The monument is the remains of Hermitage Castle and several related features including a chapel and enclosures, a probable deer trap, a park boundary and a farmstead. The castle is an impressive upstanding stone building set within large scale earthworks. The chapel to the west lies within a moated enclosure and the base of its stone walls survive; a further rectangular enclosure defined by smaller banks and ditches lies immediately adjacent. The deer trap is visible as two banks, each with a ditch, that form a funnel that narrows from the northwest towards a point just west of Hermitage Castle. The park boundary is visible as a bank and ditch on the hillside north of the castle; to the north-northeast, its line is followed by the base of a later stone wall. The farmstead, visible as low rubble walls, lies east of the castle, and there are turf-walled stock enclosures further east, within the park boundary. Together the remains span a period from the 12th to the 19th centuries, though the castle itself was largely built in the 14th and 15th centuries and extensively restored in the 1830s. The castle stands on a level platform 30m north of the Hermitage Water, about 160m above sea level. The park boundary extends some 1.2km to the north, rising up the hillside to about 320m above sea level.
The castle building forms an approximate 'H' shape on plan, with a central hall block, small square towers to the northwest, northeast and southeast corners, and a larger oblong wing on the southwest corner. The plan developed over four main phases of building, the first about 1360, the second before 1388, and the third and fourth in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The castle is bounded by a large ditch on the west, north and east. Beyond to the north is a rectangular courtyard bounded by ramparts and ditches, measuring about 80m east/west by 43m transversely.
The chapel lies about 330m west of the castle and measures 14m east/west by 5.5m transversely. The plan of the chapel and the remains of a window found when the site was excavated suggest that it dates to the 14th century. It lies within an earlier moated enclosure that is sub-square and measures 33m east/west by 31m transversely, bounded to the west, north and east by two banks and two ditches. Immediately to the west is a rectangular enclosure defined by a bank and ditch to the west, north and east, enclosing an area of 76m east/west by 38m transversely. It is partitioned by a bank and the east and west compartments each contain footings of large stone buildings.
A bank that forms the south side of the probable deer trap begins close to the northwest corner of the rectangular enclosure, initially extending northwards then curving east towards Hermitage Castle. It is paired with a second bank that starts some 600m to the north, just east of the Lady's Sike burn, and curves down across the contours forming a funnel with the narrow end to the southeast just 10m wide. A more extensive bank and ditch encloses Hermitage Castle and a large tract of hillside extending 1.2km to the north. Known as the 'White Dyke', it begins close to the Hermitage Water about 450m southeast of the castle and extends north along the east bank of the Green Sike, initially as a low bank with a ditch on the east, or external, side. Higher up the hill, the line of the White Dyke is taken by a stone wall, up to 1m in height, probably built during works of 1750 and 1752. To the west, the visible remains of the White Dyke peter out on Coldwell Snab. About 200m east of this point, a relatively straight bank and ditch extend southwards downslope towards Hermitage Chapel.
About 80m to the east of Hermitage Castle is a farmstead situated on the edge of a terrace, represented by low stone walls. It comprises three buildings and two enclosures, with the buildings arranged around three sides of a courtyard. Further east are five turfed-walled stock enclosures which may relate to the farmstead. The farmstead is depicted on the 1718 estate plan of Hermitage.
The scheduled area is irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area around in which evidence for the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes: the above-ground elements of all modern buildings, boundary walls, fences and gates, railings, fixtures and fittings; the above-ground elements of the boundary walls surrounding the chapel; the above-ground elements of all signage and services; the top 300mm of all modern paths and paved areas. The scheduling also excludes existing fences that lie at the boundary of the scheduled area.
Statement of National Importance
The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:
The monument consists of a complex manorial settlement centred on Hermitage castle. The archaeological evidence indicates that the monument had a long and complex development sequence, probably from manor to timber castle to stone castle, with an associated chapel and park. There is particular significance in the potential to trace the changing function of this high status complex over time, and to combine archaeological and documentary evidence.
The site includes an outstanding and unusual 14th to 15th century stone-built castle. The castle's present appearance owes much to its restoration by the 5th Duke of Buccleuch in the 1830s, when rebuilding of much of the north-east tower and probably the north wall was undertaken alongside extensive repairs elsewhere, including the provision of new battlements and wall-walks. The work of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch is in itself of significance demonstrating a growing interest in the 19th century in the medieval past and its remains. However, the structure also retains extensive medieval masonry that informs our knowledge and understanding of the different building phases. This development sequence is complex and demonstrates the changing requirements of the owners of this castle which controlled significant parts of the Anglo-Scottish Border. Other parts of the monument also survive in excellent condition, including the chapel, the large-scale earthworks around the castle itself and those in the vicinity of the chapel. In addition, there is excellent potential for buried archaeological evidence that can support improved understanding of the use of the site, in particular its origins and early development.
