Balmuto Castle today is a mixture of 16th, 17th and 18th century additions around a central 15th century tower.
The lands of Balmuto were given to William de Silksworth, the king’s sergeant, in recognition of his homage and service in a charter from the 4th of April 1296, which also described William of Cromarty, possibly William de Monte Alto, as a previous owner.
In the late 14th century Sir John Boswell of Balgregie in Fife married Mariota, the daughter of Sir John Glen of Glenniston, and in so doing received one third of the barony of Balmuto, later acquiring the other two thirds.
Early in the 15th century Sir John built Balmuto Castle, possibly replacing an earlier building, and so began a long association with the Boswells.
The Boswells are of Norman origin, Sieur de Bosville having arrived in England with William the Conqueror and commanded some of the Norman forces at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It’s thought that a de Bosville knight accompanied David I back to Scotland and settled.
This tower measures 10.1m by 8.1m and was rectangular in plan, with walls some 2.0m thick. Consisting of three storeys, the ground floor is vaulted, and the entrance was at first floor level. The top of the tower would have originally featured a corbelled parapet, and while the current corbels are thought to be original, the parapet is a later addition.
Two wings were added in the 16th century. One projects from the south-west corner of the tower and runs approximately south. It has a vaulted ground floor level with two more storeys above. From the south end of this wing another wing extends to the east, forming a U-plan, and this extension also has a vaulted ground floor, but only one more floor above. The original first floor entrance to the tower was widened at this time.
Mary Queen of Scots visited Balmuto Castle several times during the 16th century. The castle was also the birthplace of Christian Boswell who married the courtier and diplomat Sir James Melville of Halhill and whose daughter Elizabeth Melville, later Lady Culross, became Scotland’s first published woman poet in 1603 with her mini-epic “Ane Godlie Dreame”.
In 1680 more alterations were made, and the windows on the north wall of the first and second floors of the tower were enlarged, and pediments installed with initials carved over them. The one on the first floor has “DB 1680” for David Boswell, and the one on the second floor has “DB” and “MP” for David Boswell and his wife Margaret Paterson of Dunmuir. At the same time timber ceilings were installed in the upper two floors, the first floor entrance was blocked and a new ground floor entrance created.
In 1797 Claude Irvine-Boswell, later Lord Balmuto, employed the architect John Baxter to make further additions to the castle. One such addition was the crenellated parapet that can be seen today.
Balmuto Castle is said by some to be haunted by the ghost of Sir Alexander Boswell, son of the celebrated Sir James Boswell. Alexander wrote several anonymous attacks on a prominent Whig politician, James Stuart of Dunearn. Stuart discovered the author’s identity and challenged him to a duel, and they met on the 26th of March 1822 at Auchtertool.
Boswell deliberately fired wide, but Stuart hit him in right shoulder, shattering his collarbone. The injured Boswell was carried to Balmuto Castle – home of his relative, Claude Irvine-Boswell – apparently on a door taken from the castle’s library, but died the following day.
The family of Claude Irvine-Boswell’s grandson, John Irvine Boswell, were the last in a long line of Boswells to live in Balmuto Castle. After John died in 1888 his widow Susan remained in the castle with their children Claud Patrick and Eliza (also known as Ella) until her death in May 1896. Later that year Claud and Eliza moved to a house elsewhere on the estate.
Neither Claud or Eliza married, so there was no heir, and in 1951 Eliza sold Balmuto Castle to the Duke of Montrose, by which time it was a semi-derelict, roofless ruin. The Duke’s stepson removed some of the 18th century additions, and also apparently the 16th century wing that Mary Queen of Scots slept in.
In the 1960s the castle returned to Boswell hands when it was bought by an American, Harry Boswell, and he commissioned the Appleton Partnership to restore it between 1974 and 1984. Balmuto Castle is still in the Boswell family as a private home.