Dunstaffgne Castle, Argyle & Bute
3 miles North of Oban
The impressive site of Dunstaffnage Castle overlooks what was probably the most important junction of sea-lanes in western Scotland, guarding a small bay which once offered anchorage and a beach for galleys. Built upon an outcrop of rock in the Firth of Lorne, the castle consists of a massive and tall 13th century curtain wall up to 8 feet thick, with round towers and a 16th century gatehouse. A stronghold here was held by the kings of Dalriada in the 7th century, who had originally invaded from Ireland, and was one of the places that the stone of destiny was kept.
~ History ~
1240's ~ Diplomatic negotiations between the Scottish Crown to purchase the territories held by the Norwegian Crown in the Scottish Highlands and Islands are proving to the unsuccessful. This greatly increases the tensions between the two Kingdoms, which the MacDougall's, along with other Lords who hold their lands and castles in fealty to their Norwegian overlords, find themselves caught up in despite their best efforts to avoid conflict with either side. King Alexander II of Scotland finally loses patience and assembles and expedition to set sail to the Hebrides.
Ewan MacDougall, Lord of Lord and Dunstaffgne Castle, receives word of this expedition whilst in Norway paying homage to his King and overlord.
He sets sail for home and receives a letter from the Scottish King that he wishes to meet with him. Ewan refuses to meet the King until his safe-conduct can be assured.
At the meeting Alexander insists that Ewan must cede his castles including Dunstaffgne to him in return for increased lands on the Scottish mainland, together with the friendship of the King. Despite the terms being pushed upon Ewan by the Kings' chief advisors, he refuses to break his oath to the Norwegian King, and leaves the meeting.
He is accused of treason by the Scottish King, but Ewan responds. 'one could quite well serve two masters, provided the masters were not enemies'. Enraged Alexander mobilises his army to attack Ewan, declaring unfaithful and to pursue him throughout his lordship of Argyll.
Ewan manages to secure a truce so as to give him time to resign his allegiance to the King of Norway. This buys him time during which, fortunately for Ewan, the Scottish King is struck down ill for 'wishing to disinherit an innocent man', and later dies.
1270's - Ewan MacDougall, Lord of Lorne, completes the building of the castle started by his father Duncan.
1307 ~ The outlawed King Robert the Bruce comes out of hiding back to Scotland in galley's provided by Christina MacRuari and men provided by Angus Og MacDonald, recapturing the Isle of Arran.
At the same time Bruce's brothers Thomas and Alexander land on the Scottish mainland with an Irish warband. They are however captured by Dougal MacDowell's men, who are allied to the MacDougall's of lorn.
They are sent to the English at Carlisle Castle where they are hanged.
Threatened on all side by rival clans, mercenary assassins hunting him with bloodhounds and with the English fleet closing in, Bruce is forced once again to flee into the mountains.
1308 ~ Bruce emerges from his guerilla warfare to defeat the English in open battle at Loudon Hill. English reinforcements once again force him to flee across rival MacDougall lands.
John MacDougall of Lorne hears of this news and sees the opportunity to once and for all destroy his weakened rival and gain favour with the English Crown. John lays an ambush at a narrow pass at Brander with 2000 of his men hidden high above in the rocks. Bruce suspects a trap and so despatches his loyal lieutenant Douglas with his loyal highlanders to climb above the MacDougall's, who make a 'grete and apert defens' when they are themselves surprised and routed. Bruce's main forces pursue the fleeing MacDougall's, leaving John MacDougall watching helpless from his galley anchored in Loch Awe, at what was to be his moment of triumph.
Bruce's combined forces now plunder MacDougall lands and head for their main fortress of Dunstaffgne Castle.
1309 - The castle is besieged and captured by Robert Bruce after his defeat of the MacDougall's in the Pass of Brander. John MacDougall escapes by sea but his father Alexander is captured. He is sentenced to forfeit all the MacDougall lands but allowed safe conduct to England, where he soon dies in poverty.
1321 - As a reward for supporting Robert Bruce against the MacDougall's, constableship of the castle is granted to Sir Arthur Campbell.
1338 - The death of Sir Arthur Campbell sees much of the MacDougall lands in Lorne re-granted to the MacDougall's, including Dunstaffnage.
1400's - The grandson of John MacDougall who had escaped to the English court after the battle of the Pass of Brander, returns to Scotland in the train of the English princess who is to marry David II King of Scots, and so finds royal favour. Rather than leave the castle to his MacDougall cousins, he leaves the Lordship to his heiresses, both of whom marry Stewarts, one becoming Lord of Lorne and owning Dunstaffnage.
1463 - On the murder of John, the second Stewart of Lorne, by a renegade MacDougall in the pay of the English, the Lordship of the castle passes to his brother Sir Walter. A dispute quickly follows as John had been on his way to marry his mistress so as to legitimate his natural son. Local sympathy favours his son and six years of conflict leads to Sir Walter deciding the lands are more trouble than their worth and exchanges the Lordship with Colin Earl of Argyll for richer and more peaceful lands in eastern Scotland. The exchange is ratified in 1470.
1600's - The castle is garrisoned throughout the Scottish conflicts of 1640's, 1670's & 1680's, finally being burnt in 1685 by the Marquis of Atholl after the defeat and forfeiture of the 9th Earl of Argyll.
1715 - Government troops occupy the castle as a result of the Jacobite uprising.
1746 - The second Jacobite uprising sees government troops return and Flora MacDougall is briefly imprisoned in the castle after helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the English.
1810 - The gatehouse which had been the principal residence of the Captains of Dunstaffnage, is gutted by fire, but the courtyard buildings remain occupied by tenants for almost another century.