A Brief History of Traquair and the Family

Traquair is Scotland's Oldest Inhabited House

Early Medieval Period

Traquair is Scotland’s Oldest Inhabited House. It has been lived in for over 900 years and was originally a hunting lodge for the kings and queens of Scotland.

In 1491, it was gifted by the Earl of Buchan to his son, James Stewart, who became the 1st Laird of Traquair.

Royal Hunting Lodge and Defensive Tower

The name Traquair comes from tret or tre a word of Celtic origin meaning a dwelling place or hamlet, and from quair meaning a stream with a winding course. The Quair burn joins the River Tweed a few hundred yards from the rear of the house.

It is not known when the exact foundations of the house were laid but a substantial structure must have existed by 1107 when Alexander 1 of Scotland signed a royal charter at Traquair. At this time the castle was used as a hunting lodge for royalty and also as a base where they could administer justice, issue laws and hold courts. At Traquair, many charters still exist. One, signed in 1175 authorised William the Lion to found a Bishop’s Burgh with a right to hold a market on Thursday. This small hamlet was later to become the City of Glasgow.

During this period Traquair was nestled in the middle of the vast Ettrick Forest and provided a superb venue for royal hunting parties who came to hunt wild cat, wolves, deer, wild boar and bears who roamed the forest. A mural painting in the Museum dating back to the early 1500’s depicts some of these early hunting scenes.

After the death of Alexander III in 1286 the peaceful life of the Borders was shattered by the Wars of Independence. Traquair became one of the many fortified towers or peles that were built along the banks of the Tweed. When the alarm was raised they could communicate to each other by lighting a beacon at the top of the tower and alert the neighbours of an English invasion. Traquair was briefly occupied by English troops but returned to the Crown with the accession of Robert the Bruce in 1306.

More peaceful times eventually returned to Traquair in the 15th century and when James III succeeded in 1460 he gave Traquair to his current favourite Robert Lord Boyd, but when the gift was not appreciated he gave the castle to his favourite court musician, William Rogers. However, he held Traquair for only nine years when he was persuaded to sell it to the Earl of Buchan for the paltry sum of 70 Scots merks (£3 15s).

The Earl of Buchan, a half uncle to the king then gave Traquair to his second son James Stewart who became the first Laird of Traquair in 1491. Since this date the house has remained in the same family.

1500's and 1600's

During the 1500’s and 1600’s the main building was completed and it was during this time that the Lairds of Traquair were at the centre of political power and became associated with Mary Queen of Scots who visited Traquair in 1566.

In the early 1600’s the 7th Laird rose to become Chief High Treasurer of Scotland in 1636 and was granted an earldom.

Family Home and Prosperity

During this period Traquair made the transition from a defensive tower house into a family home. In the 1500’s the lairds of Traquair played important roles in public life with John Stuart, 4th Laird of Traquair becoming the Captain of the Queen’s bodyguard to Mary Queen of Scots. He was host to the Queen when she visited Traquair with her husband and baby son James in 1566. The cradle where she rocked here baby, her bed and some other possessions can still be seen in the house.

During the sixteenth century the main building was extended so by 1599 the main body of the house was completed. Then in the early 1600’s the seventh Laird added the top storey, realigned the windows and changed the course of the River Tweed so it ran further away from the house.

The seventh Laird also became the most influential member of the family and he held the post of Lord High Treasurer of Scotland (picture above left). He was granted an earldom in 1628 and three years later became Commissioner of Scotland. Unfortunately, his fidelity to the king and his attempt to bring Episcopacy to Scotland were to be his downfall. He lost his post, suffered heavy fines and was rumoured to have been seen begging in the streets of Edinburgh towards the end of his days.

The Catholic tradition which has remained in the house to this day was established by John, second Earl of Traquair. His second wife, Lady Anne Seton was a strong Catholic and despite the dangers of the day was determined to bring her five children up as Catholics. Mass was said in secret in a small chamber on the top floor. A secret escape route for the priest was hidden behind a concealed cupboard and led down the old stairs (picture above). It continued to be used until the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1828.

