Blackness CastleWritten by Administrator
Built in the 15th century by one of Scotland’s most powerful families, the Crichtons, Blackness was never destined as a peaceful lordly residence; its enduring roles were those of garrison fortress and state prison.
The port of Linlithgow
Blackness Castle stands beside the Firth of Forth, at the seaport which in medieval times served the royal burgh of Linlithgow. The castle was built in the 15th century by one of Scotland’s more powerful families, the Crichtons. But Blackness was not destined to serve as a peaceful lordly residence. In 1453 it became a royal castle and its enduring roles were those of garrison fortress and state prison. In the twilight of its days in the later 19th century, Blackness served as an ammunition depot, but after the First World War it was decommissioned and passed into state care as a visitor attraction.
The ship that never sailed
Blackness is often referred to as ‘the ship that never sailed’. This is because of its appearance, for from the seaward side it looks just like a great stone ship that has run aground. The pointed stem projects into the water, while the square stern stands beached on dry land. The castle’s three towers add to the effect – the small ‘stem’ tower at the prow, the tall ‘main mast’ tower at the centre, and the solid ‘stern’ tower at the rear.
A formidable artillery fortification
In 1537, James V (1513–42) embarked on an ambitious programme to convert the 15th-century castle into a formidable artillery fortification. The looming threat from Henry VIII’s Protestant England was the catalyst. The work was completed in 1543, just as the ‘Wars of the Rough Wooing’ were about to erupt.
Mighty Blackness had none of the subtlety of the great Italianate artillery fortifications. Instead, a brute mass of masonry (the ‘stern’ tower) confronted bombardment from the land, with defensive cannons firing through yawning great gunholes positioned to give all-round firepower. The vastly strengthened castle withstood various sieges, until in 1650 Oliver Cromwell’s heavy guns devastated the defences, forcing the garrison to surrender. The scars of that bombardment are still in evidence today.
A state prison
Dour Blackness was no suitable residence for a nobleman. It was a garrison stronghold first and foremost. It also came to be used as a state prison for those whom the reigning sovereign wished to see safely out of the way.
Countless noblemen were held here during the later Middle Ages, none more important perhaps than Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews, in 1543. In the notorious ‘Killing Time’ of the 1670s and 1680s, many a Covenanter (religious dissident) was incarcerated here by Charles II and James VIII. In the later 18th century, Blackness served as a prison of war for foreign sailors and soldiers captured during the wars with France, Spain and the fledgling United States of America.
Blackness Castle is an Historic Scotland property. For more information including admission fees and opening hours, please see website.