The monument consists of a large-sale fortified residence, with two parallel ranges of rooms set on each side of a broad central gallery to each floor, and with round towers at the diagonally opposite north-east and south-west corners. This combination of elements creates a unique double-pile layout of Z-plan form. It has been plausibly suggested that this double-pile layout may show debts to French prototypes.
The castle was almost certainly built by James fourth earl of Morton, whose initials are displayed on the fabric. He succeeded to the earldom in 1550, but building is not thought to have been started until after he became Regent of Scotland in 1572, and there is a 17th-century statement that it was begun in 1578. it is very likely that it was left unfinished at his execution in 1581.
The residence is built of rubble that would have been lime-rendered, with liberal use of sandstone dressings to the wall-openings, quoins, corbelling and architectural enrichment. The accommodation rose through four storeys presumably with garrets beneath the half-roofs over the two ranges, those roofs butting the higher walls of the central galleries. The ground floor was entered at the west end of the gallery at that level, above which rose the principal stair, in the form of a spacious spiral. This lowest level was vaulted throughout, and accommodated a capacious kitchen at the east end of the north range. At first-floor level the south range had a lodging of hall and chamber, with another chamber in the south-west tower, and there were three chambers in the north range with a fourth in the north-east tower. All of these chambers appear to have been provided with fireplaces and latrine closets.
The architectural decorations was restrained but handsomely contrived. Internally the most notable feature was the hall fireplace which had barely-sugar shafts to the jambs. Externally the chief decorative emphasis was above the main entrance, where there is a pedimented opening with detailing related to Morton's work at Edinburgh and Aberdour Castles. Also noteworthy externally is the decoration to the corbelling for the secondary stair turrets at the junctions of the main block and the north-east and south-west towers, and the redenting of the shotholes.
Although the present scheduling is limited to the footprint of the castle itself, a residence of such outstanding quality as Drochil would have been at the centre of what must have been an extensive wider landscape of courtyards, terraces and gardens. This wider landscape may never have been completed, though it is inherently likely that the first steps were taken in establishing its layout, and it must be assumed that there is archaeological evidence for this. In our present state of understanding it would not be possible to be certain about the full extent of this wider landscape. However, based on the evidence of the configuration of the immediately surrounding land, and of existing field boundaries, the scheduled area is to be extended to include those areas immediately around the residence itself, where some of the most important of the features directly related to the residence would have been located. The area to be scheduled is irregular, with maximum dimensions of 80m from east to west and 74.5m from north to south.
The monument is of national importance as a unique example of a major fortified residence in which a large-scale variant of the Z-plan arrangement is applied to an early example of double-pile massing. It gains added significance from the fact that it was built for the most important commoner of the time, James fourth earl of Morton, who was Regent of Scotland, and provides important information on the range of architectural ideas being explored in the highest circles in the late 16th century and on the ways in which those ideas might be adapted to the needs of the Scottish nobility. Although probably never completed, the residence would certainly have been intended to be at the centre of a complex of courtyards and gardens, and the monument has a further dimension of importance in the archaeological potential for our understanding of the relationship between a great house and its setting.
RCAHMS records the monument as NT14SE12.
MacGibbon D and Ross T 1887, THE CASTELLATED AND DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE OF SCOTLAND, Vol. 2, Edinburgh, 221-6.
Buchan J W and Paton H 1925-7, A HISTORY OF PEEBLESSHIRE, Vol. 2, 320.
Douglas Simpson W 1951-2, 'Drochil Castle and the plan Tout vne masse', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 86, 70-80.
RCAHMS 1967, PEEBLESSHIRE: AN INVENTORY OF THE ANCIENT MONUMENTS, 2V, Vol. 2, Edinburgh: RCAHMS, 223-9.