A tale of two castles

Newark Castle

I’ve mentioned before that many Historic Scotland properties have been closed for some time for “high level masonry inspections”. In June we actually managed to visit two that were open!

Newark Castle

Newark Castle sits on the Firth of Clyde at Port Glasgow, hidden for many years among shipyards, of which only one, Ferguson’s, now remains. The original castle was built by George Maxwell in the 15th century – in the image above, the gatehouse on the left and the tower on the right date from that period. In between those sections are the North Range and the East Wing, constructed during Patrick Maxwell’s remodelling in the 1590s. The initials of Patrick and his wife, Lady Margaret Crawford, are entwined above the doorway along with the words The blissings (sic) of God be herein.

Wherever I go, I ask myself the question What about the women? Newark gives us plenty of information about Margaret Crawford and does not gloss over the more unpleasant side of her story. Despite the entwined initials, 44 years of marriage, and 16 children, her life with Patrick Maxwell was not a happy one. He was a violent man and a known murderer. In 1595 his own mother, Marion, complained to the Privy Council about his behaviour but was ignored, probably because he was so powerful.

In 1636 Margaret herself appealed to the Privy Council for protection, detailing years of domestic abuse. For example, in the Great Hall, above, he was said to have upbraided his wife and run after her with a sword threatening to kill her. His guests restrained him, and Margaret escaped to the relative safety of her room. In 1632, Patrick injured her so badly that she had to be carried to her bedchamber where he locked her in for 6 months. In 1636 she escaped to Dumbarton, where she lived the rest of her life in poverty, but Patrick died before justice could be done. See the panels below for the whole sad story, plus a story of some other, four-legged, captives.

Because it was a lovely day, we took a stroll along the river before heading home.

Blackness Castle

Blackness Castle

Newark Castle is on the west coast, on the Firth of Clyde. Blackness Castle is on the other side of the country, on the Firth of Forth. You can see all three Forth crossings (rather hazily in the gallery below) from the roof. It was built, probably on the site of an earlier fort, by Sir George Crichton in the 1440s, but passed to James II in 1453. In the 1530s it was strengthened by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, the King’s Master of Works, and became one of the most advanced artillery fortifications of its time in Scotland. It has also served as a state prison, and as an ammunition depot in the later 19th century. The Victorian pier and barracks were added at this time – the Officers’ Block was later used as a Youth Hostel and then as council housing.

We have visited Blackness many times before and have always enjoyed it. On this occasion, we were there to see a specific exhibition. Unforgettable: the untold stories of people who shaped Scotland reveals the lives and achievements of those who might otherwise “fall through the cracks” of historical record. A dozen stories considered those marginalised on the grounds of, for example, race, class, gender, or sexuality, each tale told by someone from a similar community. As usual, I looked for the women, who made up almost half the stories (5 of 12), and have chosen one of them, Agnes McDonald, to give a flavour of what the exhibition was like.

Agnes McDonald was executed in 1714, the last Scottish Gypsy/Traveller hanged under anti-Gypsy legislation in Scotland. This did not end the persecution of her people: over the next century, Gypsy/Travellers were shipped to the Caribbean as slaves, children were forcibly removed from their families, and many were made to give up their nomadic way of life. Little is known of the life of Agnes herself, but she is celebrated in the exhibition to mark the contributions she and other Gypsy/Traveller women, still a marginalised community, have made to Scottish society.

Unforgettable: Agnes McDonald

Scottish readers who would like to see the exhibition should know that it is no longer at Blackness, but can be seen at Fort George from 24th September 2022 to 15th January 2023. Details here.

Before visiting the castle, we had lunch in Linlithgow where we saw this little procession. We weren’t clear at the time what was going on but, checking online now, I suspect it was an announcement about the Linlithgow Marches which took place a few days later.

Linlithgow parade

So two fabulous castles, sunshine both days, and a good helping of women’s history. The perfect days out for me! And *drumroll* since my last post we have both tested negative and are now covid-free. It’s great to be back to normal life.


  1. Two cracking castles. It’s not only in past times women get the worst of it. I like box sets to watch to pass the time
    but I’m three seasons into Criminal Minds and it’s just a brutal encyclopedia of different ways to torture and kill women so far, every bit as bad as the witchcraft trials yet it’s based on real life modern crimes. Around 100 deaths so far and only half a dozen male ones so a huge imbalance that’s probably accurate in society at large. Sad to think how little has really changed. For light relief
    from that ongoing modern massacre I mix it up with episodes of Downton Abbey, Outlander and 24 where at least men get killed onscreen in equal measure.


  2. Thanks for sharing your castle visits. I was going to say something very similar to Sarah above, about how you really bring the inhabitants stories to life. 🙂
    I really must write up my holiday post. Saw a few castles in Ayrshire. 🙂


  3. Glad to hear you’re through your Covid with no major issues 🙂 These castles look very impressive, especially Newark – what a great setting! But in contrast what a dreadful life Margaret Crawford had here. I like the way you seek out specific women from the past and bring their stories to life – not just here but in your other posts too. Good work!


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