Originally situated on a tidal island, Rosyth Castle was built by Sir David Stewart in the mid-fifteenth century. The main structure was a Tower House whilst various ancillary buildings were enclosed within an attached and unusually tall barmkin. The castle was attacked by supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1572 and Oliver Cromwell in 1651. Today it has been enveloped by the dockyard.
On 24 August 1428, James I of Scotland granted the Barony of Rosyth to Sir David Stewart. He took the title Lord Rosyth and, around 1450, constructed the castle to serve as his primary residence. He built it upon an outcrop of rock that protruded into the Firth of Forth and it was linked to the mainland by a causeway that was entirely submerged at high tide. The earliest part of the castle was the four storey 'L' plan Tower House, standing nearly twenty metres tall. A courtyard, which was enclosed by an unusually tall barmkin (a curtain wall), extended to the south-west and would have contained all the domestic support buildings associated with such a site including stables, brewhouse and bakehouse.
A crest above the courtyard is dated 1561 and inscribed with 'MR' - Maria Regina - in honour of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was probably around this time that major upgrades were made to the structure including partial demolition of the barmkin to facilitate the construction of larger courtyard buildings. The dismantling of the strong protective wall may well have been regretted for within a few years, Mary's reign descended into civil war. On 15 June 1567 at Carberry Hill near Edinburgh she surrendered to her opponents and was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle where she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, James. However, in May the following year, she escaped and headed towards Glasgow to rally her supporters. Local legend suggests she visited Rosyth Castle en route. Mary's forces were subsequently routed at the Battle of Langside on 13 May 1568 after which she fled to Carlisle and permanent captivity in England.
In the subsequent power play after Mary's defeat, the Stewarts of Rosyth supported the Regency of James Stewart, Earl of Moray. However, Blackness Castle, on the southern shores of the Forth, was held for the Queen. Despite attempts to blockade Blackness, it's garrison periodically raided sites along the Forth and in 1572 attacked Rosyth Castle. Blackness surrendered to the Regent's regime the following year.
Scotland saw increased stability during the opening decades of the seventeenth century and Rosyth Castle underwent various modifications to convert it into a more comfortable residence. Around 1635 large windows were added to the Tower House by James Stewart and his wife, Margaret Napier, whose initials are engraved on the lower transom. However, such upgrades proved badly timed for just a few years later Britain plunged into the Wars of Three Kingdoms. Rosyth Castle avoided action until 1651 when it was seized by Oliver Cromwell following his victory at the Battle of Dunbar (1650). Troops were garrisoned in the castle and they badly damaged its fabric during their tenure.
After the Restoration, Rosyth Castle was returned to the Stewarts and repairs were made but the family no longer used it as their main residence. Within a few decades they sold it to David Drummond of Invermay. It then passed through several owners before being sold again in 1712 to John Hope, Earl of Hopetoun. He left the site unoccupied and removed stone plus fixtures and fittings for other uses. The castle drifted into ruin but the lower two storeys of the Tower House were reoccupied in 1864 and used as accommodation for fishermen working from the port.
In 1903 Rosyth, including the ruinous castle, was acquired by the Royal Navy as part of a £3million project to construct a major dockyard capable of berthing up to eleven Battleships. Work started in 1909 and the castle, which up to this point had still been isolated on a tidal island, found itself engulfed by the industrial workings of a naval base. The land around the castle was reclaimed leaving the castle someway inshore. The castle was originally intended to have been converted into a library and reading room for the Royal Navy Officers stationed in the new base but, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, this plan was postponed. In the 1920s defence cutbacks led to Rosyth dockyard being mothballed and, although it was later reactivated, funding was never found to restore the castle. With the re-allocation of Nuclear Submarine refits from Rosyth to Devonport in 1993, huge tracts of the Royal Navy dockyard were sold off. This included the castle which is now in private ownership and found in the corner of the security enclosure protecting the commercial port.
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Rosyth Castle is a ruined fifteenth century Tower House. The tower itself is not accessible but the site can be explored with permission from the adjacent security desk. Be aware the grounds are occupied by nesting gulls in the Spring/Summer who have an extremely hostile attitude to visitors!
Tower House. The ‘L’ plan Tower House is the oldest part of the castle’s remains. Note the rough stonework where the barmkin originally connected to the tower - at over 10 metres tall this was an exceptionally high curtain wall. The large window in the Tower House wall was added in 1635.
Curtain Wall. The courtyard extended to the south and west of the tower and was enclosed by a substantial barmkin (curtain wall). Parts of this structure survives and the point where it connected to the tower on the (demolished) east side can be clearly be seen.
Ancillary Buildings. The remains of some of the ancillary buildings are visible. Originally these structures would have led out onto a cobbled courtyard.
Barmkin Entrance. The crest above the courtyard gatehouse is dated 1561 and inscribed with 'MR' - Maria Regina - in honour of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Gunloop. The gunloops were probably added circa-1561 when the castle's barmkin was extensively modified.
Rosyth Castle is located on private land within the security perimeter of the Rosyth Port. However, there is no fencing adjacent to the security checkpoint next to the castle and the site can be accessed subject to permission from the guard. The nearest public car park is shown below but on-road parking is possible closer to the site (although note there are security restrictions around the port).
Car Parking Option
Hilton Road, KY11 2AZ