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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1018753

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


This magnificent castle, set on an area of no immediately obvious defensive potential, is one of the best preserved early castles in Scotland; Rothesay Bay is an anchorage of some importance, and proximity to the bay has clearly influenced the siting of the castle. Unlike those castles whose shape was largely dictated by local topography, the builders at Rothesay were free to choose the ground plan, and the result is an almost circular castle of enclosure just over 40m in diameter with an entrance to the north and a postern on the western flank. The wall is about 2.5m thick. It is currently suggested that the date of the original castle is in the third quarter of the 12th century. In 1230 the castle was besieged and captured by the Norsemen who had to withstand molten lead and pitch which was poured from the battlements; and it fell again to the Norsemen in 1263 during King Hakon's campaign which culminated in the Battle of Largs.

The four great drum towers appear to have been added to the castle in the later 13th or early 14th century and the wall head of the enclosing wall was remodelled at this time, thus encapsulating some of the original machicolation, and if the moat were not first scarped at this stage it was certainly reshaped to a more rectilinear plan in order to accommodate the towers. It is possible, however, that the moat may belong to a period of building earlier than the castle of enclosure.

The final phase of this spectacular castle is the building of an impressive gatehouse; begun in the reign of]ames IV, who in 1498 granted to Ninian Stewart the hereditary keepership of the castle, it was completed by James V after 1541. The gatehouse gives an impression of the higher standards of comfort expected in royal residences with the great hall on the first floor with a fireplace and spacious window seating; on the second floor were the private rooms and perhaps an oratory. In the interior of the castle there is a chapel, dedicated to St Michael, which is probably contemporary with this period.

Restoration of the castle was undertaken between 1872 and 1879 by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, and the hereditary keepership of the castle remains vested in the Stuart family although it was formally placed in the guardianship of the State in 1951.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles’, (1985).

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