Dunnottar Castle has played an important
role during many crucial episodes of Scottish
History, however, it was originally known
as a Pictish fortress, and its greatest
hour came during Æthelstan 's invasion
of Alba 934AD.
castle is probably the most dramatic historical
site in Scotland: a formidable castle
rock, surrounded on three sides by the
North Sea and accessed only by a narrow
isthmus of land with a steep, stone-cut
path leading to the top of the rock. For
over 1000 years it played a crucial role
in Scottish history, occasionally as Scotlands
last bastion, and has housed some of the
nation's greatest historical figures:
Constantine mac Aed, Sigurd the Mighty,
William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots,
and the Marquis of Montrose.
know Dunnottar was a Pictish fortress
of strategic importance, set on the
frontier between north and south Pictland
where the Grampian mountains come
close to the North Sea.
early appearances in history are some what mysterious. In
681 and 694 AD the Annals of Ulster simply record Obesessio
duin Foither - a siege at Dunnottar.
681 AD siege happened in the reign
of King Bridei, son of Bili, who was
attempting to unite the Picts by force
against the overlordship of the Angles.
Bridei attacked Orkney in 682 AD from
his bases north of the River Tay.
Either he attacked Dunnottar as the
opening move in his northern campaign
or his later attack on Orkney was
in reprisal for the Orcadian Picts'
siege of Dunnottar.
Brideis death in 693 AD a power
struggle, unsurprisingly, ensued in
Pictland. His successor, Taran, was
expelled only three years later, suggesting
he wasnt very popular. So, the
second siege of Dunnottar, may have
been part of a bitter Pictish civil
thirty years later Dunnottar was the scene of one of the
most important battles of the Dark Ages - one which could
be looked upon as the first ever big battle between the
Scots and the English, as the British Isles started to split
into two major power blocks. In this episode Constantine
II (Constantín mac Áed) defied the conquest
of Æthelstan, King of Wessex, by surviving a month-long
seige at Dunnottar. Read
the story of Constantine's defiance of Æthelstan
the late 13th century the oldest part
of the present castle, a stone church,
was constructed and dedicated to St
Ninian, who was believed to have converted
the Picts to Christianity - this seems
unlikely however, as when St Columba
visited Pictland at a later date the
Picts were still pagans.
the Wars of Independence the castle
was garrisoned by Edward I, King of
England, after his crushing defeat
of John Balliol, King of Scots. A
year later, in 1297 AD, none other
than William Wallace, laid siege to
Dunnottar, burning down its wooden
walls with an English garrison inside.
The Scots makar, or poet, Blind Harry,
wrote an chilling account of the struggle
for the rock in his epic poem Wallace:
a fire was brought speedily:
seems to be familiar with Dunnottar,
and may have visited what had become
the Renaissance home of the Earls
Which burnt the church, and all
those Southron boys:
Out oer the rock the rest
rushd great noise;
Some hung on craigs, and loath
were to die.
Some lap, some fell, some flutterd
in the sea;
And perishd all, not one
Extract of Blind Harry Wallace c1470s
1651, Oliver Cromwells army laid siege to the castle
for eight months attempting to steal the Scottish Crown
Jewels, however the jewels were saved, smuggled out by Mrs
Grainger, wife of the minister at Kinnef Kirk - a village
a few miles south of Dunnottar. Here they were hidden at
the old Parish Church.
The castle never recovered from the
damage inflicted on it by Cromwells
cannons. In the late 17th century
it lay mostly derelict but was used
on one infamous occasion as a prison
for radical Presbyterians, or Covenanters,
who refused to accept the king as
their overlord in matters of religion.
In 1685 in the midst of what is known
as the Killing Times,
167 Covenanters were imprisoned in
what is known as the Whigs Vault
at the far end of the castle.
Castle was the home of the Earls Marischal
of Scotland, who oversaw all ceremonial
activities in the Scottish Court,
including the coronations. They were
also responsible for the security
of the Scottish Crown Jewels, known
as the 'Honours of Scotland'.
castles active history came
to a close when the last Earl Marischal
was executed for his part in the 1715
Jacobite Rising and the castle was
confiscated by the government. It
remained neglected until 1925 when
the 1st Viscountess Cowdray started
its restoration. It remains in private
ownership today, but is open to the
to Aberlemno Castle
to the Kingdom of the Picts
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