A castle once stood on a motte at Eldbotle, but nothing of it now remains and the site of it has been lost.
Eldbotle means “old building” or “old dwelling place” and the site may date back to the early 7th century when a timber hall may have been built here. Later Eldbotle became a royal estate, possibly during the late 10th century when Lothian came under Scottish control.
David I issued two charters at Eldbotle, probably in the 1140s, and Eldbotle continued to be visited by Scottish kings until at least the 1160s with two more charters issued from there between 1153 and 1162 during the reign of Malcolm IV. Another early document from Eldbotle probably dates from late in the reign of William I (1165-1214).
At some time during the 12th century, presumably after 1153 to 1162, the lands of Dirleton, of which Eldbotle formed part, were acquired by the de Vaux family, a wealthy Anglo-Norman family from Rouen in northern France who had come to Scotland under the patronage of David I. John de Vaux, who died in 1187, is said to have built a castle on a motte at Eldbotle, at a similar time to building Castle Tarbet on the nearby island of Fidra.
Fidra was once known as the Isle of Eldbotle and was gifted by John’s son, William de Vaux, to monks from Dryburgh Abbey in 1220, who built a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. Castle Tarbet may have been abandoned around this time.
The de Vaux family also owned Dirleton Castle which is on record in 1225. From 1240 John’s grandson, also named John de Vaux, began building a large new castle there and that became their main residence. The castle at Eldbotle presumably fell into disrepair, and ultimately obscurity, at this time.
The barony of Dirleton, which included the lands of Eldbotle, passed by marriage through the families of Haliburton and Ruthven, by forfeiture to the Erskines and by sale to James Maxwell of Innerwick in 1631. Maxwell was created Earl of Dirletoun and Lord Elbottle in 1646 but the titles became extinct upon his death with no male heirs.
Interestingly Eldbotle is marked on 17th century maps as a notable building or settlement.
In 1663 the barony of Dirleton was bought by John Nisbet who built Archerfield House as his new residence. The lands remained in the Nisbet family, later the Hamilton Nisbets, but was sold in the 1950s and was then bought by the Duke of Hamilton in the 1970s. The lands of Eldbotle are now occupied by a golf course.
The site of the castle is traditionally said to be in Eldbotle Wood, possibly on Eldbotle Ridge or Eldbotle Knowe, although nothing is now visible. In 2003 and 2006 archaeological excavations uncovered the remains of a medieval village at Eldbotle (centred around NT 4975 8504), and it seems likely that the castle would have been located close by. The village was occupied between the 5th and 18th centuries, with its peak occurring during the 13th and 14th centuries.
The RCAHMS give the grid reference NT 500 855 for Eldbotle Castle, however this is just the centre of Eldbotle Wood. The medieval village was previously thought to have been located at NT 5010 8560, around 650 metres to the NNE of where it is now known to be, where there is a small hill or mound. It may be that this is the site of Eldbotle Castle so this is where I have placed it for now.
Alternative names for Eldbotle Castle
Eilbottle; Elbotl'; Elbottle; Eldbotle Wood; Eldbottle; Ellebotel; Ellebottl; Old Battel; Old Battell; Oldbattle; Oldcastle