Slains Castle


Andrew Spratt contributes:

In the north east of Scotland almost halfway between the coastal towns of Aberdeen and Peterhead, astride windswept cliffs, stands the fragmented shell of Old Slains castle, an ancient seat of the Hay family, Earls of Erroll. The lands of Slains were gifted to Sir Gilbert Hay by King Robert the Bruce of Scots (1306 - 1329) in recognition for his loyal service during the 'wars of Independence' against the English. He was also appointed Hereditary High Constable of Scotland. Sir Gilbert was succeeded by his son Sir David Hay, who accompanied King David II of Scots (1329 - 1371) to the battle of Neville's Cross in 1346,where Kind David was captured and Sir David killed. He in turn was succeeded as 3rd High Constable by his son Sir Thomas, who married Princess Elizabeth Stewart, a daughter of King Robert II of Scots (1371 - 1390). His grandson William became 5th High Constable and was created Earl of Erroll and Lord of Slains by King James II of Scots (1437 - 1460) as a reward for Hay support during the King's war with the rebel 'Black' Douglas Lords and their allies the Lyndsays, Earls of Crawford and the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles.

These rebel Lords were eventually defeated by the combined efforts of Alexander Gordon,1st Earl of Huntly in the North (ie the battle of Arbroath in 1446, Brechin in 1452 and Dunkinty in 1454) and by George the 'Red' Douglas 4th Earl of Angus in the south (ie battle of Arkinholm in 1455 and Lochmaben in 1458). Militarily the Gordons were allied to the Hays of Slains, while their kin the Hays of Yester castle in East Lothian were in league with the 'Red' Douglases.

The tower of Old Slains dates from around this time or slightly earlier. It consisted of an oblong keep some five storeys high, with a basement vault entered at courtyard level, while the 2nd storey was accessed by an exterior collapsible wooden staircase. Likely the battlements were furnished with bartizans (open turrets) on all four corners with an overhanging box machicolation directly above the staircase entrance. Not only to protect this entrance but to ensure the destruction of the staircase preventing access during times of siege. Within the tower itself was a stone turnpike staircase which reached all levels above the 2nd storey.

Initially in the 15th century the tower would have been surrounded by a wooden palisade, protected on three sides by cliffs and by a ditch on the landward side. By the early 16th century this palisade would have been replaced by a stone 'Barmkin' wall with a gatehouse to provide further protection and positions for small anti-personnel cannon. Inland beyond the first ditch would have been the 'Castle town' village which flourished beside such towers. Made up of a cluster of wood n' wattle buildings, many with thatched roofs, consisting of stables, storage barns, workshops, shelters for livestock during times of war etc, likely surrounded by an outer wooden palisade also protected by an outer ditch.

In 1488 at the Parliament held at Edinburgh castle by King James III of Scots (1460 - 1488) both William Hay,3rd Earl of Erroll and John Hay of Yester were among the many Lords who sided with the King while a rebel army, using Prince James (later James IV) as a figure head, marched from Linlithgow. In fact William was one of the Lords who insisted the King should flee to Fife as the rebels reached the outskirts of Edinburgh. The rebels, allegedly led by the 'Red' Douglas Archibald 'Bell the cat' ,while pursuing the King to Leith seized several wagons containing some of the King's money and cloths. William was also with the Lords who marched north with the King to Aberdeen to muster support in the highlands to oppose the rebels in the south. But at the battle of Sauchieburn near Stirling the Hays like so many of the other Lords at the Parliament abandoned the King to his own fate. The Royal army was routed by the rebels and the King badly wounded, fled to a nearby mill house where he was murdered by a rebel pretending to be a priest. By 1489 we find William Hay supporting the new regime under King James IV of Scots (1488 - 1513). In 1513 the Hays of Erroll and the Hays of Yester with 87 gentlemen of their same name were all killed at the battle of Flodden along with King James IV of Scots.

In 1594 both Old Slains and the Hay house of Delgatie castle were destroyed with gunpowder and cannon by King James VI of Scots (1567 - 1603) in retribution for the Hays involvement in the Roman Catholic/Spanish plot known as the 'Treaty of the Spanish Blanks'. Allegedly signed by Hay Earl of Erroll, Gordon of Huntly and the 'Red' Douglas Earl of Angus. Such political/religious plots had simmered away for years from 1585 to the arrival of the Spanish Armada in Scotland in 1588,and then on to the battle of Glenlivet in 1594,not far from the Gordon stronghold of Auchendoun. Where the forces of Francis Hay,9th Earl of Erroll and George Gordon 6th Earl of Huntly routed the Campbells of Argyll and the MacLeans who were fighting on behalf of King James VI. Francis himself was wounded in the leg by a MacLean arrow while leading the mounted charge. As the King marched north personally to besiege Dalgatie and sack Old Slains, Francis fled into exile and only returned to Scotland in 1597. Instead of trying to repair Old Slains he opted to rebuild Bowness castle north of Old Slains and renamed this castle the New Slains.




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