Kinneil House – The History


Kinneil House perches on the top of an escarpment bounding the south side of the Forth Estuary overlooking a broad bay between Edinburgh and Stirling.  The area around it was inhabited long before written records began.  There are Mesolithic and Neolithic shell middens in the vicinity, one of which is known locally as the De’il’s Kitchen.  These made use of the natural bounty of the Forth and the oysters were exploited right through to the 1950s.  Iron Age occupation is suggested by the incorporation of a quernstone of native type into the base of the 2nd century Roman frontier known as the Antonine Wall which passes immediately to the south of the House.  The Roman presence itself was short-lived, being only in the region of twenty or so years.  A Dark Age settlement is suggested by the place name “Kinneil” and its variants, which means “head of the Wall.”  The place name is mentioned by Bede, making it one of the first recorded names in Scotland.  There are even hints that there may have been an early monastery on the site of the medieval church (see Kinneil Kirk), which itself is 12th century in date.

Illus 2: Hondius’ Map of 1614.

It would be usual to have a church of this type adjacent to a village, with a lordly residence in the immediate vicinity.  This juxtaposition of spiritual and temporal power can be seen just along the coast at Carriden and Airth – both of which perch above the shoreline.  At Carriden the first stone castle occupied a central position in the Roman fort, but on analogy with Watling Lodge and Seabegs it seems likely that at Kinneil the early medieval fortification would have been an earthwork attached to one side of the Antonine Wall.  The obvious location would have been to the east of the Gil Burn whose valley would have provided some protection.  Here the south side of the Roman Wall is noticeably higher than the land to the north and the bedrock is close to the surface.


The barony of Kinneil was granted by Robert I to the Hamilton family in the early 14th century.  The history of that family and its doings is long and complex and here we will only deal with that part that relates, often tangentially, to its property at Kinneil.  In 1474 James, 1st Lord Hamilton, married Princess Mary, sister of James III.  This was an extremely important dynastic marriage and meant that thereafter the Hamiltons were always closely allied to the Stewart family and often found themselves just a few steps away from inheriting the crown itself.  As part of the marriage settlement James III granted a licence to Lord Hamilton “for the construction and building of a castle called Craglyoune sited above the sea” (“construeendi et edificandi castrum infra mare situatum nuncupat Craglyoune”).  The following year he received a crown charter of confirmation of the lands and barony of Kinneil with “the castle of Kinneil called Craglyoune” (“castrum de Kynneil nuncupatum Craglyoune”).  The name of the castle is significant.  Crag or craig is Scots for a projecting spur of rock.  “Lyoune” or “Lion” is not derived from the presence here of the dower house of Lady Margaret Lyon the wife of the 1st Marquis of Hamilton, as is often stated, as she lived long after the name is first referred to.  Perhaps we should go back to earlier suggestions that it stemmed from the Latin legio for legion and hence to the Roman Wall – thus being equivalent to Caerleon in Wales.  With the succession of the 2nd Lord Hamilton (later to be the 1st Earl of Arran) another charter was issued in 1490 of the said lands and barony “together with the castle and fortalice of Craiglioun” (unacum cum castro et fortalico de Craiglioun”).

Illus 3: Early Medieval Ditch in the Walled Garden with the kerbs of the 16th century path over it.

Archaeological excavations in the north-west corner of the walled garden at Kinneil in 2017 (see Excavations at Kinneil 2018) found a large defensive ditch cutting the Roman road and overlaid by 16th century garden paths.  It therefore appears to be part of the early medieval fortification.  There is also evidence for an early stone building that was later incorporated into the north wall of the garden that could be equated with Crag Lyon.


(James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran)

James Hamilton, the 1st Earl of Arran, (hereafter referred to as Arran (1)) was the son of Mary Stewart, the eldest daughter of James II.  Her first husband, Thomas Boyd, had been the Earl of Arran and after his death she married James Hamilton and the title was transferred to her eldest son from this second marriage.

In 1524 Arran (1) supported the King’s Mother, Margaret, when she declared James V to have reached his majority and yet he still became one of the Regency Council that was supposed to rotate the custody of the king.  John Douglas, the Earl of Angus, was the first to take charge and was due to hand him over to Arran (1) after three months, which, unsurprisingly, he refused to do.  Despite this Arran (1) considered that his own interests were best served by allying with Angus. 

An attempt by the enemies of Angus and Arran to wrest control of the king from them failed at Darnick, but in September 1526 another attempt was made by John Stewart, the Earl of Lennox, who had gathered a force of just under 12,000 men.  With this sizeable army he moved rapidly from Stirling to Falkirk and on 4 September made for Edinburgh. His movements were reported to Arran (1) who must have been at or near his house of Castle Lyon, Kinneil, at the time.  Long before Lennox reached Falkirk, Arran (1) was mustering his own men.  The area around Kinneil was a nest of Hamiltons and their dependents.  At different times members of the family occupied Grange, Carriden and Pardovan.  James Hamilton of Finnart, Arran (1)’s illegitimate son, was also on the scene.  As Lennox left Falkirk the Hamiltons were gathering at Linlithgow and before long had assembled 2,000 men at arms.  Angus was in Edinburgh and was doing his utmost to join Arran (1) at Linlithgow with another 2,000 or so.

Illus 4: Coat-of-Arms of the 1st Earl of Arran.

Arran had to delay the enemy in the hope that Angus and his troops would arrive in time to take part in the inevitable battle and so he placed a strong guard at the bridge over the River Avon to the west of Linlithgow.  His artillery covered the approaches and commanded the hills to the south.  When Lennox’s forces arrived they were tired from their march but realised that the enemy was expecting reinforcements.  The commanders decided to outflank the bridge by using a ford to the south near Manuel Nunnery.  The advance guard made a successful crossing and formed up to attack Arran (1)’s flank but were faced by the well-placed artillery and a steep climb.  Arran’s men charged down the hill and more than held their own.  Fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued and then a cry arose that the Douglases had arrived and the tide turned in favour of Arran (1).  A rout ensued and Lennox was killed by Hamilton of Finnart.  The battle is known as either the Battle of Linlithgow Bridge or the Battle of Manuelhaugh.

Illus 5: Linlithgow Bridge looking west towards the Whitecross Road from which Lennox’s forces approached.

As a result of the victory Angus remained in charge of Scotland for another two years, but in 1528 James V escaped and reached Stirling where he took over the reins of power. The Douglases were proscribed but Arran (1) managed to become a close advisor of the king until he died in 1529 and was succeeded by his eldest son, James Hamilton.

For several centuries Kinneil was a source of manpower, which helped to maintain the Hamilton grip on power.  It also provided food and a good income.  There was already a substantial deer park at Kinneil House and deer were often sent to the family’s other residences.  In the 1540s deer from Kinneil were sent to St Andrews Castle to augment its provisions.  Salt production had begun at Kinneil and Bo’ness using coal rather than peat as the fuel.

(James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran)

Upon the marriage of James, 2nd Earl of Errol, in 1532 to Margaret Douglas, she was given “the tower and fortalice of Kinneil” in life rent.  Thereafter Kinneil House was used as a jointure or dowager house in each succeeding generation.  Castle Lyon and Kinneil House appear to be one and the same building.

On the death of James V on 14 December 1542 at only 30, Arran (2) stood next in line to the Scottish throne after the king’s six-day-old newborn baby daughter Mary, Queen of Scots.  Arran (2) was appointed Governor and Protector of Scotland.  He alternated between the Catholic and Protestant faiths.  Being titular head of government meant that he had control of Blackness Castle to the east of Kinneil and, as a Protestant, in 1543, he imprisoned Cardinal Beaton there.  However by September he had a change of heart and secretly met Cardinal Beaton at Callendar House where a reconciliation took place and shortly afterwards he became a Catholic.  The governance of Scotland was greatly complicated by these religious disputes and by the competing influences of the French and the English.  Arran and his family were fluent French speakers and much of his correspondence with the French court is preserved.  A treaty had been agreed with the English arranging a marriage between the young Queen Mary and Henry VIII’s son, Edward, but there was some wavering in Scotland.  As a result, in December 1543 a seven-year war began with England often referred to as the Rough Wooing.  Arran (2) had to deal with a civil war within the realm and an invasion force from England.  Edinburgh was burnt in March 1544 and the English laid the blame on Cardinal Beaton’s “sinister enticement” of Regent Arran.  It is possible that they visited Kinneil.  We know that coal was shipped from Kinneil to Leith for Edinburgh Castle in 1545 and that timber for repairing Arran’s chamber at ‘Craig Lyon’ came from Leith in May that year.  The actions of the English merely drove the Scots closer to the French.  Although the Scots won a victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor in February 1545 they lost the Battle of Pinkie on 10 September 1547.  It was a bruising time and hostilities only ended in 1550.  Arran (2) joined the pro-French faction and signed the Treaty of Haddington, consenting to the marriage of the Queen to the French Dauphin.  Partly for this he was rewarded with the Duchy of Chatelherault in 1548 and hereafter he will be referred to as Chatelherault.  His eldest son, James, assumed the title of Arran (hereafter Arran (3)).  From this moment on French influence slowly increased – French troops were permanently stationed in the country for over twenty years and Henri Cleutin d’Oysel was appointed by Henry II of France as the lieutenant-general of Scotland.

