Scotland in Middle Ages: Architecture

Maddie MacKenna

Linlithgow Palace, the first building to bear that title in Scotland, was extensively rebuilt along Renaissance principles from the fifteenth century. Image source: Wikipedia

Hello, my wonderful readers!

Scotland has a long history of art, architecture, great men and women! However, in this article, we are going to talk only about the architecture of Scotland in the Middle Ages! I am pretty sure you’re going to like this one!

Scotland’s architecture dates back thousand of years. For example, as we have learned in another article, one of Europe’s most complete Neolithic village, Skara Brae, was found in Scotland. It dates back to 6000 years ago! 

Skara Brae, is a Neolithic settlement, located in the Bay of Skaill, Orkney. Image source; Wikipedia

But, of course, architecture has progressed quite a lot since then. One of the most important periods of the architectural history of Scotland is the Middle Ages. During that time, the country had buildings left from the departure of Romans in the early 5th century, the natives evolved continuously, until the adoption of Renaissance style in the early 16th century. 

Vernacular buildings

Let’s start with the housing, shall we?

In Medieval Scotland, housing buildings used to be vernacular. They used cruck construction, employing pairs of curved timbers to support the roof, but these were at most times hidden from view. Especially in rural areas, they would use turf to fill in the walls, but unfortunately, this material wasn’t very long-lasting. They would have to rebuild this every two to three years! Imagine building your house again and again? Oh my!

The Moirlanich Longhouse is a blackhouse built in the nineteenth century in the traditional manner with a cruck frame. Image source: Wikipedia.

After the 12th century, burghs started developing. These were towns that were granted certain privileges from the Crown, and they would often have distinctive patterns in their buildings. They would have a palisade around them (a fence or defensive wall, typical in Celtic villages), and most of them also had a castle! They also included a market place, often marked by a mercat cross, and houses with elaborate styles for the nobles and high-ranking individuals. 

However, most houses for the urban poor were completely destroyed 🙁


Rosslyn Chapel. Image source: Wikipedia

The introduction of Christianity came to Scotland from Ireland, around the 6th century. Church architecture had progressed a lot since then. It started with very simple, masonry-built churches. In the Highlands, the architecture was even simpler, and the churches would often be similar to simple houses or farm buildings!

The true colors of Scottish architecture were shown in churches of the Gothic style, starting in the 13th century. There are two prime examples, both built by French master-mason John Morrow: Glasgow Cathedral, and Melrose Abbey. The carvings at Rosslyn Chapel, created in the mid-fifteenth century, elaborately depicting the progression of the seven deadly sins, are considered some of the finest in the Gothic style.

Melrose Abbey. Image source: Wikipedia

Did you know? Scottish architecture, especially from the Renaissance period, was mostly influenced by Rome and the Netherlands, as a reaction against English forms. The Scots were opposing the English even using their buildings! 


Ah, castles! Who doesn’t love castles?

Caerlaverock Castle, a moated triangular castle, was first built in the thirteenth century. Image source: Wikipedia

In the sense of a fortified structure for a Laird or a noble, castles arrived in Scotland in the 12th century. Elements of Medieval castles, royal palaces, and tower houses were used in the construction of Scots baronial estate houses, which were built largely for comfort, but with a castle-like appearance. 

Elements of the Scots Baronial style would be revived from the late eighteenth century and the trend would be confirmed in popularity by the rebuilding of Balmoral Castle in the nineteenth century and its adoption as a retreat by Queen Victoria.

The first recorded siege in Scotland was the 1230 siege of Rothesay Castle where the besieging Norwegians were able to break down the relatively weak stone walls with axes after only three days! The first gunpowder weapons introduced in Scotland in the 1330s also affected the architectural design; the stronger the forces that could break it the stronger the building of the castle. By the 15th century, this new technology had altered the nature of castle architecture, for good! 

Edinburgh Castle. Image source:

There are hundreds of castles all around Scotland. One of the most famous castles would be Edinburgh Castle, set atop a craggy extinct volcano high above Scotland’s capital. Another one would be the Balmoral Castle, with Queen Victoria describing it as her ‘dear paradise in the Highlands’. It still remains a private home for the Royal family! 

Balmoral Castle. Image source:

What did you like most about Scottish Architecture lassie? 

I am so in love with the Castles!

As always, I would love to read your thoughts!

See you next time!

Written by Maddie MacKenna

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