Scotland in Middle Ages: Architecture


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, a Neolithic settlement, located in the Bay of Skaill, Orkney. Image source.


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, that 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.


Churches

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.

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!

Melrose Abbey. Image source.

Castles

Who doesn't love castles? I certainly do so, very much!

Look for example at this magestic castle:

Caerlaverock Castle, a moated triangular castle, 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 built 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 lassies and lads? 

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

  • Maria says:

    I would love to live in a castle.

  • Betty says:

    Thank you for your interesting comments about Scottish architecture. There was also a very French influence due to Mary of Guise the mother of Mary Queen of Scots. I love my heritage.

  • Christie says:

    My ancestors lived in a castle, Kilravock Castle near Inverness. They held title of Baron/Baroness since the 12th century.

  • Joyce says:

    I would love to live in one, it looks like the royal got the better of them, for me it would be modernize and every hole in would have to fixed, you know I can’t stand rats in old castles.

  • Cherilynn L Mundell says:

    Extremely educational and entertaining. If God is willing I will visit Scotland in my lifetime

  • Jean says:

    Love your articles. Always want to know more about Scottish history.

  • Catherine says:

    Beautiful

  • Jean La Corte says:

    Thank you . This was an interesting and informative article.

  • Irene says:

    Oh, to be in Scotland at that time!! I love the entire romance of castles but realise that most were cold, & draughty & probably not very comfortable to live in. My favourite castle is Eilean Donan which I understand is still lived in & is privately owned. Fantastic. Can’t wait until I see it in 3D when I travel there in the future!!

  • Bernie Lebel says:

    Love the castle s was enthralled when I went to Scotland

  • Jeanetta Monfort says:

    Magnificent structures. Even the churches look like they could be castles.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      That’s true, Jeanetta! Even though, we are not sure if we would like to live in a church! Did you see the graveyard outside? Brrr… Scary!

  • Gwen says:

    A very interesting article so glad architects have become more sophisticated

  • Marcy G says:

    I went to Scotland two years ago. To see the pictures and experience it first hand our to different things. Being there are walking through getting that sensation is just amazing.
    We are scheduled to go back
    May 11. I keep praying that we can get there.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Oh my, what a wonderful experience! We truly hope you can get there, but please stay safe Marcy! Health above all else 🙂

  • LaFonia says:

    I love castles. I would love to read the history on different castles. I always wondered what it would have been like to live back then and rome the castle looking for all its little secrets, every nook and cranny. Do you have books on the history of different castles. Or could you maybe recommend some? Thank you so much i love all of your books.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      We love castles too! Unfortunately, we don’t know any books, but a quick search on Amazon can help you a lot! You can maybe find books on different individuals castles! 🙂

  • Dianne says:

    I loved the article and the pictures.

  • Marge Ebinger says:

    Very interesting. I love castles. My husband and I took a river cruise – Castles on the Rhine – and got to see lots of castles in Germany and France from the cruise and also got to tour two castles which was absolutely fascinating. Would like to go back to Scotland and Ireland to see more. Thanks for sharing this article.

    • Cobalt Fairy says:

      Both countries are magnificent! We hope you visit soon – when this all with the virus is over! 😉

  • Sam in NH says:

    Hi Maddie,
    I loved your article and think castles to be ever so romantic although cold. Just think of your highlander
    doing what comes naturally to keep you toasty warm…mmmmmm
    Sue

  • Lynette says:

    Visited Scotland three years ago and absolutely loved it.I stayed in a hotel just around the corner from where my great grandfather grew up in Glasgow. Unfortunately all the houses from his era had been demolished.Would love to return and visit the Western Isles.

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