A fortification has existed on the site of Inverness Castle since at least the eleventh century AD. It was rebuilt into an eighteenth century citadel, known as Fort George, following the first Jacobite rebellion and a hundred years later was converted into the neo-Norman style structure visible today. During the Commonwealth period Cromwell's Fort stood nearby.





Inverness is located at the north-eastern end of the Great Glen, a line of five lochs extending from Fort William in the south-west and which has historically been an important artery of trade and movement through the otherwise inaccessible Highland massif. Unsurprisingly then a fortification has existed here since at least the sixth century AD when records indicate that a visit was made by St Columba to the fortress of the Pictish King Brude. The next record dates from 1040 when Macbeth reportedly murdered King Duncan at a castle on Auld Castlehill (a couple of miles to the south from the modern city). Macbeth's successor, Malcolm III (Malcolm Canmore), built the first known fortification on the site of the current castle in the mid-eleventh century. The nature of this structure is uncertain but was probably an earth and timber fortification and was probably contemporary with a rampart and ditch built to protect the town. The castle was substantially rebuilt in stone by David I (1124-53) and concurrently he made Inverness a Royal burgh. In 1163 his successor, Malcolm IV (1153-65) appointed Shaw MacDuff as hereditary Governor of the castle for his services in suppressing a rebellion in Moray. In 1263 upgrades were made to the castle to prepare it for a potential Norwegian invasion although ultimately Inverness was not attacked at this time.

The castle occupies a steeply scarped slope overlooking the River Ness.

Wars of Scottish Independence


In 1296 the First War of Scottish Independence began when King John Balliol defied Edward I's demands for homage. The initial action was swift with a decisive English victory at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) after which an English garrison was briefly received at Inverness Castle. However, the war continued as various factions sought to overthrow the English prompting renewed hostilities. In 1303 English troops took control of Inverness Castle once more but in 1308 it was retaken by Robert I (the Bruce) and slighted to prevent any further military use.


Lords of the Isles


The state of the castle following Robert I's action is unclear but the town was attacked by Donald, Lord of the Isles in 1410. This prompted Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar to rebuild the castle in 1412. This new facility hosted James I in 1428 as he sought to stamp his authority on his northern magnates in particular Donald's successor - Alexander MacDonald, Lord of the Isles. During the King's tenure there, Alexander was summoned to appear and, when he did so, was arrested and imprisoned along with numerous other Lords who had defied James. Alexander was eventually released and in 1429 he returned to Inverness with a large force and burnt the town to the ground. Alexander submitted to James in August 1429 and was imprisoned in Tantallon Castle. Although released his successor, John MacDonald of Islay, continued to have a fractious relationship with the monarchy and Inverness Castle was attacked by his forces in 1455, 1462 and 1491. On each occasion occupation was invariably short lived and followed by numerous upgrades to strengthen its defences. The threat effectively came to an end in 1493 with James IV having successfully broken the power of the MacDonalds.


Mary, Queen of Scots


In 1508 Alexander Gordon, Earl of Huntly was appointed as hereditary keeper of Inverness Castle. It was still with his family in 1562 when George Gordon, Earl of Huntly defied Mary, Queen of Scots and refused her entry into the castle prompting forces drawn from the Fraser and Munro clans to storm the castle. Nevertheless it was retained by the Huntly family who allegedly invested heavily in the structure including lavishly decorating the state rooms with Italian Paintings.


Wars of Three Kingdoms


Inverness Castle saw several actions during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. In 1644 it was occupied by Covenanter troops tasked with defending the area against the Royalist General James Graham, Marquis of Montrose. He had extraordinary success against the Covenanters defeating them in multiple battles in 1644/5 and, after the Battle of Auldearn (May 1645), he came close to capturing Inverness. However, the garrison held firm and Montrose had insufficient manpower to commence siege works and therefore he withdrew.


The execution of Charles I in January 1649 prompted a new round of hostilities. Royalist forces representing Prince Charles (Charles II) seized Inverness Castle in February 1649 but they withdrew as a Covenanter army led by David Leslie approached slighting the castle as they left. The following year Montrose returned to Scotland hoping to mobilise the Royalist opposition once more. Lewis Gordon, Marquis of Huntly besieged Inverness Castle on his behalf but the fortification resisted his attack. The defeat of Montrose at the Battle of Carbisdale (1650) and his betrayal at Ardvreck Castle ended the campaign.


