Edzell Castle - Scotland
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Historical Lindsay Sites

Edzell Castle

There are many significant Lindsay sites in Scotland.   However, if any Lindsay (how ever spelled)  should ever visit Scotland, it would be very worthwhile to visit the impressive ruins of Edzell Castle that was one of the homes of some of the earliest Lindsays.

Although the first Lindsays in Scotland have long been believed to be of Norman ancestry, a Flemish descent of the noble house of Scotland was proposed by British historian, Beryl Platts in her 1985/1990 publications.  There is little or no historical evidence to support the Norman origin.  It remains to be seen if the Flemish theory of origin prevails or if later discoveries supercede all others.

Location:  Edzell Castle is located in the southeastern Highlands of Scotland, in the foothills of the Grampian Mountains, and the district of Angus.   Edzell Castle is approximately 8 miles north of Brechin, off highway B966.   If you find yourself north of Brechin, in Edzell village, which itself is also situated off highway B966, Edzell Castle lies about 1 mile west of Edzell village.

Visitation Times:  April to September: Monday-Saturday 9:30am to 6:30pm; Sunday 2:00pm to 6:30pm.   October to March: Monday-Saturday 9:30am to 4:30pm (closed Thursday afternoons and Fridays); Sunday 2:00pm to 4:30pm.

The Edzell Castle property is managed by Historic Scotland.

 Edzell Castle is an amazing blend of what was once very grand and now sorrowful.   It immediately displays the vibrant grandeur of intricately designed formal gardens (the Pleasance*) in dramatic contrast with now tumbledown, yet once vividly alive, masonry remains of the centuries-old stronghold.   The former seat of the Lindsays of Glenesk, the entire complex endures as a proud symbol of the clan's motto: "Endure Forte" (endure with strength).

The Lindsays were not responsible for the first castle at Edzell.  It was actually part of the estates of the Stirling family, who passed this stronghold to the Lindsays through the marriage of Catherine Stirling to Sir Alexander Lindsay of Glenesk in 1357.   By the end of the 15th century, the Lindsays (now the Earls of Crawford) set about constructing their own stronghold over the foundations of the original castle, building a fine tower house, the remains of which still dominate the site.

The Lindsay castle is an outstanding example of the L-shaped tower house.   The main part of the tower consists of a larger rectangular structure, closely resembling an English keep, which connects to a short staircase wing at a right angle.

 Edzell's tower house (once known as the Stirling Tower) still rises four stories, its once-stalwart battlements crowning the uppermost level.   The tower contains two vaulted cellars and a small prison sits at basement level.   On the level above was the great hall, once embellished with a minstrel's gallery, where the Lindsays entertained guests with lavish feasts.   Now, only windows with seats, two fireplaces, and a small vaulted room (the latrine?) hint at the chamber's former extravagance.   Immediately above the hall are the private apartments that housed the Earl and his family.   Today, the rooms are inaccessible, as are the battlements.

Perhaps the most interesting feature to have survived at the tower house is its exterior face.   The double row of corbels forms a checkerboard pattern just beneath the rooftop, one of the earliest instances of purely decorative corbelling in Scotland.

In 1562, while on her way northward to counter the rebellious actions of the ambitious Gordons of Huntly Castle, Queen Mary held a Privy Council in the tower house.   Mary actually visited Edzell Castle several times that year, and apparently was greatly influenced by Lord Lindsay, not only during the Gordon rebellion, but later as well, when she was coerced to abdicate.

Interestingly, the Lindsays never finished construction at Edzell Castle, most likely because the Earl turned his attentions to the surrounding landscaping.   However, new buildings included a gabled great hall, a kitchen (its huge fireplace has survived), cellars, and more living quarters.

Not until the early years of the 17th century did Edzell Castle become the splendid garden showcase we see today.   In 1604, David Lindsay began building a summerhouse, a bathhouse, and a marvelous walled garden (the Pleasance*) adjacent to his castle (the walled garden was recreated in the 1930ís).   Visitors enter the garden through the summerhouse.   Embraced by deep red walls, Lord Lindsay's elaborate gardens and the fascinating knot work centerpiece have been maintained to this day.   Although the vegetation has been replanted over the centuries, the gardens remain true to the original design.   Sir David intended his garden to stimulate both mind and senses, and it does.

