Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Castle Of Our Own! By Sue Kinsella

Did you know that the Baker family has ties to a mighty castle in Scotland? If you thread back through the family – the parents of Nancy Ethel Baker Taylor and Lillian Baker Howland were Kate and Byron Baker, and Byron’s parents were Leonard Timothy Baker and Nancy Cornelia Borthwick – you can follow the family back to Borthwick Castle, near the borderlands between Scotland and England.

Today the castle has been beautifully renovated into a hotel for weddings, events, and individual visits. But over the past seven centuries it has played some surprisingly prominent roles in Scottish history.

Built in 1430 by the first Lord Borthwick, the castle is not a romantic Disney Sleeping Beauty-type castle. Instead, after Lord Borthwick helped free King James I from eighteen years’ imprisonment in England and bring him back to Scotland, the grateful king granted him a charter to build a stronghold fortress castle in the countryside outside Edinburgh.

Two 100 ft. high towers rise up out of pastoral, gently rolling farmland (maybe a little bit like Center Lisle?). Originally surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge and a grated portcullis gate, the towers were built of high quality stone blocks, with walls twenty feet thick at the base. The castle had a dungeon and some say that prisoners were sometimes given the option of trying to jump the distance between the tops of the two towers for their freedom – or suffer the consequences one way or the other.

Mary Queen of Scots honeymooned at Borthwick Castle and was a frequent visitor. She hid there in 1567 with her husband, the Earl of Bothwell, when they were being hunted by Scottish nobles intent on capturing him. The Earl got away but left his wife, the Queen, behind at Borthwick Castle. Not one to be intimidated by a siege of 1,000 soldiers, Mary disguised herself as a pageboy and escaped out the window of the Great Hall, riding through the enemy lines at night to join her husband.

In 1650, Oliver Cromwell attacked the castle, and one of the high towers still shows gaping scars where his cannon bombardments ripped out large chunks of the stone wall. Eventually, the Lord Borthwick of that time negotiated a deal allowing him to flee with his wife, child and all their movable furniture while Cromwell’s forces occupied the castle.

During World War II, treasures from Scottish museums and critical public records were moved to Borthwick Castle for safekeeping in case Edinburgh was bombed.

At least two ghosts are thought to haunt the castle. One is a young servant girl who was quickly dispatched by sword with her baby when she bore an unintended Borthwick son. The other is a chancellor who was caught embezzling money from the family and summarily “fired” by being burned to death.

Just down an impossibly pretty lane from the castle is the Borthwick Parish Church, with family and local graves surrounding it and, inside, the burial sepulchers of the first Lord and Lady Borthwick, with their likenesses gracing the raised stone tombs.

In 1973, my parents went to Scotland and visited Borthwick Castle. They were met with a sign outside its walls that said “No Visitors Allowed” but did that stop them? Of course not. A local woman encouraged them to try to see it anyway and they were rewarded by meeting the man who was reconstructing the castle into a destination and events hotel, after many decades of its being left derelict. They spent several hours with him as he showed them all through the castle, from the dungeons in the cellars to the soldiers’ garrison at the top, through all the bedrooms and the Great Hall, up and down the spiral staircases, and even out to the woods and stream behind the castle where Cromwell’s soldiers encamped with their cannons.

In December 2002, just before Alex turned double digits, I was hired by an international organization to attend a meeting in Scotland. Of course I took Alex with me so we could vacation afterwards. The rooms at Borthwick Castle were not available then so we stayed at a different castle not far away. But on Alex’s 10th birthday, we celebrated with a fabulous Christmas dinner in Borthwick Castle’s Great Hall with a dozen or so couples from the surrounding farms that supplied the castle with lamb, beef, and much of its food throughout the year.

After the dinner, we were getting ready to leave but the woman managing the dinner kept ignoring my request for a bill. As we sat resting by the enormous medieval fireplace, several musicians sauntered in and soon began playing lively sets of Scottish jigs and reels. The farm couples all got up, pushed the furniture to the sides of the room and started dancing – and then grabbed Alex and me, shoving us back and forth between them to stumble through the steps of the traditional dances as well!

What an incredibly unforgettable birthday celebration in our family castle!

See for some terrific pictures and more information.

Picture One: Aunt CB in front of Borthwick Castle, July 1973
Picture Two: Damage from Oliver Cromwell’s cannons
Picture Three: Lord Borthwick Sepulcher, July 1973
Picture Four: My son, Alex, on a spiral staircase to the bedrooms
Picture Five: Great Hall


Pat said...


Wonderfully written! I can't wait to visit this family heirloom for myself.


cb said...

And there is still another historical connection. The daughter of Sir Walter Scott married a Borthwick. There is a chair within the castle that he supposedly used when he visited!
Aunt CB

sue kinsella said...

Cool spooky Halloween picture at the top of the blog tonight! Where do you find these, Pat? I love the pictures you put up there.

Pat said...

Thank you for noticing!

I save pictures as I come across them. I saw and saved the Halloween pumpkin filled with the three little pigs last March.

Only problem, I almost forgot I had it!

Love Halloween--great excuse to put up wonderfully different scenes!

Let's hope for great weather; we'd hate to have a repeat of one of the Kinsella family's Halloween stories--it was a rainy night, but that did not stop our boys, Dan and Tim from scavenging around the neighborhood for candy. Tim, younger, let his bag sag onto the sidewalk as it got heavier.

Dan, meanwhile, found to his delight that there was candy right on the sidewalk. He gleefully picked up every piece, wondering at the candy gods that left them for him.

When the two boys got home, Tim's bag, wet and ripped on the bottom was almost empty. Dan's bag was VERY heavy, and full.

Hmmmm, wonder what happened?

Happy Halloween to everyone!!

Judy said...


What a great, informative story!
Thanks for sharing it and the pics
are wonderful, I so want to go visit.
Love ya cousin.