Impressive remains of a small castle situated on an island in the River Dee. The ruins include the remains of a fortified harbour. The island is much bigger today than in the medieval period but the visitor can still appreciate the effective positioning of the castle.
1. The name Threave derives from the Old Welsh word 'tref' meaning homestead suggesting the site was occupied long before the medieval castle. It may even have been the residence of Fergus, Lord of Galloway during the eleventh century and the same property that was destroyed by Edward Bruce, brother to Robert I, in 1308.
2. In the mid-fifteenth century the Douglas family were in a dispute with the MacLellans. In 1452 forces for the Earl of Douglas besieged Sir Patrick MacLellan within Raeberry Castle. They bribed entry into the castle, seized Sir Patrick and took him to Threave for execution. The MacLellan’s however benefited from the downfall of the Douglas family at the hands of James II in 1455 by James II. The MacLellan’s later built their own castle nearby - MacLellan’s Castle.
Positioned on an island, Threave Castle was dependant upon resupply via vessels navigating the River Dee and accordingly the defences included a fortified harbour.
Notes: Threave Castle is situated on a small island accessible via boat. Visitors should arrive at Toll Cottage (postcode/lat and long as per above) and proceed along the footpath to the boat service.
Built by Archibald ‘the Grim’ to establish control over his new Lordship of Galloway, Threave Castle would later be used by the Black Douglas clan to oppose James II of Scotland. Later its pro-Catholic owners came into conflict with those supporting the Scottish Reformation and afterwards the Covenanter cause.
HISTORY OF THREAVE CASTLE
Threave Castle was built on an island on the River Dee by Sir Archibald Douglas, whose ruthless reputation led to him being known as Archibald 'the Grim', in the 1370s. Following the loyalty of his family to the Scottish Crown, David II granted significant rewards to Archibald's direct family. He himself was elevated to Lord of Galloway from 1369 and Threave Castle was commissioned to cement his position within the area especially given the area had only a few decades before supported the English backed Balliol regime. Archibald was further elevated to Earl of Douglas in 1388 and invariably would have spent much time away from the castle not least when he mounted a successful attack on the English stronghold at Lochmaben Castle. He died peacefully here on Christmas Eve in 1400.
The castle remained with Archibald's descendants until the mid-fifteenth century. In 1444 a marriage between William, Earl of Douglas and his second cousin, Margaret led to vast swathes of land coming under control of the Black Douglas clan to such an extent that it challenged the power of the King. William was clearly preparing for conflict - in 1447 an artillery fortification was built around the original Tower House at Threave. However he was murdered at Stirling Castle in 1452 probably on the orders of King James II in an attempt to defuse the situation. If so it failed and just fuelled the hostility; Margaret married her late-husbands brother James, now Earl of Douglas, who was now openly hostile to the King. James II exiled the Earl of Douglas and started a military campaign to destroy his powerbase - by 1455 only Threave Castle held out. The siege was successful although it seems likely it was bribes rather than military force that brought the garrison to surrender.
Following the capture of the castle, Threave was taken into Crown ownership. James II briefly visited once more in 1460 and James IV in 1502 but otherwise little of note is recorded. In 1526 it was granted to Lord Maxwell, whose chief seat was at Caerlaverock Castle but who made numerous repairs to the property. This however did not stop it falling briefly into the hands of the English. In 1535 Henry VIII had broken from the Catholic church and established the Church of England. Incurring the combined hostility of France and Spain, Henry sought to destabilise the 'auld alliance' between Scotland and France by encouraging the former to cede from the influence of Rome; his strategy was to marry Prince Edward (later Edward VI) with Mary Queen of Scots both of whom were infants. Whilst the then regent James Hamilton, Earl of Arran agreed to the match he was overthrown by Cardinal David Beaton who was strongly opposed. This prompted Henry to attack Scotland in 1544 - the so-called 'Rough Wooing' - in which Threave Castle was captured and held by the English. Only after the English defeat at the Battle of Ancrum Moor (1545) was the castle restored to the Maxwells.
Cardinal's Beaton pro-Catholic regime however had fierce opponents. His execution of George Wishart in 1546 resulted in a retaliatory strike on St Andrew's Castle where Beaton was cornered and murdered. After the subsequent Battle of Pinkie (1547) the English re-occupied south-east Scotland where English bibles and post-reformation customs encouraged the idea to spread in Scotland. In the decade that followed Protestant ideas gained traction and despite Mary of Guise fighting for the Catholic cause with French troops, the Scottish Reformation came to fruition in 1560 when the Scottish Parliament outlawed Catholicism. Throughout though the Maxwells', who still owned Threave Castle, remained staunchly Catholic incurring the wrath of the Government on numerous occasions. Their support for the Catholic faith continued into the seventeenth century when Robert Maxwell came out strongly in favour of Charles I's unpopular attempts to reform the Scottish church. Charles sought to align the churches of both his Kingdoms which included trying to introduce Episcopacy (a hierarchy of Bishops) into the Church of Scotland vice Presbyterianism (a representative assembly). The Scottish opposition signed the National Covenant (hence their title - Covenanters) and raised an army to counter Charles. As the dispute escalated into the Bishop's Wars (1639 and 1640), Maxwell garrisoned Threave with 100 men and sufficient provisions for a long siege.
The attack came in Summer 1640. The Covenanter Army under Lieutenant Colonel Hume laid siege to the Threave in June 1640 and lasted 13 weeks until the garrison was given permission by Charles I to surrender. The castle was then partially dismantled to prevent further military use and was never re-fortified.