Cromwell's Citadel


Despite the defeat of the Scottish Royalists, Prince Charles made peace with the Covenanter Government who, after having extracted significant political concessions, proclaimed him as Charles II. This prompted the Commonwealth Government of England, under Oliver Cromwell, to invade. Covenanter forces were defeated at battles of Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651) and thereafter Scotland was overrun. Cromwell considered control of the Great Glen as crucial for dominating northern Scotland and accordingly he constructed fortifications at Fort William and Inverness with work starting on the later in May 1652. Stone was robbed from Fortrose Cathedral and other ecclesiastical buildings to support the construction effort.


The new facility, known then as "the Sconce" but now referenced as Cromwell's Fort, did not re-use the existing site occupied by Inverness Castle as the military considered this too far inshore. It was essential that supply ships could reach the fort unhindered and accordingly it was built much closer to the mouth of the River Ness. It took the form of a pentagon shaped enclosure with arrow head bastions on each point and the entire structure was encircled on four sides by a moat wide enough for a small ship at high tide. The fifth side of the fort was protected by the River Ness. Internally it had accommodation for over 1,000 troops and a significant cavalry force. A surviving plan of the fort details combined barracks with each block accommodating 164 horses on the lower level and 312 men in the upper stories. Construction work continued until 1655 and cost £80,000, equivalent to £30million today. Colonel Thomas Firth was appointed as its first (and only) Governor.


Cromwell's Citadel was decommissioned following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 and physically dismantled two years later with the stone from the fort being reallocated to build Ness Bridge. Nevertheless the earthworks of the citadel remained visible until the development of the city after World War II. Today only Cromwell's Clock tower, first recorded in1693 and presumed to be from one of the fort's buildings, and a short earthwork section of rampart survive. The majority of the site originally occupied by the citadel is now buried under the BP Oil terminal

Clock tower (once part of Cromwell's Fort

Plan of Cromwell's Fort

Jacobite Rebellions


The restored Stuart regime prospered during the reign of Charles II but, when he died in 1685, his successor was treated with some suspicion. James VII (II of England) was overtly Catholic and in direct opposition to the predominantly Protestant leanings of England and lowland Scotland. For three years the new King was tolerated but the birth of a male heir potentially meant a long line of Catholic monarchs. In what has become known as the Glorious Revolution, key magnates from across the realm invited William of Orange to invade and become joint monarch alongside his wife, Mary Stuart, subject to constitutional limitations. Reaction in Scotland to the new regime was mixed and bitterly opposed by the pro-Catholic Highlanders. Almost immediately the first Jacobite rebellion started under the leadership of John Graham, Viscount Dundee.


Concurrent with these events, Inverness was once again suffering from clan warfare. In early 1689, as a result of a feud that had festered for over twenty years, the MacDonalds of Keppoch plundered the city and took hostages. John Graham negotiated their release, after a substantial ransom payment, and accordingly the MacDonalds flocked to his banner to support his rebellion. However, the uprising was short-lived as Graham was killed at the Battle of Killiecrankie and a Government  amnesty defused tensions . Given the security situation Inverness Castle, which was still in the hands of the Huntly family, reverted to the Crown.


Fort George 1


Further Jacobite rebellions occurred in 1715 and 1719 prompting Inverness Castle to be reinforced with an enlarged garrison of 600 men. Portions of the medieval castle were converted into the Officer's accommodation whilst a Governor's House and purpose built barracks were also constructed. Further work followed after the appointment, in July 1724,  of General George Wade as Commander in Chief of the army in North Britain. He considered effective control of the Highlands hinged upon dominating the Great Glen and accordingly built Fort Augustus and augmented the facilities at Fort William and Inverness Castle. The latter, which was now renamed Fort George after the King, included the construction of a new curtain wall with bastions as well as a new Governor's House and barracks. Wade also sought to improve military lines of communication through the Highlands with an extensive network of military roads to facilitate unrestricted movement with several of the roads converging on Inverness.

