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Castle of Dunnottar

Now the stately and magnificent ruin thus feebly sketched - stands on an isolated rock 200 feet perpendicular, washed on 3 sides by the sea, and on the other separated from the adjacent land by a wide and deep chasm, from which by a gate in the wall, nearly 40ft high, there is an entrance to the fortress. Leading upwards from this gate there is a long steep passage, partly arched over, and formerly secured by 2 drawbridges, the grooves for which are still visible. At the inner end of this passage is another gate, opening into the castle area, which is enclosed by a wall, and occupied by buildings of various epochs. Of all the buildings on this rock the chapel is the most ancient, and there is reason to believe that it originally served as the parish church of Dunnottar. The Castle, or the peninsular rock on which it stands, makes its first appearance in Scottish history during the wars of Bruce and Baliol, when, it is alleged by some modern authorities, the castle was erected by Sir William Keith as a place of safety for himself and friends. According to Blind Harry and Hector Boece, Dunnottar was surprised and taken by Sir William Wallace in 1297, and the Blind Historian relates that Dunnottar was occupied by 4,000 English troops, who had fled before the victorious arms of the Liberator; and that when Wallace made the onslaught, as many of them as the church would contain took shelter there, in the hope that consecrated ground would not be violated by their slaughter; but, says the bard, -

"Wallace on fyre gart set all haistely,Brynt up the kyrk and all that was thairin."

In the year 1336 Dunnottar was fortified and garrisoned by Edward III; but immediately after his departure for England it was attacked and carried by the gallant Sir Andrew Moray, who destroyed the fortifications of the Castle, so that it might not again afford ready protection to an enemy.

Siege of Dunnottar Castle 1651

Slezer EngravingThe ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland, about two miles south of Stonehaven. The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th to 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been an early fortress of the Dark Ages. Dunnottar played a strategic role in the history of Scotland from the Middle Ages through to the Enlightenment, because of the location: it overlooked the shipping lanes to northern Scotland; and is situated on a narrow coastal terrace that controlled land access to the coastal south via Portlethen Moss to Aberdeen during the medieval period.

The Earls Marischal - Dunnottar Castle was home to one of the most powerful families in Scotland, the Earls Marischal, from the 14th century when Sir William Keith, the 1st Earl Marischal, built his Tower House, also known as the Keep.   The Earl Marischal was an office bestowed on the Keiths by James II. The role was one of the 3 great offices of State, along with the Constable and the Steward.  The Earl Marischal had specific responsibility for ceremonial events, the Honours of Scotland and for the safety of the King's person within parliament. Consequently it was not unusual for the monarchy, including Mary Queen of Scots, to spend time and stay at Dunnottar

In 1649 Charles I, King of both England and Scotland was executed by Oliver Cromwell, the self-proclaimed Lord Protector. In 1650, his young son Charles II arrived in North East Scotland, and stayed a night in Dunnottar on his journey south to give battle for his fathers' two kingdoms.

In England, on hearing of the young Kings arrival, Oliver Cromwell was so enraged that he ordered the invasion of Scotland. In some haste Charles II was crowned at Scone, but the "Honours of Scotland", the crown and other regalia, could not be returned to Edinburgh Castle, as it had been taken by Cromwell's Army. Having already destroyed the English crown jewels, the Honours of Scotland were the most potent icon of monarchy, and as such were next on Cromwell's list. Cromwell's army was fast approaching, so Charles II ordered William the 7th Earl Marischal to take the Honours to Dunnottar and secure them there.

It was not long before Dunnottar was under siege, and a scratch, aged garrison of seventy men held out for eight months against the invading might of Cromwell's army until heavy cannons arrived. Following 10 days of heavy fire, surrender was made. This was not however before the Honours of Scotland were smuggled out of the Castle and taken to Kinneff Church, where they were buried in the Church. 


