Monday, June 3, 2013

Amazing Scotland - Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

This is my first post of many from my trip to Scotland in May. Urquhart was one of the few castles I visited when I earned my MBA from Heriot-Watt University in 1995/96. Standing atop Grant's tower which overlooks the loch, I got a sense of power, a sense of deep honor and kinship that comes with belonging to a clan and residing within the walls of a mighty fortress built strategically upon rocky outcrops.

Urquhart, like most of the castles in Scotland, has a past fraught with violence. They have found evidence that a Pictish fort once stood on the site. Around 580 AD, St. Columba visited what is now thought to be the site of Urquhart, baptizing a dying Pict king, Emchath. In addition, Pictish artifacts have been found near the site to support this theory.

Further progression of events at Urquhart are recorded as follows:

1230 - King Alexander II grants the lordship of Urquhart to Sir Thomas Durward, one of several nobles brought to the region to help maintain royal authority.
1231 - Sir Thomas Durward dies and is succeeded by his son, Sir Alan Durward, who is thought to have built the first stone castle walls.
1275 - With no male heir, John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lochaber receives the estate of Urquhart following Sir Alan's death.
1297 - Sir Andrew Moray besieges Urquhart Castle and it falls into the hands of the English.
1307 - King Robert the Bruce's forces recapture Urquhart Castle and use it as a power base to bring the north-east under his control.
1312 - Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray receives the castle and barony of Urquhart as an honor from his uncle, Robert I.
1342 - King David II visits the castle, becoming the only monarch ever to sleep within its walls.

After the Wars of Independence, Urquhart was a royal castle, held for the Crown by a succession of constables.

1384 - Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, known as the "Wolf of Badenoch" acquires the castle.
1390's - Donald of Islay, Lord of the Isles stakes a claim to Ross. In 1395, his brother seizes Urquhart.
1411 - Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, subdues the Lords of the Isles temporarily at the Battle of Harlow, but he is unable to reclaim Urquhart.
1462 - Edward IV of England agrees to a secret treaty with John, Earl of Ross, and Lord of the Isles, granting him control of the Highlands in return for support of the English cause.
1509 - James IV charters the lorships of Urquhart to the Grant family, requiring them to build a stronghold and exert control in the region.
1513 - The Battle of Flodden wipes out James IV and his supporters, leaving the Great Glen again vulnerable to attack by the Islesmen.
1528 - Hector Boece laments the "ruinous walls" of Urquhart Castle in the aftermath of renewed raids by the Islesmen.
1545 - MacDonald raiders carry off every vestige of portable wealth from the castle, though this marks the end to their forays up the glen.
1637 - Marie Ogilvy, newly widowed mother of the 7th Laird, moves into the castle, becoming its last high-status resident. In 1644, she is robbed and driven out by Covenanters.
1689-92 - Government forces garrison Urquhart Castle for more than two years. Upon leaving the castle, they destroy the gatehouse with gunpowder.
1715 - Grant tower is partially destroyed by a violent February storm.
1884 - Caroline, Countess Dowager of Seafield takes ownership of Urquhart Castle. The site is entrusted into State care upon her death in 1911.
View from Grants Tower

In my mind, this is a tragic story for such a mighty fortress. Civil war and mindless vandalism brought Urquhart Castle to ruin. In my opinion, many castles began their demise after James VI of Scotland (1567-1625) also became James I of England. He relocated to London, and many State owned sites fell into ruin as Scotland merged with her sister country to the south.
Trebuchet Catapult replica at the Urquhart Castle site


  1. Amy, what a lovely position overlooking the loch. Did you do any Nessie hunting? Cheers

  2. That is SO COOL. I WANT TO LIVE IN A HISTORIC CASTLE. I want to live in history! Waaah.

  3. What a gorgeous view! I would love to visit a castle someday...

    1. With a name like Wallace, you should!

    2. Lol! It gets better- we live in Edinburgh... Edinburgh, IN, but still! I told my husband we just need to get a Scottish Deerhound to complete the picture. And my husband is a redhead...

    3. Wow! You DO need a Deerhound!

  4. If the stones could talk, what a story they'd tell :)

  5. I love castles--and your photos are wonderful. Can't wait to see more pictures from your trip.

    1. Oh yes. I need to get busy on my next post! I'll put it up on Thursday!

  6. I went to Urquhart Castle many years ago. It commands the most stunning view!

  7. Great post, Amy! Urquhart is one of my favorites!

  8. It was great learning more about this castle's history. Castles are so fascinating. :)