Medieval castles in Scotland

Fyvie Castle

The earliest parts of Fyvie Castle date from the 13th century – some sources claim it was built in 1211 by William the Lion. Fyvie was the site of an open-air court held by Robert the Bruce, and Charles I lived there as a child. Following the Battle of Otterburn in 1390, it ceased to be a royal stronghold and instead fell into the possession of five successive families, each of whom added a new tower to the castl ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Turriff, United Kingdom

Bishop's Palace

The Bishop"s Palace, Kirkwall was built at the same time as the adjacent St Magnus Cathedral. It was built for the cathedral"s first bishop, William the Old of the Norwegian Catholic church who took his authority from the Archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim). The ruined structure now looks like a small castle. Originally it is thought to have been like a typical Royal Norwegian Palace, with a large rectangular hal ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Kirkwall, United Kingdom

Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle is one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland. It guards the seaward approach from the Firth of Lorn to the Pass of Brander – and thereby the heart of Scotland. The castle was built around 1220, probably by Duncan MacDougall, son of Dubhgall, Lord of Lorn, and grandson of the great Somerled ‘King of the Isles’. These were stirring times in Argyll, because of the remarkable struggle b ...
Founded: c. 1220 | Location: Argyll and Bute, 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

Innes Chonnel Castle Ruins

Innes Chonnel Castle is a ruined 13th-century castle on an island on Loch Awe near Dalavich, Scotland. It was once a stronghold of Clan Campbell. The existing buildings belong to several different periods, the earliest surviving building being the inner bailey which was erected in the first half of the 13th century as a small, rectangular castle of enceinte. Within this, a number of buildings were grouped round a small, c ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Argyll and Bute, United Kingdom

Kildonan Castle Ruins

Kildonan Castle stands on the southern coast of the Isle of Arran. The castle"s name is derived from the name of a former resident, Saint Donan, who is said to be buried on the island. It was built in the 13th century by the MacDonalds, the Lords of the Isles. The castle stands on the cliffs, overlooking the island of Pladda and the entrance to the Firth of Clyde. It was built to defend against enemies attacking thro ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Isle of Arran, United Kingdom

Muchalls Castle

Muchalls Castle stands overlooking the North Sea in the countryside of Kincardine and Mearns. The lower course is a well preserved Romanesque, double-groined 13th century towerhouse structure, built by the Frasers of Muchalls. Upon this structure, the 17th-century castle was begun by Alexander Burnett of Leys and completed by his son, Sir Thomas Burnett, 1st Baronet, in 1627. The Burnetts of Leys built the remain ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Muchalls, United Kingdom

Cairnbulg Castle

Cairnbulg Castle is a z-plan castle situated in Cairnbulg, Aberdeenshire. Originally known as Philorth Castle, it was built in the early 14th century, destroyed in the winter of 1308–1309 in the Wars of Independence, and re-built by the Fraser family in 1380. Subsequently, a courtyard and outbuildings were added to the main tower. It is now open to the public by appointment only. Flora Fraser, 21st Lady Saltoun ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Cairnbulg, 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

Caisteal Maol

Caisteal Maol (Castle Moil) was an ancient seat of the Mackinnon clan. It was a fortress commanding the strait of Kyle Akin between Skye and the mainland, through which all ships had to pass or else attempt the stormy passage of The Minch. The present building dates back to the 15th century, but is traditionally reputed to be of much earlier origin. According to that tradition, Alpín mac Echdach"s great-grandson F ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Isle of Skye, United Kingdom

Dounreay Castle Ruins

Dounreay Castle dates from the late 16th century, and is one of the few remaining examples of a Scottish Laird’s castle from that period. William Sinclair of Dunbeath, descended from a younger brother of John Sinclair, third Earl of Caithness, built the castle in the 1560s. It was damaged in 1651 by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army during their Scottish campaign. Now entirely ruined, the castle was still inhab ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Highland, 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

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

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

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

Borve Castle Ruins

Borve Castle, also known as Castle Wearie, is a ruined 14th century tower house. MacGibbon and Ross attributed the building of the tower to Amie mac Ruari, wife of John of Islay, and dated it to between 1344 and 1363. It was occupied by the Macdonalds of Benbecula until the early 17th century. The ruined tower measures 18 metres by 11 metres, and 9 metres high. The walls are up to 2.7 metres thick. The entrance, in the s ...
Founded: 1344-1363 | Location: Outer Hebrides, 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