The earthworks around the castle may represent an early timber castle, perhaps erected in the early 1300s following the abandonment of Liddel Castle. We can expect this castle comprised a group of high status buildings in timber, including hall, chamber block, stables, workshops, stores, servants' accommodation and stock yards. Some at least of these buildings are likely to have stood in the rectangular courtyard bounded by ramparts and ditches that lies to the north of the stone castle, and there is high potential for buried archaeological remains that can contribute to understanding of the castle's early development. Archaeological remains can also provide abundant information for the evolving daily life and economy of the residents of Hermitage. Buried artefacts and plant and animal remains preserved in ditches, pits and structural features can reveal trade and exchange contacts and evidence for agriculture and resource exploitation.
The archaeological interest of the monument includes the potential to compare the enclosures surrounding the chapel and in its immediate vicinity with the earthworks where the stone castle now stands. The dates of these enclosures and earthworks are unknown but are likely to predate the earliest phase of the stone castle. The earthworks around, and in the vicinity of, the chapel are of a form very similar to medieval moated manorial centres, while those at the castle are probably the remains of the early timber castle. This proximity of two possible centres of lordship is of interest and may reflect an extended and complex development sequence. This close proximity of castle with moated homestead is seen elsewhere in southern Scotland such as at Garpol Water where a moated homestead is situated within 200m of a timber castle. There is clear potential that future research may clarify the nature of the early occupation west of the castle and more generally the relationship between moated sites and castles.
The deer trap and park boundary associated with the castle are particularly rare features to survive. The deer trap suggests a landscape arranged to facilitate a formalised hunt in front of the castle, while the park boundary, probably later in date, suggests a change to systematic and intensive agricultural exploitation of the castle's environs. A land rental of 1376 mentions the park, arguably a grazing enclosure for the demesne herd by that time (Oram 2012, 24). Hermitage Park was mentioned again much later in the Braidlie Day Book, which records construction of a wall in 1750 and 1752 (Canmore ID 67913), potentially the wall that appears to re-state the earlier bank and ditch park boundary on the hillside north of the castle. The identification of the land north of the castle as a deer park is not documented until the 1863 first edition OS map, and may reflect confusion based on the local knowledge that large parts of Liddesdale had once been deer forest (Oram 2012, 25, citing NAS RH4/23/178 OS Name Book Roxburghshire, Castleton Parish, Pt 2, 41). Certainly the arc of ditch northeast of the castle is on the outside of the bank, the reverse of the norm for a deer park boundary, suggesting that this was an enclosure for cattle.
After the sixteenth century, documentary sources reviewed by Oram suggest a further change from intensive farming in Liddesdale to the exploitation of large flocks of sheep. The farmstead and enclosures represented by walls and earthworks to the east of the castle were in existence by the 1718 estate plan (SRO RHP 9629) and probably derive from this period of reliance on sheep farming.
This potential to compare the castle itself with structural and archaeological remains in the surrounding landscape gives Hermitage particular significance as a medieval castle site. Alongside this, analysis of the upstanding remains of the stone castle can enhance our knowledge of the chronology and development sequence of the castle, and the cultural and social influences that informed its form and design, as well as how the buildings were used and lived in. Hermitage was one of the main residences of one of the most powerful families in medieval Scotland, the Douglases; beyond its strategic significance it provided a large amount of residential accommodation, helping its owners' to project and display their power across southern Scotland.
Hermitage Castle is rare for its level of completeness and distinctive design and has been described as the 'most perfect of the medieval castles on the Scottish Border' (RCAHMS 1956). It also has great historical significance as the powerbase from which significant parts of the borders were controlled firstly by the de Sules family from about 1300 to 1320, then by branches of the Douglas family from 1342 until 1491. Subsequently, it was an important asset for the Hepburn family, and from the 1590s for the Scotts of Buccleuch.
Hermitage was not the centre of the de Sules Liddesdale lordship before about 1300; until that time the estate centre was at Liddel Castle, 6km to the south-southeast (scheduled monument reference SM1716, Canmore ID 67934). The earthworks around and to the north of the stone castle at Hermitage can be compared with the substantial earthworks of the motte and bailey castle visible at Liddel. The earthwork enclosures in the vicinity of the chapel at Hermitage are likely to pre-date the first castle at Hermitage; they can be compared with two moated sites near Jedburgh, at Muirhouselaw (Canmore ID 56968) and Timpendean (Canmore ID 57087).
