Threave Castle

Threave Castle, Dumfries and Galloway

~ History ~

1391 - A member of one of the oldest and most powerful families in Galloway, the MacLellans of Bombie, offends the Earl of Douglas. He is captured and imprisoned at Threave Castle. Sire Patrick Gray, brother-in-law of MacLellan, arrives at the castle with orders from the King to release him. The Earl disregards the order and hangs his prisoner from the castle battlements.

1308 - The timber castle and out buildings of Threave are raised to the ground by Edward Bruce.

1300's - Sir James Douglas, "The Good" is entrusted with taking Robert the Bruce's heart on crusade to Jerusalem, but he is killed in Spain fighting the Moors. He and Bruce's heart is brought back to Scotland for burial at Melrose Abbey. His cousin William Douglas helps put down the rebellious Gallovidian chiefs who side with the English against the Sctottish Crown.

1369 - Because of the Douglas's service to the Scottish cause, Robert the Bruce's son, King David II, bestows an Earldom on Archibald Douglas, and the Heart becomes the principle emblem of the Black Douglases.

1370 - Archibald 'The Grim' begins building of Threave Castle, his stronghold as Earl of Galloway.

1401 - Archibald dies and he is succeeded by his son, Archibald, who later marries Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert III. Her husband had been killed at the Battle of Verneuil in 1424, fighting for the French against the English.

1437 - King James II ascends to the throne of Scotland, aged just six years of age. Archibald is appointed Regent.

1440 - Following Archibald's death in 1439, two men, Sir Alexander Livingstone and Sir William Crichton, fight to take the place of the Douglases. They invite the new Earl of Douglas, aged just 16 years, his brother and a friend, to dine with them at Edinburgh Castle. At the end of the meal the head of a black bull is brought to the table, and at this sign, all three are murdered.

1452 - Resenting the power of the Douglases, King James invites William Douglas, the 8th Earl, to Stirling Castle to negotiate their relationship. During the meeting the 21 year old King James draws his dagger and stabs him. Seeing this attack, his courtiers join in and William is dead. Immediately the 9th Earl proclaims the King a murderer and outlaw. The King's parliament proclaim that; "the Earl was guilty of his own death by resisting the King's gentle persuasion". The Douglases are defeated at the Battle pf Arkinholm and the Earl is exiled. The Kind begins the systematic destruction of all the Douglas strongholds.

1455 - King James lays siege to Threave Castle for two months. Despite overseeing this personally from his field tent, and the heavy bombardment from his massive siege gun, the castle holds out. Only through promising the garrison commanders various payments and promises of safe conduct, does the castle surrender. The castle passes to the Crown and later tp the Maxwells.

1460 - At the siege of Roxburgh Castle, King James again puts his faith in the use of his field gun. This time the gun explodes, killing the King.

1542 - After being captured by the English at Solway Moss, Lord Maxwell is 'obliged' to support his captors and Threave Castle is captured.

1588 - Threave Castle is again captured after King James VI accuses the Maxwells conspiracy in Catholic plots.

1638 - Robert Maxwell garrisons Threave castle with 70 men for the King, later increasing the number to 100.

1640 - The castle is besieged for 13 weeks by a force of Coventaners and is surrendered on very honourable terms on the orders of the King who is unable to send any relief. Subsequent orders to 'slight' the castle are never carried out.


Kelton Mains




Threave Castle stands on an islet in the Dee, and even as a ruin it is a forbidding structure, being a massive tower partly enclosed by a powerful artillery wall.

Rising over 70 feet high to its battlements, with walls 9 feet thick, this four storey stronghold was built by Archibald 'the Grim', 3rd Earl of Douglas, Lord of Galloway.

There is no landward approach to the castle, and it can only be reached by wading through a ford on the east branch of the Dee. On each side of the island the river is so deep that it can only be crossed by boat. A wide ditch (formally a moat) makes access to Threave even more difficult.

The surrounding landscape pf boggy march, water, and woodlands, for the unwelcomed visitor, especially in winter, made Threave almost inaccessible.

Today access to the castle is quite a distance via a purpose made pathway from the car park to the jetty where a short boat ride takes you across the the island.

If you ask the man in the boat nicely he'll take you a short ride down the river so as you can get some great photo's from the river across the reeds of the castle.