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Thirlestane Castle: designs for alterations and additions to the house and grounds, for James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale, 1790, unexecuted (5)


Thirlestane castle was built in 1587 by Sir John Maitland, Chancellor of Scotland, later Lord Maitland of Thirlestane, on the site a former mid-sixteenth-century military fort. The Maitland family had owned Thirlestane since the early-thirteenth century and another castle had been left to ruin in favour of this new site which overlooked the Leader Water. The castle comprised a long rectangle with large circular towers. In the 1670s, the house was remodelled for Maitland’s descendant, the first Duke of Lauderdale by the architect Sir William Bruce and master mason Robert Mylne and involved the addition of pavilion wings and a raised terrace as well as internal alterations including plasterwork ceilings by George Dunsterfield and John Hulbert. The castle continued to be altered piecemeal by later owners into the eighteenth century when it was inherited by James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale.

James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale (1759-1839), was the eldest son of James Maitland, 7th Earl of Lauderdale (1718–1789). He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford as well as the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paris and began his career as an advocate before serving as MP for Newport, Cornwall in 1780-84 and Malmesbury, 1784-89. In 1772 he married Eleanor Todd, the only daughter and heiress of Anthony Todd, Foreign Secretary of the Post Office. His succession as 8th Earl of Lauderdale in 1789 terminated his career in the House of Commons and in 1790, he was elected a Scottish representative peer in the House of Lords. In 1806 he was created Baron Lauderdale of Thirlestane into the peerage of the UK and was also appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland from 1806-7.

Lauderdale was known for his controversial stance on politics, having been a great admirer and supporter of the prominent Whig politician, Charles James Fox. He was one of the managers for Warren Hasting’s impeachment and a known critic of the East India Company. He opposed the abolition of slavery until 1806, when he voted in favour for the bill and was also involved in the trial of Queen Caroline in 1820 and subsequently appointed Knight of the Thistle by King George IV in 1821. Lauderdale was also a passionate supporter of the French Revolution and acquired the nickname ‘Citizen Maitland’ in the House of Lords.

In 1790, Lauderdale commissioned Robert Adam to remodel and make additions to his family home, Thirlestane Castle. The designs included the addition of a new, grand principal front with adjoining wings, screen walls and offices with a semi-circular range bounding the existing castle and connecting to the flanking wings. These designs were not executed, and the castle was instead altered by the 9th Earl of Lauderdale in the mid-nineteenth century with the addition of an ogee-roofed central tower and north and south wings to the designs of William Burn, possibly aided by David Bryce, in the Baronial style.

A.T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Volume II, Index, 1922, pp. 30, 78; D. King, The Complete Works of Robert & James Adam and Unbuilt Adam, Volume 2, 2001, p. 165; C. Mosley (ed.), Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 2003, p. 2248-2250; National Record of the Historic Environment, ‘Thirlestane Castle’, Canmore, [accessed 09 March 2022]; R. Thorne, ‘Maitland, James, eighth earl of Lauderdale (1759–1839)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online, 2008 [accessed 09 March 2022]

Louisa Catt, 2022



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Contents of Thirlestane Castle: designs for alterations and additions to the house and grounds, for James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale, 1790, unexecuted (5)