Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Kildrummy Castle

Kildrummy Castle
Wikimedia Commons
The location that I’m currently writing about in my WIP is Ceann Druimin – Kildrummy, Aberdeenshire. 

As part of my ongoing research of the area I’ve digressed from wondering what it was like in AD 84 and have been fascinated by its later, superb, claims to fame.

Kildrummy Castle was one of the most impressive Castles of Mar, and perhaps even in Scotland
The Castles of Mar are so named since they are sited on the very large province of MAR, a huge tract of north-east Scotland which was one of the 7 divisions of the Pictish Kingdom of Scotland. The province of Mar, it’s believed, was named after the Mormaer (N.B. there are different spellings of the word). A mormaer is the Scottish Gaelic name for the steward of each province, who was the next level down from the Pictish king. These 7 areas, later named earldoms, were found north of the Central belt i.e. north of the line between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The earldom of Mar was a huge tract of land in northeast Scotland and was politically important because of its strategic location. Around 1250, the imposing castle at Kildrummy was built by William de Mar, who was the current Mormaer and Chamberlain to Alexander III King of the Scots.  Kildrummy guarded the main routes from the south before they came together to wend north into Moray and Buchan.
model of what it may have looked like during the 13 and 14th centuries

During the reign of Alexander III, Scotland had become more prosperous- trade was flourishing which allowed the king to engage in building more castles and monasteries throughout the land- Kildrummy Castle being one of his new buildings. Scotland remained stable and well ruled till the death of Alexander III in 1286.

Unfortunately, Alexander III’s sole surviving heir was his granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway, who nominally became queen at the tender age of 3 years. For the ensuing five years, she had 6 guardians who ruled Scotland in her name. When she was 8 she was betrothed to Prince Edward, the eldest son of King Edward I of England. Having set sail from Norway she sickened, and died after the ship put into harbour in Orkney.

With no obvious heirs (Alexander’s second marriage in 1285 to Yolande, Comtesse de Montfort, produced no live children) Scotland was in dynastic turmoil. Edward I of England had been in good relations with Alexander III and was asked to mediate between the contenders to the Scottish throne. Edward I agreed to arbitrate but only on condition that the claimants swore fealty to him as the feudal superior of Scotland. From 13 contestants he whittled the number down to 3, descendants of the daughters of David I (Earl of Huntingdon). The three ‘finalists’ were John Balliol, Robert Bruce and John Hastings. Edward chose John Balliol but Robert Bruce’s claim was just a good since he was the grandson of David I.

John Balliol was crowned King of Scots in 1292 but it was immediately apparent that he could not prevent Edward I from dominating him. By 1294, Edward I was demanding soldiers from Scotland to engage in his war with France. John Balliol might have been weak but his fellow countrymen weren’t agreeing to Edward’s demands. They set up a council to rule instead of John Balliol. Shunning Edward I they began the 'Auld Alliance’ with France which was to last for the next 300 hundred years.

In 1296 and 1303, Edward I of England visited Kildrummy Castle as a guest but resistance to his demands was strengthening. By 1306, Robert Bruce was crowned King of the Scots and this dramatically changed relations between Scotland and England. When the English invaded Scotland, Robert Bruce sent his wife and daughter to Kildrummy Castle, to safety, but that was not to be. Kildrummy was left in the care of Robert Bruce’s brother Neil. However, when the English besieged the castle and the defenders capitulated after a blacksmith turned traitor, Neil was captured. He was hanged, quartered and decapitated.  Bruce’s wife and daughter were imprisoned and part of the castle was destroyed by the English to prevent further use by the Scots.

During the fourteenth century the castle was damaged and repaired a number of times after attacks by the English,  though on at least one occasion also by the Scottish forces of King David II against the pro-English Earl of Mar in 1363.

During the fifteenth century, King James I seized the castle to curb the power of hos wayward noble, the castle being afterwards in the stewardship of a royal constable who only answered to the king.

Kildrummy Castle also played a role during the Jacobite era. The sixth Earl of Mar (the earldom having been reinstated when the Erskines took over the property) used Kildrummy castle as a base to launch the early Jacobite Rebellion in 1715 but his defeat at the Battle of Sherrifmuir meant he had to flee to the continent. The castle was never again used as a noble residence and gradually fell into disrepair.

In 1898, Colonel James Ogston bought the castle and over the next thirty years attempted to restore parts of it. Having been used as an unofficial stone supply for building elsewhere it was a massive challenge that he took on. 

The property came to the hands of the state in 1951.


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