Diamonds are a lord’s best friend

From some of my previous posts you may already have gathered that I have a penchant for so-called “provincial” art. Now, one of the things I love about provincial areas is that when it comes to art and architecture they’re quite often full of interesting surprises. A prime example for this are the remains of Crichton Castle in Scotland:

Crichton Castle (Image © Wikimedia Commons)

The castle is located in Midlothian, not too far from Edinburgh, and as you can see in the photo, it is (and always has been) surrounded by cultivated land. So the setting is not as remote and desolate as you’d probably expect from the Scottish Castle of lore and cliché, but it’s still pretty rural and, well, provincial.

Crichton Castle (Image © Wikimedia Commons)

Viewed from the outside, Crichton Castle is still very much characterized by the shape it was given in the 1440s when William Crichton, chancellor of Scottish king James I, substantially enlarged what had been just a tower house with a hall attached to it, built by Crichton’s father at the beginning of the 15th century. Once you enter the courtyard, though, you’re confronted with something much more unexpected and spectacular – the facade of the north range is entirely covered in diamond-faceted masonry blocks:

Crichton Castle (Image © Wikimedia Commons)

This unusual feature was added only in the 1580s by the castle’s then owner, Francis Stewart, fifth earl of Bothwell. Stewart had returned from a stay in Italy only in 1581, and apparently it was in Italy that he got the inspiration for the design of the facade: The diamond-faceted facade is clearly modelled on the most prominent Renaissance building in Ferrara, the aptly named Palazzo dei Diamanti, designed by Biagio Rossetti for Sigismondo d’Este in 1493:

Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara (Image © Wikimedia Commons)

In Ferrara, the details of the facade are worked with greater care and subtlety, but nonetheless what the earl of Bothwell had built at Crichton in the 1580s is definitely one of the most fascinating pieces of Renaissance architecture in Britain and has rightly been described as „the most self-consciously Italianate Scottish building of the period”.*


* Deborah Howard, Scottish Architecture from the Reformation to the Restoration, 1560 – 1660 (The Architectural History of Scotland), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 1995, p. 221, n. 12.

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