The freestanding Sundial at Drummond Castle near Crieff in Perthshire was created in 1630 by the Master Mason, John Mylne, for John Drummond, 2nd Earl of Perth.

Carved from sandstone and over 3 meters tall, the Sundial has 68 facets and 85 gnomons or pointers. It measures time in 131 different ways and at different times of the year including solstices and equinoxes.

Originally, it was probably painted and gilded similar to the Sundial at Holyrood Palace which John Mylne designed in 1633 for the Coronation of Charles I.

Sundials had become a popular garden feature by the sixteenth century linking the transitory nature of the garden with life itself. They also demonstrated a knowledge of science and maths.

In 1517, the Bavarian mathematician Nicholas Kratzer arrived in England and by 1519, had entered Henry VIII’s court. Described as ‘astronomer and deviser of the King’s horologes’, Henry commissioned Kratzer to create 20 sundials at Hampton Court with many more at his other royal palaces. According to the Royal Accounts, these cost 4sh and 4d each – cheap compared to the staggering £408 15s 6d for the Sundial at Holyrood Palace! It also suggests that Kratzer’s sundials were horizontal rather than something more elaborate.

The gardens at Drummond Castle were laid out by John Drummond, 2nd Earl of Perth between 1630 and 1636.

Schooled in Edinburgh by ‘ignorant persons’, Drummond travelled to Bordeaux in 1603 where he studied for three years at the College de Guyenne. A liberal college, its principal was Robert Balfour (aka Balforeus!) who was described by a contemporary as the ‘phoenix of his age, a philosopher profoundly skilled in the Greek and Latin languages, and a mathematician worthy of being compared with the ancients’ .

Drummond next moved to Bordeaux. Here his mentors were versed in law and physics and Drummond was ‘alwayes in good companie, though unfit for mannagin of affaires, as beeing meere schollers, and careles of anie thing else’. He reached Paris in 1610 where he attended the coronation of Marie de Medici. He left for London a few months later and after his elder brother’s death in 1611, inherited the earldom.

Whilst in Paris, it’s likely Drummond visited the Tuileries Gardens which were commissioned by Catherine de Medici and updated in 1600 by Henry IV’s head gardener, Claude Mollet. Dominated by rectangular plots, avenues, water and a grotto decorated with pottery figures by Bernard Palissy, they are totally unlike the gardens at Drummond Castle.

Tuileries Gardens. Engraved by Jacques I Androuet de Cerceau, 1576-1579

I think Drummond was influenced by the gardens he saw at Chateau-Neuf de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Both gardens have a series of terraces with the parterre laid out beneath as one design rather than separate rectangles divided by paths.

But where did the inspiration for these gardens come from? Designed by Henry IV’s architect Etienne Duperac, Duperac had worked in Italy as an engraver before returning to France. If you ignore the numerous fountains, grottoes and terraces in Duperac’s engraving of Villa d’Este, [see below] you can see how the parterre below the main terrace is treated as one unit.

Villa d’Este by Etienne Duperac, 1575

Drummond’s design for the gardens at Drummond Castle came from Italy via France …

But why did Drummond choose a sundial as the centre of his garden rather than a water feature? And why were freestanding sundials more popular in Scotland than any other country?


I have no idea!

But here are my musings …

It could be something to do with the weather. As illustrated above, water played a large part in Renaissance garden design in both Italy and France. The great Huguenot hydraulic engineer Salomon de Caus had arrived in England in late 1610 and was busy over the next two years. He created islands for Prince Henry at Richmond Palace and at Hatfield, he built the Dell, a water parterre of two triangular islands. De Caus’s first royal patron was Anne of Denmark – Drummond’s sister was courtier to the Queen so Drummond could easily have asked for an introduction. Perhaps Drummond and other Scottish landowners felt no need for the cooling effects of water …

Secondly, Drummond was schooled in science and mathematics and sundials were a way of illustrating these skills. Drummond would have been familiar with Sebastian Munster’s Compositio Horologiorum, 1531. This contained ‘the first exhaustive inventory of sundial models’.

Thirdly, money – and religion. In his Memoir, Drummond often comments on his lack of money, the ‘meane allowance’ given to him by his father and how he has ‘no contentment…but continuall crosses either at home or abroad’. A joyful soul. Creating a water garden with islands, fountains and grottoes would have cost too much money and been too flamboyant for the Presbyterian Scot. [As the Drummonds didn’t become Catholics until 1685, it’s probable that the 2nd Earl was a Presbyterian.]

And my last thought is freemasonry. The creator of the Sundial at Drummond, John Mylne, was Master of the Masonic Lodge at Scone, like his father and grandfather before him. Perhaps the dials on the sundial have more significance than just time-keeping …

Nineteenth century translation of the Latin carved into the base of the Sundial at Drummond:

We are the hours on the pillar you see
Marked by the shadows that ever flee
And move with the sun in its course on high
Noting the time passing swiftly by


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