The mighty medieval castle of Bothwell was built on a bluff above a bend in the River Clyde. Construction was started by Walter of Moray some time in the latter half of the 1200s. Invasion and repeated siege meant that the original design of the castle was never completed and what you see today is largely the work of the Earls of Douglas in the years around 1400.
Bothwell Castle is roughly rectangular in shape. Its west end is occupied by the remains of the massive circular donjon or keep. The donjon has been described as The finest piece of secular architecture that the Middle Ages have bequeathed to us in Scotland."
The east end of the castle comprises the great hall and the south east tower. The angle behind the great hall was, until about 1700, home to the north east tower, a large square tower built around 1400 to replace the siege-damaged donjon and considerably taller than the surviving south east tower. Only its base survives.
Walter of Moray's original design for Bothwell Castle can be traced from foundations visible in the grass to the north of the surviving structure. The donjon would have formed one angle of the castle, with circular towers on the site of the south east tower and to the north of the remains of the north east tower. Further north still would have been a strongly defended gatehouse with two circular towers. Curtain walls would have linked together the resulting polygon, producing a magnificent castle occupying an area of over 1.5 acres. (Continues below image...)
In 1296 wider events overtook Walter's son, William Moray of Bothwell. Edward I invaded Scotland (see our Historical Timeline) and captured both William and Bothwell Castle. By this time only the donjon and the neighbouring prison tower had been completed, connected by a short length of curtain wall: what the English captured would have looked a little like a circular tower house.
The Scots besieged the English garrison in Bothwell Castle for 14 months in 1298-9, only taking it when the defenders had succumbed to famine. In August 1301 Edward I came again to Bothwell Castle, bringing an army of 6,800 men and a high siege tower called a belfry, specially constructed to allow attackers direct access to the top of the donjon. The resulting siege lasted little more than three weeks before the English took the castle for the second time.
The English surrendered the castle to the Scots after the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314, only to retake it yet again in October 1336 when it became the headquarters of King Edward III during his invasion of Scotland. In March 1337 a Scots army under Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell, whose ancestral home this was, recaptured the castle: though in the process they destroyed the western side of the mighty donjon, leaving it much as you see it today.
By the late 1300s the castle had passed to the Earls of Douglas. They set to work to restore and extend Bothwell Castle, and in the quarter century to 1424 they constructed the north east and south east towers, the range between them including the great hall, and they connected it all together with the curtain walls.
Bothwell Castle was the property of the Crown through much of the 1500s, and in 1669 it passed to the Earls of Forfar. In the late 1600s they abandoned the castle in favour of Bothwell House, a large Palladian mansion built just to the east of the castle. Ironically this suffered from mining subsidence and had to be demolished in 1926, to be outlasted by the castle it replaced.
In 1935 Bothwell castle was placed in the care of the State, and today it is cared for by Historic Environment Scotland.