The castle is on an island in the middle of the River Dee; even getting
to it is an exciting and romantic experience in itself.
From Kelton Mains farm there is a ten minute walk through fields and past
woods until you arrive at the shore of the River Dee.
There you will find a small jetty and a brass bell with a rope pull. Ring
this bell loudly and the boatman will come across from the island to take
you to the castle.
Threave Island may have been the home of the ancient rulers of Galloway,
but today's castle was built at the end of the 1300's by the powerful
Archibald Douglas, known as
"Archibald the Grim"
Archibald's father, Sir James
Douglas, "The Good", had been entrusted with taking Robert the Bruce's
heart to the Jerusalem, but had been killed in Spain
fighting the Moors (and Bruce's heart was
brought back to Scotland and buried at Melrose Abbey). He also put down the
rebellious Gallovidian chiefs when they had sided with the English. His
cousin, William Douglas did the same in 1353.
Because of these services to Scotland Robert the Bruce's son, King David
II, bestowed an Earldom on the Douglas family, and the heart became the
principal emblem of the Black Douglas. Threave became Archibald's stronghold
in his new position as Third Earl of Douglas, Lord of Galloway and Warden of
the West March (ie; West Border).
Archibald died at Threave in 1400. He was succeeded by his son, also
Archibald, who married Princess
Margaret, the daughter of Robert III. Her husband was killed at the
Battle of Verneuil while fighting for
the French against the English in 1424. She herself died in 1450 was buried
in Lincludden Collegiate Church near Dumfries.
King James II was only 6 when he was crowned in 1437.
Archibald, 5th Earl of Douglas, was
appointed Regent. When he died two years later, two men, Sir Alexander
Livingstone and Sir William Crichton fought to take the place of the
They invited the new Earl of
Douglas, then only 16 years old, to dine with his brother and a friend
at Edinburgh Castle. At the end of the
meal the head of a black bull was brought to the table, and at this sign all
three were murdered.
James resented the power of the Douglases. In 1452 he invited
William, the 8th Earl, to Stirling under
safe-conduct to negotiate their relationship. During the meeting the 21 year
old James drew his dagger and stabbed him. His courtiers joined in and
William was dead.
Immediately the 9th Earl sprang
to arms proclaiming the King a murderer and outlaw. James's Parliament
replied by stating that; "the Earl was guilty of his own death by resisting
the King's gentle persuasion".
The Douglases were defeated at
Arkinholm near Langholm and the 9th Earl was exiled. James began the
systematic destruction all the Douglas strongholds, culminating in a two
month siege of Threave Castle in the summer of 1455.
James attended the siege in person. Although his main residence was at
nearby Tongland Abbey, he had a field-tent
erected at Threave. But in spite of heavy bombardment, including shots from
a great "Bombard", a massive siege gun, the castle held out and only
surrendered after the garrison commanders had been promised various payments
and promises of safe conduct.
Sir Alexander Boyd of Drumcoll was put in charge, and the castle
remained annexed to the crown until it was granted to Lord Maxwell of
Caerlaverock Castle until it was
abandoned in 1640. At this time an earth bank was put up as an outer gun
emplacement probably in readiness for the siege by the Covenanters.
Again the siege failed to take Threave by force, but nonetheless
eventually the castle surrendered and was subsequently "slighted", ie;