The stone castle at Hermitage can be compared with other major Scottish Castles held by members of the Douglas family, among them Bothwell Castle (scheduled monument reference SM90038, Canmore ID 44889) and Tantallon Castle (scheduled monument reference SM13326, Canmore ID 56630). On the death of James Douglas in 1388, Hermitage was claimed by Archibald Douglas, who had rebuilt Bothwell in the years following 1362. However he and his supporters were unable to retain control and by 1400, Hermitage was under the control of George Douglas, first of the Red Douglas earls of Angus, who also held Tantallon. Despite these dynastic connections, Bothwell and Tantallon were both essentially curtain wall castles, whereas Hermitage Castle is distinctively unusual in a Scottish context. The earliest phase visible in the standing building comprised a small central court bounded by cross-wings to the east and west and screen-walls to the north and south, a layout with some similarity to contemporary fortified houses in northwest England, perhaps reflecting Hermitage's short-lived possession by the Dacre family after 1358 (RCAHMS 1956, 83). Its subsequent evolution saw the central courtyard incorporated into a single large tower, with further towers added at three corners around 1400. Researchers suggest this arrangement resembles the Northumbrian castles at Haughton, Tarset and Dally more than other Scottish strongholds (RCAHMS 1956, 77). The late works to the castle in the 19th century can be contrasted with the works at Hume Castle, some 50 years earlier, where a more stylised approach was taken in order to create an eye-catcher (scheduled monument reference SM387, Canmore ID 58561).
The monument also provides an extremely rare upstanding example of a Scottish deer trap in close association with a medieval castle, and a relatively rare example of a large enclosure adjacent to a major castle. The deer trap can be compared with a group of deep ditches 2km west of Falkland that were probably used for deer management (Chancefield Wood earthworks, SE of Chancefield, scheduled monument reference SM11013); and also with a pair of complex linear stone dykes on the island of Rum that seem to have acted as deer traps and are likely to be medieval in date (scheduled monument reference SM6431, Canmore ID 21933). Deer Parks, such as the large example at Kincardine, have a different function to the deer trap, but also to the Hermitage Park. Deer Parks are characterised by the placement of the ditch inside the bank, whereas the park at Hermitage is defined by a bank with external ditch. The deer trap can reveal much about the way hunting adjacent to a lodge or castle might be used to enhance and reinforce social status. It probably relates to wider forest land that the de Sules lords enjoyed in Liddesdale from the earlier 12th century. By the late 14th century, the park articulated with the wider estate in a different way, probably supporting demesne herds. This is a rare example where the physical link between a castle and wider, evolving medieval landscape can still be appreciated.
Hermitage was central to Scotland's history for over three centuries, as noble families, particularly branches of the Douglas Family, the Hepburns and the Scotts sought to develop and retain a power base in the central Borders. It is widely known for the story of Queen Mary's 1566 ride from Jedburgh to Hermitage to meet Bothwell (Oram 2012, 34). Hermitage was probably Sir Walter Scott's favourite castle and formed the background when he was painted by Sir Henry Raeburn. Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a collection of poems and ballads published in 1802, brought the history and traditions of the area to popular attention, and his extended essays and Waverley Novels further developed a popular and Romantic understanding of Scottish and Borders history that would persist for decades. Hermitage featured prominently, and its importance to the reading public was emphasised by the poems of Scott's collaborator John Leyden, Lord Soulis and The Cout o' Keeldar, recalling the dark deeds of Lord Soulis, wizard-lord of Hermitage. The prominence of Hermitage in 19th century history and literature gives it continued importance today, the castle arguably holding a key place in the cultural and historical development of Scotland.
Statment of National Importance
The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of medieval castles and the associated structures and features that stood alongside them at an important lordly complex. The upstanding castle building retains its structural characteristics to a marked degree, with substantial survival of medieval masonry. In addition, the castle earthworks, enclosures near the chapel, deer trap, park boundary and farmstead survive as earthworks or walls with excellent field characteristics. There is very high potential for the survival of important buried archaeological remains, including structures, artefacts and environmental evidence that can enhance our understanding of the changing function of Hermitage, adding to knowledge of the daily domestic life of the inhabitants and their society and economy. The monument has particular importance as a lordly complex with a long development sequence, where early earthwork enclosures, a separate chapel, and hunting and agricultural structures exist alongside the stone castle. There is potential to understand how a stone castle might develop from an early manorial site and timber castle, and to appreciate the changing relationship between the castle and its immediate landscape, as reflected by the deer trap, park boundary, farmstead and enclosures. There is evidence for the changing nature of exploitation of the castle's hinterland, showing a changing emphasis from hunting to agricultural production. The association of the site with the de Sules, Douglas, Hepburn and Scott families adds to its significance, as do the castle's later appreciation as a picturesque ruin and its role in tradition and literature. The loss of the monument would greatly diminish our ability to understand the character, chronology and development of medieval castles in Scotland.