Rossend Castle

The Castle of the Duries - Burntisland

By Dr Bruce Durie

In truth, the Duries occupied Rossend for the minority of its history and no Durie has lived there for 450 years.

Rossend stands in what was once a most picturesque location on the northern shores of the Firth of Forth, a little to the west of Burntisland, with magnificent views across to Edinburgh and of the shores of both sides of the Firth. Now, it is surrounded by ugly housing and overlooks a disused aluminium works. But at least it has been saved from what looked like certain demolition forty years ago.

The castle dates at least as far back as 1382 when it was known as the Tower of Kingorne-Waster (Kinghorn West), to distinguish it from Glamis Castle, or the Tower of Kingorne-Easter, and it was also known as Burntisland Castle for several generations. In 1382, in the time of Robert Blear Eye (Robert II, first of the Stuart kings), it was merely a square tower or keep, occupied by a Durie of that Ilk, who built the north and south wings, and inserted under a Gothic canopy over the principal entrance the arms of Durie, supported by two savages, girded with laurels.

The persistent rumour that "the name Durie is first recorded in 1119" is a mistake based on the three coats of arms above the Archway of Rossend. They represent, respectively, the Arms of George Durie, Abbot of Dunfermline (and ‘1119’ is a misreading of his motto, confido, which is very faint); the Royal Arms of Scotland (1382, possibly when the castle was rebuilt from a former ecclesiastical building); and 1563 (the date of a visit by Mary, Queen of Scots). Abbot George Durie, is also credited with fixing the Arms of Queen Margaret to the east wall of the castle in the same year.

Later, when George Durie was Abbot of Dunfermline, the castle was sometimes called Abbot’s Hall. Abbot George granted the lands of Nether Grange and Kingorne-Waster, together with the keep or fort of the same, and the lands of Erefiand and Cunningarland, now Burntisland, to his legitimised son, Peter. Although the grant is dated 1538. it is probable that the Duries had long been in the actual possession of these places, but for the first time acquired them as family property.

In the mid sixteenth century, during the minority of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Duries lost the castle and lands, which were given to Sir John Melville, among the first Scottish nobles to turn Protestant. This infuriated the Catholics, who had him tried for high treason and executed, and his estates forfeited. Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, called at the time “the first soldier of Europe”, obtained a grant of the castle and held it until his execution (for holding Edinburgh Castle on behalf of Mary).

Mary herself often lodged in the castle. The apartment she occupied on these occasions was a wainscotted room in the old square tower, with two closets cut out in the ten foot thick wall. One of these was the entrance to a staircase which led down to the seashore. Here the romantic Frenchman, Du Chastelard committed the act of lese-majestie which led to his execution. Fixated on the Queen, and thinking his feelings were reciprocated, he had on a previous occasion, sneaked into her bedchamber at Holyrood. He secretly followed the Queen to Burntisland, and entering the Castle by the secret staircase, burst in on the Queen while she was preparing for bed. The shrieks of Mary and her Ladies brought assistance, as Tytler describes:

“Mary, glowing with indignation at the insult, commanded Moray, who first ran to her succour, to stab him with his dagger, but he preferred securing him to this summary vengeance, a formal trial followed, and the miserable man was condemned and executed within two days after his offence. On the scaffold, instead of having recourse to his missal or breviary, he drew from his pocket a volume of Ronsard, and, reciting the poet’s hymn to Death, resigned himself to his fate with gaiety and indifference.”

On the death of Kirkcaldy of Grange, the castle reverted to the Melvilles in the person of Sir Robert, the second son of the Sir John. Sir Robert became first Lord Melville (ancestors of the Earls of Leven and Melville), and died in 1621 at the advanced age of 94. He was succeeded by his only son, Robert, who assumed the title Lord Burntisland and was Provost of the Burgh.

During the civil wars of the seventeenth century the castle was held by the Covenanters, and was the headquarters of their forces in the neighbourhood. The town and castle were later besieged by Cromwell's army, and surrendered on 10th April 1651, on condition of the Protector repairing the Burgh's streets and piers. During Cromwell’s temporary residence in the castle, he mounted the ramparts with guns

The castle continued to be the property of the Earls of Melville for many years, and afterwards of the Earls of Wemyss and of Elgin. Sir James Wemyss of Bogie was created Lord Burntisland in 1672 , and had a seat in the Scottish parliament until his death in 1687.

In 1715 the castle was garrisoned by the Earl of Mar and his troops. Half a century later, Murdoch Campbell (of the Caithness Campbells) occupied Rossend, and in 1790 Robert Beatson of Kilrie married Campbell’s only child, (by Margaret, daughter of John Taylor of Pitcairlie, and the heiress of Carbiston) and so inherited the estate. A later member of this family was Colonel and Governor of St Helena immediately before it became the residence of Napoleon Bonaparte.

A later proprietor, W.A.Laurie, Keeper of H.M. Gazette for Scotland, preserved many of the antique curios, armour, heraldry, paintings and furniture, including Queen Mary's bed.

In 1873 Rossend was conditionally purchased by the Town Council of Burntisland in order to acquire the right to the foreshores and to allow dock extension works. It was then sold to Kirkcaldy linoleum magnate James Shepherd, on condition that he allowed the Council the right to the foreshores.

Rossend was almost demolished in the 1960s - the Royal Engineers and Royal Navy turned down the job - but was saved by local pressure and the intercession of the National Trust for Scotland, the Ancient Monuments Commission, historical novelist Nigel Tranter and eventually the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland and the Saltire Society.

Finally, in the 1970s, it was acquired by the Hurd Rolland Partnership, architects, who began a sympathetic restoration of Rossend as their offices. It can be visited by arrangement.

AUTHOR: Dr Bruce Durie - Contact: genealogist@duriefamily.co.uk

More for DFA members.. Log in or Join Now