Lennoxlove House stands in the midst of an extensive estate just over a mile south of the centre of Haddington in East Lothian. One of the nicest of Scotland's many grand country homes and castles, it has a long and distinguished history. Since 1946 it has been the family home of the Dukes of Hamilton, and today it serves as a superb exclusive use venue and is open for guided tours: see the Visitor Information section below right. It is also home to an annual book festival each November.
A number of things combine to make Lennoxlove House such an attractive place. Chief amongst them is the way the house marks the merging of two distinct stories. One is the story of Lennoxlove House itself, originally Lethington Tower, and of the Maitland and Blantyre families who lived here over a number of centuries. The second is the story of the Douglas-Hamiltons, the Dukes of Hamilton, whose family home it is today.
The scale and variety of accommodation on offer is striking. Up to 22 guests (plus a few children) can be accommodated in 11 individually styled rooms and suites on the upper floors of the house. The public rooms range from the chapel and great hall in the medieval castle to suites of rooms in the later parts of the house capable of accommodating up to 120 for a reception: and the option of a marquee for larger events of up to 300.
Those visiting simply to look around can enjoy a guided tour that takes in an interesting range of public rooms on the ground and first floors. These are nicely varied in style and character, and are home to the family's magnificent collection of furniture and artworks, plus memorabilia that never leave you in doubt that this remains a family home. The scale of the tour is nicely judged, and you emerge with a sense of having been immersed in the character of a house it really would be rather nice to live in.
The origins of Lennoxlove date back to 1345 when an estate called Lethington was purchased by Robert Maitland of Thirlestane. The Maitland family tree had links back to both William the Conqueror, and King William I of Scotland, and they had been important landowners in southern Scotland since the mid 1200s. It isn't clear exactly when the Maitlands decided to stamp their authority on their new estates, but at some point between the mid 1300s and the early 1400s they built a large three storey plus attic L-plan tower house which they called Lethington Tower.
As originally built, Lethington Tower would have been surrounded by a walled courtyard, in which ranges of other buildings would have stood. In the 1540s Lethington Tower was attacked and badly damaged by invading English forces, during Henry VIII's "rough wooing" of Mary Queen of Scots, intended to gain Scottish agreement to her marriage to Henry's son. It was subsequently repaired by Sir Richard Maitland. His son, William Maitland, served as Secretary of State (in effect, Prime Minister) to Mary Queen of Scots and played a role in the murder of Mary's secretary, David Rizzio, by her husband Lord Darnley.
Much of the original Lethington Tower still stands in altered form, and today it forms the south west corner of Lennoxlove House. At first floor level this provides the magnificent Great Hall, whose walls of up to 11ft thick can be appreciated at the window openings, many added later when defence was less of a consideration. The hall as you see it today dates back to a restoration undertaken by architect Sir Robert Lorimer in 1912, which revealed the flues in the vaulted roof that would originally have allowed smoke from a central brazier to escape. Lorimer also added the imposing fireplace at the north end of the hall.
Also part of the original tower is the ante room next to the hall, now home to some fascinating displays. One contains the death mask of Mary Queen of Scots, complete with eyelashes. Here, too, is a silver casket believed to have been used to house the "casket letters" whose existence was taken as proof that Mary was plotting against Elizabeth I of England and led to her execution on Elizabeth's orders.
At ground floor level the tower house is the lovely vaulted chapel, in which weddings can be held. The far end of the chapel is home to the original castle well, dug deep into the ground beneath the tower to ensure a supply of water if it was besieged. Nearby a narrow passage gives access to a vaulted room referred to as a dungeon. Another interesting survivor of the tower house is the main doorway added to it (with a new wider stair and more windows) by John Maitland, 1st Earl of Lauderdale in 1626. This is now an internal doorway within the house.
At around the same time, the Earl of Lauderdale also extended the accommodation at Lethington by building a two storey range of buildings extending to the east of the existing tower house. The final main element of the south frontage you see today, the south east tower, was added in 1644. The additions built in the first half of the 1600s house many of the fine public rooms of Lennoxlove House.
Another John Maitland, the 2nd Earl and 1st Duke of Lauderdale, made various changes to Lethington in the 1670s. After his death in 1682 the Maitlands' interest in the property declined. In 1702 it was purchased on behalf of Alexander, 5th Lord Blantyre by trustees acting for the estate of his aunt, Frances Theresa Stewart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox. The Duchess of Lennox was a noted society beauty who had charmed the Royal Courts in Paris and London before declining the advances of Charles II. It is said she was the model for the "Britannia" featured on coins at the time and since. The Duchess of Lennox's bequest to her nephew came with the condition that whichever house was purchased should be renamed "Lennox Love To Blantyre". Over time this proved too unwieldy, and the name settled as Lennoxlove, or Lennoxlove House.
The Blantyres remained at Lennoxlove for nearly two centuries. When the 12th Lord of Blantyre died in 1900 without male heirs, Lennoxlove passed to his second daughter Ellen and her husband, Sir David Baird, 3rd Baronet of Newbyth. In 1912, their son, Major Robert Baird, engaged the prominent architect Sir Robert Lorimer to refurbish the house. His work in the Great Hall has already been covered, while elsewhere he did much to remove centuries of accretion and return the house to something more in keeping with what the Maitlands might have recognised.
The Douglas-Hamiltons are descended from two families who have played prominent roles in the life and the story of Scotland since the 1200s: the Black Douglases on the one hand and the Hamilton's of Cadzow on the other. Sir Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton and 11th Duke of Brandon, inherited his titles on the death of his father in 1940. By this time Douglas had already made a name for himself as a pioneering aviator and in 1933 undertook the first successful flight over the summit of Mount Everest. At the outbreak of World War II, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton was given responsibility for the air defence of Northern England and Southern Scottish. At that point he was one of four brothers all holding the rank of Squadron Leader or higher in the Royal Air Force: he was also the man who, in May 1941, Deputy German Führer Rudolph Hess was hoping to see when he parachuted into Scotland.
The Douglas-Hamiltons' traditional family home had been at Hamilton Palace until its demolition in 1921 because of mining subsidence. In 1946 Douglas Douglas-Hamilton set out to find a suitable residence for his family in Scotland, and purchased Lennoxlove from Major Robert Baird. It is the overlay of the Douglas-Hamilton's art collection and memorabilia on the established history of Lennoxlove that helps make it such a special place. One room used for functions doubles as a fascinating family museum, while elsewhere is the piano Chopin is said to have played at Hamilton Palace, and in the Petit Point Room you find a fine collection of tapestries from Hamilton Palace. Another reminder of Hamilton is the herd of Cadzow White Cattle in the grounds of Lennoxlove.