Buittle Castle was once occupied by the Balliol family who played an important role in the history of Scotland.
Buittle - The Castle and its History
By Mr James Affleck, Castle-Douglas.
The ruins of Buittle Old Castle may be classed among the leaves of our unwritten history. They are situated in one of the most picturesque and charming spots of "Grey Galloway." In all our antiquarian rambles it has seldom been our good fortune to meet in so small a compass so much peaceful sylvan beauty, coupled with so much thrilling history. Buittle was one of the four examples of pure Norman castle, of which we have ocular evidence, erected in Galloway. These were Lochfergus, Buittle, Doon, and Cruggleton. Buittle was pre-eminently a Norman castle, and, so far as our investigations have gone, it was built by Roland, Lord of Galloway, during the 12th century. Only the site, and part of a ruined gateway, remain, but these are sufficient to show that it was not only Norman in construction, but also a very extensive and strong building. The walls seem to have been about four feet thick, and the mound on which the castle stood measures somewhere about 138 by 99 feet, and is oval in appearance. This mound was encircled by a ditch, which was filled with water from the Urr, and from the Solway tides, which then came up as far as the castle. The special features of a Norman castle were, that it was almost invariably surrounded by a ditch called "the fosse," and within the "fosse," towards the main building, was placed its wall, about eight or ten feet thick, and from 20 to 30 feet high, with a parapet and embrazures called "crenels " on the top. From these "crenels" the defenders discharged arrows, darts, and other missiles. This wall can be traced at Buittle. The great gate was flanked by a tower on each side, with rooms over the entrance, which were closed by massive doors of oak plated with iron. From these rooms the warder raised or lowered the drawbridge, and worked the portcullis. The existing ruins, which we see, formed a part of such towers, and the principal entrance. In the centre of all stood the great "keep" or tower, generally four or five stories in height. This formed the dwelling proper of the baron. As Buittle was surrounded by water on all sides, except the north, the barbican surrounded the large mound which we also see. This large mound formed the courtyard, and was the only vulnerable part of the defences.
"Botle," as the castle was then called, was first inhabited by Alan, but when he succeeded his father and went to reside at Lochfergus, it was occupied by Dervorguil. The name "Botle" means "a dwelling," or as some authorities have it, "a royal dwelling." Alan died at Lochfergus in 1234, and left three daughters — Helena, Dervorguil, and Christian, along with an illegitimate son, Thomas. Helena married Roger de Quenci, Earl of Winchester, Dervorguil married John de Balliol, and Christian married William de Fortibus, Earl of Albemarle. Christian died in 1246, without issue, and her inheritance was shared by the surviving daughters. Therefore all the land on this side of the Cree now belonged to Dervorguil, and all the land in Wigtownshire to Helena. Thus, through Dervorguil, John de Balliol became the most powerful Baron in Galloway. Although he had other lands in England, such as Barnard Castle and Fotheringay, he preferred to live at "Botle." He and his wife Dervorguil took a great interest in the inhabitants, and he lavished much of his wealth on the improvement of his estates. There seems no doubt that "Botle" Castle at this time was much enlarged, and made into a Norman castle, pure and simple. Perhaps the strongest reason for strengthening the castle at this period was the troubled state of the times. By the old law of "Tanistry," or the old Celtic custom, no female could succeed as a ruler over the people, and the Gallovidians refused to have Dervorguil as a ruler. First they invited the King to become ruler, but he declined. Then they besought him to appoint Alan's illegitimate son, Thomas, to be ruler, but this was also refused. The result was that they rose in insurrection, and rallied round Thomas, who came over from Ireland with a band of Irishmen to aid him. In order to quell this insurrection, Alexander II. invaded Galloway, but his troops got so hopelessly entangled in the dense forests and morasses, which then over-spread the land, that he was almost overwhelmed. The Earl of Ross, however, came to his rescue, and the insurgents were defeated. Thomas fled, and one or two of the insurgent chiefs, along with many of the Irishmen, marched to Glasgow, with ropes round their necks as a token of surrender, to sue the King for pardon. The Glaswegians, however, fell upon them and slew them all, with the exception of two chiefs, who were sent to Edinburgh, and ordered by the King to be torn asunder by horses. The King's army in Galloway committed great devastation. They despoiled the lands and the churches, and committed unheard of cruelty. For instance, it is recorded that a monk at Glenluce, who was at his last gasp, was left naked, save for the coarse hair shirt which he wore, and at Tongland the Prior and Sacristan were slain at the altar, an act which in those days was counted an unpardonable sacrilege. Balliol and Dervorguil, however, set themselves to rule the people wisely, and by their good government, love of justice, progress, and peace, and by their extensive gifts and improvements, soon convinced the Gallovidians that they could not get better rulers. In fact, they not only became loved, but almost worshipped by the people. Under their rule Galloway enjoyed a term of peace and prosperity unexampled for centuries past, and agriculture received an impetus such as it never had before. Their happy home-life, their devotion to each other, and their numerous princely gifts, won over the hearts of the Gallovidians, and thus the "quiet neuk" of Buittle became a perfect Eden of peace and prosperity. Dervorguil had four sons, Hugh, Alan, who died young, Alexander, who died in 1279, and John, who afterwards became King of Scotland.
