Ruthven Barracks was one of four facilities built to control a key route through the Cairngorms and to provide forward basing of troops near potentially troublesome Highland clans. Its garrison was withdrawn at the start of the 1745 rebellion to augment the main army. After Culloden the shattered Jacobite army mustered at the site before being disbanded.
Ruthven barracks sits upon the site of an earlier medieval castle. Perched on a natural mound, the first recorded reference was made in 1229 when it was owned by the Comyn family. Their dispute with Robert the Bruce - culminating in the murder of John Comyn at Dumfries at the start of the 1306 rebellion - led to the confiscation of the castle in the early fourteenth century. Soon after it passed into the hands of the Stewart family and became closely associated with Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan and so-called ‘wolf of Badenoch’. By 1451 it was in the hands of Alexander Gordon, Earl of Huntly at which time it was attacked and burnt by the Black Douglases led by John MacDonald, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles. The castle was rebuilt in 1459.
Ruthven Castle was still in use in 1689 when the first Jacobite rebellion ignited. The previous year William of Orange had arrived with an army in Brixham which started a popular uprising against the Catholic James VII (II of England) that resulted in his overthrow. Known as the Glorious Revolution William and his wife, Mary Stuart (daughter of James VII), were invited to become joint monarchs subject to constitutional limitations. Protestant England embraced the new rulers but reaction in Scotland to the new regime was mixed. Although the Scottish Government supported William and Mary, amongst both Protestant and Catholic circles there was reluctance to displace the Stuart dynasty which had ruled Scotland for over 300 years. Almost immediately the first Jacobite rebellion ignited (April 1689) led by John Graham, Viscount Dundee. Supported by Irish troops and Highland Clans he had military success at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689). However, whilst a number of further battles were fought - including a siege and burning of the castle at Ruthven - the uprising was ultimately defused by the offer of a general amnesty to any clans who had participated in the uprising provided they took an oath of allegiance. Peace did not last long though as the Act of Settlement (1701), barring Catholics from the throne, and the Act of Union (1707) which merged the Governments of England and Scotland were both unpopular measures in the Highlands. With the succession (in 1714) of the first of the Hanoverian monarchs, George I, discontent turned into rebellion in the form of the 1715 Jacobite uprising.
The 1715 rebellion was swiftly dealt with but to prevent re-occurrence, as well as to enforce the new Disarming Act (1716) - which banned broadswords, muskets and other weapons of war being held by the Highland clans - the Government commissioned four infantry barracks. The intent was for these facilities to augment the main Governmental fortresses at Fort William and Inverness Castle (re-named Fort George) plus those at Edinburgh and Stirling castles. The barracks were located at Bernera near Glenelg, Inversnaid in proximity to Loch Lomond, Kiliwhimen (now Fort Augustus) and Ruthven. The latter was chosen due to its proximity to an important junction between routes through the Cairngorms.
Ruthven Barracks were built between 1719 and 1721 on top of the mound of the original medieval fortification. The structure consisted of two three-storey barrack buildings each capable of accommodating 60 soldiers (each block had two rooms on each floor with ten men in each). A protecting curtain wall enclosed the blocks and was provided with musket-loops for defensive purposes. The two square turrets forming part of this curtain wall doubled as the Officer accommodation and provided space for logistic functions (including bakehouse and brewhouse). The barracks were designed for an infantry garrison but, following the appointment of General George Wade as Commander-in-Chief of North Britain, he favoured the use of dragoons (mounted infantry) in outposts such as Ruthven as they could be used as a rapid response force along the newly built military roads. Accordingly a stable block was added to Ruthven in 1734.
The final Jacobite rebellion, the 1745 uprising led by Prince Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), commenced in July 1745. The bulk of the garrison of Ruthven was withdrawn at this time - marching to Inverness to join the army of General Cope that had been tasked with neutralising the Jacobite threat. With the bulk of Governmental forces gone the Jacobites attempted to gain control of Ruthven in August 1745 but, without artillery, were unable to dislodge the skeleton garrison (led by a Sergeant Molloy and 14 men). By early 1746 the rebels were in a stronger position having defeated Government forces at the Battle of Falkirk (17 January 1746) during which they captured heavy ordnance. This was brought to bear at Ruthven in February 1746 prompting the garrison to surrender after a short siege. Now in Jacobite hands the facility was burnt but was later used as a rally point for the shattered Jacobite forces after their defeat at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746. Lord George Murray marshalled the surviving forces ready for the next stage of the campaign but it was to no avail; Prince Charles was broken and on 20 April his forces at Ruthven received his order "Let every man seek his own safety in the best way he can". So ended the last Jacobite rebellion and Ruthven barracks was never rebuilt.
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Ruthven Barracks was built in the early eighteenth century on the site of an earlier castle. The structure is ruinous but otherwise the barracks themselves remain standing as does the surrounding curtain wall and stables.
Barrack Blocks. Ruthven had two identical barrack blocks. Both were three storeys tall with two rooms on each floor. The blocks accommodated 60 men in total.
Reconstructed Accommodation. A reconstruction at Corgarff Castle but the configuration, a Government standard, would have been similar at Ruthven. The men were assigned two to a bed with five beds per room plus additional individual beds for the Non-Commissioned Officers.
Stables. The stable block was added in 1734 after General Wade added Dragoons to the garrison at Ruthven.
Ruthven Castle. The barracks were built upon a steep mound formerly occupied by Ruthven Castle. That structure had been destroyed during the 1689 Jacobite rebellion.