Castle Tarbet was a castle on the island of Fidra built by the de Vaux family in probably the 12th century.
Fidra, which was once known as the island of Eldbotle, was part of the barony of Dirleton which was granted to the Anglo-Norman knight John de Vaux by David I, possibly around 1150. It is assumed that it was this de Vaux who built Castle Tarbet which stood on a rocky eminence at the eastern end of South Dog, a narrow strip of land separated from the main island by a sandy isthmus which is submerged at high tide.
The summit of the flat-topped eminence measures around 40m long and varies in width from 8m across in the centre to 16m across at the east end. A rough track makes its way around the rock face before curving up onto the summit at its east side. What form the castle took is not known as only a 6m long stretch of mortared wall remains, lining the track as it climbs to the summit.
At a similar time, possibly a few years earlier, John had built a castle at Eldbotle on the mainland immediately to the south of Fidra.
In 1170 John’s son, William de Vaux, granted the patronage of the church in Gullane to the Canons of Dryburgh Abbey in order for them to fund the construction of the church of St. Nicholas on the “insula de Elboitel”. Monks from Dryburgh were apparently already serving on Fidra when William granted them twenty and a half acres of land in the territory of Eldbotle around 1180. This grant was confirmed during the reign of Alexander II by William’s son, John, as well as the earlier grant of the island itself.
In 1220, Fidra was given to the monks of Dryburgh Abbey by John’s son William de Vaux, and it was William’s son – also named John de Vaux – who began building a replacement for Tarbet and Eldbotle at Dirleton further inland.
Around 1255 Alexander de Vaux, styled lord of Dirleton, allowed the monks of Dryburgh to provide one monk to serve at Stodfald and one to serve within Dryburgh Abbey itself instead of the two they were at one time required to provide for service at the church of St. Nicholas on the island of Eldbotle. This perhaps could be indicative of a decline in Fidra’s importance.
An Ivo of Eldbotle and a Hugh, son of Geoffrey of Eldbotle, are both recorded swearing fealty to Edward I of England in 1296. It may be that one of these refers to Eldbotle and the other to Castle Tarbet on what may have then been known as the island of Eldbotle.
Around 1350 Dirleton and Fidra passed into the hands of the Haliburton family when John Haliburton married the daughter of another William de Vaux who died with no sons. In 1420 Walter of Haliburton kidnapped the custumars of Linlithgow and imprisoned them in the castle in order to steal the payments they had collected.
James Douglas, Master of Douglas and later 9th Earl of Douglas, planned to build a castle on Fidra in 1448 in order to command the Firth of Forth however nothing came of his plans when the island was besieged.
In 1509 Henry Congalton of Congalton was granted the castle in a royal charter by James IV (“Insula met terras de Fetheray unacum monte Castri earundem vocat Tarbet”) along with Craigleith which were erected into the free barony of Tarbet, suggesting that Castle Tarbet was still a place of some note.
However there is then little mention of the castle until 1621 when it is said to have been referred to as the old castle of Eldbotle, although I haven’t been able to find the original reference and there’s a chance it may actually be referring to the old castle of Eldbotle on the mainland.
Alternative names for Castle Tarbet
Fetheray; Fidra; Futherai; Futheray; Futhrai; Old Castle Of Eldbotle; Old Castle of Eldbottle; Tarbet Elboitel