Huntly Castle

Huntly Castle, Aberdeenshire




Castle Street


AB54 4SH

Huntly Castle is a spectacular castle-palace, rich in both architecture and history.

The castle is well sign-posted with parking opposite the castle.

This is a must-see Castle that few other sites can compare in terms of its grandeur, despite its ruinous state.

~ History ~

1190 ~ Earl Duncan of Fife is granted the estates of Strathbogie as reward for serving the King of Scotland against the semi-independent rulers of Moray, the powerful native MacWilliams, who are seen as a direct threat to the Crown. The Crowns policy of openly inviting Norman, Briton and Flemish Lords to establish estates in Scotland, in order to help securing the throne, results in warfare and rebellion amongst the established ruling clans.

Duncan builds himself a motte and bailey castle known as the Peel of Strathbogie to secure his estates, from which the family adopt the same name.

1204 ~ Earl Duncan's third son David inherits his fathers northern estates and establishes Strathbogie as his principle seat.

1264 ~ David's grandson, also named David becomes Earl of Atholl through marriage, greately increasing the families wealth and influence.

1270 ~ David dies at Tunis whilst on Crusade with King Louis IX of France.

1306 ~ John who had succeeded his father supports Robert the Bruce's campaign against the English for Independence, and is executed in London, the first Scottish Earl of be executed for some 200 years.

1307 ~ Robert the Bruce, now King Robert I of Scotland, visits the castle during his bloody and bitter campaign against his rivals, the Comyns.

Having fallen ill at Inverurie Robert is carried to the security of Strathbogie.

1308 ~ Still very ill, King Robert leads his army to take camp at Inverurie near Oldmeldrum. The Comyn's  gather their forces, ready to attack Bruce the following day. At dawn the Comyn's make a surprise attack on Bruce's camp.

His men gallop over the bridge into the streets of Inverurie. Taken completely unprepared, Bruce's sentries are quickly cut down. Those few who survive take refuge in the nearby castle. However, the Comyn's main force is still too far away to take advantage of this move.

Bruce, who is still ill, manages to rise from his bed to prepare a counter-attack. As he approaches the Comyn's hastily draw up forces astride the road to Inverurie, leaving their unreliable feudal levies placed to the rear, with the knights and men-at-arms taking up a position to the front. The levies have been given the assurance that Bruce was too ill to take to the field in person, and so their shock reaction when he rides into sight causes most to flee for their lives.

The Comyn leader Buchan make's some attempt to steady the line, but he too soon joins the flight, pursued by Bruce's men as far as Fyvie. The fugitive Earl flees all the way to England, where he later dies the same year.

The Battle of Inverurie ends all active resistance to King Robert in Aberdeenshire. He is not, however prepared to risk leaving a potentially hostile district to his rear, and takes drastic action ordering his men to burn to the ground farms, homes and strongholds associated with the Comyns in the violent and bloody Harrying of Buchan. The Comyn's military and polictical power is ruthlessly destroyed.

1314 ~ David de Strathbogie, the new Earl of Atholl, motivated by family links with the Comyns and thinking King Robert's forces will be annililated at the Battle of Bannockburn against the might of the English army, foolishly decides to turn against King Robert I, just as the King secures his greatest triumph with victory against the then considered invisible English army at Bannockburn.

As punishment David is stripped of all his lands and titles by Bruce.

The estates of Strathbogie are granted to a loyal supporter, Sir Adam Gordan de Huntly.

1333 ~ A staunch patriot of Scotland against the English, Sir Adam Gordan is killed in battle against the English at the Battle of Halidon Hill.

1346 ~ Sir Adam's son and heir Alexander, is killed fighting the English at the Battle of Otterburn.

1376 ~ The Strathbogie line finally dies out and so at last the Gordans finally feel secure enough to take up their acquired northern estates.

1388 ~ The second Sir Adam Gordan is killed fighting the English whilst leading a charge at the Battle of Homildon Hill in Northumberland.

1408 ~ Sir Adam's son John dies and ends the male line of the Gordans of Huntly. His sister Elizabeth inherits the estates and in the same year marries Sir Alexander Seton.

1437 ~ Alexander Seton succeeds to the lordship after being created Lord Gordon by King James I. To better secure his estates and stamp his authority on the Lordship he builds a great stone tower house in the bailey of the old castle, replacing the residence on the motte that had stood there for more than 200 years.

1445 ~ The Gordan's have become the most powerful family in the north-east of Scotland thanks to their loyalty to the Crown. Alexander Seton, 2nd Lord Gordon, is made Earl of Huntly. He extends the family's estates with the acquisition of the lordship of Badenoch, and with it the castle at Ruthven.

1447 ~ Alexander changes the family name from Seton to Gordon.

1452 ~ Alexander loyally supports King James II's bitter conflict against the Black Douglases. He marries the King's sister, Annabella.

