Medieval castles in Scotland

Brodick Castle

Brodick Castle stands on a slope above the north side of Brodick Bay and under the shadow of Goatfell, which rises behind it. It can best be described as a strategically important castle developed over four centuries between the 1200s and the 1600s, with an 1800s stately home wrapped around it. The location was probably first used as a defensive site by the Vikings until they were driven from Arran, and the rest of the we ...
Founded: 1510 | Location: Isle of Arran, United Kingdom

Skipness Castle Ruins

Skipness Castle was built in the early 13th century by the Clan MacSween with later fortifications and other additions made to the castle through the 13th, 14th and 16th centuries. The castle was garrisoned with royal troops in 1494 during King James IV of Scotland"s suppression of the Isles. Archibald Campbell, 2nd Earl of Argyll granted Skipness to his younger son Archibald Campbell in 1511. During the Wars of the ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Huntly Castle

Huntly Castle was the ancestral home of the chief of Clan Gordon, Earl of Huntly. Architecturally the castle consists of a well-preserved five-story tower with an adjoining great hall and supporting buildings. Areas of the original ornate facade and interior stonework remain. A mound in the grounds of the castle is all that remains of an earlier 12th century motte. Originally named Strathbogie, the castle was gra ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Huntly, United Kingdom

Duart Castle

Duart Castle dates back to the 13th century and is the seat of Clan MacLean. In 1647, Duart Castle was attacked and laid siege to by the Argyll government troops of Clan Campbell, but they were defeated and driven off by the Royalist troops of Clan MacLean. In September 1653, a Cromwellian task force of six ships anchored off the castle, but the Macleans had already fled to Tiree. A storm blew up on the 13 September and t ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Isle of Mull, United Kingdom

Drum Castle

Drum Castle was for centuries the seat of Clan Irvine. The original 13th-century tower of Drum Castle has been suggested as the work of medieval architect Richard Cementarius, who built the Bridge of Don in Old Aberdeen. It is believed to be one of the three oldest tower houses in Scotland (and notably unaltered). A large wing was added in 1619 by the 9th laird, and further alterations were made during the Victor ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Drumoak, United Kingdom

Fraser Castle

Fraser Castle is the most elaborate Z-plan castle in Scotland. The castle stands in over 1.2 km2 of landscaped grounds, woodland and farmland which includes a walled kitchen garden of the 19th century. There is archaeological evidence of an older square tower dating from around 1400 or 1500 within the current construction. Originally known as Muchall-in-Mar, construction of the elaborate, five-storey Z-plan castl ...
Founded: 1575-1636 | Location: Kemnay, United Kingdom

Dunollie Castle Ruins

Dunollie Castle is a small ruined castle located on a hill north of the town of Oban. The castle is open to the public as part of the Dunollie Museum, Castle and Grounds. There was a fortification on this high promontory in the Early Middle Ages, when Dunollie was the royal centre of the Cenél Loairn within the kingdom of Dál Riata. The Irish annals record that 'Dun Ollaigh' was attacked or burned ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Kisimul Castle

Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Outer Hebrides, United Kingdom

Castle Stalker

Castle Stalker is a four-storey tower house or keep set on a tidal islet on Loch Laich. The island castle"s picturesque appearance, with its bewitching island setting against a dramatic backdrop of mountains, has made it a favourite subject for postcards and calendars, and something of a cliché image of Scottish Highland scenery. Castle Stalker is entirely authentic; it is one of the best-preserved medieval to ...
Founded: 1440s | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Tarbert Castle Ruins

Tarbert Castle was a strategic royal stronghold during the Middle Ages and one of three castles at Tarbert. The castle overlooks the harbour and although pre-14th century in construction, the tower dates back to 1494 and the visit of James IV to the Western Highlands. In 712, Tarbert was burned by King Selbach mac Ferchair of Cenél Loairn and of Dál Riata and in 731 by his son, Dúngal mac Selbaig. K ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Kildrummy Castle

The ruined Kildrummy Castle is one of the most extensive castles dating from the 13th century to survive in eastern Scotland, and was the seat of the Earls of Mar. It is owned today by Historic Scotland and open to the public. The castle was probably built in the mid-13th century under Gilbert de Moravia. It has been posited that siting of Kildrummy Castle was influenced by the location of the Grampian Mounth trackwa ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Kildrummy, United Kingdom

Tioram Castle Ruins

Castle Tioram ruins sits on the tidal island Eilean Tioram in Loch Moidart, Lochaber. The castle is the traditional seat of Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald, a branch of Clan Donald. It was seized by Government forces around 1692 when Clan Chief Allan of Clanranald joined the Jacobite Court in France, despite having sworn allegiance to the British Crown. A small garrison was stationed in the castle until the Jacobite Uprisin ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Highland, United Kingdom

