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The Parish of Crichton, in Midlothian, is full of small hills and corresponding valleys, the sides of which are abrupt and steep, like the declivities of mountain ranges. The whole surface of the soil, indeed, has more the aspect of a pastoral mountain district in miniature, than the common effect of mere undulating ground, where the slopes are usually gentle, and sometimes barely perceptible. Through one of these valleys run the infant waters of the Scottish Tyne, which here a small sluggish rivulet, is enlarged to a considerable stream ere it falls into the sea, near Dunbar. On the top of a bold, projecting, grassy mound, at the base of which the stream makes a quick turn, the ruins of Crichton Castle rise abrupt from the edge of the steep ascent. Sir Walter Scott's well known description is probably calculated to give an exaggerated idea of the stream and the general character of the scenery.
That Castle rises on the steep,
Of the green vale of Tyne ;
You hear her streams repine. But when Scott first became acquainted with the scenery, it was dignified by a clothing of alder forest, the partial removal of which he regrets in his Border Antiquities.* No remains of the forest are now to be seen, save such few scattered patches of natural coppice as are almost invariably to be found in the clefts of the hills in all parts of Scotland. The scenery around is of a far more pastoral than sylvan character, and it conveys all the impressions of silence and solitude, which treeless grassy hills, seldom touched by the plough, and distant from public roads and populous places, generally produce. The Castle mound, seldom trodden, is remarkable for the depth and rankness of its natural grass. The author of the Statistical Account, says, “ In the little glen which the Castle of Crichton overhangs, great numbers of glow-worms are to be met with in summer; and if the admirer of these beautiful creatures would visit this spot in the twilight of the evenings, in the months of July and August, he would find himself amply rewarded in the brilliant display of shining lamps, which the little illuminati of the glen are ever and anon beaming out around him.”+
Crichton may be reached either by striking off to the west from the Lauder road near Pathhead, or by striking eastward from the road to Galashiels, and passing Borthwick Castle. On a near approach the mass of ruins is seen to belong to different ages of architecture. The original nucleus about which the later edifices have clustered, is a rude unadorned square tower, of the earlier form of baronial architecture in Scotland, if that can well be called baronial which was often the fortalice of the leader of a troop of marauders, where he defied the law, and the wrath of his enemies, after a successful foray. Crichton belonged to that part of the wild border-land which was nearest to Edinburgh, and consequently most likely to be amenable to the laws. While it was thus rendered a somewhat precarious post, it had its own peculiar advantages. Its situation was by nature wild and inaccessible, and at the same time not far from the great
+ New Statistical Account, Edinburghshire, p. 57.
* Prose Works, vii. 157. CRICHTON CASTLE AND CHURCH, 1-4.
thoroughfares running north and south, where the lord of the fortalice might pounce on his enemies or those whom he had his own particular reasons for intercepting.
Many of these border leaders pursued their wild life from generation to generation, and kept up the same old square tower over their heads, never adding to their buildings or acquiring the position of lords of the soil in the more civilized acceptation of the term. These, when the laws gained strength were gradually cleared away, and they left their old peel-houses still in their massive strength, defying the storm and surviving the decaying influence of time; but accompanied by no memorial of those who had built or possessed them. In other cases the family of the border freebooter became gradually enlarged into a great baronial house, and as they gathered lands and honours and became conspicuous in the state, the old peel-house was superseded by a more magnificent mansion, or its rude strength being still a temptation to preserve it, more stately and ornamental structures, indicative of the growing wealth of the family, and the progress of the architectural art, rose around it: such is the history which the ruins of Crichton now tell. Towards the west they present bare massive walls with narrow loopholes; on the other side, variety, lightness and richness of moulding and device. But it is within the quadrangular court that the architectural beauties are most conspicuous. Entering by the eastern door, a large mass of ruins, half filling the quadrangle and nearly blocking up the entrance, have to be scrambled over, and then one sees the two contrasted sides of the court as represented in the accompanying plate; the corner of the old square tower on the left front, and on the right the Venetian-looking open arcade, surmounted by a mural incrustation of diamond facets and by moulded windows. In the other plate a more full front view is given of this arcade and its superincumbent wall; and it will be observed with what skill the architect has produced a rich and highly decorated effect from the judicious adaptation and repetition of an ornament in itself simple and meagre. In the interior of this side of the quadrangle, the mouldings of the windows, and the soffits of the staircases and small chambers are adorned with flower and cordage work, pannellings and other ornaments, in almost capricious variety.
Some specimens of the edge mouldings and of the pannelling in the soffits may be observed in the glimpses of the interior afforded through the upper windows in the plate. The description which Sir Walter Scott has given, in his Marmion, of this part of the ruin, is probably unequalled by the easy grace with which the poetry flows on, while each item of the architectural characteristics is noticed with the precision of a “specification.”
Nor wholly yet hath time defaced
Thy lordly gallery fair :
Adorn thy ruined stair.
