Places to Visit in Scotland
- Branxholme Castle, Scottish Borders
Branxholme Castle in the 19th Century
The Estate centred on Branxholme (pronounced locally as "brank-sum") Castle was initially owned by the Lovels, the Baliols, the Murrays and the Inglises before passing to the Scotts. In 1420 in the reign of James I, half of the lands were exchanged between Robert Scott, Lord of Murthockston and the Inglises for Murthockston in Lanarkshire. It is said that this followed Sir Thomas Inglis complaining of incursions by the English and that after the trade Sir William Scott remarked that ‘the cattle of Cumberland were as good as those of Teviotdale’ (but in fact the trade was between the fathers of these two gentlemen). While the name "Buccleuch" remained integral to the Scott line, their residence now moved about 9 miles as the crow flies from their home beside the Rankle Burn to Branxholme, an estate a few miles south of Hawick, overlooking the river Teviot.
Robert Scott died in 1426 and was succeeded by his son Walter who was knighted in 1436 with the designation "Lord of the Buccleuch".
Expansion of the Estate
In 1446, in the reign of James II, the other half of the estate was granted to Sir Walter Scott and his son Sir David to be held in ‘blanch’ of the Crown, for the payment of a red rose at the feast of St. John the Baptist. The land has been owned by the Scotts of Buccleuch since then.
The farm at Branxholme was burned (but probably not a defensive tower) and raided around 1510 by John Dalgleish and English thieves, including ‘Black John’ Routledge. An English raiding party then burned the tower, farm and neighbouring farms in 1533/4. The tower and farm was again burned in 1544, when the English took 600 cows, 600 sheep, 200 goats, 30 prisoners, as well as killing 8 men - the Inglis family probably thought they had got away from the estate in good time. It was described as a ‘24 merk land’ in 1553/4, when inherited by Walter Scott, from his grandfather, also Sir Walter; the mansion and mill are also mentioned. ‘Branxhelme, Eister and Wester, with fortalice, maner place, and wodis therof’ are mentioned in 1586. Pont’s map of the 1590s shows an enclosure around the estate, including much of the present Branxholme Park, and some of Branxholme Braes, with much of it being wooded. The name is also used for the hamlet near there, previously having many more houses, and sometimes being referred to as ‘Branxholme Town’.
A major reconstruction of Branxholme castle in 1571-74 created a much larger set of buildings but retained the two towers - Nesbie and Tenty-fit.
The work was carried out initially by Sir Walter Scott but was not completed by the time of his death at Branxholme in April 1574 (to be succeeded by yet another Walter Scott, aged 9) but was completed by his widow, Lady Margaret Douglas and finished in 1576. There is an impressive set of plaques still on the wall of the castle detailing the dual responsibilities for the work which incorporate the Buccleuch and Douglas armorial symbols.
Rescue of Kinmont Willie
The young Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch soon grew up and became involved in the usual raiding and feuding - he led the raid on Carlisle Castle that rescued William Armstrong of Kinmont (Kinmont Willie in the old ballad). The raid enraged Queen Elizabeth I who demanded that Sir Walter appear before her in London. King James VI of Scotland, by now hopeful of inheriting the English throne on Elizabeth's death, forced Sir Walter to undertake the journey to confront her. Sir Walter made a stout defence (Kinmont Willie had been captured on a day of truce, for example) and so impressed Elizabeth that the charges against him were quietly dropped!
After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the days of reiving and violence were much reduced - and Buccleuch energetically pacified Liddesdale and even found time to take part in a war in the Netherlands. In 1606 he was made Lord Scott of Buccleuch but continued to be better known as Lord Buccleuch. He died in 1611 and was succeeded by another Walter, 2nd Lord of Buccleuch who became Earl of Buccleuch in 1619 as the Buccleuch star rose ever higher - becoming Dukes of Buccleuch in 1663 when Anne, daughter and heiress of the 2nd Earl married James, Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of King Charles II. In 1685 Monmouth led the unsuccessful rebellion in an attempt to depose his uncle, King James II/VII. Although Monmouth was executed, his widow Anne Scott, the first Duchess of Buccleuch (pictured here with two of her sons), cleverly managed to hold on to the Buccleuch estates and titles. She later married the 3rd Baron Cornwallis, with whom she had three children. Anne died in 1732, aged 80 and her titles passed to her grandson, Francis. The tenant farmer through much of the 18th and 19th centuries was the Chamberlain to the (by now) Duke of Buccleuch, who lived at Branxholme from about 1767. The area was used as a setting for one of Allan Ramsay’s songs ‘The Bonnie Lass of Branksome’.
Perhaps to make a more comfortable residence for the Chamberlain, the castle was again remodelled in 1837 and it is that building we see today. Internally, there is no grand hall or imposing staircase but instead, a series of smaller rooms.
Branxholme ceased to be the main home of the Buccleuch family when they remodelled Bowhill House near Selkirk in the early 1830s. Branxholme has been kept wind and water-tight but, apart from a caretaker for a spell, has been left unoccupied.
Heritage Hub Plans
Recently, there have been suggestions that Branxholme Castle could be converted to be a "Heritage Hub" and museum displaying the history and traditions of not just the Scott family but all the Scottish Border clans. The concept is still at an early stage but if it is fully implemented Branxholme could have a new lease of life and contribute even more to the local tourist attractions of the area.
The graphic on the right is of "Nesbie Tower" at Branxholme and the graphic below is of the main frontage as it is today.
Branxholme is a few miles south of Hawick on the main A7 road. Currently (in 2016) there are no facilities for visitors and it is not possible to go inside. But if the "Heritage Hub" project is implemented that could all change!
But unlike so many castles near the English border, it is a well preserved example of a Border castle - and the scenic river Teviot runs close by below the castle.
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