In 1546 Arran (2) had taken Dumbarton Castle by siege and kept it for himself and Mary (Queen of Scots).  The siege delayed the capture of St Andrews Castle where Arran (2)’s son was being held hostage by a group of Protestants who had killed Cardinal Beaton.  Dumbarton, however, provided a safe refuge on the west side of the country.  Mary, Queen of Scots, was kept at the castle for several months before her embarkation for France on 7 August 1548. Her party, including the Four Marys, sailed around the west coast of Ireland in order to avoid English ships. Chatelherault had been kept busy with state matters and in particular with the fighting.  He could not have spent long at his estates at Hamilton or Kinneil, though his wife would have done so.  As things quietened and the pressure on him grew to hand over the regency to the Queen Mother, Mary of Guise, he decided to upgrade his accommodation at Kinneil whilst he still had access to the state treasury.  The house was well situated for the troubled times.  It lay west of Edinburgh, which was about as far as the English land forces usually penetrated and even their navy rarely went beyond Leith.  Of course Scottish forces had no trouble in reaching it.  Perhaps more importantly it was close to the palaces of Holyrood, Linlithgow and Stirling and hence to the traditional sites of the royal court.  The estate of Chatelherault came with large revenues and it may have been this and other bribes from the French that induced Chatelherault to embark upon a building programme at Kinneil.  In 1549-50 the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland records payments for wood supplied to Kinneil in the form of boards, deals and roof joists.  Although not specifically stated, this seems to have been for the construction of the Tower wing.  The Tower provided an aura of strength with its great gun ports on the west side fronted by the deep ravine of the Gil Burn. 

Illus 6: The Gun Loops on the west side of the Tower.

On the east side there was a series of courtyards surrounded by perimeter walls which would have slowed any advance.  As at Craignethan Castle, another Hamilton possession, there was almost certainly a gatehouse in one of these.  To the south were the remains of the old fortified buildings of Craig Lyon.  The tower was probably nearing completion when the accounts record the supply of trees for the garden there in 1552, its lofty battlements providing a suitable viewing platform from which to view their geometric layout. 

A second stage of building works began in 1553 and the Lord High Treasurer’s accounts mention the provision of a horse for the “stane carte in Kynneil” and payments of drink silver to Thomas Bargany, “masoun wirkand in Kynnele” and to “the masons in Kynnele… at the laying of the ground stanes of the palice of Kynnele”. At the time the word ‘palice’ was used for a noble’s residence which was not a tower house. The dwelling was surprisingly plain on the outside – devoid of turrets or embellishments. Internally the decoration was lavish. The setting and the views up the Forth were magnificent. The following year, 1554, Chatelherault was forced into resigning the regency but managed to obtain immunity against any future prosecutions for his actions whilst regent, including the way in which he had spent the money.

Illus 7: Coat-of-Arms from the North Pavilion at Kinneil House of James Hamilton, the Duke of Chatelherault, and his wife Margaret Douglas. Quarterly, 1st & 4th gules, three cinquefoils ermine, 2nd& 3rd argent, a lymphad (galley) sable, sails furled proper, flagged gules. The right hand arms are those of his wife Margaret Douglas and are parted per pale with her husband’s arms on the dexter side and the Douglas line on the sinister, argent, a chief azure three stars of the field. Each escutcheon is capped by a ducal coronet.

At about this time a history of the Hamilton family appeared, written by Friar Mark.  It was almost certainly commissioned by Chatelherault.  His story of the family’s rise to a position of influence is questionable, but it is interesting that it should choose to make Kinneil rather than Hamilton its focus.  According to Friar Mark the founder of the family slew the Great Lieutenant (Hampton) of England in a single combat on Kinneil Muir and was rewarded with the large barony there.  The story was also used to explain the Hamilton coat-of-arms: “King Robert gaif till him his armis till weir in Scotland thre sinkfuilzeis in ane bludy field the sinkfuilzeis of the hous of Southe Hamptoune the reid field be slauchter donne be him”.

In August 1559 Chatelherault became a Protestant, joining the Lords of the Congregation to oppose the regency of Mary of Guise, and lost his French dukedom as a result.  Despite that he was still referred to as “the Duke.”  Mary of Guise had previously promised Chatelherault that in the event of her daughter dying without issue he would be the heir to the Scottish thrown.  However, secretly she had arranged for the French monarch to succeed and it was clear to Chatelherault that she was not to be trusted.  His eldest son, James 3rd Earl of Arran, was in France at the time and the French authorities tried to arrest him.  He had to be brought back to Scotland clandestinely with the aid of the network of English contacts.  Thomas Randolph, alias Barnaby, escorted him from Geneva to England.

Illus 8: The 16th Century Residential Wing of Kinneil House.

Chatelherault was now in open opposition to the Queen Mother; Arran (3) was with the protestant army in Fife. In 1559 the French had a large force of soldiers ensconced within a fortification at Leith in support of Mary of Guise. Their movements were closely monitored by Ralph Sadler, an English diplomat and spy. In December that year he reported to William Cecil that the Queen dowager was sending a combined force of French and Scots under the Earl of Bothwell towards the west, which he presumed meant that they were heading for Fife, where the Lords of the Congregation were stationed, by way of Stirling.

“And in their way they intende, as Ormeston hath sent us worde, to take the spoyle of the duke’s house, called Kylagh [Kinneil], which is besides Lathquo [Linlithgow], and from thns to march on to Sterling as is supposed…

(Clifford 1809, 666).

Having been forewarned, it would appear that Chatelherault, “the Duke,” removed his valuables from Kinneil. The task force proceeded rapidly through Linlithgow, Falkirk and Stirling, bypassing the Bo’ness area and Kinneil House remained intact. Small garrisons were left at Linlithgow and Stirling.

The French made good progress along the Fife coast, causing much destruction as far east as Burntisland before they turned north to St Andrews.  Their brutality helped to turn the locals against them and the Lords of the Congregation were able to play the nationalist card.  John Knox had made a pact with the English and as a result an English fleet appeared in the Forth causing the French army to retrace its steps in January 1560, fearing that their stronghold at Leith was in imminent danger.  A mysterious ship appeared off the coast at Kinneil and this was reported to Sadler:

I hard, that there was a fayer ship brought into a lyttell haven at Kenele, and neither man nor ware founde in her, nor no man knoweth to whome she belongeth.  The duke hathe sent this saye, bicaus the towne is his, to inquyer father howe she cam there.”  .

(ibid, 696)

In late January the retreating French were burning houses on their way back:

this daie ther cam word that they be driven were yesterday determined, as well they that are at Sterlinge as Lethcowe, to remove towards Edenburgh.  They have taken a house of the dukes at Kenele, and burned all that they fownd in yt, for that ther was nothing ther that they might carye awey.  Ther was slaine by those that kept the house agenst them, on gentleman and ij souldiours.  The duks men took that daie a faithfull chapelein and a paynefull, of the bishop’s of St. Andrews, called Andrewe Olifant, that accompayned the Franches in this voyage…”  

(ibid, 701).

From this it seems that Chatelherault had fortified Kinneil House with a small force and that it had put up a stubborn resistance.  It is not clear how much damage was caused and the burning mentioned may have been restricted to outbuildings.  Randolph was in Edinburgh where he noted the return of the French force and word of what had happened: “Lord Dossel came to Edinburgh with all the French except 4 bands left in Stirling.  In coming by Lynlythqu, he destroyed Kynneill a place of my lord Duke’s.”  These were evidently just second hand reports and probably exaggerated.  The murals in the north wing survived unharmed and the house was certainly habitable in 1561.  The French garrisons in Stirling and Linlithgow were still in place that March.

Part of the French army entered Glasgow in late March 1560 causing yet more destruction.  They left before Chatelherault had mustered his forces.  Chatelherault informed the Duke of Norfolk that “my Lord Arran followed with the best horsemen, skirmishing them at Callendar Wood, “to draw the chace on”; where they remained 2 hours, “and durst nawis brek ony of their company fer verray feir, doutand the ambusche qukilk wes laid for thame of befoir.”  And with great haste “frathine,” marched in order of battle, horse and foot, doing no skaith in the country.  So they have got no advantage.”  Arran (3) then returned to Glasgow with most of his men, leaving one company of horse to keep the French from scattering and destroying the country.

