The castle sits on the northern bank of the River Esk on Roslin Glen cliffs. Part of the castle is cut into the cliff face. The area it sits on forms a promontory.
The site is protected by the River Usk on three sides and is protected landwards by a rock cut ditch which cuts off the promontory. The ditch is spanned by a causeway. During its earlier occupation access to the site was across a drawbridge.
Originally the keep measured approximately 16 m x 12 m with the walls being 2.9 m thick. The top held a machicolated parapet.
The East Range measures 31 m x 10 m, had a pitched rook and included 5 floors. There are gun loops in the walls. The doorway leading to the main entrance at third floor level has carved above it the initials of William St. Clair and the date of 1622. The lower 3 storeys are carved into the rock and the are 4 vaulted rooms. The lower level holds the kitchen, with a large chimney and ovens, and bakehouse. The central staircase was added in the 17th century.
The upper two floors include the main hall. This hall has a large carved fireplace with the initials of WS and JE – William St. Clair and his wife Jean Edmonstone, and the date of 1597. The ceiling was also decorated with the armorial bearings of the St. Clair family.
There is a small walled garden to the south side, and at the river below the site are the remains of a watermill and a wooden bridge.
Here is the timeline for Roslin Castle
1095 Sir Henry St. Clair, 2nd Baron of Rosslyn went on Crusade.
1098 Sir Henry St. Clair, 2nd Baron of Rosslyn took part in the Battle of Antioch.
1153 Inherited by Sir Henry St. Clair, 3rd Baron of Rosslyn. He was the first member of the St. Clair family to live at the castle.
1165 Recorded that the St. Clair family lived in the area.
12th C Held by William de santo Claro, son of Waldernus St. Clare who accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066.
1214 A Roger St. Clair is mentioned at the site.
1214 Sir Henry died and his son Sir William St. Clair, 4th Baron of Rosslyn inherited.
1243 Sir William St. Clair, 4th Baron of Rosslyn died and his son Sir Henry St. Clair, 5th Baron of Sir Henry St. Clair, 5th Baron of Rosslyn inherited.
1270 Sir Henry St. Clair, 5th Baron of Rosslyn died and his son Sir William St. Clair, 6th Baron of Rosslyn inherited.
1297 Sir William St. Clair, 6th Baron of Rosslyn died in the Tower of London and was succeeded by Sir Henry St. Clair, 7th Baron of Rosslyn.
1303 Battle of Roslin nearby. The Scots defeated the English. It was rumoured that the injured Scots were bought to the castle to be tended.
1304 c. Possible timber castle rebuilt on the site.
1314 Sir Henry St. Clair fought at the Battle of Bannockburn.
1320 Sir Henry St. Clair was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Arbroath.
1331 Sir Henry St. Clair, 7th Baron of Rosslyn died and Sir William St. Clair, 8th Baron of Rosslyn inherited.
1358 Sir William St. Clair, 8th Baron of Rosslyn died and Sir Henry St. Clair, 9th Baron of Rosslyn, 1st Prince of Orkney inherited.
1379 Haco VII, King of Norway, officially bestowed the name of Prince of Orkney upon Sir Henry de Clair.
1390 Fortified by Sir Henry, he built a new keep in the south west corner of the site.
1400 Sir Henry St. Clair, 9th Baron of Rosslyn, 1st Prince of Orkney died and Sir Henry St. Clair, 10th Baron of Rosslyn, 2nd Prince of Orkney inherited.
1406 Sir Henry was captured by the English and sent to the Tower of London.
1407 The ransom of £40,000 was paid for the release of Sir Henry. He returned to Scotland. Today (2020) that amounts to £47,934,140.18 (Lloyds of London estimate).
1420 Sir Henry St. Clair, 10th Baron of Rosslyn, 2nd Prince of Orkney died. He is rumoured to have built a dungeon at the castle. His son Sir William St. Clair, 11th Baron of Rosslyn, 3rd Prince of Orkney inherited. He founded Rosslyn Chapel.
1441 Grand Master Mason of Scotland was conferred to Sir William St. Clair by King James II.
1452 The castle was damaged by fire and a lot of the family records were destroyed.
1455 Sir James/William Hamilton was held at the castle under the direct orders of James II.
1470 Sir William resigned the title of Prince of Orkney when James III acquired Orkney and the Shetland Islands.
1471 James III granted Ravenscraig, and lands in Fife and Kirkaldy and Dysart for the loss of his Orkney lands and titles.
1484 Sir William St. Clair, 11th Baron of Rosslyn, 3rd Prince of Orkney Clair died, his son Sir Oliver St. Clair, 12th Baron of Rosslyn inherited.
1488 Dating from: 5 manuscripts from the St. Clair family are housed at the National Library of Scotland. They include the Roslin-Hay Manuscript.
