Blackness Castle on the River Forth dates from the mid 15th century when the local Barony was owned by Sir George Crichton, Earl of Caithness and Admiral of Scotland. He was also Sheriff of Linlithgow, and Blackness was the official port of the Royal Burgh. The main purpose of the castle was to protect the village and its important harbour. Maybe it was Crichton’s naval connection, or the shape of the promontory, that led to the castle’s distinctive ship-shape. Either way the result is a remarkable building with a curtain wall running all the way round like a ship’s hull and towers to ‘stem and stern’, with a third set as the ‘main mast’ in the middle. The south and central towers are rectangular in plan but the north tower in the ‘bow of the ship’ is triangular. The central tower is five storeys in height compared to three in the north tower.
A few years after it was built, King James II took it into his ownership as crown property and it has remained in the hands of crown and state ever since. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was used as a state prison with many political prisoners held there during the various religious wars. It was besieged many times during the Mary Queen of Scots and Cromwellian periods and was prison to many of the Covenanters in the late 17th century. In the 19th century it was used as an army barracks and later as an important ammunition store.
The main castle buildings were repaired and augmented at different periods including the addition of a rectangular spur on the west curtain wall at its south end in the 1540s and barracks and officers blocks in the 19th century. In 1912 it was acknowledged as an important historic site and in the 1920s and 30s it was repaired and restored with many of the extra buildings added since the 1870s being demolished. The castle’s dramatic appearance and position has caught the eye of a few film producers over the years and parts of Ivanhoe, The Bruce, Macbeth and Hamlet were filmed there.
Ian Scott (2005)