Mary of Guise died on 11 June 1560 and that December the French king was killed in a joust. Widowed, Mary returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith to take over the reins of government on 19 August 1561.  Chatelherault had made unsuccessful attempts to arrange a marriage between her and his son, Arran (3).  The Queen stayed in Holyrood and surrounded herself with ‘papists.’  Chatelherault and Arran (3), disliking the Catholic character of the court, remained out of the way at Kinneil doing “nothing against law, conscience or duty.”  Their absence was noted, but no action was taken.  On 10 September 1561 when the Queen went to Linlithgow, where she stayed for two days, the Duke and Arran (3) temporarily moved to Hamilton.  That December, a loud noise was heard of men passing in a street near Holyrood Palace and a rumour arose that it was Arran (3) come to abduct Mary.  The English ambassador was scathing of the ensuing panic when courtiers ran around like headless chickens.  Reporting to William Cecil on 7 December 1561 he wrote:

of this arose next morning an unlucky bruit without certain author, that Arran had crossed the water with a “starke” company to take away the Queen, and had his friends lying quietly here to join him.  This bruit runs fast, the repair of papists is great, the watch deliberately set and every lord lodging within Court to watch night about with “jacke and spere.”  Places visited where entry might be, and passages to the Queen’s chamber stopped, and new made.  Meantime the Duke comes to town and complains to the Queen of this slanderous report – saying if true he could not be guiltless, and demanding punishment of the authors.  He brought forth an old statute (whereof I send the copy) and desired right and justice at her grace’s hands.  No excuse would serve him, though occasions were shown moving her, and many good words given him, but he dissatisfied, returned on 25th of the last, to his house of Kinniel, whence he will to Hamilton to remain all winter.  I am uncertain whether he will come to the Convention on 15th.  This is the verity of this great “hurly-burly,” without reason or occasion for her so distrusting any subject, or lightly crediting any report, with discloses her mind “unto the whole race.”  I have done what I can to find out the likelihood of Arran having it in his head.  He was never worse furnished for such, without horses, men, or money.  He came (they say) to Kinneil the night before, but he brought only 2 men and a page, and left the rest at St Andrews.  He wished all the papists in Scotland hanged: “so do maynie mo bysydes hym.”  She had never less occasion to fear, with so many papists then in town – “whoe thoughe I am sure there is not one of them that wyll dye for Chryste, yet to save their Quene from stealing I trowe wolde not stycke to stryke a stroke or two.”  There are more things to consider herein than I can write.  The hatred I perceive in thys Quene towards my lord of Arrane is mervileus greate, and he hym selfe to slacke in doynge of his dewtie,” though far enough from danger saving in his own belief.  He rather gives ear to these bruits, than stirs on hearing them.  He rejoices more (as he sent word) in his innocence and to see their follies, than if he could do what they suspect.”

(Bain 1898, 574).

A great enmity had developed between Arran (3) and Bothwell, both Protestant lords, which threatened the coherence of the Reformation.  John Knox was therefore delighted when Bothwell approached him suggesting reconciliation.  A meeting was subsequently arranged and all seemed to go well.  The two men were seen out hunting together and attending sermons in Edinburgh.  Everyone, including the Queen, thought it odd.  However, Knox later admitted that it had been a false friendship and that it represented a low point in his own work.  It appears to have been part of Bothwell’s many schemes.

On 26 March 1562 Arran (3) and Bothwell dined together and afterwards rode to Kinneil House accompanied by Gavin Hamilton, titular Commendator of Kilwinning Abbey, to talk to Chatelherault. 

When there, Bothwell began this to Arran – “I knowe,” saythe he, “that you are the man most hated of anye man in Scotlande with the Quene, and the Lord Mar and Lidingtone in speciall.  I know tys to be trewe upon suche conference as I have had with the Quene self and other, therefore yt stondethe you upon to see to your self.  Yf you wyll followe my consell and gyve me credit, I have an easye waye to remedie the whole, that is, to put the Quene into your hands, and to tayke away your chief ennemenes therle of Mar and Larde Liddington”  Yt was concluded between them that the Quene sholde be taken by force and brought to Dombriton, and the Erle of Mar and Lyd slayne.”

(Bain 1898, 613).

The following day Arran (3) went to John Knox in great distress and told him the entire story.  With Arran (3) at his meeting with Knox were an advocate and a town clerk.  Knox asked whether he had assented to the plot and advised him to be silent.  Arran (3) then walked off with his legal advisers and subsequently rode back to Kinneil.  There he wrote a letter, presumably after taking the advice of Counsel, to Queen Mary and Mar at Falkland to warn her and asking what he should do.

Answer was given to continue in his duty, and good should “insue.”  He was in a quandary and concerned about his father’s involvement and that he too might be implicated, so he confronted his father.  A heated argument ensued and an angry exchange of words in which Arran told Chatelherault that he had already divulged the plot to the Queen.  “This put the Duke in such a rage, that he would have slain his son” (Randolph).  Somehow it seems his father managed to lock Arran (3) in his bedroom.  The young man was not to be held in this way.  He persuaded a valet to carry a letter out for him, written in cipher.  It was addressed to Randolph with the request that it be passed on to Mar.  Then, on the night of Saturday 30 March (Easter Eve) he tied the bed sheets and whatever else he could find together and escaped through the window wearing only a doublet and hose.  According to Randolph, the English ambassador, it was a descent of 30 fathoms or 180ft, which seems unlikely but suggests that he had been detained near to the top of the Tower rather than in the residential wing. 

Arran (3), not knowing who he could trust and with no means of transport, set out on foot for his friends in Fife.  It was Monday before his chamber servant was able to hand the secret letter over to Randolph whilst he was out hunting with the Queen.  Handing it over, the servant told him that he must again save his master’s life.  Randolph recognised the cipher and he, Mar, Lithington and the Queen discussed its contents.

Illus 9: The top stories of the Tower on the west side.

Whilst doing so Gavin Hamilton arrived saying that Arran (3) having offended and falsely accused his father, “was that nyghte escaped owte of his chamber with cordes made of the scheetes of his bede, and that no man wyste whear he was become.” He desired the Queen not to listen to anything that Arran (3) might say should he report to the court, for it was all false both of his father and Bothwell. The Queen returned to Falkland Palace and took further advice, as a result of which Gavin Hamilton was committed to safe custody. Within an hour Bothwell arrived to purge himself and was also put in ward, being found guilty on his own confession in some points.

Cold, drenched and exhausted, Arran (3) finally reached the home of his friend William Kirkcaldy, Laird of Grange near Burntisland, early on the Tuesday morning where he also repeated his accusations.  He had not slept for three nights and after a change of clothes fell asleep.  Grange rode to Falkland and informed the court and Mar was sent to collect Arran (3).  Arran (3), who by now seems to have been suffering the ill effects of his exposed flight, was escorted to the Queen.  The Queen then moved to St Andrews, where the suspects were placed in the Castle.  Randolph thought it strange that Chatelherault made no appearance at the court at this time – “His father is still at Kenele, he never yet wrote word to the Queen, but (it is reported) laments sore that his son “is owt of hys wytte.”  It is said he has twice before been in the same case; and takes it of his mother…”  Arran and Bothwell were kept in ward, and the Duke was advised to give up Dumbarton Castle to the Crown, which he did.

As a result of this incident the power of the Hamiltons was considerably diminished and conspiracy theories abound to say that this was one of the purposes of Bothwell’s plotting.  For Arran (3), however, the result was devastating.  He made wilder and wilder accusations and was soon declared insane, though as one historian put it – if Arran went mad, he went mad “with advice of counsel.”  He remained in custody at Edinburgh Castle for four years and even though he outlived most of the people involved he never re-entered public life.

George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly, was Chatelherault’s cousin and during the latter’s regency the two had been close allies.  Huntly was captured at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547 and after his release was rewarded with the Earldom of Moray.  He remained loyal to Queen Mary until she transferred the Earldom of Moray to her half-brother, James Stewart.  In 1562 the Queen went north with an army and Huntly was defeated at the Battle of Corrischie and died of apoplexy immediately after his capture.  His eldest son, Sir John Gordon, was executed in Aberdeen three days later.  His second son, George (Lord Gordon), was detained at his father-in-law’s house at Kinneil.  Whilst there he was attainted and sentenced to death for treason, but the sentence was never carried out and he continued to intrigue for the rest of Mary’s life – on various sides!

In 1566 Chatelherault withdrew to his estates in France, where he made vain attempts to regain his confiscated duchy.  Claud Hamilton, his third son, was active in his support of Mary.  Her short period of personal rule ended with her capture at Carberry Hill, Musselburgh, on 15 June 1567.  She was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son and was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, while her Protestant half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, was appointed Regent on behalf of the future James VI.  In early May 1568 Mary managed to escape and the Hamiltons rallied to her side.  They were making for the relative safety of Dumbarton Castle on 13 May when they encountered Moray at Langside.  Claud Hamilton was in charge of the Queen’s vanguard in the ensuing battle but Mary’s forces were defeated and she subsequently went into exile and captivity in England. 

