Cadzow Castle

Our revealing 1998 visit to Cadzow Castle

Cadzow Castle sits on top of a escarpment just outside Hamilton and down a path from Chatelherault  

We visited the grounds in 1998, walking down from Chatelherault, past the famous Cadzow oak trees, and across the Duke’s Bridge over the Avon Gorge to the castle ruins. 

This was before the excavations started and our views and access were not hindered by scaffolding, only by a perimeter fence. This is as close as a visitor could get to the ruins at the time (views may be even more restricted today, thanks to all the scaffolding). 

Click on the images to see larger versions.

Some history of Cadzow Castle

The castle ruins that are visible today are likely the second Cadzow castle to be built in the area.

The first, an ancient wooden structure, was built around the 12th century and only survives now as a mound of earth. (Cadzow was the original name of the estate and parish of Hamilton.) 

The structure is thought to have been used as a hunting lodge by David I (1124-1153) and his successors in the 12th century. He issued royal charters here as early as 1139.

Historians believed that the site of the earlier castle was above the Coven Burn, just west of the Avon River and south of the Old Avon bridge. Today, this site has been developed for housing.

Following the forfeiture of the Cadzow lands, Robert I granted the estate to Walter Fitzgilbert of Homildoun in Northumberland. His motte (a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised area of ground) remains close to the mausoleum.

This family name evolved to become Hamilton and in 1455 the town and district formally adopted the name of Hamilton, resulting in a Lordship of Parliament for Sir James Hamilton. Cementing the new national importance of the Hamilton family, Sir James married Princess Mary Stewart, sister to James the third.

The family gained the title Earls of Arran and in the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, the second Earl was appointed Governor of the Realm. The Hamiltons were then awarded the title Dukes of Chatelherault by Henri the second of France.

The currently-visible Cadzow Castle was likely built by this new powerful Hamilton family about two hundred years after their takeover of the Barony of Cadzow. Architectural features like its ‘dumb-bell’ and ‘wide-mouthed’ gun loops place construction sometime between 1475 and 1550.

The present tower house within a courtyard and its subsidiary buildings dates from 1540 and represents an early example of a castle built to withstand artillery, although subsequent events indicate this was not a successful objective.

There are not many historical references to the castle, but we do know that Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed there following her escape from Lochleven Castle in 1568.

In 1570 the Earl of Lennox besieged the castle during his fight with the Hamiltons, and it surrendered within 2 days.

Later during the 16th century (some say 1579), the castle was destroyed by forces of the Earl of Mar, regent for James VI, as retaliation against the Hamiltons for their support of Mary. The castle’s walls show the result of artillery warfare in the late medieval period. 

Is Cadzow castle significant to the Cadzow story?

It is almost a certainty that this structure was constructed and named Cadzow Castle simply because it was on the former Barony of Cadzow lands — not because of any association with the ancient Cadzow family.

It’s more likely that the first structure, King David I’s hunting lodge, pre-dates the forfeiture and was used during the time that the Cadzow family lived on the lands of the Barony of Cadzow. Of course, all that changed when the Cadzow folks made their fateful decision to side with the English.

Today, the site is owned and managed by Historic Environment Scotland. Due to its ruined state, visitors can only view the exterior of the castle. The structure is unstable and is largely supported by scaffolding. 

Previously, some believed that the present Cadzow Castle may have been built over the foundations of an earlier structure. However, the excavations of 2000 – 2003 found no evidence of an earlier medieval fortification at the site nor any large settlement to compete with the traditional medieval settlement of Cadzow, recently discovered adjacent to the M74 motorway.

You can check these web sites for the latest Cadzow Castle information.

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  1. Sir James Hamilton 6th Baronet, is my 14th great grandfather, and Baron Alexander Burnet 4, was my 12th great grandfather. As an American, we have lost our place in our ancestry, and thanks to Google, and family search sites are finally able to learn who are family were, but the rest is all lost to us. I have many royals in my family, from both sides, and was wondering how, and where can I go to learn more about them?

    Thank you!

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