History of Chatelherault remembered

Those who have visited Chatelherault Country Park recently will have witnessed the major woodland management project.

Designed to restore the spectacular historical views and features of this five-star visitor attraction, the scheme has inspired a team of volunteers at Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership to remember the fascinating history of Chatelherault and the surrounding areas. From Mary Queen of Scots’ escape to Cadzow Castle, to the rise and fall of the Hamilton family, discover the story of one of Lanarkshire’s most popular attractions.

History of Hamilton

In Medieval Scotland, wood was power. When Norman Knight Walter FitzGilbert de Hamildone was granted Cadzow by King Robert Bruce after the 14th century wars of independence, the ancient woodland he acquired as part of the Royal Estates gave him great influence. Soon, the Cumbric name of Cadzow was replaced with FitzGilbert’s family name, later becoming Hamilton.

Over the next 200 years, the Hamilton family rose in power, keeping their powerbase in Lanarkshire. At this time, Scotland was suffering under its own ‘Game of Thrones’ as great families fought for domestic power whilst international struggles were taking place with ally France and Tudor England.

The Hamilton family gained more power and prestige as they married into the Royal Stewart line and James Hamilton became the 1st Earl of Arran. His illegitimate son, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, became one of the most powerful men in Scotland. As King’s Master of Works, he was able to fortify his family’s lands in Lanarkshire with the building of Cadzow and Craignethan Castles, perched strategically above the Avon and Nethan gorges.

The Earldom passed to Finnart’s half-brother James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, in 1542. He became Regent of Scotland and next in line to the throne, after infant Queen Mary. He was rewarded the Dukedom of Châtellerault by King Henry II of France in 1543 after the strategic key role he played in arranging Mary’s betrothal to the French Dauphin, Francois, in 1559.

For a short while, Scotland and France were united under the joint monarchy of Mary, later known as Queen of Scots, and her new husband. The story of Mary’s tragic, seven-year reign is well known – coming to an end in 1567 when she was deposed in favour of her baby son King James VI. She headed to Cadzow Castle, the main stronghold of her Hamilton relatives, in 1568, after her escape from prison in Loch Leven Castle.

Fairholm ford, now crossed by the Green Bridge in Chatelherault Country Park, is still known locally as ‘Mary Hosies,’ due to an incident she had there during her time at the castle. It was here, near the area of ancient woodland currently being regenerated that Mary is said to have got her stockings wet after being thrown from her horse into the Avon Water.

The Hamilton family fell from power after Mary’s defeat at the Battle of Langside in 1568. Cadzow Castle was blown up beyond use and has not been inhabited since, and the 2nd Earl of Arran’s Dukedom of Châtellerault was stripped after he joined the Protestant cause against Queen Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise.

The ancient title of the Dukedom of Châtellerault was revived centuries later in 1864, when Emperor Napoleon III granted the title to favour his cousin’s son, William Douglas-Hamilton, 12th Duke of Hamilton, 9th Duke of Brandon and now, 2nd Duke of Chatelherault. To remind people of his latest title, he renamed the grand 18th century William Adam Hunting Lodge opposite Hamilton Palace at Chatelherault, although it’s still known locally as, ‘The Dug Kennel.’

Today, the specular 18th century restored building comprises a visitor centre, a banqueting hall; Duke and Duchess apartments; exhibition gallery; gift shop and café. Visitors can still explore the ancient woodlands, and walk along the scenic River Avon, Scottish weather permitting.

For more information on Chatelherault Country Park please visit the dedicated visitor attraction page on our website.