Saddell Castle

Saddell Castle was built by David Hamilton, Bishop of Argyll, between 1508 and 1512 from the stones of the ruined Saddell Abbey. The castle was gifted to James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran by Bishop James Hamilton, as payment of debts and taxes in 1556. The Earl of Arran exchanged it with the Chief of Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg, James MacDonald in exchange for James"s lands on the Isle of Arran. The castle was ransack ...
Founded: 1508-1512 | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Dunadd Hill Fort

Dunadd is an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute. Originally occupied in the Iron Age, the site later became a seat of the kings of Dál Riata. It is known for its unique stone carvings below the upper enclosure, including a footprint and basin thought to have formed part of Dál Riata's coronation ritual. On the same flat outcrop of rock is an incised boar in Pictish style, and an inscription in ...
Founded: 8th century AD | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Merchiston Tower

Merchiston Tower was probably built by Alexander Napier, the second Laird of Merchiston around 1454. It serves as the seat for Clan Napier. It is perhaps most notable for being the home of John Napier, the 8th Laird of Merchiston, inventor of logarithms who was born there in 1550. Merchiston was probably built as a country house, but its strategic position and the turbulent political situation required it to be heavily f ...
Founded: c. 1454 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Findlater Castle

Findlater Castle is the old seat of the Earls of Findlater and Seafield, sitting on a 15m high cliff overlooking the Moray Firth on the coast of Banff and Buchan. The cliffs here contain quartz; the name 'Findlater' is derived not from Norse as earlier stated here, but from the Scots Gaelic words fionn ('white') and leitir ('cliff or steep slope'). The first historical reference to the castle is from 1246.  ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Banff, United Kingdom

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is considered to be one of the earliest seats of Clan Sinclair. It was built by William Sinclair, the 2nd Earl of Caithness, probably sometime between 1476 and 1496, but before his death at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. In 1577, George Sinclair, the 4th Earl of Caithness imprisoned his own son John, Master of Caithness in Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, on suspicion of rebelling against his rule. He w ...
Founded: 1476-1496 | Location: Caithness, United Kingdom

Strome Castle Ruins

Strome Castle was originally built by the Macdonald Earls of Ross. Later in 1472 the castle was owned by the Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh and Alan MacDonald Dubh, 12th Chief of the Clan Cameron was constable on behalf of the MacDonalds of Lochalsh. In 1539 King James V of Scotland granted the castle to the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry and Hector Munro, chief of the Clan Munro was constable of the castle for the MacDonalds o ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Lochcarron, United Kingdom

Dunscaith Castle Ruins

Dunscaith Castle is named after and was the home of the warrior maiden Scáthach. The castle itself sits on an off-shore rock. There is a gap between the rock and the mainland which was once spanned by a walled bridge. This stone walled bridge then led onto a drawbridge, the pivot holes for which are still visible on the far side. Once on the other side of the drawbridge a door opened to a flight of stairs which was ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Isle of Skye, United Kingdom

Carrick Castle

The present Carrick Castle is possibly the third on this location. The first may have been a Viking fort. The second structure, and first castle, is believed to have been built in the 12th century. Allegedly a hunting seat of the Scots kings, Carrick was originally a Lamont stronghold. In the spring of 1307, Robert the Bruce drove Henry Percy from the Castle before conducting a guerrilla war against Edward I of England. E ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Reims Cathedral

Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Reims) is the seat of the Archdiocese of Reims, where the kings of France were crowned. The cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. That original structure had itself been erected on the site of some Roman baths. A major tourism destination, the cathedral receives about one million visitors annually.

History

Excavations have shown that the present building occupies roughly the same site as the original cathedral, founded c. 400 under the episcopacy of St Nicaise. That church was rebuilt during the Carolingian period and further extended in the 12th century. On 19 May 1051, King Henry I of France and Anne of Kiev were married in the cathedral.