The building of Traquair was completed in 1695 by the Edinburgh architect James Smith who added the two side wings wings, erected the wrought iron screen in the the courtyard and at the rear of the house created a double terrace with two ogee roofed pavilions to overlook the formal gardens.

For over three hundred years there has been no additions or alterations to the main house.


However, in the mid 1600’s the family returned to the Catholic faith, thereby forfeiting any further chance of advancement and their later support for the Jacobite cause increase their isolation.

The two wings were added in 1694 and these were the last additions to the house with the exception of the famous Bear Gates at the top of the main drive which were built in 1739 only to be closed in 1745 following the visit of Bonnie Prince Charlie when the 5th Earl promised they would never be opened again until the Stuarts returned to the throne.

Jacobites and Troubled Times

In the early 1700’s the political situation in Scotland was very unsettled with James II now exiled in France and deposed by his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange. Charles, the fourth Earl remained loyal to James and became one of his band of supporters known as the Jacobites who worked secretly to restore the Stuarts to the throne.

The political choices made by the Stuarts of Traquair who also upheld their Catholic beliefs led to some difficult and troubled years ahead from which the family never fully recovered.

Shortly after his marriage to Mary, Charles, the Fourth Earl was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle suspected of his involvement in a Jacobite plot. Later, he supported his sister in law, Lady Winifred Nithsdale to help her husband as he took part in the first Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

The uprising was doomed to failure and William Nithsdale was imprisoned in the Tower of London and sentenced to death. (The exciting account of his wife’ successful attempt to rescue him can be read in Lady Nithsdale and The Jacobites by Flora Maxwell Stuart)

The fifth Earl, also Charles, inherited his father’s beliefs. He installed the Bear Gates at the top of the avenue in 1738. However, they were only in use for six years, when according to legend, they were closed following a visit of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). The Earl of Traquair vowed they would never be opened again until a Stuart king was crowned in London.

Charles was imprisoned for his support of the Jacobite cause after the 1745 rebellion. His new wife, Theresa Conyers, volunteered to join him. On his release he was “confined to his estates” but he was responsible for much of the remodeling of the interior of the house. The High Drawing Room and the Library are stunning examples of the European influence on Scottish country houses at that time.

Following the death of the fifth Earl, his brother inherited the Earldom and this marked the beginning of the period of slow decline for the family. Following the death of his wife, Christina Anstruther, he moved to Paris with his two unmarried daughters and handed Traquair over to his son Charles, later to become the seventh Earl. His family were beset by financial problems due in part to his gambling and unsuccessful explorations for mining for minerals on the estate and later in Spain.


The Stuarts survived at Traquair until 1875 when Lady Louisa Stuart died unmarried. The earldom was lost and the house passed to her cousin Henry Constable Maxwell who took the name Maxwell Stuart and it is Catherine Maxwell Stuart, 21st Lady of Traquair, who lives with her family in the house today.

The 1800’s to Present Day

Traquair in the nineteenth century was a house in decline. Charles, the eight Earl inherited a large financial debt from his father but although he was forced to reduce the size of the estate he was able to implement a progressive policy of modernisation and farm building. Unfortunately, he never married but he did have his share of eccentricities and thwarted his family’s attempts to find him a wife by putting stinging nettles in the beds of his female admirers.

As Charles had no children Traquair passed to his sister Lady Louisa Stuart. She lived on for another 14 years, dying in her 100th year in 1875, and was a friend and neighbour of Sir Walter Scott whom she visited at Abbotsford, just over the hills from Traquair.

After the death of the last Earl, the earldom became extinct as the title could only pass through a male heir. Traquair was then passed to the nearest cousin, Henry Constable Maxwell of Terregles. He added the name Stuart to his own.

