Dunnottar Castle

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This image is the copyright of Andrew Spratt who has generously given permission to display it here.

Dunnottar Castle is a dramatic and evocative ruin. As you wander around the extensive buildings you are almost surrounded by sea with gulls and other seabirds wheeling and screaming around the cliffs below you. If the outline is a little familiar, this may be because Dunnottar Castle was the location for the 1990 film version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson.

Even if there was no castle at Dunnottar, the site would immediately catch the eye - an enormous flat-topped rock with sheer cliffs on three sides. This site was chosen in Pictish times as place of strength and by Saint Ninian as a place of retreat. Dunnottar is more than a topographical curiosity since this rock and the buildings on it have reflected in miniature much of the rich and tragic story of Scottish history. William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots and the Marquis of Montrose have all graced the Castle with their presence. Most famously though, it was at Dunnottar Castle that a small garrison held out against the might of Cromwell's army for eight months and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels, the 'Honours of Scotland', from destruction.

From the car park the dominant building viewed is the 14th century Keep or Tower House, a little battered by Cromwell's cannons, but still intact. This is just one of the eleven different buildings which comprise Dunnottar Castle which also includes barracks, lodgings, stables and storehouses.

At the far end of the rock, in sharp contrast to the old tower, is an elegant quadrangle. This is bounded on three sides by domestic buildings of the 17th century, including, for its time, one of the largest ballrooms in Scotland extending to some 35 metres. The fourth side is formed by the Castle's 13th century chapel - a relic of the time that William Wallace burnt the early wooden Castle with the occupying English garrison inside. The chapel, one of the very few stone buildings, has survived to tell the tale.

Dunnottar Castle was the home of the Earls Marischal of Scotland, once one of the most powerful families in the land. The Earl Marischal oversaw all ceremonial activities in the Scottish Court, including the coronations. He was also responsible for the security of the Scottish Crown Jewels, known as the 'Honours of Scotland'. The story of how a small garrison in Dunnottar Castle saved the Honours of Scotland from certain destruction is one of the most captivating in Scottish history.

Charles I, King of both Scotland and England, was executed in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell. The following year his son (later Charles II) arrived in north east Scotland in a bid to retake the two kingdoms and on his journey south he stayed overnight at Dunnottar Castle. However, in England, Oliver Cromwell was so enraged at the young King's arrival he invaded Scotland. In some haste therefore, Charles II was crowned at Scone, but the crown and the other coronation regalia could not be returned to Edinburgh Castle which had now been taken by Cromwell's army. The English crown jewels had already been destroyed by Cromwell and the Honours of Scotland, the most potent remaining icon of the monarchy, were next on his list. His army was fast advancing on Scone and the King ordered the Earl Marischal to secure the Honours and many of his personal papers at Dunnottar Castle.

It was not long before Dunnottar was under siege and a scratch garrison of 70 men held out for eight months against the invading forces. Its unique position made the Castle impregnable to infantry attack, but when the heavy cannons finally arrived and began to raze the major buildings, the situation became untenable. Before surrender was contemplated, however, the King's papers were taken through the besieging forces by a brave young lady acquaintance of the Governor who secured them around her waist. The crown, sceptre and sword meanwhile, had been lowered over the seaward side of the Castle and received by a serving woman, there on pretence of gathering seaweed. They were thereafter taken to the church at Kinneff, a village several miles to the south where at first they were hidden at the bottom of the bed in the minister's house until he could bury them more securely in the kirk. There they remained undiscovered for eleven years.

A darker chapter in the history of Dunnottar is that of the 'Whig's Vault'. Visitors can still see the gloomy, airless cellar where in 1685 a body of Covenanting prisoners, 122 men and 45 women, were held without food or sanitation from 24 May to the end of July. Their crime was that they had refused to acknowledge the King's supremacy in spiritual matters. Twenty brave souls attempted to escape, fifteen of whom were recaptured and tortured. The remainder were eventually transported to the West Indies. Amongst the prisoners were a Charles and a William Douglas, who were transported on the Henry and Francis to Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

The Castle never recovered from Cromwell's attentions and although it was later a garrison for troops, it no longer had its former glory. The last Earl Marischal was convicted of treason for his part in the Jacobite rising of 1715 and his estates, including Dunnottar Castle, were seized by the government. The buildings were thereafter neglected until 1925 when the 1st Viscountess Cowdray embarked on a systematic repair of the Castle. It has remained in private family ownership ever since.


 

Elizabeth Douglas (dau of John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton) m. (1505) Robert Keith, Master of Marischal (dvp after 1513)
Archibald (Sir) (2nd of Glenbervie) Douglas
married Agnes (Anne) Keith, c1531
Sir William Douglas, 7th Earl of Morton married, 28 MAR 1604, Ann Keith 
Anne, daughter of William Douglas, 9th Earl of Morton, married William (6th Earl Marischal) Keith b: 1614
William Douglas, 6th Earl of Morton (b 1582, d 07.08.1648) married (mcrt 05.03.1604) Anne Keith (d 1648)


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