Doune Castle may be familiar, it played an important role in Outlander as ‘Leoch Castle’, also in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as Camelot and in the pilot of Game of Thrones.
Doune Castle has survived relatively unchanged since being built in the 1300s. The 100-foot high gatehouse and the traditional kitchen and serving area are just as they were back when The Duke of Albany was walking its many corridors.
Doune Castle was the medieval stronghold near the village of Doune, in the Stirling district of central Scotland. Stirling is known historically as the ‘Gateway to the Highlands’. The strategic importance of this area was recognised early on, the Romans had built the fort at Ardoch which is nearby to where Doune Castle is, also earthworks surrounding the present castle indicate that there was an earlier castle on the same site. The name doune derives from the word ‘dun’, meaning an ancient stronghold.
A poem of 1888 by Alexander McMillan includes the verses:
Doune Castle, full five centuries old,
Midst rural beauty stands,
With walls of massive masonry,
The work of skilful hands –
Walls which, if they could only pen
The history which they know,
Would lay before us many a scene
Of merriment and woe.
Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany
Doune Castle was largely the vision and work of one man, Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. The son of Robert II and the brother of the sickly Robert III, Albany was a key figure in 15th-century Scotland. King in everything but name, Albany ruled as governor of Scotland in place of his ailing brother and was at the heart of Scottish politics for around 50 years.
Albany was a colourful and controversial figure. He wanted to be the real king and Doune Castle was built to be like a royal palace. Albany spent a lot of money on making Doune castle an impressive place to be and was known as ‘the big spender. He presided over events as diverse as the establishment of Scotland’s first university at St Andrew’s and the dubious death of the heir to the throne, his nephew the Duke of Rothesay.
Robert Stewart was also Earl of Menteith and Fife through marriage to Margaret, Countess of Menteith. As the third son of King Robert II and younger brother of Robert III, he became effective ruler of Scotland from 1388 until his death in 1420.
Doune Castle and The Stewarts
On the death of Robert Stewart the governorship of the kingdom passed to his son, Murdoch. However, his was to be a short reign. Murdoch fell out with the king, James I. James executed Murdoch and the castle became a royal residence, maintained by a series of royal keepers, many of them related to the royal family of Stewart. Doune became a popular hunting lodge and summer residence. Successive monarchs for more than a century used Doune castle as a retreat.
Mary Queen of Scots and Doune Castle
Doune Castle was occasionally used by Mary, Queen of Scots. Doune was held by forces loyal to her. Mary would occupy the suite of rooms above the kitchen.
The defences of Doune Castle were put to the test for the first time in 1567 following the forced abdication of Mary Queen of Scots.
The castle was besieged for three days by Mary’s opponents and eventually the pro-Mary inmates surrendered, on the condition that the castle was not destroyed. The garrison surrendered to the Regent, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, in 1570. George Buchanan and Duncan Nairn, Deputy Sheriff of Stirling presided over the torture and interrogation of a messenger, John Moon, at Doune on 4 October 1570. Moon was carrying letters to Mary, Queen of Scots and Mary Seton.
In the civil war years which followed many political prisoners spent time within Doune’s walls.
The Earls of Moray
In 1570, ownership passed to Sir James Stewart, the first Lord Doune. Later, the title Earl of Moray came to the occupants of the castle through marriage. Doune Castle has belonged to the Earls of Moray ever since.
King James VI and Doune Castle
King James VI visited Doune on occasion, and in 1581 authorised £300 to be spent on repairs and improvements, the works being carried out by the master mason Michael Ewing under the supervision of Robert Drummond of Carnock, Master of Work to the Crown of Scotland. In 1593, a plot against James was discovered, and the King surprised the conspirators, who included the Earls of Montrose and Gowrie, at Doune Castle.
In 1607, the minister, John Munro of Tain, a dissenter against the religious plans of James VI, was imprisoned with a fellow minister at Doune, though he escaped with the contrivance of the then Constable of the Castle, who was subsequently imprisoned for aiding the dissenters. The Royalist James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose occupied Doune Castle in 1645, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. In 1654, during Glencairn’s rising against the occupation of Scotland by Oliver Cromwell, a skirmish took place at Doune between Royalists under Sir Mungo Murray, and Cromwellian troops under Major Tobias Bridge.
Doune Castle and the Jacobite Rising
Doune last saw active use during the Jacobite rising of 1745, when a number of government soldiers were imprisoned here by the Jacobites after the battle of Falkirk. Six escaped by knotting bedsheets and lowering themselves down the walls above the kitchen.
During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Doune Castle was occupied by Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, and his Jacobite Highlanders.
Restoration and The Castle Today
The castle gradually fell out of use. In 1883 it was inspected, repaired and substantially restored by the Earl of Moray. It was leased to the state in 1970 and is now cared for by Historic Scotland.
Doune Castle – Description
The castle forms an irregular pentagon in plan, with buildings along the north and north-west sides enclosing a courtyard. It is entered from the north via a passage beneath a tower containing the principal rooms of the castle. From the courtyard, three sets of stone external stairs, which may be later additions, lead up to the Lord’s Hall in the tower, to the adjacent Great Hall, and to the kitchens in a second tower to the west.
The Gate Tower
The principal tower, or gatehouse, is rectangular in plan 18 metres (59 ft) by 13 metres (43 ft), and almost 29 metres (95 ft) high, with a projecting round tower on the north-east corner, beside the entrance.
The Lord’s Hall
Situated on the first floor above the gateway passage, the Lord’s Hall is reached from the courtyard by an enclosed stone staircase. Once inside, visitors can see the room much as it would have been in the castle’s heyday thanks to its renovation in 1883. Wooden panelling lines the wall and a plaque on the west wall displays the arms of the Earl of Moray. Overlooking the hall, at the north end, is a musicians’ gallery.
From the Lord’s Hall passages and staircases lead to other parts of the castle including the upper hall directly above it. Here little remains to give a sense of the grandeur this room once enjoyed, though the vast 2.6m wide fireplace is still impressive.
Niches set into the deeply recessed central alcove show that this area of the upper hall served as a chapel. There would have been a permanent altar and it is likely that the area it occupied was screened off.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall, to the west of the Lord’s Hall, was the grandest room in the castle, reserved for events too large or important to be conducted elsewhere. The room is vast; 20 metres (66 ft) by 8 metres (26 ft), and 12 metres (39 ft) high to its timber roof. The hall has no fireplace, and was presumably heated by a central fire, and ventilated by means of a louvre like the one in the modern roof. Large windows light the hall, and stairs lead down to the three cellars on ground level.
The kitchen tower, virtually a tower house in its own right, is 17 metres (56 ft) by 8 metres (26 ft). The vaulted kitchen is on the hall level, above a cellar. It is one of the best-appointed castle kitchens in Scotland of its date. In the kitchen the fireplace takes up the full length of one wall.
A stair turret, added in 1581 and possibly replacing a timber stair, leads up from the lobby to two storeys of guest rooms. These include the “Royal Apartments”, a suite of two bedrooms plus an audience chamber, suitable for royal visitors.
The Gallows Tree at Doune Castle
Outside the great gates of Doune Castle once stood a tree where wrongdoers were reputed to have been hanged. The hanging tree caught the macabre imagination of the victorians. Wood from the hanging tree was made into furniture for the castle. Recently discovered was a Victorian guidebook with covers made from carefully cut, polished and varnished pieces of oak. Inscribed on the front are the words ‘Made from the Wood of the Old Gallows Tree at Doune Castle’.
Clans connected with Doune Castle
Pilot episode of Game of Thrones
Featured as Camelot in the film Monty Python and The Holy Grail