Stonehaven, Scotland. Day 31, 29th July 2013.
Since I needed to visit Aberdeen to catch a connecting flight to the Lofoten Islands, I made sure I made the short drive to Stonehaven to visit Dunottar Castle, one of the most remarkable castles in Scotland.
Dunnottar Castle is obviously situated on a commanding natural fortification so it is no surprise that there was a fort here in Pictish times, though no-one knows much about that. In 681 and 693 there were sieges here as part of what appears to have been a Pictish civil war. In 934, Constantine II of Scotland withstood here a month-long seige by Æthelstan, first King of England.
Here is an aerial view from an information board at the site.
The English took the castle in 1296 when Edward I was crushing John Balliol. A year later, William Wallace took it back and burned the English garrison alive in the church.
The English took the castle again in 1336 and it was then visited by Edward III but the Scots recaptured it later the same year.
This is the Keep, part of new stone fortifications built from the late fourteenth century, replacing previous fortifications that were probably mainly of wood. There was only one way into the castle so with that fortified in stone, it became much more difficult to attack.
In 1645, Montrose besieged the castle for the loyalists in the Civil War but was unable to take it. So, instead, he laid waste the countryside.
In 1652, the castle held out for eight months under siege by General Monck for Oliver Cromwell’s forces. Charles II had landed in Scotland to stage a rebellion against Cromwell. Castle Dunottar was the last place to hold out. It eventually surrendered following ten days of bombardment when Monck brought up the heavy artillery.
The English were expecting to secure the Scottish crown jewels “the Honours of Scotland”, comprising a crown, a sword and a sceptre. The castle also held important papers of Charles. Both were smuggled out of the castle before it fell. The papers were smuggled out concealed in a woman’s clothing and the Honours were lowered over the cliff to a woman gathering seaweed. Both were concealed in a nearby church until the Restoration.
Have you worked out what you are looking at here?
Well, this is the view looking up. We are inside the Keep, looking up towards the Great Hall. I think we are in the basement and the Great Hall was on the first floor. (For American readers, the first floor is the one above the ground floor).
I think this is the end of the stables. In the middle is a chimney with fireplaces on two levels.
The notice says this is a 16th/ 17th century garden though it is inside a building that would originally have been roofed.
This is the oldest part of the castle, the shell of a stone church dedicated to St Ninian from the late thirteenth century. This is where William Wallace burned alive a defending contingent of English troops in 1297.
This is the kitchen, as for the previous image.
The Marischal’s chamber, with magnificent views out over the water. The Keith family who built much of the castle and held it for hundreds of years, were Marischals of Scotland.
The Marischal (or Marshall) was originally a minor Court position but came to be one of the three main Court positions. It was primarily tasked to settle Court disputes but also had a military function at least up the the Battle of Bannockburn though command of the military went to the Constable. After Bannockburn the Marischals were less important but retained influence by virtue of now being Earls and due to their large land holdings.
A view from the Marischal’s chamber.
I think this is the “East Range”, nearby.
A view of the Marischal’s chamber from outside. At the bottom edge of the frame is a breach in the wall labelled “Thief’s Hole”. I do not know the story behind that. However, the room behind it is the Whig’s Vault. In 1685, in the aftermath of Monmouth’s rebellion, 167 covenanters were imprisoned here, including 45 women. Covenanters were hard-line Presbyterians who renounced Church hierarchy and these people refused to accept a new prayer book.
They were held for two months with poor food and inadequate sanitary facilities. 25 escaped though a window above the cliff but 15 were recaptured and two died. 37 agreed to take the oath of allegiance and the remaining people were deported to the Americas. Seven had died by then and another 70 on or shortly after the voyage. That only left 45 survivors in the Americas.
This is the way out.
The Earls Marischal lost possession of the castle after one of them supported the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. The castle in any event had never recovered from the Cromwellian bombardment.
I may be lucky I visited when I did. Dunnottar Castle is currently closed “indefinitely” as urgent maintenance work is underway on the structures over the entrance and it is not known how long this will take to complete.