Castle Street, Dornoch
Minor road and track off A68
Durnoch Castle is a 15th century tower house built almost certainnly on the site of the original Bishop's Palace of St. Gilbert, who founded the Cathedral in the early 13th century.
It once had three towers, courtyard and gatehouse.
It also commanded extensive views along the coast, seawards, and across the Dornich Firth to the hills.
In its life-time it has also been used as a garrison, a court house, jail and school house.
It has been used as a hotel since 1947.
~ History ~
1557 ~ Bishop Robert appoints by charter that the Earl of Sutherland and his heirs to be hereditary Constables for Dornoch “situated in the Gaelic speaking Country among the wild, unbridled, untamed and savage Scots”. The appointment is made by the Bishop who wished to safeguard the property of the Church by putting it temporarily in the care of his relations.
1570 ~ The Earl of Caithness, having obtained guardianship over the young Earl Alexander of Sutherland, married him off to his daughter who is twice the boy's age. He then proceeds to rule the Sutherland and Caithness estates jointly with an iron hand.
The Murrays of Dornoch, who are implacably opposed to the Earl of Caithness harsh rule over this wild and remote northern area of Scotland, help rescue the young Earl by means of a trick. Although pursued from Dunrobin Castle they managed to get him across the Meikle Ferry, despite a sudden storm and into the safekeeping of the Earl of Huntly.
In the absence of the Earl of Caithness, the young master of Caithness gathers a great force of the Caithness and Mackay Clans, allied with the Sutherlands of Skelbo Castle, and descended on Dornoch. After days of bitter fighting, the Caithness forces enter and sack the town.
The Dornoch people hold out successfully for another week in the towers of the Castle and Cathedral.
Then the invaders go too far, sacking and burning Cathedral, invoking the curse laid down by St. Gilbert invoking the wrath and indignation of Almighty God in eternal damnation on those who might “distract and injure” the Cathedral.
Not only was the Cathedral burnt but St Gilbert’s Tomb is desecrated by William Sutherland.
“He opened Gilbert his grave, burst St Gilbert his coffin with his foot, and threw the ashes of that holy man with the kind which enormitie the Almighty God did most justlie punish; for that same foot that burst St Gilbert his coffin did afterwards rot away and consume, to the great terror of all beholders, whereby, this William Sutherland grew so lothsum that no man was able to come neir with him, and so he died miserablie”.
In a peace settlement between the Caithness and Mackay Clans and the Dornoch people, three Murrays are demanded as hostages. On being handed over is promptly beheaded by the Laird of Duffus, “against all humanitie and the laws of nations duelie observed amongst the greatest infidels”.
Holy retribution is swift and uncanny;
“Immediatlie after the death of the pledges, the Laird of Duffus sickened, and never rose againe out of his bed through the sting of conscience which he had conceaved, and through the strange visions which appeired unto him, for being accessorie and participant of the shedding of their blood”.
For the sacrilege in the Cathedral the young Master of Caithness is punished by his father the Earl, “whom God, in his just judgement had appoynted to be his scourge, for burning the Church of Dornough”.
The Earl throws his son into a dungeon where, after seven years, he dies at last “by famine and vermine”.
A few months after the Master of Caithness is imprisoned, his confederate the Mackay of Strathnaver also dies, “partlie through grief and pairtlie through the torment and trouble of his conscience which he had conceaved for his by past actions”.
And soon St Gilbert’s curse is fulfilled.
1573 ~ The Earl Alexander, now in his early twenties, divorces his Caithness wife and marries Lady Jane Gordon, Countess of Bothwell. A few years earlier Lady Jane had divorced the Earl of Bothwell so that he can marry Mary, Queen of Scots after the murder of Lord Darnley.
One of the sons of the marriage between Earl Alexander and Lady Jane is Sir Robert Gordon.
1604 ~ The Earl of Orkney is “honourablie interteyned with comedies and all other sports and recreations that Earl John cud make him”.
1615 ~ Earl John dies in the Castle. His son marries and lives in the Castle, where most of his children are also born.
1715 ~ The last of the Earls of Sutherland, William, Lord Strathnaver, leaves the castle for good.
1720 ~ Extensive repairs are needed on the Castle. Lord Strathnaver spends 2,300 marks on renovations.
1746 ~The Earl of Cromarty's Jacobite soldiers are billeted in the castle, causing a great deal of damage.
1760 ~ A local blacksmith has set up his forge in the basement of the derelict castle, originally to make and repair weapons for the Jacobite cause.