BRANXHOLM, a mansion, formerly a feudal castle, in the parish of Hawick, Roxburghshire. It stands in the valley of the Teviot, about 3 miles above the town of Hawick. It possesses great celebrity as the ancient seat of the ducal family of Buccleuch, as the central point of vast military strength in the roystering period of the border forays, as the key for ages to all the strong places in Teviotdale, and as a prominent locality and brilliant figurant in Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel. It was long the scene of great baronial splendour, and it is classical alike in old balladry and in some of the finest modern songs and lyrics. The original pile - or rather that of the most sumptuous period - was burnt down in 1532 by the Earl of Northumberland, and blown up with gunpowder in 1570 during the invasion of the Earl of Surrey; and a successor to it was commenced in 1571 by its owner Sir Walter Scott of Branxholm, and completed in 1574 by his widow. The present structure is very much smaller than the ancient one; and, with the exception of an old square tower of immense strength of masonry, it looks less like a castle than an old Scottish mansion-house. But its situation is strong and beautiful, and must evidently have invested it with mighty importance in the olden troublous times. The site is a bold bank, overhanging the river, surrounded by a fine young thriving wood, and shut suddenly in by heights which give the vale for some distance the narrowness of a dell; and so abruptly does the place burst on the view of a traveller from either above or below that he would be perfectly charm-struck with it, even were it unaided by any historical association; and so sternly did the ancient castle overawe the gorge, and hold armed men in readiness to defend it, that any attempt of English marauders to pass through without subduing the garrison must have been absolutely hopeless.
In the reign of James I, one-half of the barony of Branxholm belonged to Sir Thomas Inglis. This gentleman was a lover of peace, ill able to bear the excitements and conflicts and perils of the Border warfare; and, happening one day to meet Sir William Scott of Buccleuch, who was then proprietor of the estate of Murdiestone in Lanarkshire, he strongly expressed to him his disgust at being obliged to sleep every night in boots and shirt of mail, and to hold himself in constant readiness for action with English freebooters, and his envy of the quiet and security and continual ease which the lairds of Clydesdale enjoyed at a distance from the Border, and behind the ramparts of the Leadshill mountains. Scott loved frolicking and feud as much as Inglis hated them; and he abruptly answered, "What say you to an exchange of estates? I like that dry land of yours much better than this stretch of wet clay." "Are you serious?" replied Inglis. "If you be, take the dry land with all my heart, and let me have the clay." They made short work of the bargain; and Scott soon found himself laird of Branxholm, and significantly remarked as he got possession of it that the cattle of Cumberland were as good as those of Teviotdale.
Scott promptly gathered around him a strong body of hardy, active, resolute, unscrupulous, well-mounted retainers and rode so often and vigorously at their head across the Border, and made such smart reprisals upon the English for any occasional injury they did him, that he soon and permanently made the balance of account between Cumberland and Teviotdale very much in his own favour; and his successors, for several generations, rivalled his energy and closely followed his example,- so that they rendered all the country round them resonant with the clang of arms, and rich with well-defended or rapidly augmented flocks. In the reign of James II, the other half of the barony of Branxholm became their property; and from that time till the conditions of society were altered by the general pacification of the Borders, and by the desuetude of feudal broils and usages, Branxholm Castle was the constant residence of the Buccleuch family,- the scene of their baronial magnificence,- the court and centre of their martial pomp and quasi-princely state. How vividly does the great modern bard of their name and clan, the mighty magician of modern Scotland, depict their ancient Hall, and restore its every-day scenes of crowded greatness in the following stanzas!-
"The feast was over in Branxholm tower,
And the lady had gone to her secret bower;
Her bower that was guarded by word and by spell
Deadly to hear and deadly to tell-
Jesu Maria, shield us well!
No living wight, save the lady alone
Had dared to cross the threshold stone.
The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all;
Knight and page, and household squire
Loitered through the lofty hall,
Or crowded round the ample fire;
The stag-hounds, weary with the chase,
Lay stretched upon the rushy floor,
And urged, in dreams, the forest race,
From Teviot stone to Eskdale moor.
Nine-and-twenty knights of fame
Hung their shields in Branxholm Hall;
Nine-and-twenty squires of name
Brought them their steeds to bower from stall
Nine-and-twenty yeoman tall
Waited duteous on them all;
They were all knights of mettle true
Kinsmen to the bold Buccleuch.
Ten of them were sheathed in steel,
With belted sword, and spur on heel;
They quitted not their harness bright
Neither by day, nor yet by night;
They lay down to rest
With corslet laced,
Pillowed on buckler, cold and hard;
They carved at the meal
With gloves of steel
And they drank the red wine through the helmet barred.
Ten squires, ten yeomen, mail-clad men,
Waited the beck of the wardour's ten;
Thirty steeds, both fleet and wight,
Stood saddled in stable day and night,
Barbed with frontlet of steel, I trow,
And with Jedwood-axe at saddle bow;
A hundred more fed free in stall;
Such was the custom of Branxholm Hall."