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Thirlestane Castle – One of the Seven Great Houses of Scotland

Located in the Scottish Borders to the north east of Lauder on the Southern Upland Way, Thirlestane Castle was originally built in the 13th century. It has been owned by the Maitland family throughout its long history and is among the seven Great Houses of Scotland. Thirlestane was the historic seat of the Earls and only Duke of Lauderdale until the latter part of the 20th Century and is still the Maitland family home.

In 1590 the castle was rebuilt by John Maitland as a square tower-house. On the orders of the 1st and only Duke of Lauderdale, the castle was renovated by master architect Sir William Bruce between 1670 and 1676. The castle was converted into a residence suitable for conducting the affairs of state. The result was the fine turreted structure built in contrasting shades of red sandstone that we see today. The interiors created by Bruce included lavish staterooms, exhibiting fine plaster-work, and were meant to reflect the power and influence of the Duke.

In 1840 Thirlestane Castle was further renovated with the addition of two new wings. This work was done by David Bryce but the new structures were very much in keeping with the design of the 17th century renovations. David Bryce and William Burn were responsible for the famous Jacobean-style Dining Room. In addition to the two wings, a south wing was constructed around a central courtyard in order to house new kitchens, pantries, laundries and servants’ quarters. The changes were in keeping with the more peaceful times. The castle was now less a defensive fortress and took on the role of a Scottish country mansion for the Earls of Lauderdale.

In 1984, Captain Gerald Maitland-Carew, who inherited Thirlestane Castle from his maternal family, handed the ownership of the house to a charitable trust that was set up for its protection. The castle has subsequently been subject to a major renovation program, supported by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. In addition to the superb architecture, Thirlestane is also noted for its collections of pictures, furniture, china, together with a historic toy collection. A Border Country Life Museum occupies the South wing.