The History of Urquhart Castle: Scotland

Urquhart Castle sits on the banks of Loch Ness, home of the legendary Loch Ness Monster, in the Scottish Highlands.

Early history on what was once a fine castle, is at best a little sketchy in places, but what we do know, is the castle was built between the 12th and 13th century.

In the year 1228, the Moray’s took up arms against their King; Alexander II, and by 1230, the King’s army had quelled the revolt, and Alan Durward took on the post of Lordship of Urquhart Castle.

During the years 1250-1296, much of Scotland and many of its castles came under the control of the English, including Urquhart in 1296, marking the beginning of the Wars of Scottish Independence which would continue on and off until 1357.

It was at this time, the clans were up in arms against their new rulers, the English. William Wallace killed an English sheriff at Lanark, and so the campaign against the English was enhanced.

The English removed the “Stone of Destiny” from Scone, and took it to London. (The Stone of Scone, often referred to as the Stone of Destiny, is made of red-stone and oblong in shape. For centuries it had been used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs.

In 1296 William Fitz Warin was appointed as Constable of the castle, duly holding it for the English. In 1297, Andrew Moray ambushed Warin, and then laid a night siege upon the castle which was to prove unsuccessful. This was followed by Alexander Forbes, taking the castle back in the name of Scotland in 1298.

In 1303 Edward I of England recaptured the castle and appointed Alexander Comyn of Badenoch in charge of the garrison. The castle came under attack by Robert the Bruce, and so the castle returned to Scottish control, when he marched his army upon the castle in 1307.

Urquhart remained a Royal Castle, and the post of protecting it, and keeping it in Scottish hands, fell to many constables over the years, including Robert Lauder of Quarrelwood in 1329. The Scots were defeated at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, but managed to retain hold upon Urquhart, and in 1342 King David II spent a summer at the castle.

Through the 1300’s and part of the 1400’s the castle fell again and again, it was a see-saw action between the English and Scots, each wanting to retain Urquhart Castle.

Domhnall of Islay seized Urquhart Castle in 1395 from the Crown, and retained it until 1410. For in 1411, he marched through the Great Glen, taking on those loyal to the King at the Battle of Harlaw, resulting in the loss of Urquhart to the crown.

In 1437 Domnhall’s son Alexander, Earl of Ross failed in an attempt to capture the castle. However, John son of Alexander, led a successful raid upon the castle in 1452, and obtained a life-long grant for the castle and lands.

John Domnhall’s true colours came to the front, when he made a deal with Edward IV of England against the Scottish King; James III. In 1476 John was stripped of his titles, and Urquhart was turned over to the Earl of Huntly.

Sir Duncan Grant of Freuchie, was commissioned by the Earl of Huntly, to restore order, in the Urquhart Castle region. John Grant, son of Duncan acquired a five year lease of the Glen Urquhart estate in 1502. Then in 1509, Urquhart Castle, Glen Urquhart and Glenmoriston estates were given to John Grant by King James IV on an indefinite lease, providing he shall repair and rebuild the castle.

Sir Donald MacDonald of Lochalsh, saw Scotland was in disarray following the disaster of Flodden in 1513, attempted occupation of Urquhart Castle and claimed the title; Lordship of the Isles. By 1517, John Grant had taken back the castle, but not before 300 cattle and 1,000 sheep had been taken. Grant attempted to claim for damages, of the MacDonalds; sadly it became an unsuccessful claim, for compensation.

James Grant, son of John Grant, joined forces with Huntly and Clan Fraser in a bitter feud with the MacDonalds of Clanranald, which would end with the “Battle of the Shirts.” The MacDonalds retaliated in force with their allies the Camerons, as they attacked and retook Urquhart Castle in 1545. They stripped the lands clean, taking some 2,000 cattle, and stripped the castle of furniture, cannons and main gates. James grant, eventually regained the now ransacked castle and lands, and was awarded the Cameron lands as compensation, for damages and loss of stock.

By the end of the 16th century, the Grants had rebuilt and remodelled the castle.

In 1644, Presbyterian provocateurs known as Covenanters, robbed the castle, and turned Lady Mary Grant out, for being an advocate of the Episcopal Church.

By 1647, the castle was virtually empty, for it had been stripped bare of fixture and fittings.

Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland, and sought out forts in 1650 to house his army. Urquhart was not even considered, for it now stood in ruins, so he opted to build forts either end of the Great Glen.

In 1689, King James II of England and King James VII of Scotland, the last of the Stewart Kings was exiled from his homeland.

Ludovic Grant of Freuchie and William of Orange bonded together to see off a force of Jacobites, that laid siege to the castle. When the Jacobite army had retreated, Grant destroyed the Gatehouse, preventing any reoccupation, if the Jacobites should ever return. The castle was never repaired, and the south-west side of Grant Tower was blown down during a storm in 1715, and by 1770 the roof had gone.

What was once a building of war went on to provide materials for local people to build themselves homes, as they plundered the stonework.


Urquhart Castle is located on the north-western shore of Loch Ness, with the Great Glen running alongside, with the entrance to the castle.

Urquhart in its day was one of Scotland’s largest castles, protected with a moat on the landward approach. Measuring some 490 feet x 151 feet, shaped like that of a figure eight, forming two bailey’s the Nether Bailey to the north, and the Upper Bailey to the south. The curtain walls for both enclosures date back to the 14th century.

The 16th century gatehouse of the Nether Bailey consists of two towers, protecting an arched entrance. At the castles northern tip, we find Grant Tower and the Keep, measuring 39 feet x 36 feet with walls nearly 10 feet thick, and remains the tallest part of the castle ruins, despite the southern wall collapsing in the early part of the 18th century. The parapet shows that the tower was capped with corbelled bartizans, better known as turrets.

Located above the western main doorway, and postern to the east, are narrow slots, often used for dropping stones on their attackers. The western door has added protection, a ditch or mini moat with its own drawbridge, and its own access to the main bailey, by way of a Inner Close, walkway.

There would have been a circular staircase, built into the east wall of the tower, which would lead to a hall on the first floor, rooms on second and third floors, and attic chambers in the turrets. The main floor rooms would contain large 16th century windows, with pistol-holes below for defence.

A range of buildings can be found, built against the buttressed 14th century curtain wall, containing the Lord’s private apartments in the north, with kitchens to the south.

There have been suggestions, that some remaining foundations on a rocky area within Nether Bailey, could be that of a chapel. However, there is no substantial proof, to confirm it, one way or the other.

The Upper Bailey, found on the south-west corner of the castle, was the site of many attacks upon Urquhart, based on early medieval fortifications, on the sloping mounds. In the eastern wall, a 16th century gate was located, giving one access to the shores of the Loch.

Urquhart Castle – Top Image: Rompus

The Castle – Bottom Image: Rompus

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About historicalwritings

The names Roger, and I have been addicted to history from a young age, an addiction that has been with me all my life. I love researching our past, finding out about forgotten parts of history. The aim of this site is to raise an awareness of the events that have taken place through time, from the end of the Ice Age to the Modern Day, and how interesting the past is, and where we came from…

Posted on 27/11/2013, in Buildings: Castles - Forts - Walls, History: Scotland and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I haven’t been to Loch Ness or the castle in years. I want to go back! Great article.

  2. Just down the road from me!

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