15th C Scriptorium (Medieval writing room, usually monks). Walls dating from this period still survive in the 21st century.
15th/16th C Bridge added.
1525 Sir Oliver St. Clair, 12th Baron of Rosslyn died, his son Sir William St. Clair, 13th Baron of Rosslyn inherited.
1544 War of the Rough Wooing – mostly destroyed by fire.
1554 Sir William St. Clair, 13th Baron of Rosslyn died and his son Sir William St. Clair. 14th Baron of Rosslyn inherited. The castle was attacked by the Earl of Hertford under orders of Henry VIII, as he was trying to force a marriage between his son and Mary of Scotland.
1559 Sir William was appointed Chief Justice of Scotland by Mary, Queen of Scots.
1563 Mary, Queen of Scots stayed at the castle.
1591 Rosslyn Castle was forfeited. It was held for the King by William Leslie for George Gordon, 1st Marquis of Huntly. Francis Stewart was at the site, but he fled leaving behind his wealth and clothes.
1591-1592 Mentioned in court documents relating to a case concerning witchcraft.
16th C Late: The keep was rebuilt. The 5 story range was built against and carved into the cliff face, and the gatehouse was rebuilt.
1602 Sir William St. Clair. 14th Baron of Rosslyn died and his son Sir William St. Clair, 15th Baron of Rosslyn inherited.
1610 Sir William St. Clair, 15th Baron of Rosslyn died, and he was succeeded by Sir William St. Clair, 16th Baron of Rosslyn.
1622 The upper storeys of the East Range were renovated and the Great Hall was added. The doorway leading to the main entrance at third floor level has carved above it the initials of William St. Clair and the date of 1622. A clock tower was added and a stone staircase.
1630 Sir William was granted Charters by the Scottish Masons and recognized as the Grand Master Mason of Scotland.
1650 Sir William St. Clair, 16th Baron of Rosslyn died, and he was succeeded by Sir John St. Clair, 17th Baron of Rosslyn. He held out against George Monk, 1st Duke of Albermarle, who besieged the castle with 600 men. He used artillery and finally took it. His men then plundered the castle and stripped it. Sir John was captured and taken to Tynemouth Castle.
1688 A mob of angry men damaged the castle during an unrest.
1689 Lady St. Clair obtained a Act protecting her from the destruction of the mob the previous year, and Parliament paid her money to compensate for some of the stolen belongings and the burning of the fields around the castle.
1690 Sir John St. Clair, 17th Baron of Rosslyn died and was succeeded by Sir James St. Clair, 18th Baron of Rosslyn. Sir James’ eldest son, James, died at the Battle of the Boyne.
1706 Sir James St. Clair, 18th Baron of Rosslyn died and was succeeded by his youngest son, Sir William St. Clair, 19th Baron of Rosslyn.
1736 Sir William St. Clair, 19th Baron of Rosslyn resigned from his office as Grand Master Mason of Scotland as he had no direct male heirs. He did have a daughter. The poem at the end of the timeline was written for the occasion.
1778 Sir William St. Clair, 19th Baron of Rosslyn died and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Alexander Wedderburn St. Clair, 1st Earl of Rosslyn.
1789 Inherited by James St. Clair-Erskine.
1791 The roof was repaired.
17th C Staircase added to the East Range.
18th C In ruins.
1800 Bridge repaired.
1805 Alexander Wedderburn St. Clair, 1st Earl of Rosslyn died without issue and was succeeded by his nephew, Sir James St. Clair-Erskine, 2nd Earl of Rosslyn. He was also created Grand Master Mason of Scotland.
1807 Repairs undertaken to the castle.
1837 Sir James St. Clair-Erskine, 2nd Earl of Rosslyn died, and was succeeded by his son James Alexander St. Clair, 3rd Earl of Rosslyn.
1866 James Alexander St. Clair, 3rd Earl of Rosslyn died and was succeeded by his son Francis Robert St. Clair-Erskine, 4th Earl of Rosslyn.
1870 The Grand Masonic Fete was held at the castle and was attended by over 1,000 Masons.
1871 Francis Robert St. Clair-Erskine, 4th Earl of Rosslyn was elected as Grand Master Mason of Scotland.
1880 Repairs made to the retaining wall of the bridge.
1887 Antiquarians visited the castle and recorded it.
1890 Francis Robert St. Clair-Erskine, 4th Earl of Rosslyn died and was succeeded by James Francis Henry St. Clair-Erskine, 5th Earl of Rosslyn.
– The 5th Earl was a gambler and he lost everything owing great debts. He was declared bankrupt and all the St. Clair wealth, furniture, gold and silver, and fittings from the Castle were sold off to pay his debts.