Aros Castle Ruins

Aros castle was probably built by one of the MacDougall Lords of Lorn in the 13th century and was once the major stronghold of the Lords of the Isles. It first comes on record in the later 14th century when it was in the possession of the Lords of the Isles. It appears to have been garrisoned by Argyll’s troops in 1690, though it was described two years previously as ‘ruinous, old, useless and never of any Str ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Isle of Mull, 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

Inverlochy Castle Ruins

Inverlochy Castle was built around 1280 by the powerful ‘Red’ Comyns, lords of Badenoch and Lochaber, to command the southern end of the Great Glen. The site of two battles, the castle remains largely unchanged since its construction. The moat that surrounded the castle has long gone but the location at the western end of the Great Glen and natural defensive postion against the River Lochy gave Inverlochy cas ...
Founded: c. 1280 | Location: Fort William, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Königstein Fortress

Königstein Fortress is located on the left bank of the River Elbe. It is one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe. The 9.5 hectare rock plateau rises 240 metres above the Elbe and has over 50 buildings, some over 400 years old, that bear witness to the military and civilian life in the fortress. The rampart run of the fortress is 1,800 metres long with walls up to 42 metres high and steep sandstone faces. In the centre of the site is a 152.5 metre deep well, which is the deepest in Saxony and second deepest well in Europe.

The fortress, which for centuries was used as a state prison, is still intact and is now one of Saxony's foremost tourist attractions, with 700,000 visitors per year.

By far the oldest written record of a castle on the Königstein is found in a deed by King Wenceslas I of Bohemia dating to the year 1233. It is probable that there had been a stone castle on the Königstein as early as the 12th century. The oldest surviving structure today is the castle chapel built at the turn of the 13th century. In the years 1563 to 1569 the 152.5 metre deep well was bored into the rock within the castle - until that point the garrison of the Königstein had to obtain water from cisterns and by collecting rainwater.

Between 1589 and 1591/97 Prince-Elector Christian I of Saxony and his successor had the castle developed into the strongest fortification in Saxony. The hill was now surrounded with high walls. Buildings were erected, including the Gatehouse (Torhaus), the Streichwehr, the Old Barracks (Alte Kaserne), the Christiansburg (Friedrichsburg) and the Old Armoury (Altes Zeughaus). The second construction period followed from 1619 to 1681, during which the John George Bastion was built. The third construction period is seen as the time from 1694 to 1756, which included the expansion of the Old Barracks. From 1722 to 1725, at the behest of August the Strong, coopers under Böttger built the enormous Königstein Wine Barrel, the greatest wine barrel in the world, in the cellar of the Magdalenenburg which had a capacity of 249,838 litres. It cost 8,230 thalers, 18 groschen and 9 pfennigs. The butt, which was once completely filled with country wine from the Meißen vineyards, had to be removed again in 1818 due to its poor condition. Because of Böttger, Königstein Fortress is also the site where European porcelain started.

Even after the expansion during those periods of time there continued to be modifications and additions on the extensive plateau. The Treasury (Schatzhaus) was built from 1854 to 1855. After the fortress had been incorporated in 1871 into the fortification system of the new German Empire, battery ramparts were constructed from 1870 to 1895 with eight firing points, that were to have provided all-round defence for the fortress in case of an attack that, in the event, never came. This was at this time that the last major building work was done on the fortress.

Because Königstein Fortress was regarded as unconquerable, the Saxon monarchs retreated to it from Wittenberg and later Dresden during times of crisis and also deposited the state treasure and many works of art from the famous Zwinger here; it was also used as a country retreat due to its lovely surroundings.

The fortress played an important role in the History of Saxony, albeit less as a result of military action. The Saxon Dukes and Prince-Electors used the fortress primarily as a secure refuge during times of war, as a hunting lodge and maison de plaisance, but also as a dreaded state prison. Its actual military significance was rather marginal.

Since 1955 the fortress has been an open-air, military history museum of high touristic value.