In the 19th century the place-names Roslin (also spelt 'Roslyn') and Hawthornden seem to have been interchangeable, as in the case of the present drawing from the 'Smaller Fonthill' Sketchbook of 1799-1802 (London, Tate Britain, Turner Bequest XLVIII; A.J. Finberg, A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, London, I, 1909, pp. 123-4). This sketchbook, first used at Fonthill in preparation for the finished watercolours of William Beckford's Gothic house, commissioned in 1799, contained drawings in all stages of finish, from pencil sketches such as the present drawing to finished watercolours such as that of Edinburgh from above Duddingston, circa 1801 (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland; A. Wilton, The Life and works of J.M.W. Turner, London and Fribourg, 1979, p. 336, no. 321, illustrated). The sketchbook seems to have been broken up and the majority of its pages sold by Turner himself. (For Turner's first visits to Scotland see A. Wilton 'Turner in Scotland: the Early Tours', Turner in Scotland, exhibition catalogue, Aberdeen Art Gallery, 1982, pp. 11-20).
Turner first ventured into South-East Scotland in 1797 following a tour of north-east England. However, his first important visit was in 1801. Turner seems to have left London late in June with a Mr. Smith of Gower Street, of whom nothing further is known. Passing through York, Durham and Berwick, including a visit to Norham Castle, Turner seems to have spent about a week in Edinburgh and its surroundings, leaving on 18 July for Linlithgow, Glasgow, Inverary and Dalmally and then on to the Highlands, visiting Loch Tay, the Tummel Bridge and Blair Atholl. He was at Gretna Green on 5 August on his return journey (A. J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Oxford, 2nd ed., 1961, pp. 73-5). As well as the 'Smaller Fonthill' Sketchbook Turner used seven small sketchbooks, a number of which also contain the pencil sketches of Roslin Castle.
Turner revisited Scotland and Roslin in 1818, and returned subsequently in 1822, 1831 and 1834. The 'Scotch Antiquities' Sketchbook of 1818 contains another pencil sketch of the castle from much the same viewpoint, and this was used for the finished watercolour engraved by W.R. Smith in 1822 to accompany a text by Sir Walter Scott for The Provincial Antiquities of Scotland, published by Robert Cadell 1819-26 (Indianapolis Museum of Art; Wilton, op.cit., 1979, p. 426, no. 1065, illustrated). Turner also exhibited a Rosllyn Castle in his own Gallery in 1810. This is untraced but was probably an oil painting (M. Butlin & E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven and London, 2nd ed. 1986, p. 78, no. 110).
Roslin lies about six miles south of Edinburgh. The castle, now ruined, was built by the 3rd Earl of Orkney in the 14th century and was the site of an important victory by the Scots over King Edward I of England. The fifteenth-century chapel founded by William, Earl of Roslin and Orkney plays an important part in Dan Brown's popular novel, The da Vinci Code.