1920 Field Investigation.
1929 Field Investigation. James Francis Henry St. Clair-Erskine, 5th Earl of Rosslyn’ son died.
1939 James Francis Henry St. Clair-Erskine, 5th Earl of Rosslyn died and was succeeded by his grandson Anthony Hugh Francis Henry St. Clair-Erskine, 6th Earl of Rosslyn.
1962 Field Investigation.
1977 Anthony Hugh Francis Henry St. Clair-Erskine, 6th Earl of Rosslyn died and was succeeded by his son Peter St. Clair-Erskine, 7th Earl of Rosslyn.
1982-1988 East Range renovated for holiday accommodation.
2006 The chapel and castle featured in the movie The Da Vinci Code.
21st C Owned by Peter St. Clair-Erskine, 7th Earl of Rosslyn.
Relating to the comment under 1736 – here is the poem that was written by the Masons for Sir William St. Clair, 19th Baron of Rosslyn when he resigned his position as Grand Master Mason of Scotland, as he had no direct male heirs.
Frail man, how like the meteor’s blaze!
How evervescent are thy days!
Protracted to its longest date,
How short the time indulg’d by fate!
Nor force death’s potent arm can brave,
Nor wisdom’s self evolve the grave.
Where e’er our various journies tend,
To this we soon or late descend.
Thither from mortal eyes retired,
Though aft behold and still admired,
St. Clair to dust its claim resigns,
And in sublime regions shines.
Let us, whom ties fraternal bind,
Beyond the rest of humankind,
Like St. Clair live, like St. Clair die,
Then join the Eternal Lodge on high.
(Scots Magazine, 1778).
For more poetry on this amazing site CLICK HERE.
For Paranormal Activity at the site CLICK HERE.
For legends associated with the site CLICK HERE.
Roslyn Castle References & Bibliography
Anderson. J. 1881. A New Hand-book to the Chapel and Castle of Rosslyn. J. Anderson.
Brydon. J. 1858. Brydone’s Guide to Roslin, Hawthornden, Peebles, Innerleithen, &c. by the North British and Peebles Railways … Illustrated with Steel Engravings, and Map of the District. J. Brydon.
Burns. R. 1894. The Poetical Works of Robert Burns: Reprinted from the Best Editions. With Explanatory Glossary, Notes, Memoir, Etc., Portrait and Original Illustrations. F. Warne.
Canmore. n.d. Roslin. Canmore. Available at https://canmore.org.uk/site/51798/roslin.
Cheetham. J. K. 1999. On the Trail of Mary Queen of Scots. Dundurn.
Conolly. M. F. 1866. Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Men of Fife: Of Past and Present Times, Natives of the County, Or Connected with it by Property, Residence, Office, Marriage, Or Otherwise. J. C. Orr.
Daily Mail. 2019. Amateur Metal Detectorist, 45, Unearths Rare Haul Of 700-Year-Old Coins from The Battle Of Roslin Where Scots First Fought For Independence. Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-7399645/Amateur-metal-detectorist-45-unearths-rare-haul-1-000-year-old-coins-Battle-Roslin.html.
Excursions Of The Society, 1917-1923. (1924). Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society, 7(3), new series, 356-363. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/24681353.
Grose. F. 1797. The Antiquities of Scotland, Volume 1. Hooper.
Hay. R. 1835. Genealogie of the Sainteclaires of Rosslyn. Including the Chartulary of Rosslyn. T. G. Stevenson.
Historic Environment of Scotland. N.d. Rosslyn Castle, Roslin. Historic Environment of Scotland. Available at http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/SM1208.
Historic Environment of Scotland. N.d. Battle of Roslin. Historic Environment of Scotland. Available at http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/BTL37.
Jackson. J. 1837. Historical Tales of Roslin Castle, from the Invasion of Edward I. of England, to the Death of Mary Queen of Scotland. James Jackson.
Kerr. A. 1877. Rosslyn Castle, Its Buildings Past And Present. Proceedings Of The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Available at file:///C:/Users/Sue/Downloads/5828-Article%20Text-5787-1-10-20181023%20(2).pdf.
Lawson. J. P. 1858. Scotland Delineated. A Series of Views of the Principal Cities and Towns, Particulary Öf Edinburgh and Its Environs: of the Cathedrals, Abbeys, and Other Monastie Remains. Day.
Mackie. C. 1849. The Castles, Palaces and Prisons of Mary of Scotland. C. Cox.
Moule. T. 1830. Great Britain Illustrated: A Series of Original Views. C. Tilt.
Murray Neil. J. 2013. The Scots Fiddle: (Vol 2) Tunes, Tales & Traditions of the Lothians, Borders & Ayrshire. Neil Wilson Publishing.
Sammarco. A. M. 1997. Roslindale. Arcadia Publishing
Sinclair. R. 2013. The Sinclairs of Scotland. AuthorHouse.