THIS fine old ruin is situated in the parish of Libberton, about three miles south of Edinburgh, crowning a gentle eminence on the left of the road from Edinburgh to Dalkeith, and commanding a noble view of the south side of the city, the frith and opposite coast, and Aberlady bay. It consists of a square keep, or tower, several stories high, encompassed by a square embattled wall, which has had circular towers at each angle, and the whole surrounded by another rampart-wall, and in some places with a deep moat. On the principal gate is the date 1427. Whether this is meant to record the time that part was built, or an after-repair, is uncertain. The great hall is large, and well-lighted, considering the mode of ancient times; it has a semicircular ceiling, and measures in length 36 feet, in breadth 22; and, at the east end, has a chimney 11 feet wide. The ascent of the keep is by an easy flight of broad stone stairs. On the east side of the outer walls are the arms of Cockburne of Ormiston, Congalton of that ilk, Moubray of Barnbougle, and Otterburn of Redford, with whom the Prestons of Craigmillar were nearly connected. Over a small gate, under three unicorns’ heads couped, is a wine-press and a tun, a rebus for the word Preston. A variety of armorial bearings are scattered all over the outside of this building. The apartment shown as Queen Mary’s, is in one of the upper turrets; it measures only 5 feet in breadth, and 7 in length: but has, nevertheless, two windows, and a fire-place.
The name of this place occurs pretty early in the national records, in a charter of mortification, in Haddington’s collections, granted in the reign of Alexander II. A.D. 1212, by William, son of Henry de Craigmillar; by which he gives, in pure and perpetual alms, to the church and monastery of Dunfermline, a certain toft of land in Craigmillar, in the southern part, which leads from the town of Nidreif to the church of Libberton, which Henry de Edmonton holds of him. Craigmillar afterwards became the property of John de Capella, from whom it was purchased by Sir Simon Preston in 1374. William, a successor to Sir Simon, was a member of the parliament which met at Edinburgh June 1, 1478. He had the title of Domine de Craig-Miller. This castle continued in the possession of the Prestons almost three hundred years; during which time that family held the highest offices in the magistracy of Edinburgh. In 1477, the Earl of Mar, younger brother to King James III., was confined here a considerable time. It was also the residence of King James V. during his minority, when he left Edinburgh castle on account of the plague: and here the queen-dowager, by the favour of the Lord Erskine, his constant attendant and guardian, had frequent interviews with the young monarch, whilst the Duke of Albany, the governor, was in France. A.D. 1554, this castle, with that of Roslin, and the town of Leith, were burned and plundered by the English. Probably most of the present buildings were erected since that time; at least, their style of architecture does not seem much older than that period. Queen Mary, after her return in 1561, made this castle her residence. Her French retinue were lodged at a small village in the neighbourhood, which, from that circumstance, still retains the appellation of Petit France. In the month of November, 1566, Queen Mary was residing here when the celebrated ‘Conference of Craigmillar’ was held, in which a divorce between her and Darnley was projected by the ambitious and daring Bothwell. About the time of the Restoration, this castle came into possession of Sir John Gilmour, lord-president of the court of session, who made some additions to it, and whose descendant, Mr. Little Gilmour of Inch, is still in possession of it. Grose has preserved two views of it, taken in 1788.
On the occasion of Queen Victoria’s first visit to Scotland, it was rumoured that Her Majesty seriously contemplated making an annual visit to Scotland, not merely for personal gratification, but for the health of her children; and that Craigmillar castle was to be rebuilt for her accommodation, and fitted up as a royal residence, in which Her Majesty and family would pass some months every season. Craigmillar may be said to be the centre of the residence of a large portion of the Scottish aristocracy. The Dukes of Buccleuch, Argyle, and Hamilton; Lords Abercorn, Dalhousie, Melville, Stair, Wemyss, Rosebery, Torphichen, Blantyre, Buchan, Caithness, Elibank, Hopetoun, Haddington, Lauderdale, Lothian, Morton, and Sinclair, have seats in the Lothians; and, if Fife is added, the names of Lords Rosslyn, Elgin, Leven, and Melville, Glasgow; Moray, and Rothes, fall to be included among our resident nobility, and a great number of baronets, and gentlemen of large property, live constantly in this vicinity.