Castles of Scotland
Blackness Castle is a 15th century fortress, near the village of Blackness, Scotland, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth. It was built, probably on the site of an earlier fort, by Sir George Crichton in the 1440s.
At this time, Blackness was t Read more ... he main port serving the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow, one of the main residences of the Scottish monarch. The castle, together with the Crichton lands, passed to King James II of Scotland in 1453, and the castle has been crown property ever since.
It served as a state prison, holding such prisoners as Cardinal Beaton, and the 6th Earl of Angus.
Strengthened by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart in the mid 16th century, the castle became one of the most advanced artillery fortifications of its time in Scotland.
A century later, these defences were not enough to prevent Blackness falling to Oliver Cromwell's army in 1650.
Some years after the siege, the castle was repaired, and again served as a prison and a minor garrison.
In 1693, the spur protecting the gate was heightened, and the Stern Tower shortened as a base for three heavy guns.
Barracks and officers' quarters were added in the 1870s, when the castle was used as an ammunition depot, until 112.
The castle was briefly reused by the army during the First World War.
It is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, in the care of Historic Scotland.
Because of its site, jutting into the Forth, and its long, narrow shape, the castle has been characterised as "the ship that never sailed". The north and south towers are often named "stem" and "stern", with the central tower called the "main mast".
The barony of Blackness was held in the mid-15th century by Sir George Crichton, Lord High Admiral of Scotland, Sheriff of Linlithgow, and later Earl of Caithness.
The Crichton’s were one of the most politically powerful Scottish families at the time, and were close to James II; Sir George was governor of Stirling Castle when the King murdered the 8th Earl of Douglas there in 1452, and George's cousin, William, was Chancellor of Scotland from 1439 to 1453.
The castle was probably built in the mid 1440s, during a time of feuding between the Crichtons and the "Black" Douglases, which had resulted in the destruction of Sir George's tower at Barnton in Edinburgh in 1444.
Blackness Castle is first mentioned in 1449, and was already serving as a state prison as well as Sir George's residence. The original building comprised a curtain wall and the north tower, with the central tower isolated in the central courtyard. A hall range may have stood to the south, while the whole was defended by a rock-cut ditch and accessed by a gate in the east wall.
Sir George Crichton handed over the Crichton lands, including Blackness Castle, to James II in 1453. His dispossessed heir, James Crichton, captured the castle and held it briefly against the King, who besieged and recaptured it the same year.
Blackness became a royal fortress, as well as continuing to serve as a prison, and was put into the care of a keeper, who was often the Sheriff of Linlithgow. In the 17th century, this office became hereditary in the Livingstone family.
Between 1534 and 1540, a programme of fortification was carried out under the direction of the King's Master of Works, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart. He was the illegitimate son of the Earl of Arran, and an expert in artillery fortification. Having spent time in Europe studying the subject, he designed his own castle at Craignethan in Lanarkshire as a showcase for his ideas.
At Blackness, he introduced technological innovations including a complex entrance with a caponier, one of only two in Scotland (the other being at Craignethan). The caponier, a passage within the external wall of the entrance, allowed defenders to fire into the entrance area, at the backs of any attackers who had breached the gate. The curtain wall was thickened on the inside to the south and east, from 1.5m (5 feet) to over 5m (16 feet) in places, and gun ports were opened up. The south wall was also heightened to enclose the new south tower.
Work continued after Finnart's execution for treason in 1540, under the superintendence of the parson of Dysart, but came to a halt in 1542 on the death of James V, although minor works continued into the 1560s. After the forced abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1567, the garrison, under Alexander Stewart, remained loyal to her, although Stewart later changed sides to join the Regent's party. In 1572, Lord Claud Hamilton recaptured the castle for Mary, harrying shipping in the Forth until the following year, despite being blockaded. The castle fell to the Regent's forces in 1573.
The castle's defences were not tested until 1650, when Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army besieged Blackness during his invasion of Scotland. By this time artillery technology had improved beyond anything that Finnart's defences could withstand, and the garrison soon surrendered under bombardment from land and sea. The damaged castle was abandoned.
The castle was not repaired until 1667, when it was again used as a prison, holding a number of Covenanters; religious rebels who opposed the King's interference in church affairs. The south tower was rearranged, with a bakehouse installed in the basement, and a new stair tower.
Further changes were made in 1693, when the spur was heightened with a wall-walk, and the north tower was reduced to provide three gun platforms overlooking the Forth.
After the Union of Scotland and England in 1707, the castle ceased to be a prison, instead being one of four Scottish fortresses to be maintained and garrisoned by the British Army, along with Stirling, Dumbarton and Edinburgh. The garrison at Blackness numbered around fifteen men in the late 18th century.
Between 1759 and 1815 Blackness was again pressed into service as a prison, this time to hold French prisoners of war during the series of conflicts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the Seven Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1870, the role of Blackness changed again, and it became the central ammunition depot for Scotland. Numerous works were carried out, including the roofing-over of the entire courtyard, and the levelling of the ground to the east. The defensive ditch was filled in and barracks built to the south. The cast-iron pier was constructed in 1868, with a gate and a drawbridge, one of the last to be built in Britain.
The depot closed in 1912, although it was briefly reoccupied during the First World War, and the castle passed into the care of the Office of Works. A restoration programme was undertaken between 1926 and 1935, which entailed the removal of almost all the 19th century works, and the rebuilding of medieval-style features, which may not fully reflect the original features of the castle.