicuik, Scotland. Roger had a wonderful singing voice and took some time out of every week to sing with his choir in the some of the many ancient, stone churches dotting the Scottish countryside. Crichton Collegiate Church was small, dark, and damp inside, therefore providing excellent acoustics. After listening for a few moments to the voices of angels, Ashleigh and I took off down the road through the plains to the nearby Crichton Castle.
In 1406 Crichton Castle started out as a simple tower house that John de Crichton built and used as his family residence. John’s son William became lord of Crichton in 1443, and since then the castle had changed families a ridiculous amount of times over a short period. In 1483 William Crichton was forced to forfeit the castle (having been a supporter of some traitorous lord) and it was briefly given to a Sir John Ramsey who again forfeited it in 1488. King James IV then granted Crichton castle to a Patrick Hepburn who held it in his family for a few generations until Crichton was besieged and captured by the Earl of Arran in 1560. In 1568 the castle was once again passed on to another family, to a Francis Stuart, and with the Stuarts it remained until modern times.
Crichton Castle comprises of four contiguous buildings arranged around an inner courtyard. The 14th century tower, built by John Crichton, lies at the east of the castle and has a vaulted basement with timber entresol, and a vaulted hall above, although part of the tower has collapsed. William Crichton extended the castle in the early 15th century, building a second tower to the south, with the gate between the two towers. The south tower was entered by a door in the centre, with vaulted cellars either side. Two halls occupied the first and second floors. In the later 15th century a west block was added, with a six-storey tower at the south-west, containing several bedrooms. A stair in the south block gave access to these rooms. The north range was added at this time, closing the courtyard, but this section was heavily rebuilt in the following century. The castle’s most distinctive feature is its Italian-influenced courtyard façade, a fantastic wall with detailed diamond carvings which forms part of the north range. Francis Stewart, the designer, had travelled to Italy and was inspired by new styles in the buildings there. This was the source of the diamond rustication on the courtyard wall. The initials of Francis and his wife Margaret Douglas appear on the walls, together with an anchor representing Stewart’s position of Lord High Admiral of Scotland.
The ghost of a horseman has been seen riding up to the castle and through the original entrance, which has long since been blocked with stone. Some claim the phantom horseman is none other than Sir William Crichton himself, the first lord of Crichton castle. William Crichton is infamously known for organizing what historians like to call “THE BLACK DINNER” of 1440 (remind you of a certain Red Wedding perhaps?). Around that time the Clan Douglas was becoming quite powerful and William Crichton felt that his position as ‘Chancellor of Scotland’ was being threatened, in particular by the 16 year old earl, William Douglas of Tantallon Castle (eldest son of Archibald Douglas). One night, Chancellor Crichton invited William Douglas and his brother David to dine with him and King James II in Edinburgh. The Douglases, young and naïve, were lured to the castle and caught in a lethal trap. The head of a black bull was brought in, a symbol of death, the two young Douglases were beheaded in front of King James II on trumped up charges of treason.