John de Balliol died in 1269. This was not only a terrible loss to Dervorguil, but also to the whole of the Province of Galloway. Balliol loved Galloway, and the people had learned to love and trust him in return. So great was the grief of Dervorguil that she had his heart taken out of his bosom and placed in a small ebony and silver casket, or cophyne, which it is said she carried about with her wherever she went. Tradition even says that she placed it before her when at meals, in order that she would always be reminded of the presence of the dearest and best of husbands. For twenty years after his death she resided at "Botle," and reigned a queen in the hearts of the people. She continued to develop the resources of the Province, and devoted all her energies towards the amelioration of her rude and uncouth subjects. In accordance with her husband's intentions she founded and endowed Balliol College, Oxford, the grant being dated "apud Botle, 1283." She also erected the old bridge over the Nith, and granted the tolls to the Monks. The old bridge still stands to-day, not only as a monument to her name, but also a marvel of her generosity and utilitarianism. She founded the Abbacia Dulcis Cordis (Sweetheart Abbey) in memory of her husband. She also built and endowed a monastery for Black Friars at Wigtown, and one for Grey Friars at Dumfries. She also built a monastery at Dundee.
Dervorguil died whilst on a visit to Barnard Castle in 1289. In accordance with her expressed wish her remains were brought home and buried in Sweetheart Abbey, the ebony and silver casket, containing her husband's heart, being placed upon her bosom. No finer epitaph could be written of her than that by old Wyntoun : —
A better ladye than scho was nane
In all the yle of mare Britane.
She was succeeded by her son, John Balliol, who had married Isobell, daughter of John, Earl of Surrey, in 1281. On the death of Alexander III., in 1286, Scotland was plunged once more in civil strife over the disputed succession. Many competitors claimed the crown, but these were gradually narrowed down to two, viz.: — John Balliol and Sir Robert Bruce, of Lochmaben. Balliol claimed as grandson of the eldest daughter of Alan, and Bruce, as son of the second daughter, Isabella. They had thus a common ancestor in Fergus. The people of Galloway, of course, espoused the cause of Balliol, the son of their much-loved Dervorguil, whilst the Dumfriesians espoused the cause of Sir Robert Bruce. The question was referred to Edward I. of England, but meantime Bruce of Lochmaben and his son, the Earl of Carrick, rose in insurrection, attacked the castle of Dumfries, and expelled the forces of the young Queen Margaret. After this they marched to Botle and took it by surprise. They seem to have appointed one Patrick McGuffok to be custodian, and caused him to make the proclamation within the Bailery. From thence the young Earl of Carrick marched to Wigtown and also took the castle there, killing several people. This Earl of Carrick was the father of the famous Robert the Bruce.
As umpire in the rival claims, Edward I. assembled a court at Norham on 3rd June, 1291. This Court was composed of forty members chosen by Balliol, and a like number by Bruce. The judgment was given on 14th October, 1292, to the effect that, “in every heritable succession, the more remote by one degree, lineally descended from the eldest sister was preferable to the nearer in degree issuing from the second sister." In accordance with this uncontestable decision, Edward therefore adjudged in favour of John Balliol. Balliol was accordingly crowned King at Scone on St. Andrew's Day, 1292. Thus Botle became a royal residence. All the castles in Galloway were therefore ordered to be given up to him. Edward, however, on account of the prominent part which he had played in the succession, claimed suzerainty over Scotland. This was looked upon as a distinct Scottish grievance, and at last, under the pressure of his barons, Balliol resolved to repudiate the claim, and renounced his allegiance to Edward. Edward I. at once summoned his army to assemble at Newcastle-on-Tyne, preparatory to a descent on Scotland. Balliol, on the other hand, invaded England. He was repulsed at Carlisle, but burned Hexham and Corebridge. Edward marched along the west of Scotland, and seized Roxburgh, Jedburgh, Dunbar, Edinburgh, and entered Stirling. Balliol, thus cut off, was forced to abdicate the throne in favour of Edward, and he was carried captive to London. Henry de Percy was appointed Warden of Galloway, and custodian of the Castles of Ayr, Wigtown, Cruggleton, and Botle. Thus Botle became a royal fortress. Patrick of Botle was therefore, in 1296, forced to swear fealty to Edward.
In 1300 Edward I., nicknamed "The Hammer of Scotland," continued his conquering march southward, and through Galloway, seizing all the castles and exacting homage from the inhabitants. Botle was, of course, included among the others.
