KILDRUMMY CASTLE, AB33 8RA
Postcode: AB33 8RA
Lat/Long: 57.234822N 2.904629W
Notes: Castle is found off the A97. If approach from the north note that the turning for the Kildrummy Castle Hotel is not the entrance/parking for the castle itself (although does give a scenic view of the fortification from the very pleasant gardens). Castle has dedicated car park and is well sign-posted.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
A major medieval fortress albeit extensively ruined. Much of the curtain wall is thirteenth/fourteenth century whilst the remains of the Tower House originate from the sixteenth century. No parapet access to any of the remaining turrets but nearby high ground can be accessed via the Kildrummy Castle Hotel park (small fee payable for entrance).
1. The Medieval Earldom of Mar stretched from the River Don in the north to the River Dee in the south encompassing significant swathes of land to the west of Aberdeen. To the north was Moray which, in the thirteenth century, was fiercely independent.
2. Following the capture of the castle after the 1306 siege, Sir Neil Bruce (brother to Robert) was taken to Berwick-upon-Tweed where he was hung, drawn and beheaded. Although they had escaped from Kildrummy before the English had arrived, Queen Elizabeth along with her escort the Earl of Atholl and Bruce's daughter Lady Marjorie, were captured nearby and taken to London as prisoners. Atholl was executed whilst the others were incarcerated in the Tower of London. 12 year old Lady Marjorie was particularly harshly treated; she was locked in a cage in the ‘zoo’ located in the Tower's Barbican and forbidden to speak to anyone.
Elphinstone Tower. The sixteenth century Tower House was added by the Elphinstone family who owned the castle from 1507 to 1626. The Tower House was the fashionable accommodation choice for Scottish gentry at this time.
Gatehouse. Only stone foundations remain of the Gatehouse but its layout is very similar to that seen at Harlech Castle which was commissioned by Edward I. Did his Master Mason, James of St George, have a hand in its construction?
A major fortress positioned on a key route into the north, Kildrummy Castle was vital for controlling Moray. It saw action during the Wars of Independence and later was attacked during Cromwell’s occupation of Scotland. In 1690 it was burnt by Jacobite forces but in 1715 the Earl of Mar initiated a new rebellion from here.
HISTORY OF KILDRUMMY CASTLE
Kildrummy Castle emerged from attempts by the Scottish monarchs to increase control of Moray. Alexander II had crushed a rebellion there in 1230 but in order to sustain his influence he needed control of the key routes into the territory. Kildrummy sat at the point where the main road south converged with the main access into Buchan and Moray. Records are incomplete but it is likely the castle was commissioned at this time seemingly by William, Earl of Mar. It is believed to be a direct replacement for Invernochty Castle and was probably built with some form of Royal support.
In 1286 the Scottish King Alexander III had died without a direct male heir leaving thirteen rivals bidding for the Scottish throne - the leading candidates were Robert the Bruce and John Balliol. To avoid Civil War the leading magnates of Scotland invited Edward I of England to arbitrate the succession. Having subjugated Wales, Edward now sought this as an opportunity to assert establish dominion over Scotland; ensuring all claimants swore an allegiance to him as Lord Paramount of Scotland, he eventually settled the Scottish throne on John Balliol who was crowned as King John. However he proved less pliable than envisaged; when Edward demanded Scottish troops to assist in his war with France John, who was being significantly undermined by Robert, rebelled. Edward led his armies north in 1296 defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar and forcing John to abdicate on 10 July 1296 at Stracathro near Montrose. On his way south from this meeting, Edward stayed at Kildrummy Castle.
The castle saw action later in the first War of Scottish Independence when in 1306 Robert the Bruce rebelled and claimed the Scottish throne. Kildrummy was still held by the Earls of Mar who were related to the Bruce family through marriage and were strong supporters of Robert. Initially the new Scottish King sent his Queen, daughter and brother to take refuge in Kildrummy Castle but - when faced with the advance of an English army under Edward, Prince of Wales and the Earl of Pembroke - they fled further north. Kildrummy was nevertheless still besieged and ultimately taken when a blacksmith was bribed to set fire to the grain store. To prevent any further use by the Scots, Kildrummy was rendered indefensible at this time.
The first War of Scottish Independence came to an end with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328. But Edward III signed this peace-deal under duress - at that time he was a puppet King under the control of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March - and when he overthrew Mortimer in 1330 the resumption of hostilities was inevitable. The second War of Scottish Independence commenced in 1332 with the English triumphing at the Battle of Halidon Hill (1333). Kildrummy at this time was owned by Lady Christian Bruce, Countess of Mar and the castle was duly besieged by a pro-English faction under David, Earl of Atholl. However his force was intercepted and destroyed at the Battle of Culblean by forces under Sir Andrew Moray, Regent of Scotland for the young David II.
The second War of Scottish Independence ended in 1357 but six years later Kildrummy Castle was taken into Royal ownership when the then owner - Thomas, Earl of Mar - became a supporter of the English King. When Thomas died in 1374 it was returned to his heirs with the castle and title ultimately passing to Isobel. Through a coerced marriage, it passed into the hands of Alexander Stewart who was an illegitimate son of the Earl of Buchan. Upon his death in 1435, Kildrummy was once again taken into Royal ownership as James I sought to curtail the power of his nobles. Major modifications were made at Kildrummy by the King including construction of the barbican.
In 1507 James IV granted he castle to Alexander, Lord Elphinstone. He made substantial upgrades turning the fortress into a stately residence in particular adding the Tower House which was built in a similar style to the myriad of similar structures constructed around the country at this time.
The castle was returned to the Earls of Mar in 1626 and during their final tenure the castle saw several actions. In 1654 Cromwell's forces attacked and dislodged the Royalist garrison and in 1690 the castle was damaged when Jacobite forces under Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee burnt the castle rather than risk it being occupied by Government troops. At this time the then owner - John Erskine, Earl of Mar - was a supporter of the Government but by September 1715 he had changed sides as he personally launched the third Jacobite Rising from Kildrummy Castle. After proclaiming his support for the exiled Prince James Stuart (would be James VIII), he marched from here to Corgarff Castle and then onto Braemar. But the rising was extinguished by Governmental forces at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, fought near Dunblane on 13 November 1715, and the Earl fled to France. Due to his involvement in the rebellion, Kildrummy Castle was the subject of an Attainder (forfeiture of property) issued by Westminster and was abandoned. The structure was allowed to decay after this with stone quarried for use on other building projects. From 1898 attempts were made to stabilise the ruin and in 1951 it passed into State care.