Scheduled Monument

Rosslyn Castle, RoslinSM1208

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Secular: bridge; castle; garden; mill (domestic / small-scale)
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 27440 62701
327440, 662701


This monument consists of the remains of a medieval castle built by the St Clair family. It mostly dates to the mid-15th century with a later residential block. It is located on a promontory bounded on three sides by the River North Esk. To the north, the promontory has been isolated by the cutting of a very deep gap through the connecting ridge. This gap is spanned by a masonry bridge.

The medieval remains are fragmentary but show that this was a very significant and complex castle. The approach to the castle is across the bridge that had a gate at its west end. The bridge mostly dates to the late 16th century but it has a complex development sequence and incorporates the fabric of a 15th century bridge.  Beyond the bridge are the remains of a gatehouse range. Although fragmentary, it is clear that this building closed off the northern approach to the castle with a gated pend leading into the courtyard. The west jamb of entrance pend survives as do sections of walling with evidence of corbelling. These corbels would have supported projecting half-round turrets. Along the western edge of the promontory runs a wall supported on the outside by seven buttresses with a curved profile between which are openings. There is some suggestion for an elaborate parapet arrangement although the form of this is unclear. This wall is probably part of a building rather than a free standing curtain wall, perhaps a hall range attached to the tower to the south. Internally, the openings are set within deeply splayed embrasures with segmental arches in the internal face. The southwest corner was terminated by a large oblong tower, rising at least three storeys. The north and east walls of the tower are now gone but the southwest corner survives and is rounded with projecting corbels that would have carried a parapet. Internally there is a large mound containing the fallen remains of part of the tower. On the east of the courtyard is a roofed 16th-century domestic range, altered in the early 17th century which is separately listed and does not form part of scheduled monument (listed building reference LB13026).

Surrounding this courtyard, on the slopes of the promontory, are the remains of other defensive structures, mainly stretches of massive stone walls. To the south, the promontory slopes down gently. This area was laid out as gardens for the castle and has retained much of its walling, incorporating earlier defensive walls. At the southern point of the promontory is the Linn, a section of the North Esk where the water flows between large boulders. The channels and boulders have been used as the basis for a mill and wooden bridge with sockets for the timbers cut into the rocks. There was another bridge crossing the river further downstream leading to the path which goes under the castle's access bridge. This second bridge was built of stone but only the western abutment survive.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes all modern fences and railings and the top 300mm of all paths and the access road to allow for maintenance.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The site of this castle of the St Clair family is a naturally strong one despite being overlooked by higher ground to the northwest. It may have been fortified from the 14th century although none of the structural remains have been dated to earlier than the 15th century. Bridges across the river originally provided access from the south and east, but the natural approach was along the ridge which connected the castle to the higher ground to the northwest. This ridge was scarped and cut to provide an additional barrier, which would have been crossed by a drawbridge. The gap was eventually crossed by a permanent stone bridge which in its existing form has arches rising from two very different levels, and is the result of at least two building campaigns.

The castle itself is ranged around a central courtyard and the plan and function of many of the buildings is still discernible. The southwest tower remains an impressive structure with its surviving rounded corner with remains of corbeling to take a parapet walk. It is likely to have functioned with a range incorporated into the west curtain wall to provide the main accommodation of the 15th century castle. The details of this structure is highly unusual and point to it being a particularly significant piece of medieval architecture, reflecting the status of the St Clair family and the sophistication of William St Clair as an architectural patron.  

On the north side of the courtyard are the remains of a gatehouse range sitting across the neck of the promontory. A single drawing by Paul Sandby (dated 1748) shows the north gatehouse wall pierced with wide-mouthed gunports of early 16th century date. No physical evidence of these gunports survives as this area of the castle is much reduced and they are not shown in drawings by other artists when the castle was more complete than today. However, Sandby's drawing is otherwise reasonably accurate and gunports in the gatehouse range would be plausible as they would have defended the approach to the castle. Along the east side of the courtyard is a five storey domestic range (which is separately listed and does not form part of the scheduled monument). In addition to the structural remains of the immediate castle complex, the wider landscape includes the structural remains of defensive walls, later incorporated into gardens, the remains of a masonry bridge over the North Esk as well as rock cut features at the Linn relating to a former wooden bridge and a mill.

The extensive upstanding archaeological elements of the monument and long history of documented habitation of the promontory there is a high probability that archaeological deposits, features, artefacts and environmental material survive below the ground both within the castle and in the surrounding area. A large mound associated with the collapse of the southwest tower is of particular significance.

There is a clear and demonstrable sequence of development within the monument. Structurally these include the 15th century defensive elements, a 16th century domestic range and 17th century alterations. Later documentary evidence suggests that the castle may have been established in the 14th century and that the southwest tower was added around 1400. Evidence relating to this early occupation of the site, and that predating it, is likely to survive as below ground remains.

