Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


6.5.12
  Dunstaffnage Castle - The Campbells Are Coming

For some 150 years, Dunstaffnage Castle remained a crown possession. It appeared in the spotlight of history a few times, like in 1431, when King James I took the castle and hanged about 300 rebels who had sheltered there after the battle of Inverlochy. James had taken Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross prisoner and that of course, led a number of Scottish clans to rebellion. They were successful at first, but as so often, the rebellion disintegrated and Alexander only came free with King James' death in 1437.

Another view of the battlements

Another sad affair took place in 1463. The keeper of Dunstaffnage at the time was John Stewart 2nd Lord of Lorn. He had a rival in Alan MacDougall, my guess is about the woman John was going to marry and who already was the mother of, or pregnant with, his son. I could not find out her name, maybe she was the 'unknown MacLaren' cited in the Peerage (10798). Alan and his men attacked John on the way to Dunstaffnage chapel close to the castle and fatally wounded him. But John managed to crawl to the altar and complete the marriage vows before he expired. You could not find a better opera scene, lol.

Angus MacDougall took the castle, but King James III re-seized it and gave it to Colin Campbell 1st Earl of Argyll in 1470. The castle and the keepership which also was hereditary held by a Campbell, remained in the hands of the family until 1958.

Remains of the 'new house' from 1725

The Campbell keepers were obliged to keep the castle in good repair and garrisoned with 'six able and decent men with armour and arms sufficient for war', as well as a porter and a watchman. That was only a peace time garrison, of course, it would need more men to defend the place.

Some changes in the gatehouse and the north-east living quarters date to the 15th century. The castle did need some prettying-up since kings sometimes sojourned there, so James IV. Dunstaffnage also served as base for military forays into the Hebrideans against the MacDonald Lord of the Isles.

During the Civil War, the castle held out against the forces of Montrose in 1644, and three years later managed to capture Montrose's second-in-command, Sir Alexander MacDonald, who was then hanged from the castle battlements; his body buried outside the chapel. There's a pattern here; it seems Bannockburn was the last time the MacDonalds and Campbells, both fighting at the side of King Robert, got along.


The 'new house', the fireplace

The Campbells fared less well when both the 8th and 9th Earl of Argyll were executed for treason. Partly due to the machinations of his enemies, partly maybe the to power he held,, the 9th Earl, Archibald Campbell, had incurred the wrath of James Duke of York (the later King James II of England and James VII of Scotland), was imprisoned and put to trial. But Archibald escaped from Edinburgh. A few years later, he got involved in the 1685 rising against King James who had converted to Catholicism - while the Campbells were Protestants. But his small host was overcome, the earl captured and exectued, while Dunstaffnage Castle was taken and burned by royalist troops, though not completely destroyed.

But the family was back during the Jacobite Risings in 1715 and 1745. Dunstaffnage at the time was occupied by government troops. Flora MacDonald, the woman who hepled Bonny Prince Charlie to escape out of Scotland, stayed there briefly on her way to prison in England.

A view from the battlements to Loch Etive

A new house was added to the castle in 1725 in the place of the old kitchen house. The captain lived in the castle until 1810, but it started to decay so badly that he found a better house to live in and left the castle to a tennant.

The Duke of Argyll started to undertake restoration work prior to WW1 (esp. the gatehouse) but it was delayed during the war, and later plans for a complete restoration were never fulfilled. After WW2, the roof of the 'new house' had collapsed, thus leaving the only still habitable place - besides the gatehouse - in ruins as well. In 1958, both the Duke of Argyll and the hereditary captain (the 21st) agreed to give the castle into the care of Historic Scotland.

 
Comments:
A nice post on a subject close to my heart. Visited here lots of times and being an Appin Stewart the castle also has distant family links ie the John Stewart, founder of the clan. Good photo's and good post.
 
Love the view from the battlements!

My ancestors on one side are from the Lake Etive area. They are McIntyres.
 
Wonderful pictures! Are they actually restoring it?
 
What a sad story about John Stewart, 2nd Lord of Lorn. Very moving.
 
The pictures are great as are the little bits of history. With both my mother's and father's family hailing from Scotland, I've been very interested in Scottish history and through my readings have always felt the Campbells were a difficult bunch to fit in anywhere. It seems their loyalties to Scotland, at times, were very suspect. Without a doubt (in my mind) they always seemed to choose the politically-expedient path. Thanks for sharing!
 
Agreed, that scene is made for opera! Actually, quite a lot of Scottish history comes into that category :-)
Great pictures again.
 
Thank you, everyone.

Vicky, more like keeping the status quo; I don't think there are plans to actually restore buildings inside the castle. And the curtain walls are still formidable.

Elizabeth, I'm not sure the ill-fated rebellion of the 9th earl was a politically astute move, but yes, overall they had a good hand for navigating the tricky waters of politics.

Carla, well, Macbeth did ger his opera, as did the Lady of the Lake though the latter isn't really history (well, nor is Shakespeare's Macbeth).
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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