The Maxwell family were also recusant Catholics who had remained faithful to their religion and they had great respect for Traquair. He and his wife, Juliana Middleton brought up their large family between Yorkshire and Scotland. After Henry’s death Traquair passed to his eldest son Herbert, a great collector of precious stones and a love of shooting which the game book at Traquair records. He was followed by his younger brother Arthur, who was in his seventies when he inherited Traquair who then passed it to his eldest nephew Frank Maxwell Stuart, who became the 19th Laird of Traquair.

Frank was the eldest of twelve children and four of his brothers had been lost as young men in the First World War. When he inherited the house it was badly in need of repair but the Second World War had just broken out and Frank volunteered as a bomb disposal expert leaving his wife, Dorothy, at Traquair where she lived with oil lamps and little heating throughout the next six years.

After the war was over and the new Labour government began to give grants to rrestore historic houses, Frank began uncovering some of the great treasures of Traquair; the 17th century painted beams in the High Drawing Room, the remarkable tapestries and needlework that had been carefully packed away in trunks and the superb collection of Jacobite glass.

Frank opened the house in 1953 showing groups of visitors around a few of the rooms in the house on two afternoons a week. However, when his son, Peter inherited in 1963, it was clear that in order to maintain the house and tackle the repairs the house was going to need a much larger income than the estate could provide.

Peter gave up his job with Haig whisky and together with his wife, Flora they devoted the next thirty years of their life in developing Traquair into the tourist attraction it is today. This included bringing the 18th century brewery back to life and becoming the first domestic brewery in the UK for many years to hold a commercial brewing licence.

In 1990, Peter died leaving the house to his wife Flora, and together with her daughter, Catherine, they ran Traquair for the next 10 years beginning to host weddings, receiving guests on a bed and breakfast basis and developing an annual programme of summer events. In 1999, Flora married the film director, Robin Crichton and retired, making the house over to her daughter Catherine and setting up The Traquair Charitable Trust. It is now the family home of Catherine, twenty first Lady of Traquair, her husband Mark Muller QC and their three children, Isabella, Louis and Charlotte.

The 21 Lairds of Traquair

1491 - 1513

1st Laird of Traquair James Stewart (b. c.1480)

Son of James, Earl of Buchan (uncle of King James III), husband of Catherine Rutherford, daughter of Philip Rutherford of that Ilk.

Killed at the Battle of Flodden Field, Northumberland, in 1513.

1513 - 1540

2nd Laird William Stewart

Husband of Christian Hay, daughter of John Hay, 2nd Lord Yester

1540 - 1548

3rd Laird Robert Stewart

1548 - 1591

4th Laird John Stewart

Husband of Janet Knox

In 1565 knighted by Mary Queen of Scots and made Captain of her Bodyguard. Appointed Captain of James VI’s Bodyguard, 1567.

1591 - 1605

5th Laird William Stewart

Governor of Dumbarton Castle, Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber, Privy Councillor and MP for Peeblesshire.

1605 - 1607

6th Laird James Stewart

Husband of Katherine Ker.

Served for a time as Lieutenant in the King’s Guard under his brother, Sir John.

1607 - 1659

7th Laird, 1st Earl of Traquair John Stewart/Stuart (b.1600)

Husband of Catherine Carnegie, daughter of 1st Earl of Southesk.

Created Earl of Traquair by King Charles I in 1633. In 1636 appointed Lord High Treasurer of Scotland. Fights on Royalist side during the Civil Wars. Imprisoned in Warwick Castle for four years after the Battle of Preston in 1648.

1659 - 1666

8th Laird, 2nd Earl of Traquair John Stuart (b.1622)

Husband of Lady Henrietta Gordon, daughter of 2nd Marquess of Huntly and Lady Anne Seton, daughter of 3rd Earl of Winton.

Persuaded to return to Catholicism by his wife on his deathbed and the family has remained Catholic ever since.

