Dunbar Castle

Dunbar Castle, East Lothian

Dunbar (24)
Dunbar (28)
Dunbar (20)
Dunbar (29)
Dunbar (18)
Dunbar (11)
Dunbar (25)
Monday Dunbar (8)
Dunbar (9)


Dunbar Harbour


Victoria Place,


EH42 1HX

Dunbar Castle was once one of the most impressive and important castles in all of Scotland. Today only fragment ruins remains at one end of the harbour. Due to its dangerous state of repair, access is sadly limited to a path that runs alongside the shoreline from the harbour and a jetty. 

Much of the castle walls now seem almost at one with the rocks and caves, difficult to imagine how it once looked, with few drawings or descriptions to help.

Despite its ruinous state, it is a lovely castle in a picturesque location well worth a visit, with limited parking at the harbour near the castle.

~ History ~

849 ~ Kenneth MacAlpin, King of both the Picts and Gaels of Scotland, secures this ancient stronghold once held by the Votanidi tribe of Northumberia, before it was taken from them by the Picts. Its purpose now to protect his fragmented realm against Vikings raids.

1067 After his victory over the Saxon King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, Duke William of Normandy appoints Copsig, a supporter of Harold's rebellious brother the Earl Tostig, who had been exiled with his master two years previously, as Earl of Bernicia, which includes the fortress of Dunbar. However, within just five weeks Copsig is dead, killed by Oswulf, who claims the Earldom for himself. Within six months he too is killed, by bandits, as is the lawless nature of northern England following the Norman Conquest.

Gospatric, great-grandson of King Æthelred II, now lays claim to the Earldom, being related to Oswulf. He offers King William a large amount of money to be given the Earldom. The new King, being in urgent need of money in order to secure his new realm, readily agrees to this. 

1068 ~ A series of uprisings against the Norman's in securing the north, along with threats of foreign invasions in support of this, posseses a serious threat to King William's crown. Gospatric is found to be among the leaders of this uprising, along with Edgar Ætheling and Edwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morcar. This uprising soon collapses, and William proceedes to dispossess many of the northern landowners and grants the lands to his Norman followers. For Gospatric, this means the loss of his earldom to Robert Comine and is exiled into Scotland. 

1069 ~ Gospatric joins an invading army of DanesScots, and Englishmen under Edgar Aetheling. Although the army is defeated by the Norman's, he is able, from his possession of Bamburgh castle, to make terms with the conqueror, who leaves him undisturbed for the next thee years.

1072King William strips Gospatric of his Earldom of Northumbria, replacing him with Siward's son Waltheof, 1st Earl of Northampton.

Gospatric flees once more back into exile in Scotland, then Flanders. He later returns to Scotland and is granted the fortress at "Dunbar and lands adjacent to it" by King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. He sets about building a castle to secure his new Earldom.

1214 ~ The English under King John attempt to take the castle but the defences comfortably hold out.

1296 ~ King John Balliol of Scotland is forced into rebellion against King Edward I of England. To secure his fragile hold on his new realm King John also enters into an alliance with England's most ancient enemy France. Outraged, King Edward raises an army to deal with the Scots, who themselves launch a failed pre-emptive attack on Carlisle Castle.

The English assult on nearby Berwick is brutal in retaliation. A month later his army march into lowland Scotland. Dunbar Castle is identified as key to this advance. However, before its owner Patrick, the Earl of March, who supports King Edward I, is able to hand the castle over, his wife Marjory Comyn, beats her husband to it, by handing teh castle over to the forces of King John.

The castle is besieged by John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, prompting the Scottish garrison to send a frantic plea for help to King John. He duly detaches the mounted elements of his army, under the command of John Comyn, but the subsequent battle is a disaster with the Scots routed and over 100 high status prisoners taken. With the arrival of King Edward I and the main English army, Dunbar Castle surrenders to the English. Later that year King John capitulates to King Edward I and is stripped of his throne. Thousands of other Scottish magnates subsequently pay homage direct to Edward I at a gathering at Berwick Castle.

1314 ~ The Wars of Scottish Independence culminates in the  Battle of Bannockburn, where King Edward's weak son and heir, King Edward II,is decisively defeated, leaving him to flee the battlefield. Refused entry into Stirling Castle, Edward rides at speed to Dunbar Castle, pursued all the way by the victorious Scots. He leaves his horses outside the castle's gates and takes a fishing boat back to England. Dunbar Castle is slighted to prevent it being taken and held by the English against the Scots.

1333 ~ The English return under a stronger King in Edward III who secures a significant victory over the Scots at Halidon Hill. Dunbar Castle is refortified by the English, but it is still later recaptured by the Scots.

1338 ~ The Scots manage to withstand a six week siege by the English who fail to retake the castle.

1435 ~ The English led by Henry Percy fail to take the castle.

1448 ~ Another English attack fails but this time significant damage is made to the castle.

1488 ~ The 11th Earl of Dunbar forfeits the castle for treason, which is then slighted to prevent it being used by the English.

It is later taken into ownership of the Crown, with King James IV ordering  the castle to be rebuilt and repaired.

1489 ~ The Scots fleet out of Dunbar defeat the English in a naval battle.

1515 ~ The castle is rebuilt as war again breaks out between England and Scotland.

1548 ~ Following successive campaigns by King Henry VIII and Edward VI of England against the Scots, culminating in the English victory at the Battle of Pinkie, Dunbar Castle is attacked and left ruinous.

1550 ~ The castle is extensively upgraded over the next ten years by Marie de Guise, widow Queen of King James V.

1566 ~ Mary, Queen of Scots rallies her supporters at Dunbar Castle following the murder of her unpopular Italian secretary, David Riccio, at Holywood Palace.

1567 ~ Mary, Queen of Scots, arrives at Dunbar Castle with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. Rumours abound that he has allegedly kidnapped the Queen and has taken her first to Hailes Castle, and then onto Dunbar.

By the summer Mary surrenders to her nobels who have risen in rebellion against her and James Hepburn. She is imprisoned in Lochleven Castle, where she is forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, James.

1568 ~ Mary escapes and rallies her forces but is  defeated at the Battle of Langside and forced to flee to England, whilst her husband, James Bothwell flees to Dunbar Castle and then abroad to Norway, hoping to enlist the support of King Frederick II of Denmark. However, the King imprisons him and he is never released. Mary is later executed by Queen Elizabeth of England.

Dunbar Castle is slighted so as it cannot again be held against the Scottish Crown.

1844 ~ A gun battery is built into the harbour and much of the castle remains are pulled down for a new harbour.