The Redcap of Hermitage Castle
The Redcap of Hermitage Castle
It’s no surprise that a castle known as the “guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain” has picked up some stories over the last 800 years. Hermitage Castle was built so close to the border between Scotland and England that just its construction almost caused a full scale war. These enormous walls were built to keep people out, but legend says that they also kept a very sinister creature in.
The imposing mass of Hermitage Castle has changed greatly since the 13th century. The castle walls were less foreboding but the man living behind them was so wicked that his story still lingers. He was a member of the Soulis family, butlers to the King of Scots and Lords of Liddesdale.
Soulis had been schooled in the dark arts and enjoyed nothing more than death and destruction. He had gained himself a helper for his nefarious deeds, the only creature that enjoyed bloodshed as much as he did. This small beast was called a Redcap, similar to a goblin but with a hat that needed to be soaked in blood to maintain its deep red colour. There was no better place to provide the Redcap with a steady supply of spilled blood than the frontier of the Scottish Borders.
In return for the carnage that the redcap required, it granted Soulis a magical ability. This lord of Hermitage Castle could not be harmed by steel or bound by rope. Soulis grew bold thinking himself invincible. His crimes grew darker, and the redcap grew happier while people from the surrounding area despaired. Eventually, the locals hatched a plan to rid themselves of Soulis forever.
One chronicle claims 8,000 Scots defeated 30,000 opponents that day, although that’s likely to be an exaggeration. The legacy of the fighting can still be found today in place names like Shinbane Field, Hewan Bog and the Kill Burn. Tradition states that after the battle, an English captive mentioned that this rocky outcrop would be a great place for a castle and the Sinclair Baron of Roslin took his advice.
The Sinclair family were one of the most powerful in Scotland, rewarded handsomely for supporting Robert the Bruce. They weren’t just rich playboys or fierce warriors, and Roslin Castle was much more than an impregnable fortress. The Sinclairs were men of knowledge and so invested in learning, Roslin Castle had its own scriptorium for creating and copying documents.
During an accidental fire in the 15th century, the 11th Baron of Roslin was in a panic about his library being lost. He wouldn’t risk his own life but forced his chaplain back inside to save specific documents instead. While the castle burned around him, the brave chaplain dutifully lowered baskets of books and scrolls down from a window to safety.
Some have wondered what was so special about those documents the chaplain risked his life to save. A local man wrote a far-fetched account of a visit to Roslin Castle in 1834 by an Italian claiming to be a descendant of the last Provost of Rosslyn Chapel. His ancestors had left him instructions on where to find a hidden room of manuscripts deep in the castle vaults.
If the author is to be believed, then these historical works were found and smuggled off to Italy and the Vatican library. Whether this account is true or not, some of Scotland’s oldest written texts were indeed penned in Roslin Castle. It would be fitting that the treasure of Roslin Castle isn’t gold or the Holy Grail, but a wealth of written knowledge instead.