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‘The new Citie of Edzel– Idea’

Dr Aonghus MacKechnie discusses a 1592 plan for a proposed new town at Edzell, one of Scotland’s oldest surviving architectural drawings and a fascinating insight into the town-planning ideas of the 16th century
‘Citie of Edzel – Idea’: a proposal to build a new town at Edzell, 1592

One of Scotland’s oldest architectural plans is a drawing of 4 September 1592 for a proposed new town, and on which the buildings are shown in profile. The drawing is entitled: ‘Portraicte of the new Citie of Edzel – Idea’, and it is published here for the first time.

The client: Sir David Lindsay

This ‘idea’ for Edzell came from, or was promoted by, the lawyer and laird Sir David Lindsay, lord Edzell (?1551-1610), who inherited Edzell in 1558. Before then, in 1566, he and his brother, John, lord Menmuir, were sent to Paris and then Cambridge for their education. They were accompanied by their tutor, the pro-reformer and academic James Lawson (1538-84), an acolyte of John Knox, latterly minister of St Giles, and co-founder of Edinburgh university in 1582.

Lindsay was knighted by James VI in 1581, and is best-known to architectural and garden historians as creator of the rhetorical and astronomical display garden at Edzell castle, whose ornament included sculptures of the deities, virtues, and so on – one of renaissance Scotland’s great surviving architectural achievements. Edzell castle and garden have attracted enormous interest over the years, and much has been written about both. The late W. Douglas Simpson and the late Charles McKean in particular wrote in detail about the castle; Marilyn Brown has written the most up-to-date account of the gardens. But Lindsay’s other interests were pioneering too – his intended ‘citie’, for instance. What had he in mind for that? The plan (combined, as we shall see, with research by a family historian) helps lead us towards answering that question.

The plan

The planned ‘city’ is, to us, rather a town or village. Its layout is simple and cruciform, with four streets, each extending from a big open rectangular centre ‘square’. The cardinal compass points are marked at each corner of the drawing, an almost A4-like document – ‘north’ being top right. The orientation would thus have been similar to that of Edzell castle itself, which is shown (in schematic form) to help locate the new town. For ease of discussion, though, from here on the top of the page is treated as if it were north (though really, it is approximately north-west).

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About History Scotland

History Scotland launches a ground-breaking new series - The Stewart Queens of Scotland, providing a window in the lives of the little-known Stewart queens. Enjoy a range of news, expert articles and commentary, covering centuries of Scottish history and archaeology. Highlights include: * Queen Victoria's trip to the Clyde * New history of art with National Galleries Scotland * The legend of Lovat's Scouts * Discovery of a rare antler t-axe