Brodick Castle was one of three fortifications built to control the strategic island of Arran in the Firth of Clyde. Originally an enclosure castle, it was converted into a Tower House in the fifteenth century. The English added a gun platform in 1652 and in the mid-nineteenth century it was re-built in the form of a mansion.
Brodick Castle sits on a high wooded shelf at the foot of the Goatfell mountain range and was one of three fortifications built on Arran (the other two were Kildonan and Lochranza). The island is the largest in the Firth of Clyde and, as the main means of travel and commerce in pre-industrialised western Scotland was originally by sea, it once lay at the heart of a flourishing trading community. Its central location means it is probable the site was used by the Vikings - a suggestion supported by the name Brodick which derives from Breiðvík meaning Broad Bay. By the twelfth century ownership of Arran was contested between the expanding Kingdom of Scotland and the Norwegians. This continued until the decisive Scottish victory at the Battle of Largs (1263) which led to the Treaty of Perth (1266) where Magnus IV abandoned his claim in exchange for a substantial payment. The island then fell under the influence of the Stewart family although they would vie for control with the MacDonalds. It was against this backdrop that the original castle was built at some point between 1250-1270.
The thirteenth century castle was a simple enclosure fortification with the defences consisting of a curtain wall and a rock cut ditch that surrounded at least part of the structure. The main entrance into the castle was on the east side and this was protected by a substantial round tower with arrow slits enabling covering fire. The defensive strength of the entrance was enhanced in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century by addition of a barbican. The design of this early castle at Brodick was comparable with mainland sites - notably Loch Doon Castle - rather than its nearby neighbour at Lochranza perhaps suggesting it was the Stewarts who built it rather than the MacDonalds.
The castle had a turbulent history during the fourteenth century. The then owner supported Edward I during the Wars of Scottish Independence but the presence of the pro-English garrison at Brodick did not deter Robert the Bruce from seeking refuge on the island following his defeat at the Battle of Methven (1306). It was on Arran that Bruce allegedly had his legendary encounter with the spider. With the death of Edward I, Bruce started his long campaign to capture English held castles across Scotland that would culminate in victory at Bannockburn (1314). Brodick became one of the first such strongholds to fall to his troops and thereafter Arran was granted to the Stewart family.
Brodick Castle suffered numerous attacks during the fifteenth century including a raid by forces of Henry IV of England in 1406 and an assault by the MacDonalds in 1455. Later in that century it passed through marriage to James, Lord Hamilton. His son, also called James, was created Earl of Arran in 1503 and it was shortly after when the castle was re-styled into a rectangular, three storey Tower House. Whilst elements of the original stone castle were included in the new structure, it was a substantial rebuild. The corbelled battlements and gun-loops were all added at this time. The remaining structures from the earlier castle were also extensively modified. The barbican was restyled into a gatehouse and the round tower was rebuilt. Further upgrades and repairs were made following an attack by the Campbells and Macleans in 1528. The castle was attacked by the English again in 1544 during the War of the Rough Wooing.
Brodick was still owned by the Hamiltons when the Wars of Three Kingdoms started in the seventeenth century. James Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton supported the Royalist cause. Opposed by the powerful Campbells, Brodick was attacked in 1639 and 1644. James was later executed following his defeat at the Battle of Preston (1648) and a few years later, during the third Civil War, Parliamentary forces under Oliver Cromwell overran Scotland. Brodick Castle was garrisoned by English troops and in 1652 they built a gun battery to the east of the Tower House in order to control the approach to the site. Following the withdrawal of the English forces, Brodick Castle was restored to the Hamiltons and refurbished.
The Hamiltons had extensive lands elsewhere and Arran became something of a backwater for this powerful family. However in the nineteenth century it was substantially rebuilt into the structure seen today. Work was started in 1844 by Alexander, Duke of Hamilton. The castle later passed through marriage into the hands of James Graham, Duke of Montrose in 1906. It remained with that family until 1957 when it was given to the Treasury in lieu of inheritance tax and placed into the care of the National Trust for Scotland.
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Brodick Castle is predominantly a modern structure dating from the mid-nineteenth century. However, the sixteenth century tower house and the Cromwellian gun platform have both survived and have been incorporated into the rebuilt structure.
Tower House. The tower house survives but has been heavily modified and incorporated into the nineteenth century structure. Note the gun-loop in the lower superstructure.
Cromwell's Gun Platform. The castle was garrisoned by Parliamentary troops in the 1650s and they built this gun platform in order to control the approach to the site.