Scottish Memories MAY 2007 The Pink Sandstone Palace
Myra Douglasstrolls round what was once a fastness of her clan
Drumlanrig Castle is really more of a palace or at least a palatial mansion but it was built in the 17th century on a strategic site which always boasted a fortress of some kind from time immemorial near Thornhill in Dumfriesshire.This military vantage point was held for centuries by the ferocious Douglas clan who were one of the first bulwarks against English invasion from the ever restless south. Devoutly loyal to the Scottish Crown from the days of Robert the Bruce and the Wars of Independence onwards,a castle here was once a stronghold of the Black Douglas who died in Spain with Bruce’s embalmed heart in a silver casket, thrown at his Moorish attackers in defiance. The clan motto remains a defiant ‘Forward!’in memory of this act and the motif of the heart can be seen in various furnishings throughout the present castle, though ‘braveheart’which was in the last sentence shouted
by Sir James Douglas before his chivalric death, is thankfully missing from the decor. The old fortress was last sacked by the English in 1375, while ever loyal Douglas chieftains fell at the battles of Otterburn and Flodden defending their king to the last. So trusted were they,that when King James went down to the London court in 1603,he left the Douglases in charge of his northern kingdom. This continued for several generations and it was William,the 3rd Earl,who built the present baronial house in pink sandstone, complete with decorative gargoyles, soaring turrets and Corinthian pillars. William,through his various royal duties including Privy Counsellor, Lord Justice General,Lord High Treasurer and Governor of Edinburgh Castle, eventually was given the additional title of Duke of Queensberry
(whose ninth holder invented the famous boxing rules). William only spent one night in Drumlanrig,however,and returned to nearby Sanquhar Castle in Nithsdale which he deemed more comfortable. Bonnie Prince Charlie also only spent one night at Drumlanrig on his weary and doomed retreat north, while the degenerate ‘Old Q’- the 4th Earl - on his own particular rake’s progress vandalised the estate,including precious woodlands, to pay off drinking and gambling debts. When he thankfully died in 1810 the castle and grounds passed to the wealthier Dukes of Buccleuch who moved in with expensive art treasures,including paintings and furniture,and this aristocratic family have held the building,more peaceably than their often eccentric forebears,ever since.