Rosslyn Chapel Trust is responsible for the conservation and care of Rosslyn Castle, the ancestral home of the St Clair family, which is just a short walk from the Chapel. The Castle, which is category A listed, is not open to visitors but is available to rent as holiday accommodation through The Landmark Trust.
Rosslyn Castle has evolved over centuries and this Castle probably replaced an even earlier one, situated nearby. The oldest part of the Castle is the remains of the ‘lantern’ or ‘lamp tower’ by the bridge and this was probably built around 1304, after the Battle of Roslin.
A round keep was built on the south-west corner around 1390 by Sir Henry St Clair, the second Prince of Orkney. His son, Sir William, succeeded to the estate in 1417 and was responsible for the building of Rosslyn Chapel.
He enlarged and strengthened the Castle and, as he had travelled extensively in France, he introduced a number of French influences such as the round buttresses, the remains of which can still be seen.
In his work the ‘Genealogie of the Saint Clairs’, Father Hay wrote that Sir William and his Princess, Lady Elizabeth Douglas, had the ‘halls and chamber richly hung with embroidered hangings’ and were ‘royally served in gold and silver vessels, in most princely manner.’
Not long after the improvements were completed, a fire destroyed part of the building although this was subsequently repaired.
The Castle was attacked and set on fire again in 1544 at the time known as the ‘rough wooing’ when several other nearby castles suffered the same fate.
In 1580, the estate passed to another Sir William St Clair who created the vaults and ‘great turnpike of Rosslyn’ – the impressive four feet wide staircase which leads from the basement up through the present Castle – and added more buildings including the clock tower in 1596 and the Great Hall over the vaults.
The fireplace from the Great Hall still exists today, inscribed with the date of 1596.
His son, also Sir William, finished the building over the vaults and his initials ‘S.W.S (for Sir William St Clair) 1622’ are inscribed above the door of the present Castle.
The vaults below the present building provided the kitchen, bakehouse and dungeon. Sir William’s son, Sir John, tried to resist the attack on the Castle in 1650 by Cromwell’s troops, led by General Monk, but much damage was caused and the Castle never recovered.
In 1788, the Castle was described as ‘haggard and utterly dilapidated’. For much of the 20th century, it was occupied by Miss Leech, a tenant, followed by a period of restoration, which was instigated by the Earl and Countess of Rosslyn and completed in 1984. The Castle’s change in use to holiday accommodation took effect in 1985.
Rosslyn Chapel (official guidebook) – The Earl of Rosslyn
Rosslyn Country of Painter and Poet – Helen Rosslyn and Angelo Maggi