The Regalia of Scotland, consisting of the crown, sword, and sceptre, - after having been made use of on Ist January, 1661, at the Coronation which took place, on that day, at Scone, near Perth, of Charles II. as King of Scotland, - had been deposited for safe keeping in Dunnottar Castle, a stronghold, on the sea coast of Kincardineshire, belonging to the Earl Marischal, - hereditary keeper of those symbols of Royalty, - situated a mile or two South of Stonehaven, now the county town of the Mearns. About the period referred to, the different fortified places in Scotland were in the course of falling, one after another, into the hands of the victorious troops of the English Usurper - Oliver Cromwell.  In these circumstances, William Keith, the then Earl Marischal, sought out a fit person to whom might be entrusted the responsible charge of Governor of Dunnottar Castle. George Ogilvie, whose property of Barras was situated some 4 or 5 miles south of Dunnottar, was the person whose reputation recommended him as most fit to hold an office so important ; and accordingly the Laird of Barras, by commission dated at Stirling, 8th July, 1661, was formally nominated Lieutenant, or Governor, of Dunnottar Castle, and assumed the charge so devolved on him.


After the lapse of some time, and as had been anticipated, the troops of the English Commonwealth approached the solitary rock on which stood the fortress containing the emblems of Scotland's Independence. To the repeated summons to surrender made to him, the gallant Ogilvie, on 22nd November, 1651', thus replied to the Commander of Cromwell's forces :- 

" Whereas you write that I keep the Castle of Dunnottar for the use of the King's Majesty, which house, as you say, doth belong to the Earl Marischall, you shall know that I have my commission absolutely from his Majesty, and none else; neither will I acknowledge any man's interest here, and intends, by the assistance of God, to maintain the same for his Majesty's service, upon all hazard whatsoever.  I hope you have that much gallantry in you as not to wrong my Lord Marischall his lands, seeing he is a prisoner himself, for the present: Whereas you have had success in former times, I attribute it to the wrath of God against us for our sins, and to the unfaithfulness of those men who did maintain the same, - none whereof you shall find here by the Lord's grace to whom I commit myself, and am, Sir, your very humble servant,  

(Signed) George OgIlvie)


The besiegers lay at the Blackhill of Dunnottar bombarding the stronghold; and, after the lapse of some weeks it appearing hopeless to expect relief, the Governor and his spirited helpmate began to consider how they might best get transported safely out of the Castle the treasure which had been committed to their charge.


Mrs. Ogilvie appears to have kept her own counsel; and in order to provide against the contingency of the Governor (if the Castle were surrendered), being, after falling into the hands of the enemy, put to the torture in order to force him to divulge what he knew about the place of concealment, did not impart to her husband either the mode she had decided on for having the honours of the kingdom, as the crown, sword and sceptre, were wont to be called, conveyed to a place of serenity, nor, after the adroit expedient adopted by her had proved successful, did the Lady for some time disclose to her husband the place in which the Regalia had been concealed.


File:Major-General Sir Thomas Morgan 1604-1679.pngMrs. Ogilvie happened to be on terms of friendly intimacy with Mrs. Christian Fletcher, wife of the Rev. James Grainger, then Minister of Kinneff, in which parish the estate of Barras is situated, and, well assured as Mrs. Ogilvie was of the trustworthiness of those friends, to them she resolved to apply for aid, in her design of getting the Regalia out of the beleaguered fortress, and having thereafter concealed in a place of safety, until the advent of more prosperous days. The expedient resorted to, for this purpose, was as bold as it was ingenious; - it was concerted that the wife of the Minister should, attended by onlv a female servant, proceed from Kinneff to the town of Stonehaven, where Mrs. Grainger, it was arranged, was to purchase a quantity of flax, to be afterwards conveyed in a bundle on the back of the woman who accompanied her mistress to and from Stonehaven. On her way homewards, Mrs. Grainger, in passing through or near, the Camp of the besieging force, applied to Welshman Major-General Thomas Morgan their Commander, for permission to pay a visit to her friend and country neighbour Lady Barras, then with her husband within the Castle of Dunnottar. Leave to do so having been readily granted, Mrs. Grainger and attendant, conveying the bundle on her back, entered the fortress. Once within the Castle walls the domestic was speedily relieved of her burden, and sent out of the way ; and the two ladies forthwith placed in the middle of the flax the crown, sword, and sceptre, carefully wrapped up. This done, and a reasonable period for a visit, under the peculiar circumstances, having been allowed to elapse  Mrs. Grainger, and her domestic carrying the bundle as when they entered the Castle, issued from the gate, and proceeded to the Camp, at which the lady had dismounted and left her horse, after receiving the English Commander's permission to visit Mrs. Ogilvie. That officer, himself, politely assisted Mrs. Grainger to remount after which she and her female servant leisurelv pursued their way to Kinneff Manse. Arrived at home, the only remaining part of the hazardous task undertaken by the Minister's wife consisted in depositing, on the first favourable opportunity, the Regalia in a place of safety; and this Mr. and Mrs. Grainger effected, by burying underground, carefully wrapped up in linen, - which required to be, subsequently, from time to time, renewed, - the hoard, kept in a comer of the Kirk of Kinneff.   


