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Bute Gateway Gallery: main > Heritage > rothesaycastle >


BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF ROTHESAY CASTLE.

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Rothesay Castle, a courtyard castle, and circular in design with four huge evenly spaced round towers, dates back to the early 13th century (possibly as early as 1204). Positioned on a large mound and surrounded by a sizeable moat, it originally consisted of the great curtain wall, but has had a number of alterations over the centuries.

Although it is located in the middle of the town of Rothesay, the castle was originally sited almost on the shore, being only 75 yards from the sea. During 1839 and 1840, the shoreline was pushed seaward following extensive reclamation works, and Victoria Street, Albert Place, and the Esplanade were added to the town. The result was to place the castle in its present day position behind a curtain of subsequently-constructed buildings so that it can scarcely be seen from the bay. Present-day entry is by bridge across the moat and onwards through the gatehouse into the courtyard.

Rothesay Castle is credited to Walter, the 3rd Steward. It is first mentioned in the Anecdotes of Olave the Black which describes its capture by the Vikings in 1228 during part of the campaign of Haakon the Old of Norway to re-impose direct Norwegian rule over the Viking-descended Lords of the Isles in the Hebrides. Until 1263, the castle changed hands many times until the defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Largs ended Norwegian influence in this part of Scotland. In 1266 Bute was formally declared part of Scotland under the Treaty of Perth. The four round towers were added at this time, together with a Gatehouse on the north side, facing the sea.

The castle was held by the English during the Wars of Independence, but was taken by Robert The Bruce, only to be recaptured again by the English in 1334, and once again to be retaken by the Scots. During the late 14th and early 15th centuries Rothesay Castle was a favourite residence of Robert II (King 1371-1390) and Robert III (King 1390-1406). The former built the small chapel of St Michael in the courtyard. [St Michael the Archangel was the patron saint of warriors] Robert III, was the first monarch to designate his eldest son (David) the Duke of Rothesay thus commencing the tradition of the Dukedom. That title is still bestowed on the heir apparent to the throne and is currently held by HRH Prince Charles. It was also Robert III who gave the town of Rothesay its Royal Charter in 1401. Rothesay's Charter is the first occasion in which the term 'royal burgh' is used in a Scottish document.

The castle was besieged by the Earl of Ross in 1462, and by the Master of Ruthven in 1527. In 1544 it was captured by the Earl of Lennox on behalf of the English. The forward keep or 'dungeon tower' and a large residential palace were added by James IV and his son James V between 1540 and 1542, the latter added in front of an earlier gateway to provide more regal accommodation. It should be noted that the castle was an important centre for operations against the “rebellious Scots”, but the additions to the castle also added to the creature comforts of the visiting monarch. The 1500s also witnessed the raising of the curtain wall (both to improve defences and add more domestic accommodation) and the conversion of the Pigeon Tower into a dovecote. In the 1650s the Castle was held for Charles I, but later taken by Cromwel, whose men damaged the castle when they left in 1659. The Duke of Argyll's men torched the castle in 1685, and it remained in ruins and abandoned until 1816 when the Second Marquess of Bute began to restore it. The work involved clearing and excavating the courtyard and repairing the vault over the gateway. Further repairs and renovations, (more courtyard excavations and the clearing and restoration of the moat) were carried out by the Third Marquess of Bute between 1871 and 1879. The castle passed to the State in 1961 and into the care of Historic Scotland.

Little has survived to suggest that the present grassy area was once crowded with medieval buildings. However there would almost certainly have been stables, a forge and granary here. The gatehouse is the entry point for present-day visitors as it would have been in the time of James IV and James V. Above the entrance, porter's lodge and prison is the great hall.

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