Illus 10: The Assassination of the Earl of Moray at Linlithgow, drawing by G. Cattermole in Leitch Ritchie’s “Scot and Scotland” published in 1835.

Chatelherault remained loyal to Mary. In 1569 he returned to Scotland but was imprisoned by Regent Moray who assembled a parliament and had him declared a traitor. Moray was assassinated by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh in the High Street at Linlithgow on 23 January 1570 while Chatelherault was still in prison. Chatelherault was only released on 20 April 1570. Nevertheless, he and his youngest son, Claud, were rumoured to have been accomplices in the regent’s murder.

The Reformers took their revenge. An English army entered Scotland, aided and guided by the Earls of Lennox and Morton, it ravaged the Hamilton lands in Clydesdale and West Lothian. They burnt the Palace at Hamilton, Chatelherault’s house in Linlithgow (the house now known as the West Port House), his Palace of Kinneil, and the houses of all the Hamiltons situated in the district, especially the houses of Pardovan, Bynnie, Kingcavel, and the chapel of Livingston. The palace of Kinneil was ‘burnt with fire’ on 29 May 1570. The Earl of Morton wrote to the commendator at Dunfermline on 30 May 1570 that: “The Duke’s houses of Kinneil and Linlithgow are demolished by powder. At his special request the town of Linlithgow is saved, for the which they have given pledges for being in the Queen of England’s will, for the reset of her rebels, and promised that none of them shall be received in the town.”

Morton was clearly exaggerating, but it is probable that the old buildings of Castle Lyon was demolished along with the upper storeys of the Tower.  John Lesley, Mary’s secretary, complained to Elizabeth only that Regent Lennox had taken away goods belonging to the Duke and to his tenants at Kinneil.  Chatelherault’s own complaints later in the year simply mention the spoiling of the barony lands.  A servant was apparently shot through both thighs.

Lennox was the next regent but was shot and killed at a skirmish near Stirling and Mar was appointed in his place.  He died in October 1572 and a month later, on 24 November 1572, the Earl of Morton was elected as regent of Scotland.  Chatelherault died at Hamilton on 22 January 1575 and Arran (3) inherited his father’s estate but, because of his insanity, he was placed under the care of his brother John.   John and his other brother, Claud of Paisley,   kept Arran (3) as a prisoner at Craignethan Castle. 

James VI managed to temporarily take control of Scotland, but on 27 April 1578 Morton gained possession of Stirling Castle and the person of the king, putting him back in charge.  His opponents quickly raised an army and on 12 August 1578 faced Morton’s forces next to the River Carron near Falkirk, but a truce was negotiated by two Edinburgh ministers, James Lawson and David Lindsay, and the English ambassador Robert Bowes. Morton subsequently accused John and Claud Hamilton, who continued in their support of Mary, of involvement in the murders of the regents Moray and Lennox and included their names in an Act of forfeiture in 1579.  That spring the Scottish government’s forces moved to crush the power of the Hamilton family in the west and so in May 1579 Morton seized Hamilton and Craignethan on the pretence of rescuing Arran (3) from his imprisonment.  The Privy Council decided to arrest John and Claud, who fled to England, but Arran (3), his mother, and other brother, Lord David, were taken to Kinneil and the estates were taken over by the government.

James Stewart, Earl of Arran

James Stewart became a favourite of the young James VI, and in 1580 was made a Gentleman of the Bedchamber.  In January 1580 he and Esme Stewart, the Duke of Lennox, accused the former Regent Morton, still the effective power in Scotland, of participation in the murder of Lord Darnley some years before.  Morton was tried and then executed on 2 June 1581.  James Stewart was rewarded by being appointed as the tutor of the mentally ill James Hamilton, the third Earl of Arran, with powers over the earldom.  The following year the third Earl resigned the earldom to James Stewart who became the new Earl of Arran on 22 April 1581 (hereafter denoted as Arran (a)).  In July 1581 Arran (a) married Elizabeth Stewart, the ambitious divorced former wife of the King’s great-uncle, Robert Stewart.  Elizabeth was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Athol and had the attitude to match. 

Illus 11: The new Earl of Arran’s coat-of-arms. 

Arran (a) and the Duke of Lennox soon took over the government of Scotland.  The new earl made Kinneil House his main residence and the young king and his court alternated between it and Dalkeith Palace, the home of Lennox.

The king was at Kinneil on 15 May 1582 when he received a messenger from the Duke of Guise who had been sent with a present of horses.  The messenger was Signor Paul, the Duke of Guise’s master stabler.  News of his arrival in Scotland reached Edinburgh and a prominent reforming minister there, John Durie, immediately rode to Kinneil and asked for an interview with the king, which was granted.  In the garden he pointed out that Signor Paul was known as “the murderer of St Bartholomew” in Paris because of his involvement in the massacres of Huguenots there.  The king should therefore be very wary of his dealings with the man and his master.  Two weeks later Durie was expelled from Edinburgh by the Privy Council for preaching that the Duke of Lennox and the Earl of Arran, the court favourites, were abusers of the king.

The government of Scotland was now in the hands of brash young upstarts and this upset the traditional balance of the landed aristocracy.  In August 1582 Lennox and Arran (a) held a meeting of the Privy Council at Perth.  Satisfied with their work they returned to their respective homes.  James VI stayed on to hunt at Ruthven Castle (later called Huntingtower Castle) but he was taken captive by the Earl of Gowrie and a number of other nobles on 22 August, a kidnap known as the “Ruthven Raid.”  The next day they gave the King their supplication, which stated: “We have suffered now about the space of two years such false accusations, calumnies, oppressions and persecutions, by the means of the Duke of Lennox and him who is called the Earl of Arran, that the like of their insolencies and enormities were never heretofore born with in Scotland.”  Arran (a) was at Kinneil when he was informed of the news and immediately sped to the scene to save the king, boasting that he would chase all the lords into mouse-holes.  The Earl of Mar was part of the conspiracy and, learning of the intended rescue attempt, he set out from Stirling Castle with sixty horse to intercept Arran (a) at Kinross.  Arran (a) had sent the bulk of his men under the command of his brother, Colonel William Stewart, that way and they were ambushed and completely routed.  Arran (a) himself had proceeded with the utmost haste, accompanied by only two attendants, by a shorter route to Ruthven.  As soon as he arrived at Ruthven to demand an audience of the king he was apprehended – the Earl of Gowrie had to intercede to save his life.  Upon hearing of this the Duke of Lennox retired to Dumbarton Castle and the king was conveyed to Stirling on 30 August, having previously been induced to make a declaration that he was not being held in captivity.  Lennox was subsequently sent in exile to France and died on 26 May 1583.  Gowrie issued an indictment against Lennox and Arran that included the detail that the Countess of Arran was “a vile and impudent woman, over famous for her monstrous doings, not without suspicion of the devilish magical art.”  The Gowrie administration ran Scotland for ten months and Arran (a) was permitted to attend some council meetings to bolster support for the new regime.

Inevitably Arran (a) assembled a force of 12,000 men and regained power in July 1583 and the Ruthven Raiders and their followers were banished to England.  Gowrie, who had spared Arran (a)’s life, was executed.  Arran (a) became the de facto governor of Scotland and kept a firm grip on control through his network of agents.  Innumerable letters passed to and from Kinneil.  When the exiled lords returned in 1584 he knew all about their plot and was ready for them.  His wife continued to play a strong role in the administration which attracted the censure of church.  The king and his court returned periodically to Kinneil, no doubt enjoying the formal gardens and the hunting.

After the death of the Duke of Lennox his son, Ludovic Stewart, returned from France with Master Patrick Gray and landed at Leith on 14 November 1583, where they were met by Arran (a) and Huntley.  From there they were conveyed to Kinneil House where the royal court happened to be.  James VI received him with joy and restored his father’s honours and estates.  As Ludovic was then only 13 years old, the Earl of Montrose was appointed as his tutor.  Master Gray also did well and was soon working at the centre of power.  Arran (a) continued to mastermind events from Kinneil, keeping a wary eye on the plotting of the English court under its spymaster, William Cecil.