Contextual Characteristics

Rosslyn Castle may be seen as one of a range of later medieval castle types that are found in Scotland. Varying in form, they chart royal and aristocratic power and changing defensive and domestic requirements, often reflecting wider societal change as well as developments such as the increased use of artillery. They have the potential to enable us to understand the impact of feudalism, the nature of lordship, patterns of land tenure and the evolution of local landscapes.

Rosslyn Castle sits at the south end of Roslin Glen, a designed landscape (GDL00327). The castle is inextricably bound with the Glen which provided defence, enabled access to be controlled through the provision of bridges and which also served as source of water for a mill. There are a number of associated sites above and within the Glen which provide important context to the castle and add to its significance. Of particular significance is the site of St Matthew's church and Rosslyn Chapel (the former collegiate church of St Matthew: scheduled monument SM6458, listed building LB13028) situated 210m to the north overlooking the castle on higher ground. The collegiate church was founded by William St Clair in 1446, who also was responsible for much of the 15th century work at the castle. The church in particular was one of the most lavish displays of private patronage ever realised in medieval Scotland. Together, the castle and college were a very potent physical demonstration of the secular and spiritual control of the locality by St Clair family, as well as showing William St Clair's sophistication as an architectural patron.  Other sites provide additional context and include Hawthorndean Castle (scheduled monument SM1205, LB13023: 1.5km northeast) and Old Woodhouselee Castle (scheduled monument SM5607: 1.9km southwest) all of which are set within or above Roslin Glen.

Rosslyn Castle itself is set in a bend of the North Esk on a dramatic rocky knoll, the narrow neck of which is protected effectively creating an unassailable promontory. Once a natural stronghold of strength and defence, the castle is now in a romantic setting with a stark contrast between the habitable east range and the ruins of the late medieval defences.

Associative Characteristics

Rosslyn Castle and Rossyln Chapel, together with the church of St Matthew, are closely associate with the St Clair family. The family is believed to have come from Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in Normandy. William of Saint-Claire, the first Baron of Rosslyn, came to England with William the Conqueror, and accompanied Saint Margaret of Scotland, daughter of Edward the Exile, to Scotland in 1068, where she was to marry Malcolm III of Scotland. He was granted the Barony of Rosslyn in 1070.

Sir William St Clair, 1st Earl of Caithness, last Earl (Jarl) of Orkney, Baron of Rosslyn (succeeded 1420, died 1484) is believed to have been responsible for much of the 15th century work at the castle and also the founding the collegiate church of St Matthew (Rosslyn Chapel). His father, Henry St Clair (succeeded 1400, died 1420), is said to have built the great dungeon, or tower, of Rosslyn. The castle was besieged and damaged in 1650 by Cromwell's troops under General Monk.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Roslin Glen with the remains of the chapel and castle attracted many visitors, including poets, writers and artists, wishing to experience the Sublime and the Picturesque sights of Scotland. The castle and chapel were popular subjects of 18th and 19th century writings and depictions. Sir Walter Scott wrote "Rosslyn and its adjacent scenery have associations dear to the antiquary and historian which may fairly entitle it to precedence over every other Scottish scene of the same kind". The castle itself was the subject of many drawings and paintings by artists and illustrators such as Paul Sandby, Thomas Pennant, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik and Alexander Nasymth. These illustrations provide important, although in some cases contradictory, information about lost elements of the castle.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of medieval castles, their chronology and development sequences as well as the cultural and social influences that may have informed their development and architecture. The upstanding buildings retain their structural and decorative characteristics to a marked degree, incorporating many fine and significant architectural features. Much of the building, like Rosslyn Chapel to the north, is unique in Scottish architecture making this one the most significant secular buildings of its time in Scotland. That they were both constructed by Sir William St Clair adds to this significance. There is also very high potential for the survival of important buried archaeological remains, including structures within and around the castle and artefacts and environmental evidence that can enhance our understanding of how such buildings functioned, as well as adding to knowledge of the daily domestic life of the inhabitants and their society and economy relating to the castle. The significance of the castle is enhanced by the wider landscape context of Roslin Glen and the association of the St Clair family. The loss of the monument would greatly diminish our ability to understand the character, chronology and development of medieval castles in Scotland.




Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID (accessed on 25/05/2018).

MacGibbon and Ross, D and T 1887-92. The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries, 5v. Edinburgh. Vol.1, pp366-76.

Hay, R A 1835. Genealogie of the Sainteclaires of Rosslyn. Edinburgh

RCAHMS 1929. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Tenth report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the counties of Midlothian and West Lothian. Edinburgh. pp106-12, No.140 figs 142-3 RCAHMS.

Scott W (1822). Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland, with descriptive illustrations. Vol I pp.126

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Rosslyn Castle, west range, during daytime with blue sky.
Rosslyn Castle, view of the bridge, during daytime with blue sky.

Printed: 19/08/2022 15:09