The Regalia were taken to the manse of Kinneff and then "that very night the minister and his wife made a receptacle for the regalia beneath the pulpit of the church. Sometimes it was hid there and at other times in a double-bottomed bed in a room in the manse until after the Restoration in 1660, when it was returned to George Ogilvie of Barras, who restored it to the Court."


"For the crown and sceptre I raised the pavement stone just before the pulpit, in the night tyme, and digged under it one hole, and layed down stone just as it was before, and removed the mould that remained, that none would have dicerned the stone to have been raised at all. The sword again, at the west end of the church, among some common saits that stand there, I digged down in the ground betwixt the twa foremost of these saits, and laid it down within the case of it, and covered it up, as that removing the superfluous mould it could not be discerned by any body; for it shall please God to call me by death before they be called for, your Ladyship will find them in that place.


Every 3 months Mr. & Mrs. Grainger dug up the Regalia at night to air them before a fire to preserve them from damp and injury. So did the Honours remain hidden for 9 stormy years during the Commonwealth while an English army searched in vain. When the Castle fell, the Ogilvie's were imprisoned and, although Mrs. Ogilvie died a captive, the secret of the whereabouts of the Regalia was kept. At the Restoration in 1660 the Honours were returned to Charles II and placed in Edinburgh Castle. When the Scottish Parliament was dissolved in 1707, they were locked in a chest in the Crown Room where they remained, forgotten, until in October, 1817, Sir Walter Scott obtained royal permission for a search to be made for them. On February 4th, 1818, the Honours were restored to the people of Scotland and have been on view ever since in Edinburgh Castle, where thousands throng to see them.


In what is called the Earl Marischal's bedroom, in the ruins of Dunnottar Castle, there is a stone with a clock face carved in relief and fitted with a gnomon. It is placed close under a west wall, so that for nearly half the day it must be useless, and at all times some imagination would be required to read it aright on account of the arrangement of the numerals. The stone has probably been shifted from its original place, and the addition of the gnomon was no doubt the fancy of some custodian of 50 or a 100 years ago.



During the 9th Century King Donald II was killed defending Dunnottar Castle from a Viking invasion. The Vikings seized and destroyed the Castle.

Stonehaven Harbour


The harbour at Stonehaven was well placed in the shelter of Downie Point although when the wind was East or North east it could be difficult to enter.  The 1st Pier was to the North, then the South Pier was constructed in 1825.  The main breakwater was not built until 1908, by which time the boom years of the herring fisheries had past. With the exception of the later quarter of the 19th century (Stonehaven had up to 80 boats at this time) Stonehaven has never rivalled the other North East ports.  The old name of Steenhive, as it used to be called, is clearly something to do with stone and with the Burgh’s Harbour, or haven. It may also refer to the large mass of rock known locally as Craig-ma-cair that until 1833 sat in the middle of the sheltered main bay.  

Stevenson proposed removing the Craig-ma Cair; heightening the Harbour wall and extending it eastward to defend the berth from the sea; extending the Head of the pier from west to east by 200 feet and warping it south-east to channel boats into the harbour; the construction of a new western pier from Downie Point; and excavation of the bed of the harbour to provide a greater number of berths for shipping.  The vessels numbers then gradually declined, with 64 in 1889 then only 19 in 1909.