On 27 July 1585 a rather odd happening occurred near the English border which ended up with the death of Francis Russell, son of the second Earl of Bedford.  The shooting caused a diplomatic incident with the English and Arran (a) was accused of involvement.  James VI had little choice other than to hold Arran (a) as a prisoner at St Andrews Castle.  Through his brother Arran (a) was able to bribe the Master of Gray, who had grown in importance in the king’s court, and was able to arrange for his imprisonment at St Andrews to be exchanged for a nominal confinement at his own residence at Kinneil House.  One account says that he went from Kinneil to Ayr and embarked on a ship intended to go into exile with the royal jewels that he and his wife had been gifted whilst in favour.  These included the “Great Harry of Scotland.”  He was forced to disembark and return the jewellery.  Whilst under house arrest at Kinneil, Arran (a) kept in touch with the French trying to arrange for the release of Queen Mary. 

Meanwhile he set about inveigling his way back into the favour of the king and hence into power.  He sent notes congratulated his majesty on his liberty, begging that he might have access to appear and kiss his hand; which was plainly refused.  Then he sent daily his opinion and advices to the king on how to proceed against certain members of the nobility, and other state matters.  This resulted in some lords being warded on the advice of Arran (a) and his wife, who continually solicited the king that they might go to court.  At length the request was granted and Arran (a) was permitted to the court on the understanding that he would not remain there.  At first he carried himself very humbly but as soon as Arran (a) got access to the king, he quickly altered the procedures of the court to draw the management of all public affairs to himself.

The Master of Gray was now concerned at Arran (a)’s growing influence and used his connections with the English court to arrange for the banished lords of the Ruthven Raid to return with its financial and political support.  Lord John Hamilton reconciled himself with the Earl of Angus and joined this group.  In October 1585 the disaffected lords moved towards Scotland and the king decided to send an army to intercept them.  The lords moved faster than anyone had anticipated and the Scottish diplomat Sir James Melville wrote in his memoirs

I received a letter to be at his majesty with all possible diligence, and another from the earl of Arran, entreating me to accompany him from Kinneil to the court.  But I went to his majesty strait; whither also the said earl came that night.  For he had procured liberty to return to court, and remain about his majesty.” 

Melville did not like Arran (a) who he called “a scorner of religion, presumptuous, ambitious, covetous, careless of the commonwealth, a despiser of the nobility, and of all honest men…” – quite a recommendation for a man of high office!  In front of the young king at Stirling Castle Arran (a) accused the Master of Gray of organising the conspiracy.  The king immediately summoned Gray, who was in Perthshire, and he had little choice other than to answer the summons.  He decided to brazen it out and at the heat of the argument a message arrived saying that the banished lords were within a mile of Stirling.  They had met at Kelso, separated to raise their men, concentrated their whole troops at Falkirk on 31 October, and then marched on with 8,000 men.  Arran (a) fled Stirling.  The banished lords commenced the siege of the castle.  Gray then coolly acted as an intermediary between the monarch and the besieging army and on 4 November the castle was handed over.  The net result was that Arran (a) was declared a traitor in the king’s name at the market place, the royal guard was altered, Dumbarton Castle was delivered to Lord John Hamilton (also known as “Arbroath” because he was the commendator there; and later as the 1st Marquis of Hamilton), Edinburgh Castle to Coldingknowes, Tantallon Castle to Angus and Stirling Castle to Mar.  The exiles were pardoned and had their lands restored.

In 1586 the 3rd Earl of Arran’s resignation was ruled by the Court of Session to be the act of a madman and his honours were restored to the Hamilton family.  He was still alive, but John had become the head of the family.  Avoiding plans for his banishment, and despite being ordered to leave the country, Arran (a) spent the rest of his life in retirement in Ayrshire. He still plotted, communicating with James VI, some Scottish nobles, and the French.  He was eventually murdered by Sir James Douglas of Parkhead, a nephew of Regent Morton, on 5 December 1595.

Lord John Hamilton, 1st Marquess of Hamilton

Lord John Hamilton was given the task of keeping the anti-English Earls of Crawford and Montrose under house arrest at Kinneil, though Crawford soon escaped.  The king’s court no longer met there and James VI arranged for some of the furniture to be taken to Linlithgow Palace.  When resident at Linlithgow the king probably spent part of his time hunting at Kinneil and he and Lord John became good friends, often exchanging letters about sport.  One letter asked Lord John for a loan of his best horse called Griseld Blackstow and three hunting dogs for a contest against an English team to “defend the honoure of Scotlande.

Illus 12: Hunting Scene on the Mural at Kinneil House.

Lord John continued to do well under James VI and was created Marquess of Hamilton and Lord Aven on 15 April 1599.  The Marquess died before his elder brother in April 1604 and was succeeded by his son James as the 2nd Marquess of Hamilton.  James also succeeded as the 4th Earl of Arran in 1609 upon the death of his mad uncle James (3).


In 1603 the 2nd Marquis married Lady Anna Cunningham, daughter of the 7th Earl of Glencairn.  Bowling had become a popular pastime amongst the aristocracy and the following year he laid out a bowling alley at Kinneil, which was still much frequented.  However, the couple subsequently moved to England with James VI.  He received many honours from the king and in 1619 was created the Earl of Cambridge and Baron of Innerdale.  In 1621 he served as Lord High Commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland, being the King’s representative there.  Kinneil House was a convenient residence for him and his family and so it was redecorated at this time.  He died in London on 2 March 1625.  In accordance with his marriage contract his widow, Lady Anna, then took Kinneil House as her jointure house.  However, as her son, the 3rd Marquis of Hamilton, also spent most of his time in London, she ran the estates in Scotland on his behalf and stayed at Hamilton for much of the time.

Illus 13: Mural at Kinneil House showing the achievement and supporters of James, 2nd Marquess of Hamilton, set on a dark grey background.

The oval quartered shield (Hamilton and Arran) is enclosed within the Order of the Garter; the supporting antelopes stand on a strapwork frame of an underlying label. Over the coronet is the crest – an oak tree fructed and penetrated transversely in the main stem by a frame-saw. The motto “SAW THROUGH” in Roman lettering appears on escrolls on either side of the crest. On the dexter side of the coronet is the letter I for James, and on the sinister the letter M. and H. conjoined, for Marquess of Hamilton (photo by Adrian Mahoney).

The 3rd Marquis was a moderate man and was chosen by Charles I to mediate between the Crown and the Covenanters in Scotland.  Unfortunately for the Marquis the two sides were irreconcilable and he ended up incurring the odium of the Covenanters and the suspicion of the King.  In 1641 Charles I made his second visit to Scotland and Hamilton attended him at Holyrood early that October. 

On a sudden, rumour went through the city that the most influential noblemen in parliament, Hamilton and Argyle, had quitted it, followed by their friends, and had retired to Kinneil castle, the residence of the earl of Lanark, Hamilton’s brother, to escape the danger of an arrest and even of assassination.”  The King was irritated that he had been thus impugned.  The Scottish Parliament was asked to investigate.  “The parliament, firm but circumspect, formed no sudden decision, but ordered an enquiry.  Numerous witnesses were heard; the committee made its report; it declared, without going into particulars, that there was no occasion of reparation to the king, or fear to the fugitives.  The two noblemen returned to parliament, remained silent, as did Charles, on what had passed, and from them the public learned nothing further.”  .  

(Guizot 1846, 137)

It was generally believed that Argyll, Hamilton and Lanark, were to be seized and carried on board a Royal frigate at Leith.

The whole affair soon blew over and in April, 1643, the King granted a charter creating the Marquis the Duke of Hamilton, Marquis of Clydesdale, Earl of Arran and Cambridge, Lord Avon and Innerdale, with remainder to himself and the heirs-male of his body; whom failing, to his brother William and the heirs-male of his body; whom failing, to the eldest heir-female of the Duke’s body, without division.  It was under this destination that his daughter, the Duchess Anne, in time succeeded.  Before long, the situation changed.  The King was persuaded by Hamilton’s enemies that he was fermenting trouble in Scotland and the Duke was imprisoned at Pendennis Castle.  He was only released when the Parliamentary army captured the castle.

Anna Cunningham was often at odds with her son because of his role in enacting Charles I’s religious policy in Scotland.  Nevertheless, in her will written on 4th November 1644, she left him her right to the coal of Kinneil.  She mentions that it had cost her much money, and servants did reap the profit; but now it was in so good ease that he could not but make great benefit out of it.  She counselled him to put faithful servants to it, and never to put it out of his own hands.  She also left him all her salt-pans, and advised him to build more, for she believed the profit would be great if God sent peace. She also left him the plenishing in her house in Kinneil, her new tapestry, and all other movables she either made or bought, except her silver saltfat (a table vessel for holding salt) and some little silver porringers which she left to her daughter.

