One of the principle sites of Borders’ history, and central-setting of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Branxholme Castle has been much attacked, exchanged, and renovated over the centuries. Perhaps originally constructed in the 12th century by the Lovels, Branxholme, which stands on a high bank overlooking the Teviot, passed through the hands of the Baliols, Murrays, and Inglises, before the Scotts of Buccleuch achieved ownership in 1420. By 1463, the Scotts had officially moved their familial seat from Rankleburn to Branxholme, establishing the castle as their principal home.
Branxholme Castle, originally part of the Barony of Hawick, was constructed in a Z-shape, with two towers projecting from opposing corners. The northeast tower, known locally as ‘Tentyfit’ (or ‘Twentyfoot’) has been considerably rebuilt, following near-total destruction, whereas the southwest tower – a three-storeyed pele called ‘Nebsie’ – has remained fairly intact. Tradition says that Branxholme may originally have had four towers, Nebsie being the oldest extant part of that construction.
Once in the hands of the Scotts of Buccleuch, Branxholme Castle was for centuries the centre of power in Teviotdale. The focus of much military attention, Branxholme was burned in 1532 by the Earl of Northumberland, probably burned again in 1544 by Sir Ralph Evers and Sir Brian Latoun’s men, and blown up in 1570 by the Earl of Sussex’ forces. In the late 16th century, Sir Walter Scott, the legendary ‘Bold Buccleuch’, launched his raids into England from Branxholme Castle. It was the Bold Buccleuch’s rescuing of Armstrong chief Kilmont Willie – from Carlisle Castle in 1596 – which secured his fame, and almost cost the Scots another war with England.
However, with the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the days of violent turmoil in the Border regions were much reduced, and so after the rebuilding carried out by Sir Walter Scott and his widowed-wife Margaret Douglas (1571–1576) Branxholme Castle at last stood safe and secure. In the 19th century, the Duke of Buccleuch had the castle renovated once again, and it is the product of these renovations which you may visit today.
‘The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all
Knight and page, and household squire,
Loiter’d through the lofty hall,
Or crowded round the ample fire
The staghours, weary with the chase,
Lay stretch’d upon the rusy foloor
And urged, in dreams, the forest race,
From Teviot-stone to Eskdale-moor.
Nine-and-twenty knights of fame
Hung their shields in Branksome-Hall,
Nine-and-twenty squires of name
Brought them their steeds to bower from stall
Nine-and-twenty yeomen tall
Waited, duteous, on them all
They were all knights of mettle true,
Kinsmen to the bold Buccleuch.’
- The Lay of the Last Minstrel, by Sir Walter Scott