Cowie and St Mary of the Storms
The village of Cowie on the north side of Stonehaven Bay and, in particular, its ancient chapel and burial ground 'St Mary of the Storms', plays an important part in the history of the fisherfowk, and their related families. The original village of Cowie, which stood on the eastern slope of Megray Hill, was with Dunnottar and Fetteresso totally destroyed by fire on 21 March, 1645 on the orders of King Charles II's man, James Graham of Montrose, following his victory over the Covenanting army of Argyll at Inverlochy (2 February, 1645). The village was later re-built on the northern shoreline of Stonehaven Bay. Northwards, along the rugged and windswept clifftops facing the North Sea, close to Garron Point, which straddled the very Northern end of the Highland Fault Line, stand the ruins of the 7th century kirkyard of St Mary of the Storms (originally built by St Nathalan or Nauchlan, AD678, and re-dedicated on 12 May, 1246). The Chapel of our Lady of the Storms, fell into disuse after the Reformation in the 2nd half of the 16th century. Here, in impressive solitude, stand row upon row of weathered and crumbling headstones bearing the names of past generations of Christies, Woods, Leipers and Massons whose remains were carried here along narrow clifftop paths on the shoulders of grieving pallbearers from as far away as Skateraw (Newtonhill) and Muchalls.

At the time, all of Skateraw and much of Muchalls were Episcopalian. A Chapel to serve the Episcopalian communities of Muchalls and Skateraw was included in the original design of Muchalls Castle, started in 1613 by Alexander Burnett of Leys and finished in 1627 by his son Thomas, the family associated with Crathes Castle. When Muchalls Castle Chapel was destroyed by the Duke of Cumberland on his way to Culloden in 1746, a new one, St Ternan's, was dedicated on a nearby hill where the 5th century Celtic missionary was supposed to have preached. St Ternan's Church the Episcopal Chapel of Muchalls seated 175 and every member of the Skateraw and Muchalls congregation paid what they could afford for a seat. Weddings were conducted there, but no burials; coffins had to be carried on poles the 5 miles over rough, craggy terrain to Cowie churchyard. It was the minister from Muchalls, the Rev. John Troup, who was imprisoned in 1748 in Stonehaven Tolbooth. So supportive were his congregation that the women would walk all the way from Skateraw to have their babies baptised through the prison bars.

Artist George Washington Brownlow's most famous work, Baptism from the Jail at Stonehaven was painted in 1865. In it he used the Christies, Woods and Massons from Skateraw, all descendants of the original protagonists of the incident depicted, as models.  The event portrayed in Brownlow's painting took place during the winter of 1748-49. The Episcopalians of the time6 were mainly Jacobite and after the unsuccessful 1745 Rising severe restrictions were placed on Episcopalian clergy because of the church's support for the Jacobite cause.  Forbidden to meet together for worship in groups larger than 4, both priests and congregation members faced imprisonment if found guilty. Despite this, Episcopalians managed to find ways of holding services. This was often achieved by having the priest standing in the lobby of a house, with four people in each room leading off the lobby listening to the service, thereby keeping within the strict letter of the law.  In 1748 three local clergymen7 were arrested and put on trial at the Stonehaven Tolbooth: The Rev. Alexander Greig of Stonehaven, Rev. John Petries of Drumlithie and Rev. John Troup of Muchalls. All were accused of having ministered to congregations larger than the legal size. In spite of an appeal that the witnesses, by being present at the services, had incriminated themselves, the 3 clergy were imprisoned in Stonehaven Tolbooth for 6 months during the winter of 1748-1749. 

The Rev. Alexander Greig continued to minister to his Stonehaven congregation through the Tolbooth's prison bars. Rev. John Troup baptised a number of infants through the prison bars. The fisherman's wives from Skateraw would bring their babies secretly to be baptised through the prison bars, walking along the foreshore, wading across the 'Water-Yett' and clambering over the rocks to reach the Tolbooth. The infants were concealed in the lobster creels they carried on their backs, which they raised to be baptised through the prison bars by the 3 imprisoned Episcopalian ministers.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013