1666 - 1673

9th Laird, 3rd Earl of Traquair William Stuart (b.1657)

Summoned with his mother, Lady Anne Seton, to the Privy Council of Scotland to be told that he cannot have a Catholic education. Dies before the dispute is resolved at the age of 15.

1673 - 1741

10th Laird, 4th Earl of Traquair Charles Stuart (b.1659)

Husband of Lady Mary Maxwell, daughter of 4th Earl of Nithsdale.

A staunch Jacobite – imprisoned in 1692 and again in 1708. Father of 17 children.

1741 - 1764

11th Laird, 5th Earl of Traquair Charles Stuart (b.1697)

Husband of Theresa Conyers, daughter of Sir Baldwyn Conyers, Bt. of Great Stoughton, Huningdonshire.

In 1745 locks Traquair’s Bear Gates until the Stuart monarchy is restored. Imprisoned in the Tower of London as a Jacobite supporter following the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

1764 - 1779

12th Laird, 6th Earl of Traquair John Stuart (b.1699)

Husband of Christian Anstruther, daughter of Sir Philip Anstruther, Bt. of Anstruther Field, Fife.

In 1773 his eldest daughter Christina, leaves for America with her Virginian husband, Cyrus Griffin, who becomes involved in the struggle for American Independence. The following year he goes to live in Paris where he dies 5 years later.

1779 - 1827

13th Laird, 7th Earl of Traquair Charles Stuart (b.1746)

Husband of Mary Ravenscroft, daughter of George Ravenscroft of Wickham, Lincolnshire.

In 1784 leaves Traquair to seek his fortune on the Continent. Returns to Traquair in 1798, widowed and burdened with huge debts. In 1826 develops St. Ronan’s wells spa at Innerleithen to attract visitors (‘water drinkers’) to the area.

1827 - 1861

14th Laird, 8th Earl of Traquair Charles Stuart (b.1781)

A well-respected member of the local community and great traveller and socialiser. A confirmed bachelor – with his death the Traquair earldom becomes extinct.

1861 - 1875

15th Laird (Lady of Traquair) Lady Louisa Stuart (b.1776)

A devout Catholic who dies unmarried at the age of 99 years 5 months and is sometimes still seen wandering in the grounds.

1875 - 1890

16th Laird Henry Constable Maxwell of Terregles (b.1809)

Husband of Juliana Middleton, daughter of Peter Middleton of Stockeld, Yorkshire.

Takes additional surname Stuart on inheriting Traquair. Divides his time between his other houses, Terregles in Dumfriesshire and Scarthingwell in Yorkshire. Hosts shooting parties at Traquair.

1890 - 1921

17th Laird Herbert Joseph Constable Maxwell Stuart (b.1842)

Serves as Deputy Lieutenant of Peeblesshire and Kirkcudbrightshire. Travels all over the world collecting precious stones, becoming an export on sapphires.

1921 - 1942

18th Laird Arthur Constable Maxwell Stuart (b.1845)

Only inherits Traquair at age of 76 and in his will leaves the house and estate to his nephew, Francis.

1942 - 1962

19th Laird Francis Joseph Constable Maxwell Stuart (b.1886)

Husband of Dorothy Mary Hartley, daughter of J.D. Hartley of Billesdon Coplow, Leicestershire.

After serving as bomb disposal expert in World War II, embarks on a restoration programme at Traquair and opens the house to the public two afternoons a week.

1962 - 1990

20th Laird Peter Constable Maxwell Stuart (b.1922)

Husband of Flora Carr-Saunders, daughter of Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders KBE.

From 1963 devotes his life with his wife, Flora, to turning Traquair into a visitor attraction and restoring the original 18th century brewery to full working order. It continues to brew commercially today.


21st Laird (Lady of Traquair) Catherine Constable Maxwell Stuart (b.1964)

Wife of Mark Muller QC.

Continues to manage Traquair Charitable Trust, the visitor attraction, events and the brewery.