Overlooking Loch Fleet, Skelbo Castle was a motte-and-bailey fortification probably built in the 1130s following the suppression of a major rebellion in Moray. Attacked by Robert the Bruce in 1308, the castle was later rebuilt in stone and remained a residence into the eighteenth century.
Little is known about the early history of Skelbo Castle but it was probably raised during the reign of David I (1124–53). That King actively encouraged Normans and Flemings to settle in the more unruly parts of Scotland as they brought their castle building skills with them and helped strengthen Royal authority. Whether Skelbo was raised by such an immigrant or a local native imitating continental designs is not known. However, a rebellion in nearby Moray had been brutally suppressed in 1130 and it is possible Skelbo Castle was founded shortly after. By 1211 it was in the hands of William de Moravia (of Moray), owner of nearby Duffus Castle, and therefore it is possible Skelbo Castle was raised by his father, Freskin, who was a Flemish mercenary.
In 1290 Skelbo Castle hosted Royal Commissioners on their way north to Wick in order to meet Margaret, Maid of Norway as she returned to Scotland to claim the throne. However, whilst staying at Skelbo, the Commissioners received news of the death of the young Princess starting a chain of events that would lead to the Wars of Scottish Independence. The Moravia family supported the English cause during the early years of this war prompting Robert the Bruce to burn the castle in 1308.
It was perhaps the attack of 1308 that prompted the rebuilding of the Keep in stone for this is tentatively dated to the early fourteenth century. The curtain wall was also rebuilt in stone enclosing a triangular shaped area which would have hosted all the ancillary buildings associated with such a site. A gatehouse occupied the south-east corner and the entire site was surrounded by a ditch.
In 1350 the then owner of Skelbo Castle - Kenneth de Moravia, Earl of Sutherland - acquired Duffus Castle by marriage. Skelbo seems to have remained an important residence but substantial building work at his new acquisition led to that site becoming his primary seat. Skelbo later passed to Thomas Kynnard through his marriage to the daughter of Walter Murray (the Moravia family having now assumed this as their surname). The Kynnard family held it until 1529 when it was sold to William Sutherland who made a number of upgrades to the structure.
A new house was built within the bailey in the seventeenth century with the former castle buildings effectively abandoned. By the early eighteenth century it was occupied by Eric Sutherland, a younger son of Lord Kenneth Sutherland of Duffus. Eric supported the 1715 Jacobite rebellion and accordingly Skelbo was confiscated after that uprising was defeated. Thereafter the castle drifted into ruin but in 1996 it was purchased by the Russian artist and billionaire Mikhail de Buar who allegedly acquired it to gain the associated title of ‘Baron’. He took little interest in the site and it required intervention by Historic Scotland to stabilise the structure.
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Skelbo Castle is an inaccessible ruin but can be viewed from the adjacent road and parking area. The visible remains consist of a motte and fourteenth century Keep.
Motte and Bailey. Skelbo Castle was a motte and bailey fortification raised in the early twelfth century probably as part of the suppression of a rebellion in Moray. It was rebuilt in stone in the fourteenth century.
Loch Fleet. The castle stands on the shores of Loch Fleet.
Skelbo Castle Layout. The castle occupied a triangular area with the motte and Keep located to the north.