Last week, I had some relatives visiting our “new wee hoose” in Edinburgh. New and house are both relative terms; it’s a two-bedroomed flat in a Victorian tenement.
It (the visit, that is) prompted my mum and I to wonder where to take my aunt and uncle. There are plenty of options in this part of the world, which is not a bad thing. The weather was pretty good too. We opted to visit both Blackness Castle and Linlithgow Palace in the same day.
I roamed around – not paying too much attention to the story of the place, but rather enjoying the settings – waiting (and not necessarily hoping) for chills and shivers, which might indicate some paranormal activity. Blackness Castle is situated on a slight promontory on The Firth of Forth; the only chills and shivers I got was from the wind, wildly whipping about the place.
Linlithgow Palace was slightly more spooky… but that’s a story for another post.
Blackness Castle was built shortly after 1440 by Sir George Crichton, the then Earl of Caithness and Sheriff of Linlithgow. It was seized in 1453 by King James II and has been property of the Crown ever since.
The castle was reinforced between 1537 and 1543, during the reigns of both James V and Mary Queen of Scots, resulting in the most formidable artillery fortification in Scotland of its day. The looming threat of Henry VIII’s Protestant England was the catalyst for these modifications, which resulted in changes to how the castle was accessed as well as the inclusion of yawning gunholes in the massively thickened walls.
It’s hard to imagine cannons being used. When you look through these gunholes from inside the castle walls – the range would have been too limited for a cannon ball to go much further than the garden wall…
Blackness Castle held its own, withstanding many a siege until 1660 when it suffered a thorough bombardment, from both land and sea, by Oliver Cromwell’s army (who’s mother, apparently, was from Fife – just across the water. Cheeky wee $#!+…!). The castle was left in ruins until it was rebuilt during the late 1660’s.
From 1457 until the Treaty of Union in 1707 the castle held prisoners, mostly political and mainly from the high ranks of society; it’s most famous prisoner being Cardinal Beaton in 1543. This was a time when prison conditions reflected status. For those from the higher levels of society, imprisonment meant a loss of freedom rather than any loss of comfort (it’s all relative). The constable of Blackness also had responsibility for maintaining law and order locally and these offenders were incarcerated in the pit in the North Tower.
This prison was divided into two compartments, one above the other. The upper chamber, the “prison”, has a fireplace, a latrine closet and reasonable lighting and ventilation (I’ll say!). The hatch in the floor gives access to the “pit”, a particularly grim hole lacking all amenities save the ebb and flow of the tide “slopping out” twice daily. Even in its treatment of wrong-doers, medieval society paid due regard to rank and station, for the “pit” was reserved for the lowest of the low.
(Historic Scotland – information boards)
It was again used as a prison during the wars with France (1759-1815), holding prisoners in transit – rather than for “long-stay”.
From 1870 onwards Blackness Castle was a central ammunitions depot for Scotland until it was scheduled as an historic monument in 1912. The pier was constructed during this phase of the castle’s history to allow stores and armaments to be delivered by sea.
The castle, as it is seen today, is a result of the restoration program carried out between 1926 and 1935. It included the removal of all Victorian structures, even a roof that enclosed the entire courtyard.
Blackness Castle is also referred to as “The Ship that Never Sailed”. The Central Tower forms the mast, the South Tower – the stern and the smaller North Tower – the prow.
The Central Tower was built during the 15th Century, but the stairwell was only added on in the 16th Century.
Blackness Castle has been used in several movies, namely: Hamlet (1990), The Bruce (1996), Ivanhoe (1997 TV Mini-Series), Macbeth (1997) and most recently Doomsday (2008).