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The mighty Gordons

The Gordons were the greatest clan in north-east Scotland in the late Middle Ages. But they were originally from Berwickshire in the south-east. Greenknowe Tower stands in the heart of their old parish, and may stand on the site of the Gordons’ first Scottish castle.

The first Gordon on record is Richard de Gordon, who in 1160 granted land on his estate to Kelso Abbey. Richard’s ancestors may have been Normans, invited to settle in Scotland by David I (1124–53).

The Gordons remained in Berwickshire for 200 years, only relocating north as a result of their support for King Robert the Bruce in the Wars of Independence. Their new estate was Strathbogie, which was stripped from the treacherous Earl of Atholl.

Gordons to Greenknowe

A re-modelling of Greenknowe Tower was carried out in 1581 for James Seton, of the Setons of Touch, and his second wife Jane Edmonstone. This was probably an extensive rebuilding of an older structure: the lower part of the tower is clearly constructed from a different kind of stone.

The tower was built in the standard L-plan form. Noteworthy features include:

  • the lintel above the front door, bearing the tower’s construction date and the monograms of James Seton and Jane Edmonstone
  • the heavy iron yett, or gate – a rare survival of this once common defensive device
  • multi-corbelled angle turrets and crow-stepped gables on the outside walls

Seton probably didn’t anticipate a lot of trouble at his new home. The impressive turrets were more for show than for defence, while the pistol holes in the walls were better suited for deterring intruders than defending against armies.

Greenknowe passed to the Pringles in the early 1600s. Noted Covenanter and author Walter Pringle of Stichel lived there in the mid-1600s. He may have refurbished the tower, enlarging windows and adding an extension on the north side.

Pringle’s memoirs describe gardens and formal parkland surrounding the tower, with a fine avenue of trees flanking the original approach from the north.

The tower was derelict by 1830.

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