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Balgonie Castle, artillery fortification

A Scheduled Monument in Glenrothes Central and Thornton, Fife

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Latitude: 56.1934 / 56°11'36"N

Longitude: -3.1097 / 3°6'34"W

OS Eastings: 331236

OS Northings: 700636

OS Grid: NO312006

Mapcode National: GBR 2C.FWW4

Mapcode Global: WH6RH.6LGG

Entry Name: Balgonie Castle, artillery fortification

Scheduled Date: 22 February 1996

Last Amended: 5 October 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM6411

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: artillery mount

Location: Markinch

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: Glenrothes Central and Thornton

Traditional County: Fife


The monument is a 17th century earthen artillery emplacement (ravelin) with a prominent ditch on its south side. The artillery fortification likely dates to the 1640s when Balgonie Castle was extensively rebuilt and remodelled. The earthwork is located just beyond the southwest corner of Balgonie Castle.

This artillery fortification survives as a grass covered mound around 75m east-west by 25m north-south at it maximum extent. There is a wide ditch along the south and west sides of the mound.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument survives as a substantial earthen mound and ditch which was constructed to act both as a defensive screen against cannon fire and as a platform on which to mount artillery. The accompanying ditch survives along the length of this face and to the west of the monument. The mound is most likely a ravelin; an outlying defensive structure with two faces forming a salient angle. It is now irregular in shape with a broad south face but originally would have been triangular. The ravelin is likely to date to the 1640s when Balgonie Castle underwent major rebuilding and remodelling under Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven. Detailed field survey and archaeological excavation would reveal further information on the construction techniques, date and phasing (if any) of the monument.

Contextual Characteristics

Artillery fortifications of this nature were introduced into Scotland in the 16th century, notable examples being at Eyemouth Fort (SM3190), French Camp, fort at Dunglass (SM3191) and Dunbar Castle (SM766). However, the ravelin at Balgonie dates to the following century. It was constructed during a period of instability known as the wars of the three kingdoms (1639–1651), probably by Alexander Leslie.

Alexander Leslie was a renowned soldier and commander serving in the Swedish army during the 30 Years' War. He was therefore familiar with siege warfare and the use of artillery of the period. From 1638, he was in command of the Scottish Covenanter forces and was responsible for an extensive phase of rebuilding and alteration at Balgonie. The ravelin at Balgonie probably dates from this period of re-development and was influenced by Leslie's experience in Europe.

The ravelin is a rare survival of an artillery fortification of this date in Scotland and is therefore important for the study of 17th century military architecture. Other notable 17th century examples can be found at Tantallon Castle (SM13326), Huntly Castle (SM90165), Threave Castle (SM90301) and Hermitage (SM90161). In all of these examples, the artillery fortifications were constructed to strengthen the defences of earlier castles. This was in response to the threat of artillery during the extremely unsettled conditions prevalent in mid-17th century Scotland.

Associative Characteristics

The artillery fortifications at Balgonie Castle are associated with "Lord General" Alexander Leslie who was made Lord Balgonie and Earl of Leven in 1641 by King Charles I. Leslie was an experienced military commander, who had served in the Dutch and Swedish armies where he been knighted and achieved the rank of Field Marshall. He had participated in sieges whilst serving in the Swedish army and was knowledgeable in military architecture of that time. Returning to Scotland in 1638, Leslie was made 'Lord General" in command of the Army of the Covenant, helping to create Scotland's first professional army with many other Scottish veterans who had been in Swedish service. He was to become a commander of the Covenanter Army between 1644 and 1647 and fought for the Solemn League and Covenant. It is likely that the artillery fortification dates to his extensive remodelling and rebuilding of Balgonie Castle in the 1640s.

Statement of national importance

The monument is of national importance as a well-preserved artillery fortification built to strengthen the defenses of Balgonie Castle. It is likely to date to the mid-17th century, a period of great instability during which Great Britain and Ireland experienced a series of interconnected conflicts known as the wars of the three kingdoms. The study of the fortification's construction and comparison with other examples has the potential to contribute to our understanding of the planning and construction of military structures in response to the threat of artillery during the 17th century. The association with Alexander Leslie, the 1st Lord Leven and a notable military commander of the period, gives the fortification increased importance. Because of the rarity of such artillery fortifications, the loss of the monument would greatly diminish our ability to understand the character, chronology and development of artillery fortification in Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 31389 (accessed on 24/08/2017).

Caldwell, D H 1981. Scottish Weapons and Fortifications 1100 – 1800. John Donald Publishers.

Sanders A 1989. Fortress Britain: artillery fortification in the British Isles and Ireland, Beaufort pg 70-82.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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