Thursday, June 24, 2010
Exploring Scotland 1 Castle at a Time, Part 13, Donnattar Castle
Dun is the Gaelic word for Castle. But it is also a pictish word that means place of strength. Dunnottar is certainly that. Perched upon a flat-topped rock with steep cliffs reaching for the North sea on three sides and a narrow finger of land the only tie to the mainland, the castle, though in ruins, sparks visions of battles, romantic trysts, and ghost stories.
In 400 AD, St. Ninian brought Christianity to Scotland and used Dunnottar as a religious retreat. Later, the property became a Pictish fort.
Late in the 9th Century, King Donald was killed defending Dunnottar against a Viking Invasion. The castle was taken and destroyed. But later rebuilt.
In 1276, a stone church, built in the Norman style, was consecrated in St. Ninian’s name on the property.
Following King Alexander III death, and the death of his children, Edward I, used Dunnottar as a base to dominate the Scots. William Wallace led a small army to attack it and when the garrison retreated into the chapel, he set it afire and burnt everything to the ground.
In 1329, Edward III of England seized Dunnottar and shipped in carpenters and masons to rebuild the castle. The castle was retaken by Sir Andrew Moray and burned again.
The first Sir Robert de Keith rose from caring for the king’s horses—not as trivial a station as you might thing—to commanding the king’s cavalry for both Robert I and his son. He gained a confirmed position within the Scottish nobility.
In the 14th century, Sir William de Keith, one of the King’s officers, built Dunnottar as a symbol of his power. During his lifetime he amassed property and money enough to gained political pull. His son, George, the fifth Earl of Marischal, educated and traveled, returned to Dunnottar to finish the building his father had begun in high style.
Dunnottar was sometimes used as a prison and in 1595, after a particular aggressive period of witch hunting, a man named John Crichton was brought to Dunnottar to be burnt at the stake.
Queen Mary visited Dunnottar several times and her son, James VI, often visited his friend George and wrote to him even after he became King of England in 1603.
In the mid 1600’s, Oliver Cromwell rose to power and threatened the monarchy, during that time the seventh Earl of Marischal banded with James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose and moved against Cromwell’s forces in the area and took Aberdeen.
But 6 years later Marishal and Montrose were at odds during the Civil War . The Earl refused to even admit Montrose’s envoy into the castle. In reprisal, Montrose set the the towns of Cowie and Stonehaven afire and burned the boats in the harbor.
The tide turned once again, and after King Charles I was executed, Montrose returned to Stonehaven a fugitive. It was from there he caught a boat to Norway and exile. Upon his return, King Charles II had him hung, drawn and quartered.
Charles II was crowned at Scone and Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland. “The Honours of Scotland”, by order of the King, were smuggled by a minister’s wife, Mrs. Drummond, out of Scone. Dressed as a peasant woman, she made her way from market to market until she reached Dunnottar.
In the meantime, the Earl had been captured and taken prisoner in the Tower of London. George Ogilvy of Barras, a friend of the Earl, assembled a garrison of 69 men and retreated into the castle to protect it. By 1652 the only place in Scotland that still flew a royal flag was Dunnotar Castle.
For eight months Ogilvy held Cromwell’s forces off. When heavy artillery began to systematically destroy the castle and kill his men, he was forced to surrender. Cromwell’s forces moved in to search for the “Honours of Scotland”. They were not there. They’d been smuggled out by a servant woman pretending to gather kelp on the beach at the base of the cliffs. They were buried in a Kirk cemetery by a Reverend James Grainger and left there.
After the siege, Dunnottar was once more destroyed in retaliation because of this show of defiance and Ogilvie and his wife held captive there. He survived but his wife died.
In 1660, when the monarchy was restored, the Earl of Marishal and his two brothers, John and George, carried the “Honours of Scotland” back to Edinburgh. The family never recovered financially from the upheaval of war.
Next, Dunnottar was used as a military depot. And as a prison for Presbyterians known as Whiggamores. 122 men and 45 women, who defied the King and refused to accept a new prayer book that professed the King head of all spiritual matters, were transported to the castle. They were put inside a small vault, which has since come to be known as the Whigs vault. For two months they were held in the small space, the only water and food delivered to them what they could buy from the soldiers. Many died of starvation, dehydration, and disease during that time. 37 finally agreed to take the oath of allegiance. 25 escaped and 15 were recaptured. They were thrown into the guard house, tied to a frame, and matches placed between each finger and set alight.
William of Orange seized the throne in 1688. George, the 8th Earl of Marischal offered him his alliance and was given a garrison of 60 men at Dunnottar. But it wasn't until 1695, that the 9th Earl of Marischal regained possession of Dunnattar. There was little left to take possession of. And on the horizon, James II’s son tried to take the crown and the Earl of Marischal was suspected of being involved and was imprisoned, but later released.
In 1715, the 10th Earl was accused of being a Jacobite supporter and relieved of his command in the British Army. He immediately took up the Jacobite cause and when the Pretender landed at Peterhead December 22 the Earl hosted him at his home. The two fled to France together when the uprising was defeated before it even started.
The 10th Earl returned to Scotland in 1763 after Fredrick the Great of Prussia wrote a letter to King William asking for a pardon. The 10th Earl never married and the title died out with him.
In 1727, the Keith family did recover the castle but lacking the funds to repair it, it was allowed to crumble into a ruin.
I guess you can tell I was crazy about the castle and the surrounding area. Tomorrow we'll move on to one of the pinkest castles in Scotland.
Write on, Teresa R.