With the Union of the Crowns the fate of the monarch seemed to rest with the English.  In the 1640s Scotland got sucked into the English Civil War which had deposed their king and both Royalists and Parliamentarians were able to manipulate the Scots’ wish for religious independence.  The Hamilton dynasty was still very influential in Scottish politics and in 1648 the Duke of Hamilton led a large Scottish army into England in a vain attempt to free Charles I.  James Livingston, the 1st Earl of Callendar, held a senior post and a large contingent from Falkirk was present.  Hamilton’s leadership was far from competent and the Scots were heavily defeated near Preston.  Hamilton surrendered and was later executed; Livingston fled to Holland.  Charles I was also executed.  The 1st Duke of Hamilton’s brother, William, had also fled to Holland and inherited his titles.

In June 1650 Charles II arrived in Scotland, having agreed to allow religious freedom.  Cromwell was compelled to invade Scotland and won a crushing victory at Dunbar in September that year.  Capitalising on this he advanced to Falkirk by the end of the month and the Royalists retreated to Stirling.  The English fortified Linlithgow with a garrison.  Kinneil House and Haining Castle were taken over, presumably with little resistance.  Blackness Castle remained in the hands of the Scots.  In December the Western Army of the Scots was defeated at Hamilton, giving the English control of the country south of the Forth/Clyde isthmus.

Now began a game of cat and mouse.  In January 1651 a strong Scottish attack on Linlithgow failed.  Had it fallen Kinneil would also have been liberated.  The Tucker Report produced by the Cromwellian administration noted that there was a haven for ships at Kinneil and this could have been used to bring in provisions for the garrison at Linlithgow.  Kinneil House was used for the storage of biscuit and cheese (Mercurius Politicus No. 57).  The main port in the area was at Blackness and the presence of a Scottish garrison there provided the Royalists with a foothold from which they could launch a counter-offensive.  So on 1 April 1651 the English fleet combined with the land forces commanded by General Monck stormed it.    The Scots sent a large relief force from Stirling to help, but this move had been anticipated and they were blocked by Cromwell’s troops at the River Avon.  In June the Scots once again reconnoitred as far east as Linlithgow and Kinneil, but they quickly withdrew when the English army arrived from Edinburgh.

Eventually the English forces caught up with the Scottish army at Worcester and William, 2nd Duke of Hamilton, died of wounds received in the ensuing battle. The whole of Scotland was soon occupied and all those who had actively supported the King were punished.  The Hamilton estates were forfeited and handed over to various officers in Cromwell’s army.  Kinneil was given to General Monck, Colonel Alvared took Polmont, Colonel Lilburne was given Bothwellmuir and Colonel Ingoldsby received Hamilton.  The valuable coal and salt revenues mentioned by Anna Cinningham were now at Monk’s disposal and it is said that the entire furniture was “carried away by the English”.

In 1841 a book entitled ‘Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ was published stating that it was customary for the children of Linlithgowshire, on dark and stormy nights, to say:

Lady, Lady Lilburn Hunts in the Gilburn.

It goes on to say that it was a common story that an unfortunate lady, whose first name was Ailie (Anglice, Alice), lived with a Duke of Hamilton, a great number of years ago, at Kinneil House.  She is said to have put an end to her existence by throwing herself from the walls of the castle into the deep ravine below, through which the Gil Burn descends.  Her spirit is supposed to haunt this glen.  It continues that

it is more likely that Lady Lilburn was the wife of the celebrated Cromwellian colonel, who for a time occupied Kinneil House.” 

(Chambers 1841). 

Unfortunately this last supposition, though unwarranted, has been taken as fact.  The first recorded mention of this legend is in a letter (now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) written by Maria Edgeworth from Kinneil House to her sister Honora on 6 June 1823 in which there is no mention of the Cromwellian context:

“Mrs Stewart told us this morning that there were plenty of ghosts at our service belonging to Kinneil House. One in particular, Lady Lilyburn, who is often seen all in white, as a ghost should be, and with white wings, fluttering on the top of the castle, from whence she leaps into the sea-a prodigious leap of three or four hundred yards, nothing for a well-bred ghost. At other times she wears boots, and stumps up and down stairs in them, and across passages, and through bedchambers, frightening ladies’ maids and others. We have not heard her… yet.”

Lady Anne, now the Duchess of Hamilton, had inherited what little remained of the estate.  She was able to scrape together enough money to pay an enormous fine in 1657 and recovered most of the property.  The Restoration of the monarchy brought with it an air of normality and the return of Kinneil House.  On 20 July 1660 one of Duchess Anne’s servants

Passed through the whole rooms of the said castle and, finding no manner of plenishing [furniture] therein, took real, virtual and peacable possession of the foresaid castle and house of Kinneil by receiving the keys of the outer gate.

(Marshall 2000, 58)

Duchess Anne was keen to promote the prosperity of the new town that had slowly grown up to the east of Kinneil at Bo’ness.  By doing so she increased her own revenues and encouraged the movement of the remaining villagers from the old settlement which still stood immediately to the west of Kinneil House.  In January 1668 she was granted a charter by Charles II creating the lands and baronies of Kinneil, Carriden, and others, and the town of Bo’ness, into a Regality, thus giving it extra trading privileges.  The charter named Bo’ness as the head burgh of the Regality.  The following year the Scots Parliament embodied the charter and also gave the burgh the privilege of a free port and harbour.  These actions secured the future prosperity of the town.  Also in 1669, the Duke and Duchess supplicated parliament to get the kirk and parish of Kinneil suppressed and included in the Parish of Bo’ness.  The kirk at Bo’ness was declared to be the kirk of the united parish (see Kinneil Kirk) and the old building was abandoned to the Hamiltons.  Duchess Anne’s priority was to renovate Hamilton Palace and so work on Kinneil House had to wait another decade.  The last of the houses in the village was said to have been removed in 1691.

In June 1669, the same year that saw the suppression of the church at Kinneil, Rev John Blackadder established a congregation at Bo’ness during a temporary lull in the prosecution of covenanters.  He was admired by the Presbyterian skippers and mariners of the port and through his relative, Major Hamilton, the Duchess’s bailie of Regality who lived at Kinneil House, he was given some protection.  However, in the 1671 when he was at Bo’ness his meeting was dispersed by the soldiers from Blackness and he was nearly taken and had to climb over hedges and dykes from one yard to another to make his escape.  His son, Adam, was caught and sent to Blackness Castle which had become home to many covenanters.

In the early 1670s reconstruction work on Kinneil House began and the old tower was remodelled.  The height appears to have been reduced and the battlements were replaced with a large cornice and balustrade.  The fenestration was changed to present a more regular appearance to the east, and the block was flanked by slightly lower pavilions.  The south pavilion contained the Great Stair which cost almost 1,000 merks Scots on its own.  Robert Sibbald in 1710 noted that “The Castle by the Embellishments Duke William gave it, makes a Noble Front to the House, and communicates with the North building, which tho not so regular to the eye without, are nobly contrived within, with due Proportion, Large Lights well placed”.  Part of the reason that the Duchess and Duke had for executing this work was to encourage their heir to stay in Scotland rather than spending his time in England and it was made clear that the house was his should he settle down.

Illus 14: The Arms of the Duke William and Duchess Anne from the South Pavilion at Kinneil House. 

Quarterly, 1st and 4th gules, 3 cinquefoils, ermine for Hamilton; 2d and 3d argent, a ship with her sails trussed up, Sable for Arran; 2d ground quarter argent, a man’s heart gules, ensigned with an imperial crown or, and on a chief azure, 3 stars of the 1st for Douglas;  3d ground quarter as 2d;  4th ground quarter as the 1st.

Despite this lavish expenditure, their son remained elsewhere and the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton spent most of their time at Hamilton, leaving only a small number of staff at Kinneil.  The chamberlain in the 1680s was a Quaker, as was the gardener there.  Short visits of two or three days each were made and on these occasions servants were brought from Hamilton.  It was whilst staying at Kinneil House on their way from Edinburgh to Hamilton that the Duke and Duchess heard of the death of their second son on 23 September 1681.  The stay was extended to give them chance to recover.

Their eldest son and heir, James, Earl of Arran (8), married Anne Spencer, the daughter of the Duke of Sunderland on 10 January 1687.  The couple might have stayed in London had it not been for the Revolution that brought William of Orange to the throne.  James quickly offended the new king and a retreat to Scotland was called for.  Anne was five months pregnant when she arrived at Holyrood in December 1689.  It took a few weeks to prepare Kinneil House for them as it had been standing more or less empty for several years.  Numerous new servants were engaged.  Their daughter, Mary, was subsequently born at Kinneil House on 13 March 1690.  A few days later Anne contracted puerperal fever.  Doctors were summoned from Edinburgh and Duchess Anne hurried to Kinneil from Hamilton.  She was treated with various remedies and made sufficient of a recovery for Arran (8) to go to Holyrood House.  However, Anne Spencer suffered a relapse and after twelve days of fever died at Kinneil on 10 June 1690 aged only 24 years.  Arran (8) was distraught.  After the funeral he dismissed the servants and closed Kinneil House.  He then returned to London.