Plan of Fort George (Inverness)

1745 Rebellion


In July 1745 Prince Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) landed at Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides. Over the Summer and Autumn he raised an army and in November 1745 invaded England ironically using the road network Wade had built in order to suppress the Highlands! By December the Prince had reached Derby having skilfully manoeuvred around Government armies but ultimately retreated back to the Scottish Highlands. He was pursued by Government forces but gained a respite with a victory at the Second Battle of Falkirk (1746). Thereafter he sought to dislodge the Governmental garrisons along the Great Glen before renewing his campaign in the Spring. The Jacobites launched determined assaults against the three forts of the Great Glen. Fort George (formerly Inverness Castle) rapidly fell to the rebels as did Fort Augustus. With the Highlands firmly in their hands, the Jacobites wintered in Inverness whilst the Government forces did the same at Aberdeen. When hostilities resumed in 1746, the Jacobites withdrew from Fort George but slighted the structure as they left igniting numerous explosions around the site. A plan dated 1746 shows the extent of the damage! The rebellion came to an abrupt end in April 1746 following the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden.




The ease with which Fort George (Inverness Castle) had fallen to the Jacobites had alarmed British military authorities. Rather than rebuild the fort, a new state-of-art facility was devised. The new Fort George was built at Ardersier, a site eleven miles north-east of Inverness, which was partly selected for tactical reasons but also due to complaints from the populace of Inverness. This new facility took the name Fort George leaving the old and ruinous fortification to resume its former title of Inverness Castle. The site remained in poor condition until the mid-nineteenth century when it was rebuilt to house the Sheriff Courthouse and County Hall. Constructed in a neo-Norman style, work started in 1836 and 1846. The castle remains in use as a court and therefore access is limited to the exterior although this may be changing in the near future.

The nineteenth century Inverness Castle



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What's There?

Inverness Castle is largely a nineteenth century construction although fragments of the medieval fortification survive most notably the well and part of the bastion wall. The castle remains in use as a functioning court and therefore there is no public (tourist) access to the interior. Cromwell's Fort has also been virtually obliterated although a clock tower survives as does a short stretch of the earth rampart.

Inverness Castle. The medieval castle has largely been obliterated but its strong defensive placement, on top of a steep bank overlooking the River Ness, remains evident.

Inverness. Inverness is located near the confluence of the River Ness with the Moray Firth.

Ness Bridge. There has been a bridge under the castle for centuries. It was rebuilt on numerous occasions including in the 1660s using stone plundered from Cromwell's Fort.

Cromwell's Fort. This large citadel was built between 1652 and 1655. it was located significantly closer to the river mouth than Inverness to ensure it could be resupplied by sea without hindrance. Today only a heavily restored/modified clock tower and a short portion of earthwork ramparts remain.

Military Occupation. Following the Jacobite rebellions northern Scotland effectively became subject to a military occupation. Three major facilities along the Great Glen - Fort William, Fort Augustus and Fort George - were the lynchpin of the occupation whilst there were also smaller garrisons at other locations including Braemar, Corgarff, Glenelg and Ruthven. The facilities were linked by a series of military roads largely built by George Wade and William Caulfield.

Fort George (Inverness) Layout. Inverness Castle was transformed into a bastioned fortress following the 1715 Jacobite rebellion and renamed Fort George.

New Fort George. The Inverness Fort George fell to the Jacobites in 1746 and, after the rebellion had been defeated, the Government built a new fortress as a replacement. Due to complaints from the residents of Inverness, who objected to the military garrison, it was constructed eleven miles north-west of the city.

Inverness Castle. The castle was rebuilt in neo-Norman style between 1836 and 1840 to house the Sheriff's Court. It still serves this function.

Getting There

Inverness Castle is found in the centre of the city. There are numerous car parks in the vicinity with one option shown below. The remnants of Cromwell's Fort can be found off Lotland Street and Cromwell Road. On-road parking is possible nearby.

Car Parking Option

King Street, IV3 5DF

57.477079N 4.230114W

Inverness Castle

Castle Street, IV2 3EG

57.476119N 4.225530W

Cromwell's Fort Clock Tower

Cromwell Road, IV1 1SX

57.488053N 4.229618W

Cromwell's Fort Rampart

Lotland Street, IV1 1ST

57.488082N 4.226705W