About this time young Robert the Bruce came into prominence as a staunch supporter of Edward I., and a foe to our great national hero, Sir William Wallace. In this paper, however, we do not propose to enter into particulars regarding the early history of Bruce, except in so far as it relates to Botle and its historic family. We have no desire to do so, because it forms very painful reading. Historians in their enthusiasm for his heroic struggle for the independence of Scotland may gloss over the ugly facts of his early history, but they can never make straight his early crooked career, or erase the foul stains from his escutcheon. We cannot condone his desertion of Wallace, especially as Wallace was fighting for the very self-same independence of Scotland as Bruce fought for in after years. Neither can we approve of his secret treaty with Bishop Lamberton, and Comyn, or his correspondence with King Philip of France, while at the same time he had not only sworn a solemn oath over our Lord's body, the Holy Relics, and the Holy Gospels, to give good advice, and all possible assistance in maintaining Edward's supremacy in Scotland, but he had actually received letters from Edward applauding him for his diligence in hunting the patriots, and urging him to bear in mind that, "as the cloak is made, so also the hood." Even worse are the details of his treachery to Comyn, whom he assassinated in Greyfriars' Church. This was the unpardonable act which completely alienated the sympathy and support of all the Gallovidians. In fact, they were so enraged that when Bruce's two brothers, Thomas and Alexander, landed at Lochryan with assistance for him, they took them captive and sent them to Carlisle, where they were executed. The Gallovidians never became reconciled to Bruce or his cause. One of the first acts he did after being crowned King was to send down his brother Edward to bring them under subjection. In this he was partly successful. Botle Castle was the only one which held out against Edward. Galloway, however, did not long remain quiet, for we find in 1313 that King Robert came down himself with banners flying and a great military display. He took the castles of Dumfries, Dalswinton, Lochmaben, Carlaverock, and after starving out the garrison he captured Botle.
In 1324 it is recorded that Bruce granted Balliol's lands and the Castle of Botle to Sir James Douglas, subject to the yearly tribute of a pair of spurs.
Bruce died on the 7th June, 1329, and Randolph, Earl of Moray, was appointed Regent. Galloway threatened again to rise in favour of Balliol, and the Regent made one or two raids through it. He died in 1332, and was succeeded by the Earl of Mar, who proved a very weak-kneed Regent. Edward Balliol, the son of John Balliol, took advantage of his weakness, and landed on the shores of the Forth. Having raised an army of the disaffected nobles, he met and defeated the Regent at Dupplin. Edward Balliol was crowned King at Scone on the 24th September, 1332. When he came down he was received by the Gallovidians with open arms. His hour of triumph was exceedingly brief, however, for on the 16th December following, when he and his brother Henry and Comyn were staying at Annan, they were treacherously surprised by Archibald Douglas. The King managed to escape, but his brother and Comyn were slain. How strange the whirlgig of fortune spun round in those stirring and warlike times. In less than a month he had gained and lost a crown. Balliol, however, with the assistance of Edward, advanced against the Regent Moray and defeated his troops at Halidon Hill. After this, with the assistance of the English army and "the wild Scots of Galloway" he overran Scotland, burning and pillaging until he became thoroughly detested. He was a weak King, and only held the crown by the favour of Edward. His whole reign is punctuated by the fiercest and bloodiest of all warfare. The price he had to pay for the assistance of Edward was very heavy, for he was compelled to give up the counties of Edinburgh, Roxburgh, Peebles, Dumfries, and Kirkcudbright, which, of course, included his own lands of Botle, etc. Parliament made the surrender at Edinburgh in 1334, but Edward allowed him to retain Botle, Kirkandrews, and Kenmure. Balliol came to reside at Botle in 1346, and according to an old charter he was granted the privilege of regality over the lands of Botle in 1349. This is proved by a charter which he granted at his Castle of Botle, 29th November, 1352. He also granted Letters Patent at his castle of Botille, 1st December, 1352.
In 1356 he surrendered his crown and estates to Edward for 5000 marks in gold, and a pension of 2000 marks a year. He then left Scotland in disgrace, never to return, and died at Whitley, near Doncaster, 17th March, 1363. In 1372 Botle Castle passed into the hands of Archibald Douglas, afterwards of Threave, and remained his until the fall of the Douglasses in 1456, when it reverted to the Crown. McKerlie thinks, and history points to the fact, that it must have been given to Queen Margaret by James III. as part of her dowry, because it passed from her to the Maxwells.
We hear no more of Botle Castle till the feud between the Gordons of Lochinvar and Lord Herries. It is recorded that Herries spulzied the Castle of Buittle in 1595, and was adjudged to pay to Gordon of Lochinvar the sum of £1000. After this, no doubt, it became uninhabitable. For centuries it must have been used as a quarry for building-stones. Grose gives a drawing of the Castle of Buittle as it stood in 1791, but the site and shape of building shows that it was not the old castle, but simply a strong house, probably of the Maxwells. Such is the brief and succinct history of the old Castle of Buittle.
- Transactions and journal of the proceedings of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 1911