He still continued to draw revenues from Kinneil and during the negotiations for his second marriage in 1685 his mother pointed out to him that he had over £6,000 Sterling a year from that source.  It was 17 July 1698 before he finally married Elizabeth Gerard, the daughter and heiress of the 5th baron of Gerard.  The marriage contract had been signed just two days before.  In this he, with the consent of Duchess Anne, bound and obliged himself, his heirs and successors, to provide and secure the lands and baronies of Kinneil, Carriden and Abbotskerse, with the castles, towers, fortalices, and pertinents, to Elizabeth in life-rent for her jointure, during all the days of her lifetime, and to infeft and siese her in life-rent therein.  The duke warranted these lands, baronies, and others to be then worth, and be worth and pay yearly at her entry thereto, and during her lifetime the sum of £15,000 Sterling, and he bound himself to free and relieve the appellant yearly during her lifetime of all feu duties, blench duties, teinds, ministers’ and schoolmasters’ stipends, building and repairing of manses, repairing of churches and church-yard dikes and the king’s ordinary taxation.

Illus 15: The Bridge over the Dean Burn, looking south.

In 1700 the couple moved to Kinneil, which the young Elizabeth proclaimed she liked very much.  His mother had resigned her titles in favour of her son at the time of the wedding, but remained in control of the estates.  Once again Kinneil House possessed an air of optimism.  Major work was also undertaken on the gardens, including the construction of a bridge across the Dean Burn so that the Great Avenue could be continued eastwards.  Arran (8) was now the 4th Duke of Hamilton and had a seat in the Scottish Parliament.  This caused him to be away in Edinburgh for long periods and his young wife remained at Kinneil with her pet dog called “Beauty.”  One day the dog grabbed part of a partridge pie cooked in the kitchen at Kinneil – unperturbed by the happening, Elizabeth sent the remainder to her husband in the capital.  The couple had three sons and five daughters at Kinneil, though they lived for a good part of the year on her family estates in Lancashire.  His profligate spending and poor behaviour was unfit even for those times.  The last few years of the century saw bad harvests and a severe economic depression in the country. 

This was made worse by the failure of the Darien Adventure which had been promoted by the Hamiltons who subscribed to the scheme.  The opportunity was used to get the Act of Union between England and Scotland enacted in 1707.  The 4th Duke of Hamilton should have been the focus of opposition in the Scottish Parliament but was far too erratic in his behaviour.  His mother despaired of him and he was loathed in both Scotland and Lancashire.  He and his wife decided to live in London and their children were left with Duchess Anne at Hamilton.


The 4th Duke was killed in a duel in Hyde Park on 15 November 1712 and Duchess Anne died in October 1716.  Upon her death Elizabeth Gerard was able to take up the jointure of Kinneil.  However she soon found that it was not worth the £15,000 stated in the marriage contract and took her own son, James the 5th Duke, as heir to her deceased husband, to court for the difference.

Thereafter Kinneil House was rarely used as a residence by the Hamilton family.  It was unoccupied at the time of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.  After the passage through the area of the Jacobite army on its way to England, the Government’s forces moved in.  In early December 1745 a large detachment of Hamilton’s Dragoons was stationed at Kinneil, which was a useful distance between Stirling and Edinburgh.  It was winter and fodder was scarce and so the stores at Kinneil provided essential supplies. There was scant grazing.  Whilst their horses were secure in the estate’s enclosures the dragoons took over the old church building next to the house.  To ameliorate the coldness of the season some of the old pews were broken up and burnt.  However, there were some dissidents in the area who knew the parks better than the dragoons and two of their horses were stolen from under their very noses.  A few weeks later it became apparent that the Jacobite army was on its way back and the dragoons were diverted to patrolling the roads to the south of Edinburgh.  Behind them they left a smouldering church, for the building had accidentally caught fire.

The chaos of the war may have provided some locals with the opportunity to steal lead from the roof of Kinneil House.  Whatever the cause, its condition was so bad that the Duke of Hamilton had the lead work replaced in October 1746.  The house was used as a guest house for the family’s friends and a staging post for those travelling north.  In August 1750, for example, William Belchier, the Member of Parliament for Southwark, with his Lady, stopped off at Kinneil House, on their way to the Isles.

The coal from the estate still provided a valuable income.  In January 1760 Dr John Roebuck signed a lease with the Duke of Hamilton of the coalworks and saltpans of Kinneil.  Roebuck was one of the original founders of the Carron Company which had been established just the year before and the demand for coal was considerable.  With the works came the colliers – tied to them like serfs.

The pits at Kinneil suffered from the ingress of water and Roebuck needed more efficient steam engines than those at his command.  Through a mutual friend at Glasgow University he heard of the promising theories for improving their performance by an instrument maker named James Watt.  Watt realised that most of the energy used in these machines was lost in cooling the cylinder.  His critical insight came in May 1765 when he introduced a separate chamber to condense the steam.  Watt made a working model later that same year which was demonstrated in the dining room at Kinneil House.  Roebuck paid Watt’s debts in return for a share of any patent and arranged to have a full-scale engine erected in the secrecy of the grounds at Kinneil with parts made at Carron.  Bo’ness had initially been suggested as the location, but on 9 November 1768 Watt wrote to Roebuck “On considering the engine to be erected with you, I think the best place will be to erect a small house in the glen behind Kinneil.” 

Illus 16: Watt’s Workshop to the south of Kinneil House.

The results whilst promising were not everything that Watt would have liked.  Roebuck was very encouraging and over long conversations at night the work progressed.  The design concept was proven and the outcome sufficient for the two men to apply for a patent in January 1769.   Success was just around the corner.  Unfortunately for Roebuck it came too late to save him from bankruptcy and in 1775 he sold his share in the patent to Matthew Boulton of the Soho Works in Birmingham.  Watt moved south and perfected his ideas there, changing the world for ever. 

(This story is covered in more detail in Watt’s Cottage – Roebuck & Watt).  Dr Roebuck remained on at Kinneil House until his death on 15 July 1794 and his body was laid to rest in the Carriden Churchyard.


In 1809 Dugald Stewart, the famous Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, retired and moved to Kinneil House as the tenant of the Duke of Hamilton.  He spent his remaining years here in study and writing.  From Kinneil he dated his Philosophical Essays in 1810; the second volume of the Elements in 1813; the first part of the Dissertation in 1821; and the second part in 1826; and finally, in 1828, the Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers, completed just a few weeks before his death.  Mr and Mrs Stewart were philanthropic and helped many of the local people with donations.  Many visitors called to see the philosopher at Kinneil, including the painter Sir David Wilkie, Lord Palmerston and Earl Russell.  The letter previously mentioned referring to the ghost of the White Lady was written from Kinneil by Maria Edgeworth on 6 June 1823 after a conversation with Mrs Stewart.  Mrs Stewart was well known for writing Scottish songs and this was just the kind of material that she might have been expected to gather.  Hew Ainslie was more famous for his song writing and stayed at Kinneil for long periods.  He helped Dugald Stewart with the preparation of his books until he moved to New York in July 1822.  That same year Dugald Stewart was struck by paralysis which affected his speech and deprived him of the use of his right hand, but not of his mind.  His wife then acted as his secretary, writing down his notes and helping to draft the polished text.  Despite these disabilities he was still able to walk about the estate for two or three hours a day.  In 1828 Mr and Mrs Stewart went to Edinburgh to visit a friend and Dugald Stewart died there on 11 June.  A monument was erected to him on Calton Hill.  After his death his widow and daughter continued to occupy the Kinneil House. 

It was, and is, often stated that Dugald Stewart was the last tenant of Kinneil House, but this had merely become shorthand for the original statement that he was “the last tenant of note.”  In the mid 1870s William Austine and his family briefly stayed in Kinneil House employing a local servant.  Immediately before that, Stewart Robertson, the surveyor for the Statute Labour Roads for the Parish of Bo’ness had been using it as an office.  Finally, on 28 May 1889, Margaret Borthwick, relict of the late Robert McIntyre, contractor, died at Kinneil House, aged 74.  They lived in the residential wing, the Tower having been abandoned.

Throughout the nineteenth century the bond between the Hamilton family on the one hand and its tenants and the people of Bo’ness on the other remained remarkably strong.  There was nostalgia for the good old days when the family lived at Kinneil House, investing in the local economy and as patron promoted the development of the town.  Celebrations were held in the town whenever a son and heir was born or came of age.  Flags would be hoisted at Kinneil House and the town hall in Bo’ness, church bells rung, and dinners with far too many speeches and toasts arranged.  The tenants of the estate might also be entertained or given gifts.  These were similar to the arrangements made for coronations.  Visits from the family were welcomed with great enthusiasm and people lined the streets and the ships in the harbour fired their guns and blew their whistles.  However, the visits were extraordinarily rare.  The Duke of Hamilton briefly visited Kinneil House on 7 September 1822.  His son, the Marquis of Douglas and Clydesdale, accompanied by his Tutor, stayed overnight at Kinneil House on 19 August 1824.  In March 1866, when the Duke of Hamilton reached his majority, the foresters and workmen on the estate were entertained to a supper and ball in Kinneil House, while £32 was given to be distributed among the poor.  The sum of £15 was also presented among the “old residenters” of Bo’ness.

