Home to the Maitland Family for over 400 Years

One of the most extensive family portrait collections in Scotland

17th century Dunsterfield gold gilded plasterwork ceilings

Thirlestane Castle

Nestled in the gentle Border hills, with its rose-pink sandstone and fairy tale turrets, Thirlestane Castle holds a uniquely important place in Scottish history. It is one of the oldest and finest inhabited castles in the land and stands at a vital strategic point, enroute to the heart of Scotland. 

For more than seven hundred years there has been a fortification here in the Leader Valley, guarding Edinburgh from the southern invaders. The Maitlands, one of the most influential families of the time, are the most recent occupants and have lived here since 1590.

The main part of the castle and its collections are now owned by a Charitable Trust and every penny from admissions, events and accommodation goes into making sure this historic building and its collections can be enjoyed for generations to come.

HOME TO THE MAITLAND FAMILY FOR OVER 400 YEARS

A Family Home

Thirlestane Castle has been in the care of the Maitland family for over 400 years, passed through the generations. Listen to Gerald Maitland-Carew talking about the Maitland family portrait collection and about tracing your Maitland family history.

A Brief History

  • 1590

    Rectangular five story tower house, complete with battlements, built overlooking Leader Water

    John Maitland, Chancellor of Scotland under James VI, was ennobled as Lord Maitland of Thirlestane and moved from his original home to the castle, to build himself a new keep. The castle, augmented with towers at each corner, overlooks the Leader Water.

  • 1670-1676

    Sir William Bruce rebuilds the 16th Century castle in a grand style

    John Maitland, the first Duke of Lauderdale, tasked the architect Sir William Bruce to develop the 16th Century house. These developments included the embellishment of the corner towers, the construction of the North and South Wings, as well as the platform between the two and the staircase approach. In addition, there were extensive modifications indoors including the grand staircase and lavish state rooms with magnificent plaster ceilings.

  • 1840

    The Ninth Earl extends the castle

    The Ninth Earl, a batchelor, felt that the castle he inherited was too small for him to entertain his guests, so he extended the wings in granite rather than sandstone. The South Wing included a courtyard, carriage house, stables and servants’ quarters.

  • 1912

    Military History

    During both world wars, Thirlestane Castle played its part in serving the country. During the First World War, the castle was used as a military hospital for convalescing officers. In the Second World War, it became home to the girls from St Hilary’s School in Edinburgh.

  • 1984

    The castle opens to the public

    Gerald Maitland-Carew, grandson of the 15th Earl of Lauderdale, inherited the castle from his grandmother. He found the castle in a very poor state, which required several years of fundraising and redecorating before he opened the castle to the public for the first time - one of the first historic houses to do so. In 2012, Edward and Sarah Maitland-Carew moved to the castle and after another huge renovation following several outbreaks of dry rot, they re-launched the castle as a destination for weddings, events and exclusive hire.

The History of Thirlestane Castle and the Maitland Family

The history of the current Thirlestane Castle dates back to at least the 13th Century, when a large border fort was built on the site to defend the approach to Edinburgh from the south. The central part of the present castle was completed in 1590, remodeled in the 1670s and then extended in the 1840s.

Throughout its long history, Thirlestane has belonged to the Maitland family, one of the most prominent families in Scotland. The Maitlands came to Britain from France with William the Conqueror in 1066 and settled in Northumberland. In around 1250, Sir Richard Maitland married Avicia, the daughter and heiress of Thomas du Thirlestane. It was this marriage that bought the lands of Thirlestane into the ownership of the Maitland family. The ruined remains of the original Thirlestane Castle can be seen two miles south east of today’s castle, just off the A697.

Through military service and their contribution to law and the arts, the Maitlands gained increasing influence and power. In 1590, John Maitland became Lord Chancellor to King James VI. His elder brother, Sir William Maitland, had previously served as secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots.

For more information on Thirlestane Castle and the Maitland family, see links below:

Additional Resources and Products

Researching your own family history

Learn more about Thirlestane Castle & Clan Maitland

Thirlestane Castle Trust

Hear Robbie Hunter, Thirlestane Castle Trust Trustee, talk about future plans for Thirlestane Castle.

Edward Maitland-Carew, Family Trustee

A welcome from Edward Maitland-Carew who resides at Thirlestane Castle, which has been home to his family for over 400 years.

Clan Maitland

Greetings from the North American Clan Maitland Society.

HELP TO SAFEGUARD THE CASTLE’S COLLECTIONS

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To safeguard Thirlestane Castle and our collections, which together tell the story of a place and a family that have played an important part in the history and development of Scotland, is a continuous challenge. You can help support our work to bring this important story to current and future generations. Making a gift could not be easier, to make a one-off donation or to set up a regular gift, please click on the button below:

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