Ornate walls, with niches for sculpted artwork or planters, surround the formal gardens. Their decoration echoes the tower's checkerboard pattern, showcasing gigantic repetitions of the fess checquy of the Edzell Lindsay arms. Along the walls, above the chequer pattern, visitors will see special star-shapes which represent the upper part of the Lindsay arms.  These seven-rayed mullets or stars are carved in relief, the centre of each opening into a recess in the wall, in which birds can build their nests.  Bas-relief figures featuring the Celestial Deities, the Liberal Arts and the Cardinal Virtues, giving the garden its creative name, "of the Zodiac." Carved boxwood hedges reiterate the Lindsay motto.

The two-storied summerhouse still exists in fine condition, and includes musket-holes, vaulted cellars and an angle turret, and also decorative features like elaborately carved window tympanums and moldings around the doorway.   The bathhouse, an unusual commodity during the 1600's, symbolizes the prestige that the Lindsays strove to display.   A stone sink survives in one corner.

For the next century and a half, the Lindsays saw a lot of activity at their castle and, fortunately, never had to withstand the test of a siege.   The stronghold was garrisoned by Cromwell's troops during the Civil War, and in 1653 the Royalists captured John Lindsay.   His imprisonment away from his castle lasted but one day, when the Roundheads rescued him.   In the 1690's Lord Edzell led local resistance against the infiltration of Presbyterians at Glenesk, defiantly holding religious services in the castle's great hall after the parish church was closed to people like the Lindsays, who were Episcopalians.

In 1610, David Lindsay, Lord of Edzell, died, leaving his heirs in tremendous debt thanks to his extensive building projects.   Over the next hundred years, the Lindsays struggled to make good on these debts, but in 1715 they were forced to give up their family seat at Edzell, selling the castle and estates to the Earl of Panmure.

After the failure of the Jacobite Risings, which Earl Panmure joined, he was forced to give up the property at Edzell.   The castle was devastated shortly thereafter by the Argyll Highlanders who garrisoned the stronghold in 1746.   In 1764, the floors and roof were sold to compensate for the bankruptcy of the York Building Company, which had taken over the castle from the Earl of Panmure.   In that same year, the earl was able to buy back the castle from the York Building Company, but by that time the structure stood in abject ruin.

However, thanks to the efforts of the Earl of Panmure and his descendants, including the Earls of Dalhousie, Edzell Castle was restored and the Pleasaunce returned to its former glory.   Today, Edzell Castle is under the guardianship of the Scottish Development Department and cared for by Historic Scotland (non-profit foundation), which maintains the property and allows visitors to view the castle and its grounds.

 *  The definition of the word Pleasance is;  an area attached to a house, or part of an estate used for pleasure and recreation.

I have added several photos of Edzell Castle that were provided to me by my friend, professional photographer and fellow member of Clan Lindsay USA, Mr. Harold Lindsay of Hildebran, NC.   The photos were taken by Harold in October 1993.

The Pleasance

This first photo is of the Pleasance and Summerhouse at Edzell Castle.  It shows the main section of  the walled formal garden, or Pleasance as it is called,  which is still a place of great beauty today as it was intended when it was created by the Earl in 1604.

 Visitors enter the Pleasance through a door of the Summerhouse, that is seen in the far corner of this photo.  The two-storied Summerhouse is in fine condition, and includes musket-holes and vaulted cellars.

 The ornate walls, with niches for sculpted artwork or planters, surround the formal gardens.

   

The Pleasance

 

The Tower House

Edzell Castle's Tower House (seen in the second photo) rises four stories, its once-stalwart battlements crowning the uppermost level.   The tower contains two vaulted cellars and a small prison in the basement level.   On the level above was the Great Hall, where the Lindsays entertained guests with lavish feasts.  Now, only windows with seats, two fireplaces, and a small vaulted room hint at the chamber's former extravagance.  Immediately above the hall are the private apartments that housed the Earl and his family.  Today, the rooms are inaccessible, as are the battlements.

Perhaps the most interesting feature to have survived at the Tower House is its exterior face.   The double row of corbels forms a checkerboard pattern just beneath the rooftop, one of the earliest instances of purely decorative corbelling in Scotland.

 

The Tower House

 

Castle Overview

On the left side of this third photo is the Tower House.  In front of and to the left of the Tower House is the walled formal garden or Pleasance as it is called.  On the right of this photo are the barracks.

  Exterior View of Tower, Barracks & Pleasance