The 1850s saw greater use made of the grounds of Kinneil House by the public.  A curling pond was constructed in the West Meadows for the Bo’ness Curling Club and the Bo’ness Horticultural Society was given permission by the Duke of Hamilton to stage its show there in September 1858.  Cut flowers and the more delicate pot plants were displayed in two rooms of the Tower wing of the house – presumably the Laigh Hall on the ground floor and the Great Hall above.  Tables were set up on the green in front of the house for other produce such as fruits, vegetables, poultry, butter, eggs, honey and oatmeal cakes.  An entrance fee was payable at the gate.  This became an annual event with the attendance of the Carriden and Kinneil Brass Bands.  William Wilson, owner of the Kinneil Ironworks and the tenant of Dean House at the entrance to the grounds, threw open his own garden for public viewing.  The Horticultural Show continued at the house until 1901 when permission was refused because the grounds had been restocked at a considerable expense with game birds for the hunt. 

In the late 1850s the miners of Kinneil went on strike and there was a great deal of intimidation and animosity all round.  The conduct of the miners was such as to cause Wilson to apply to the authorities for protection.  A company of the 7th Heavy Dragoons was sent out from Edinburgh.  The soldiers were an attraction and, finding their services were not required to keep the peace, they became very friendly with the inhabitants.  A grand ball was given by the captain of the company to their Bo’ness friends in Kinneil House and a quadrille band was brought out from Edinburgh. Races were held in the Brewlands Park between Mr Wilson’s carriage horses and the horses belonging to the commanding officer.

Wilson was one of the prime movers in the formation of “B” Company, 8th Volunteer Battalion Royal Scots (the number subsequently changed) and became its captain.  The inaugural meeting at Bo’ness was held towards the end of 1859 and the company were sworn in at Kinneil House on 1 June 1860 by Sheriff Kay.  The day was observed as a holiday in the town and crowds of people assembled to witness the ceremony.  The front of Kinneil House became “their” parade ground.  In June 1860, for example, some 82 volunteers turned out and were put through their paces.  That December, on the occasion of Captain Wilson’s marriage, a Volunteer Ball was held in the House, making full use of the Great Hall and the officers of the 7th Dragoons were invited back.  It obviously made an impression on the Volunteers for it was repeated on several occasions.  On 27 July 1869

the members of the 2nd Linlithgowshire (Bo’ness) Company of Volunteers were treated to supper by John R Dawson Esq of Bonside, Captain-Commandant of the corps. The company mustered at seven o’clock, in a field opposite the entrance to Kinneil House ; and after engaging for short time in drill—Sergeant-Major Stewart taking the command – they proceeded to the old ducal mansion, which, by kind permission of Henry Padwick Esq, Commissioner for the Hamilton estates, was thrown open for their use.  An excellent and substantial repast, purveyed by Mr Johnston of the Store, was partaken of in the commodious banqueting hall, which is admirably suited to the requirements of such a large party…”

(Falkirk Herald, 29 July 1869).

A few other groups and individuals were also given access to the house.  The sixth annual ploughing competition run by the Kinneil Farmers’ Society took place on 16 January 1872 at Inveravon Farm, after which dinner was served in Kinneil House.  One visitor in the 1870s noted that the house was

even in its present decayed and deserted condition, well worth a visit.  It is beautifully situated, and the view from its terraced roof is superb in the extreme.”  

(Falkirk Herald, 3 August 1871)

As with other stately homes in the district, the grounds were used for picnics and games by church and youth groups who sought permission for their annual outings.  These might vary from 30 individuals to almost 400 children.  On 20 July 1867, for example, the children attending the Voluntary school at Falkirk were treated to an excursion to Kinneil House.  Robert Storrie, the forester, gave admission to the grounds.

More and more it took on the role of a public park.  In May 1887 a .promenade concert was held at Kinneil House by the Bo’ness Orchestral Band assisted by the Kinneil and Carron Instrumental Bands.  The following year they organised the first brass band competition there and these continued annually until at least 1907.  Substantial prize money attracted fierce competition and in 1902 the following bands were present – Armadale, Bathgate, Bo’ness and Carriden, Clydebank, Dunfermline Town, Jameston and Vale of Leven Temperance, Kirkcaldy Trades, Milnwood, Mossend and Clydesdale, Musselburgh and Fisherrow Trades, Bellshill Town, Blackbraes, Clarkston, Larkhall Public, Shieldhill Public, Skinflats, Townhill, Whitburn, Wright Memorial, Airdrie, Bellshill Union, and Carron.  Admission was 6d for adults and 3d for children.


The shootings on the estate were let and brought in a good rent. In 1901 Mr Usher of Ratho had the lease and introduced a large incubator into Kinneil House for the rearing of the birds.  The first shooting each year commenced on 1st August with duck, snipe, golden plover and hares as the targets.  Of the latter there was but a meagre supply at Kinneil.  Then came “the twelfth,” when the grouse were brought down.  The partridge season opened on the 1st September; and pheasant on the 1st October.  Only two capercailies were known to exist at Kinneil at the time.  After the 1st October all kinds of shooting were open; then followed the hunting, on the 7th November. 

The greatest of all the annual events to be held at Kinneil House was, of course, the Bo’ness Fair Day.  Just when this tradition of an annual march by the colliers to the house began is uncertain but it seems to stem from the emancipation of the collier serfs in 1799.  The men would walk in procession up to the door of the coalmaster at Kinneil House and rap on the door to be rewarded with a drink.  They then walked to the other end of Bo’ness and the home of the second largest coalmaster, at Grange House, where the same procedure was followed.  The coalmaster at Kinneil was usually the lessee of the Duke’s coal and presumably the factor took his place in later years.  The drinking became a social problem and in 1897 the traditional procession was changed to become a Children’s Fair Day with the crowning of a queen from one of the schools.  This ceremony was performed in the town and then processions proceeded to either Kinneil or Grange, turn about each year, for the Queen’s Revels.  In 1906 it was at Kinneil and the printed programme included a brief history of the House.  That year also started another tradition.  Provost Stewart and the Fair Committee entertained a large company of public men and officials to lunch within the Great Hall of Kinneil House on Fair Day.  1908 was a special occasion because the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton were present and so the crowning ceremony was moved for the only time in its history to Kinneil House.  The Duchess crowned the Fair Queen and afterwards entertained about a hundred guests, including the members of Bo’ness Town Council, to luncheon in the House.

Illus 17: The 1908 Crowing Ceremony of the Bo’ness Fair Queen.

In 1922 Bo’ness Town Council purchased Kinneil House and a large part of the policy grounds under powers granted by the Public Parks (Scotland) Act, 1875 for the establishment of public parks and pleasure grounds in or adjacent to overcrowded towns.  In 1923 a putting green was laid out in front of the house and benches were installed along the Avenue.  Two German guns, prizes gifted to Bo’ness after the First World War, were placed in front of the house for inspection.  They had previously occupied the market square in the town centre.  The custom of the Fair Committee and the Council of hosting banquets for 80 or so guests in the Great Hall on the Fair Day continued.   However, in 1932 the burgh surveyor condemned the roof of the house and a marquee was erected for the Fair Lunch, though access was still provided to the ground floor. In 1936 the roof of Kinneil House was removed and the 16th century murals in the residential wing were discovered.  The importance of the wall paintings was realised and the house was taken into the care of the Ministry of Works.  The Town Council’s concern for its heritage is reflected in its disposal of the German guns as scrap in 1937 and it repeatedly turning down requests to consolidate the cottage in which James Watt had conducted his important experiments.  Then during the Second World War it paid a local farmer to remove over 20 tons of stone from the line of the Antonine Wall so that potatoes could be planted.

Illus 18: Kinneil Park with Putting Green and Benches.

There was a change of attitude after the war and in 1946 when the cast iron cylinder of a late eighteenth century Newcomen engine was donated by the Bo’ness Gas Company and Carron Company agreed to pay the expense of transport, Bo’ness Town Council prepared a site for it adjacent to the Cottage.

With local government reorganisation in 1975 the Bo’ness area came under the remit of Central Regional Council and shortly afterwards a branch museum was opened in the old coach house.  Then, in 1996, unitary authorities were introduced and Kinneil found itself in the Falkirk Council area.

Illus 19: Falkirk Council Coat-of-Arms.


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