Rothesay Castle, Isle of Bute, Argyll
Rothesay Castle is one of the earliest surviving castles in Scotland and is an unusual circular shape. It has a long and close association with one important historical family; the Stewarts, hereditary stewards of the Kings of Scotland's, and from the 14th century the royal family itself.
The castle is situated within the centre of the town surrounded by both ancient and new buildings. There is limited parking around the perimeter of the castle if you are lucky, and access is very easy, including the opportunity to walk all the way round the castle rounds from both the street and moat.
There is plenty to explore in the castle with its rich history making this a worthwhile place to visit on Bute.
~ History ~
780's ~ Norsemen settle on the Isle of Bute following years of Viking raids. The Isle, like much of North and Western Scotland and Islands, becomes under full control of the King of Norway.
1066 ~ The Stewart family arrive in England with William the Conqueror and flourish under Royal favour upon William being crowned King of England following the defeat of the Saxon's at the Battle of Hastings.
1098 ~ The Norse lords influence across Bute and much of Scotland increases under King Magnus Barelegs of Norway.
1136 ~ King David I of Scotland takes Walter Stewart into his service in order to secure control over the Scots and Norse lords.
1159 ~ The Gaelic Norse Lord Somerled conquerors the Isles from Norwegian control.
1164 ~ Somerled is killed in battle fighting the Scots and his vast independent Argyll and Western Isles territory is divided amongst his three sons.
1165 ~ During the resultant division and instability King William 'the Lion' takes advantage and seizes Bute and other Islands from the Gaelic~Norse lords.
1200 ~ Bute is held for the King of Scotland by Alan Stewart as a key frontier border territory against the Gaels & Norse lords. A timber caste is built to secure control of the island.
1230 ~ Walter Stewart replaces the timber palisades with walls of stone to strengthen Rothesay Castle.
King Haakon IV of Norway appoints a descendant of Somerled, Uspak, as King of Man and the Isles, in a bid to reclaim control of the area. He dispatches him with a fleet of eighty ships to secure this title.
The fleet sail round the Mull of Kintyre on to Bute and attack the castle.
During the battle the Norse torchbearer named Skagi shoots and kills the castle steward. The attackers hack away at the soft rock of the outer walls with axes, despite the showers of arrows and boiling pitch that the defenders pour down over their heads. There is great slaughter on both sides until eventually after three days of siege, the castle falls.
A great amount of treasure is captured as the castle is plundered, together with the ransoming of one Scottish knight, who pays his own ransom of 300 marks of refined silver.
However, a Scottish fleet of some 200 ships under Alan of Galloway is spotted approaching, so the order is given for the Norse to withdraw to Kintyre, where Uspak dies of his wounds. The Scots repair the breach in the castle wall. Walter Stewart is rewarded with the title of Justiciar of Scotland by the grateful King.
1263 ~ Following years of constant Norse raids on Bute, King Haakon IV of Norway leads an expedition to reinforce his claim on the Scottish disputed territories. A combination of foul weather and an indecisive sea battle with the Scots results in the Norwegian's withdrawal and eventual Treaty of Perth which King Haakon's son Magnus hands over the kingdom of Man and the Isles to the Scottish Crown.
The defences of Rothesay Castle are upgraded, including the building of a larger gatehouse with a new drawbridge, as well as four new stone towers protecting the castle walls.
1296 ~ King Edward I of England attacks Scotland and his appointed King, John Balliol. Following the Scots defeat at the Battle of Dunbar, James Stewart is among many other Scots nobility to bend the knee to King Edward I.
1297 ~ William Wallace leads a revolt against the English which James Stewart, like other Scottish nobles who, in order to preserve their authority over their own tenants who have declared for Wallace, are obliged to support. Among the other nobles is Robert the Bruce, John Balliol's arch enemy and rival for the Scottish Crown.
1306 ~ Robert the Bruce seizes the Scottish throne. The Stewart's have long supported the Bruce's claim to the Crown with strong family connections. James Stewart declares his support for Robert the Bruce.
1316 ~ Robert the Bruce's daughter Marjorie, married to Walter Stewart, gives birth to a son, Robert, who is recognised as heir to Robert the Bruce and future King of Scotland.
1371 ~ Robert succeeds his uncle David, to become King Robert II of Scotland, the first Stewart King of Scotland.
King Robert spends a considerable amount of time at Rothesay Castle and sees to the defences being improved and strengthened. The accommodation is also improved to ensure that it is fit as a Royal residence.
1406 ~ Upon the death of King Robert's son and heir as King Robert III, the role of the castle as a Royal residence significantly reduces. Its important military role is however still significant.
1475 ~ John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, is formally reprimanded in Parliament for laying siege to the castle several years previously. The attack reaffirmed the important strategic role the castle had as a base in which to secure control over the Western Isles. King James IV therefore renewed Royal interest in the castle.
1493 ~ Following John MacDonald being stripped of his title as Lord of the Isles and with it his lands forfeit to the Scottish Crown, the Highlands and Islands continued to be a difficult area to exert Royal authority. This brings King James IV to Rothesay Castle.
1498 ~ The King award's Ninian Stewart hereditary keeper of the castle. Major building work to improve the castle, including a larger residential gatehouse is included.
1513 ~ King James is killed at the Battle of Flodden fighting the English with many of his key nobles. Building work on the castle continues.
1544 ~ The castle is held briefly for the English by Matthew Stewart during the English King Henry VIII's 'Rough Wooing' campaign to secure Queen Mary of Scots marriage to the heir to the English throne, and so bring Scotland under direct English control.
1549 ~ The castle's keeper James Stewart is charged with aiding the English.
1650 ~ Rothesay Castle is garrisoned by Cromwell's troops during the Civil War.
1659 ~ Upon leaving the castle Cromwell's troops demolish parts of the defences to ensure it cannot be held against them in future.
1663 ~ Rothesay's role is now primarily as a jail. John Stewart is held for trial 'for the most cruel, barbarous and unnatural murder' of her husband.
1685 ~ The castle is plundered and burnt in a revolt led by Archibald, 9th Earl of Argyll, and is rendered uninhabitable. The Stewart's move their seat to a new residence and so begins the slow decline and ruin of the castle.