Constructed to defend a crossing point over the River Nith and a key route into Scotland, Dumfries Castle was a early twelfth century motte-and-bailey fortification. Taken by the English early in the first War of Scottish Independence, it was later captured by Robert the Bruce who demolished it to deny its future use to English forces.
Dumfries Castle was built in the early twelfth century in the form of an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. It guarded the point where the main western route into central Scotland crossed the River Nith. It was a Royal Castle from the start despite its location within the (then) independent Kingdom of Galloway. An increasingly prosperous town emerged to serve the needs of the garrison and in 1186 King William the Lion granted Dumfries Royal burgh status. The castle itself was partially rebuilt in stone in the mid-thirteenth century.
During the first War of Scottish Independence, Dumfries Castle was held by the English in 1298. In 1306 it witnessed the start of the rebellion of Robert the Bruce when, at nearby Greyfriars church, he murdered Sir John Comyn who was a rival claimant for the Scottish throne. Bruce was subsequently crowned King and attacked Dumfries Castle, along with numerous other English held strongholds, in order to eliminate their control over the country. Bruce's rebellion got off to a poor start however and he was defeated at the Battle of Methven by Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. Soon after the English recovered control of Dumfries Castle.
Bruce's fortunes improved in 1307 when King Edward I of England died. His son, Edward II, lacked his father's military skills and presided over a decline in English fortunes north of border. Bruce resumed his efforts to capture English held castles and re-took Dumfries in 1313. On this occasion he demolished the structure to ensure it couldn't be used again by the English. A year later his decisive victory at the Battle of Bannockburn ended, for a time, English control of Scotland. Dumfries Castle was not rebuilt despite the English re-occupying southern Scotland during the second War of Scottish Independence. Today the site has been heavily landscaped although remains of the motte and some of the surrounding ditches are still visible (known as Castledykes).
In 1440 a new fortification was built in Dumfries on a different location from the former motte-and-bailey. The new structure, New Wark Castle, was built in 1440 by Sir Herbert Maxwell. This occupied a site on the High Street and took the form of a Tower House. Around 1590 the castle was augmented with additional accommodation to support a garrison of 200 troops tasked with policing the troublesome border region. The Union of the Crowns in 1603 saw the need for this garrison reduce but the castle was garrisoned once more in 1715 by Government troops in response to the second Jacobite rebellion. In 1720 the castle was purchased by Dumfries town who demolished it in 1727 in order to make way for a church (rebuilt in 1866 as Greyfriars Church).
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The remains of the motte-and-bailey castle are limited and have been heavily modified from landscaping almost to the point of making them unrecognisable although portions of the motte and some short stretches of defensive ditch remain. A monument, flag pole and information panel mark the location. New Wark Castle in Dumfries has been demolished although the site is marked by Greyfriars Church.