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Darnaway Castle





Darnaway castle3 miles (5 km) southwest of Forres, in Moray, is the forest of Darnaway, famous for its oaks, in which stands the earl of Moray's mansion of Darnaway Castle. It occupies the site of the castle which was built by Thomas Randolph, the first earl. Attached to it is the great hall, capable of accommodating l000 men, with an open roof of fine dark oak, the only remaining portion of the castle that was erected by Archibald Douglas, earl of Moray, in 1450. Queen Mary held a council in it in 1562. Earl Randolph's chair, not unlike the coronation chair, has been preserved.


Once Comyn land, Darnaway Forest was given to Thomas Randolph along with the Earldom of Moray by King Robert l. The castle has remained the seat of the Earls of Moray ever since.  It was once the centre of the powerful Province of Moray, the original castle being associated with the Dunbar, Gordon and Douglas families before being acquired by the Stuarts in 1562. The new house, built in the style of a Gothic French mansion, was designed by Alexander Laing for the 9th Earl of Moray in 1802. The castle has a fine collection of family portraits and the story of the Darnaway Estate is told in the Visitor Centre at Tearie, 2½ miles (4 km) west of Forres.


Sir Thomas Randolph probably built the first castle. John, 3rd Earl died at the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346 without male heirs, and the earldom went to Patrick Dunbar, who was the husband of one of John's daughters. The male line of the Dunbars failed around 1430, and the earldom went to the Douglases, who held it to 1455, then it passed to the Murrays, and then to the Stewarts, with whose descendants it remains.


The younger daughter of Sir James Dunbar and Katherine or Janet (Jean) Gordon, Lady Elizabeth Dunbar became co-heiress of the wealthy earldom of Moray with her sister Janet when their father was killed in 1429. Despite the fact that she was the younger of the two sisters, she became Countess of Moray around 1442 when she married Archibald Douglas, one of the powerful Black Douglases. Archibald became the 6th Earl of Moray and moved in to the family seat at Darnaway castle. In a poem written about 1450 and dedicated to her, Richard Holland played with his patrons' names, hailing Elizabeth as "the dow of Dunbar ... dowit with ane Dowglass, and boith war thai dowis" (the dove of Dunbar ... endowed through marriage with a Douglas, and they are both doves). They had two children, James and Janet. When Archibald died in battle on May 1, 1455, fighting with his brothers against King James III, who had decided to curb the power wielded by the Douglases, the Moray title and estates were forfeited along with various other Douglas possessions.


William, who succeeded his father Donald, and who was Thane when the Douglas Rebellion occurred, also appears to have been when a youth an attendant at the court of James II., for the King in a charter extant designates him as his beloved familiar squire (dilectus familiaris scutifer noster). When King James came to the North, he took up his residence chiefly at Darnaway Castle, and summoned William, Thane of Cawdor, to his side. The King, after viewing the work begun but not completed at Darnaway by the unfortunate Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray, ordered the additions to be carried out, but granted a commission to the Thane of Cawdor to demolish the island fortress of Lochindorb, the fortifying of which and Darnaway against the King was the special charge on which Earl Archibald's estates were forfeited. The Thane was allowed a sum of £24 for performing this work. Lochindorb was dismantled but not entirely destroyed, and one of the gates at Cawdor Castle is said to have been brought from Lochindorb on the occasion of the dismantling.


King James IV rewarded clerics who gave him good service by providing them with commendatorships. The first commendator of Dryburgh Abbey was Andrew Forman, the Bishop of Moray in 1509. Forman’s primary role was in the service of James IV as a diplomat and was employed by the king extensively in Europe but accumulated much wealth from his religious and other appointments.  He received the commendatorships of the abbey of Culross in 1492 although he stepped down the following year after being provided with a large pension from the abbey. In June 1497 he was prior of Pittenweem, received the rectory of Cottingham from King Henry VII of England in May 1501, was commendator of Kelso (although he was unable to firmly establish his provision), as well as the Keeper of Darnaway Castle, Chamberlain of Moray and Custumar North of the Spey in 1511.


On leaving Old Aberdeen, the Queen (Mary, Queen of Scots) proceeded northward, passing through the parishes of Drumblade and Forgue, and over the west shoulder of the Foreman Hill to Rothiemay House. At Rothiemay the Queen was again requested by Huntly to visit Strathbogie, but she refused unless Sir John Gordon returned to his obedience. The Queen proceeded northward through Moray, and on arriving at Darnaway Castle she held a council, and summoned Sir John Gordon to surrender his castles of Findlater and Auchindoun. She then invested her half-brother, Lord James, in the Earldom of Moray. On the following day she proceeded to Inverness, but found the gates of the castle closed against her. Next morning the gates of the castle were opened, but Alexander Gordon, captain of the castle, and other five of the garrison were executed. Alarming reports were spread, and the local Crown vassals were ordered to muster to assist the Queen. When returning to Aberdeen, the Queen was refused admittance to Findlater Castle, which intensified her distrust of the Gordons.


Strathbogie Castle was then (1562) rifled. Many of its rich furnishings and ornaments were taken to Edinburgh, and others of them were carried by Moray to the Castle of Darnaway to fit up his newly-acquired residence in this ancient Earldom. Those who assisted Huntly were fined to the amount of £3542 6s 8d.


Here, John Taylor, the 17th century 'water poet' enjoyed four days of 'good cheere in all variety with somewhat more than plenty'. The 'plentye' compared favourably with that at Castle Grant, his previous stopover, where dinner had comprised 60 cold platters by way of hors d'oeuvre 'and after that always a banquet'.



See also:
•  The Douglases in Moray



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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024