He defeats the Douglas Earl of Crawford for the King, but whilst still engaged in battle, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray, attacks Strathbogie castle, setting it aflame. Hearing this Alexander leads his force to give chase to Archibald's men, persuing them and taking revenge on the townspeople of Elgin when they are unable to catch Douglas.

1455 ~ Archibald Douglas's death in battle effectively ends the Black Douglas's power and threat to the Crown, and so Alexander seizes the opportunity by capturing Douglas castles of Darnaway and Lochindorb, and by arranging the marriage of his son to Elizabeth Dunbar, widow of the Earl of Moray.

However the marriage proves to be a disaster ending in divorce and in doing so losing the opportunity to secure the Earldom of Moray.

1470 ~ Alexander dies, leaving his extensive building work of a lavish palace at Strathbogie unfinished. It is his son who completes his fathers work.

1506 ~ Alexander, the third Earl, receives a charter from King James IV allowing him to change the name of his palace from Strathbogie to Huntly. The King becomes a frequent visitor to the lavish residence of the Gordans.

1550 ~ George Gordon, the 4th Earl, is by now the head of the most powerful family in all of north-east Scotland, and as nephew to King James V, he is also Chancellor of Scotland. He is referred to as 'Cock o the North' in recognition of his unrivalled influence and power.

The Earl travels to France in the entourage of Queen Marie of Guise, widow of King James V. Upon his return much of the castle palace is remodelled from what he has seen on his extensive European travels.

1556 ~ Queen Marie, now queen regent of Scotland, stays at Huntly Castle and is so entertained with such overwhelming display of the Earls wealth, the French ambassador advises Marie that 'the wings of the Cock of the North should be clipped'.

1560 ~ The Reformation Act of Scotland abolishes Catholic Mass and all ties with Rome, which leaves the staunchly Catholic Gordan's in conflict with the rising Protestant families of the land.

1562 ~ Queen Marie's daughter Mary, now Queen of Scots, is persuaded by her political advisors and protestant lords, that in order to demonstrate her support to the Protestant cause she must crush the Gordans.

A Royal army is dispatched and confronts the Earl's small force. The Earl is captured but later falls from his horse and dies.

His embalmed corpse is later tried and found guilty of treason in Edinburgh.

Huntly Castle and all its treasures are ransacked. The Gordan's wealth and power is utterly ruined.

1565 ~ The Gordan family lands and titles are restored to George Gordan, who becomes the 5th Earl, loyal to Mary, Queen of Scots.

1568 ~ Throughout Mary's struggles and her eventually being forced to flee to England, George Gordan loyally and actively supports his Queen.

1576 ~ Earl Gorge Gordan dies at Huntly Castle after over exerting himself on the football pitch.

1592 ~ The 6th Earl, also named George, despite being a favourite of King James VI, is implicated in a treasonary conspiracy plot with Catholic Spain.

1594 ~ King James finally takes action against George and his fellow conspiratirs, the Earls of Errol and Angus, who all are forced to flee to France.

The King's captains persuade the King to vent his frustrations and anger against the Earl on his Castle at Huntly, being the symbol of the Earls pride and wealth.

After two days using gunpowerder and picks against the castle walls, 'nothing is left standing saving the greate olde tower which shall be blown up with powder'. Despite this report to the King much of the castle-palace is left standing.

1597 ~ The 6th Earl is finally reconciled with the King, albeit he is is never again fully trusted or again taken into the King's confidence.

1599 ~ The Earl's close friendship with the King see's him created Marquis of Huntly, whereupon he embarks on a major repair program on his damaged castle.

1608 ~ Despite being instructed to refrain from holding Mass, and constantly monitored by regular visits to ensure the Earl conforms, he is eventually discovered practising his Catholic faith, and is excommunicated and imprisoned.

1636 ~ The 1st Marquis of Huntly dies and is buried with great ceremony at Elgin Cathedral. His son George continues his father's building and repair work on the castle.

1647 ~ Huntly Castle is defended against the forces of General Leslie during the bitter Civil War. The garrison are eventually starved into surrender. As each of the surrenderd Gordan men file out of the castle each are taken in turn and executed, the men hung and the officers beheaded.

1649 ~ George, 2nd Marquis of Huntly, is executed for his loyal support of King Charles I. Upon standing on the scaffold he exclaims 'You may take my head from my shoulders, but not my heart from my sovereign'.

1650 ~ King Charles II visits Huntly Castle on his way to his coronation as a mark of respect for the loyal Gordans who were murdered for his father's cause.

1745 ~ The castle is occupied by Government forces during the Jacobite rising. Following the failed rebellion the castle is left to decay. Alexander Fraser, a local mason, is paid 'for the taking down of the old tower of Huntly Castle'.