Their pointed diamond form,
To shield them from the storm.
The history of this edifice cannot be more closely approximated than from its architecture, which carries the old part of the building to the fourteenth, and the more modern part to the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The history of its owners was of a sufficiently marked and prominent character in the Scottish Annals. Sir William Crichton, who had risen to considerable favour in the reign of James I., was made, on his death, Lord Chancellor and guardian of his infant son.
In 1545, he was raised to the peerage. An infant or imbecile monarch, was at that period endowed with something like the virtues of a talisman, by bringing power and patronage to the statesman who was strong enough to keep him in possession ; and Crichton shut
the young king in the castle of Edinburgh, as his own peculiar property for the time being. The royal infant's mother, the Queen Dowager, according to the chroniclers of the time, managed to remove him, like a piece of smuggled goods, in a packet of linen, and conveying him to Stirling, put him into the hands of the Chancellor's rival and enemy, Livingstone.
The Dowager however, changing her views, gave the Chancellor an opportunity of resuming possession. The intriguers of the day concentrating themselves against the power of the Douglasses, the young Chief of that name was treacherously murdered in Edinburgh, and there is too much reason to believe that Crichton was the soul of the conspiracy; and that the first step towards it was, the entertainment of young Douglas with apparent hospitality in Crichton Castle. In the subsequent political revolutions, which will be found described at length in Tytler's history, and the other annals of the period, Crichton was deprived of his office, and charged with high treason. He held out Edinburgh Castle, his own Castle of Crichton, and various other strongholds, against the Government, or more properly speaking, against the prevailing party. In 1445, Crichton Castle was stormed by John Forrester of Corstorphine, on whose possessions Crichton immediately took amplé vengeance. It has been stated, that Forrester ordered the Castle to be demolished ;* but it seems improbable that with so powerful and prompt an enemy close upon him, he could have carried the destruction farther than a dismantling. The square keep tower, which has the appearance of being older than the fifteenth century—though it is possible that it may not be so—could not have been rased without much time and toil, in an age when artillery practice was so imperfect. The more ornamental part of the Castle is evidently of a date subsequent to this event.
The grandson and successor of this Lord, was involved in the conspiracy of the Duke of Albany against James III. in 1483. An act of forfeiture was passed on him in Parliament, and among the other offences charged against him was, the holding out of his Castle of Crichton against the Royal forces.f Many men of apparent influence and power are mentioned as having been his followers, and some of them bear his own name. Deprived of his princely territories, he remained for some time abroad; he afterwards returned, and must have been to a certain extent restored to favour, as he was married to the Princess Margaret, sister of James III. In connection with this union, the chronicles of the age record some dark scandals, the real history of which cannot be easily discovered. Meanwhile, a favourite of James, Sir John Ramsay, who in the renowned slaughter of the King's chosen companions and counsellors at the bridge of
Lauder, in 1481, had been spared on account of his youth, received a grant of the forfeited estates of Crichton. He did not long retain them ; on the death of his patron James III., they were again forfeited on account of their Lord's share in the politics of that reign, and were given to Patrick Hepburn, afterwards Earl of Bothwell, whose gift was confirmed in Parliament on 16th October, 1488.* James Earl of Bothwell, whose name is so notorious in the history of Queen Mary's reign, was the great-grandson of this lord. He frequently resided at Crichton, but his other and stronger fortresses, Hermitage and Dunbar, are more frequently mentioned in connection with his historical career. The next owner of Crichton was a man as turbulent, if not as treacherous, as the worst of his remarkable line of predecessors—Francis Stuart, Earl of Bothwell, renowned for his conspiracies and outrages against King James. From the time of this Lord's forfeiture in 1594, little historical interest attaches to Crichton Castle. Sir Walter Scott took so much interest in the ruins made celebrated by his pen, that he followed them through their subsequent ownership, and the result of his inquiries will be found in the Border Antiquities. The estate is now the property of William B. Callender, Esq.
The character of this edifice, which appears never to have been completed, is fully conveyed in the accompanying plate. It is situated near the stream at a short distance eastward of the castle, and it is worthy of remark, that, notwithstanding its contiguity, a chapel of rude architecture, which from the smallness of its windows must have been very imperfectly lighted, stands within a few paces westward of that fortalice. The church “was founded in 1449 for a provost, nine prebendaries, and two singing-boys, out of the rents of Crichton and Locherwart;"+ and the establishment must have thus owed its foundation to the wealth of Chancellor Crichton, at the time when he had reached the height of his prosperity. On the 15th of January, 1525, we find that Robert Bishop of Moray gave a superintendence over certain bursaries at Paris, founded by one of his predecessors, to George Lockhart, Provost of Crichton, who appears to have been then residing in Paris. I
* Acts of the Scottish Parliament, II. 206, + New Stat. Account, Edinburgh, p. 60.
# General Hutton's MS.