Very little is known about the early history of Craigmillar. Nor of it’s castle. History does tell us that sometime around the mid 14th century the lands passed into the hands of an important scottish family, the Prestons, from a John or William de Capella.
But who was Capella- A medieval monk- Possibly he had links with the previous owners, the Holy Trinity of Dunfermline- We may only surmise.
In 1346, Sir John Preston was granted the nearby lands of Gorton map, some 4 miles to the
south, by David II. He had been a prisoner alongside the king during the Battle of Durham map. And, at some point, this previous tenant had ‘surrendered’ the lands of Craigmillar. Then, in 1374, the barony of Craigmillar passed to the Prestons of Gorton when a charter was received by Sir Symon Preston, son of Sir John, from Robert II to hold the lands as an hereditary fief. Another account notes that the lands were ‘purchased’ by Sir Symon Preston in 1374. It isn’t clear precisely when the castle was built. One account accredits the building to Sir John Preston in 1365.
In any case, by the late 14th or early 15th century, an impressive castle had arisen around
a large tower. It was built upon a crag of rock on the crown of a high hill. A better vantage point could not be had, there being a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside including Edinburgh and its castle map, for many miles in all directions. The Prestons remained guardians for nearly 300 years making successive improvements and adding various fortifications to the great tower and castle.
The castle walls were breached on at least one occasion, in 1544, by an attacking army, the Earl of Hertford’s
English army, during Henry VIII’s campaign of Rough Wooing. The then laird, Sir Simon Preston (IV) had been forced to surrender against impossible odds. Some time later, in 1572, during the siege of the Castle of Edinburgh, Craigmillar was garrisoned by troops of the Regent Mar.
In 1566, the infamous Conference of Craigmillar took place at the castle in which a group of noblemen, loyal to Mary, Queen of Scots, conspired to murder her husband, Lord Darnley. They entered into a pact, The Craigmillar Bond, pledging equal desire, and responsibility, to ‘put off by ane way or another’ the tyrant Darnley.
The basic dimensions we see today (albeit, now, of a skeletal ruin) are of those that must have been shortly after the fiefdom changed hands, in 1660, to Sir John Gilmour. He quickly undertook extensive restorative and rebuilding work, particularly to the west range, and brought the buildings more into line with 17th century living. The castle then stayed with the Gilmour family until 1775 when Sir Alexendar Gilmour, great grandson of Sir John, moved to Inch House map in the district of Gilmerton, so named after his family.
Over the next 170 years or so, the castle was left to its own devices and fell into a state of disrepair. Since 1946, this important medieval castle has been in the care of the state and held in trust by Historic Scotland.