On May 6, 1210 the cathedral was damaged by fire and reconstruction started shortly after, beginning at the eastern end. Documentary records show the acquisition of land to the west of the site in 1218, suggesting the new cathedral was substantially larger than its predecessors, the lengthening of the nave presumably being an adaptation to afford room for the crowds that attended the coronations. In 1233 a long-running dispute between the cathedral chapter and the townsfolk (regarding issues of taxation and legal jurisdiction) boiled over into open revolt. Several clerics were killed or injured during the resulting violence and the entire cathedral chapter fled the city, leaving it under an interdict (effectively banning all public worship and sacraments). Work on the new cathedral was suspended for three years, only resuming in 1236 after the clergy returned to the city and the interdict was lifted following mediation by the King and the Pope. Construction then continued more slowly. The area from the crossing eastwards was in use by 1241 but the nave was not roofed until 1299 (when the French King lifted the tax on lead used for that purpose). Work on the west facade took place in several phases, which is reflected in the very different styles of some of the sculptures. The upper parts of the facade were completed in the 14th century, but apparently following 13th century designs, giving Reims an unusual unity of style.

Unusually the names of the cathedral's original architects are known. A labyrinth built into floor of the nave at the time of construction or shortly after (similar to examples at Chartres and Amiens) included the names of four master masons (Jean d'Orbais, Jean-Le-Loup, Gaucher de Reims and Bernard de Soissons) and the number of years they worked there, though art historians still disagree over who was responsible for which parts of the building. The labyrinth itself was destroyed in 1779 but its details and inscriptions are known from 18th century drawings. The clear association here between a labyrinth and master masons adds weight to the argument that such patterns were an allusion to the emerging status of the architect (through their association with the mythical artificer Daedalus, who built the Labyrinth of King Minos). The cathedral also contains further evidence of the rising status of the architect in the tomb of Hugues Libergier (d. 1268, architect of the now-destroyed Reims church of St-Nicaise). Not only is he given the honor of an engraved slab; he is shown holding a miniature model of his church (an honor formerly reserved for noble donors) and wearing the academic garb befitting an intellectual.

The towers, 81 m tall, were originally designed to rise 120m. The south tower holds just two great bells; one of them, named “Charlotte” by Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine in 1570, weighs more than 10,000 kg.

During the Hundred Years' War the cathedral was under siege by the English from 1359 to 1360. After it fell the English held Reims and the Cathedral until 1429 when it was liberated by Joan of Arc which allowed the Dauphin Charles to be crowned king on 17 July 1429.

In 1875 the French National Assembly voted £80,000 for repairs of the façade and balustrades. The façade is the finest portion of the building, and one of the great masterpieces of the Middle Ages.

German shellfire during the opening engagements of the First World War on 20 September 1914 burned, damaged and destroyed important parts of the cathedral. Scaffolding around the north tower caught fire, spreading the blaze to all parts of the carpentry superstructure. The lead of the roofs melted and poured through the stone gargoyles, destroying in turn the bishop's palace. Images of the cathedral in ruins were used during the war as propaganda images by the French against the Germans and their deliberate destruction of buildings rich in national and cultural heritage. Restoration work began in 1919, under the direction of Henri Deneux, a native of Reims and chief architect of the Monuments Historiques; the cathedral was fully reopened in 1938, thanks in part to financial support from the Rockefellers, but work has been steadily going on since.

Exterior

The three portals are laden with statues and statuettes; among European cathedrals, only Chartres has more sculpted figures. The central portal, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is surmounted by a rose window framed in an arch itself decorated with statuary, in place of the usual sculptured tympanum. The 'gallery of the kings' above shows the baptism of Clovis in the centre flanked by statues of his successors.

The facades of the transepts are also decorated with sculptures. That on the North has statues of bishops of Reims, a representation of the Last Judgment and a figure of Jesus (le Beau Dieu), while that on the south side has a modern rose window with the prophets and apostles. Fire destroyed the roof and the spires in 1481: of the four towers that flanked the transepts, nothing remains above the height of the roof. Above the choir rises an elegant lead-covered timber bell tower that is 18 m tall, reconstructed in the 15th century and in the 1920s.

Interior

The interior comprises a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles, a choir with double aisles, and an apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels. It has interesting stained glass ranging from the 13th to the 20th century. The rose window over the main portal and the gallery beneath are of rare magnificence.

The cathedral possesses fine tapestries. Of these the most important series is that presented by Robert de Lenoncourt, archbishop under François I (1515-1547), representing the life of the Virgin. They are now to be seen in the former bishop's palace, the Palace of Tau. The north transept contains a fine organ in a flamboyant Gothic case. The choir clock is ornamented with curious mechanical figures. Marc Chagall designed the stained glass installed in 1974 in the axis of the apse.

The treasury, kept in the Palace of Tau, includes many precious objects, among which is the Sainte Ampoule, or holy flask, the successor of the ancient one that contained the oil with which French kings were anointed, which was broken during the French Revolution, a fragment of which the present Ampoule contains.

Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral, the former Abbey of Saint-Remi, and the Palace of Tau were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991.