The construction of Ravenscraig Castle by the mason Henry Merlion and the master carpenter Friar Andres Lesouris was ordered by King James II (reigned 1437-1460) as a home for his wife, Mary of Guelders. The castle is considered one of the first - perhaps the very first - in Scotland to be built to withstand cannon fire and provide for artillery defence. The king was involved with the planning but, ironically, was killed in a tragic accident with a loaded cannon at the Siege of Roxburgh Castle near Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders.

Construction was commenced around 1460 by his widow, Mary of Guelders, as a memorial to him and as a dower house. Mary of Guelders lived in the castle until her death in 1463, when only the east tower and the basement of the central section were built. Ownership passed to her son James III (reigned 1460-1488) but in 1471 he gave the castle to William Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and Caithness in exchange for the Earldom of Orkney and associated lands which James annexed from Norway to the Scottish Crown. After 1471 Ravenscraig was finally completed by the Sinclairs, who also had an interest in artillery fortifications.

During the 1650-51 invasion of Scotland by English forces under Oliver Cromwell, Ravenscraig was invaded, attacked and damaged. The castle remained in the ownership of the Sinclairs, who built nearby Dysart House (1755-1756) on the estate, and later passed to the St Clair-Erskines, Earls of Rosslyn. The estate and castle remained in the family until sold in 1896, by the 5th Earl, to linoleum magnate Sir Michael Nairn who lived in Dysart House.

Ravenscraig Castle was passed into state care in 1955 and has been open to the public by the owners Historic Scotland since 1971.

Architecture

Ravenscraig is a small castle, built on a narrow rocky promontory in the Firth of Forth. It is naturally defended on three sides by steep cliffs dropping to the sea, and the main part of the castle forms the northern, landward, defence. This comprises two D-plan towers, with outer walls 4.25 metres thick, designed to withstand cannon fire. Battlements between the towers formed an artillery platform, with gun holes pointing to landward. The whole is defended by a deep, rock-cut ditch, and is accessed via a bridge.

The west tower stands to four storeys, and has a single small room on each floor. At the ground floor is a vaulted cellar, with a hall above, accessed via a stone forestair, or outside stairway. A spiral stair links the upper levels, although the timber floors are no longer present. Chimneys rise through the walls to form features of the castle's skyline. The east tower is of three storeys, although its base is set lower into the cliff. A well is located at the lowest level, with a single chamber on each level above, although again the timber floors are missing. The floors are linked by a straight stair within the thickness of the west wall. The rooms of both towers are windowless to landward, due to the thick walls, but have windows with stone seats to the other sides.

The towers are linked by a central block, which contains the main gate and entrance passage. Vaulted cellars and a guard room lie to either side. These vaults support the artillery platform above. The gun holes are of the 'inverted keyhole' type, which became common in the late 15th century. Beyond the main block, only the foundations remain of the buildings on the promontory.

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