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Threave Castle

Artillery Fortification (15th Century), Castle (Medieval), Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Threave Castle

Classification Artillery Fortification (15th Century), Castle (Medieval), Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Thrieve Castle; Thrive Castle

Canmore ID 64698

Site Number NX76SW 7

NGR NX 73920 62281

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/64698

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2017.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Balmaghie
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Stewartry
  • Former County Kirkcudbrightshire

Archaeology Notes

NX76SW 7 73920 62281

(NX 7392 6228) Threave Castle (NR)

(Remains of)

OS 6" map (1957)

The castle of Threave was listed in 1909.

J Robinson 1924

The present Threave Castle, built between 1369 and 1390, possibly on the site of its predecessor, is a rectangular tower 61ft by 40ft and 70ft high to the highest surviving part of the battlements, surrounded by the remains of a curtain wall which, although allegedly erected in 1513, may well have been built about 1454, in which case it is the earliest or second earliest artillery fortification in Scotland. Beyond the curtain wall is a ditch once filled with water and an enclosed forecourt about 150 ft square. Immediately to the south of the castle are traces of possible earthouses or stables. The tower was slighted by the Covenanters in 1640. (MoW Official Guide)

RCAHMS 1914 ; S H Cruden 1960.

Threave Castle and its associated earthworks are generally as described above.

Earthworks resurveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (RD) 14 August 1968.

Wooden artifacts [listed].

J Barber 1984.

NX 739 622 February 2007: An archaeological brief was maintained at Threave Castle during works in advance of the replacement of the drawbridge to the E side of the castle. Three small trenches were excavated. Variation in the deposits encountered indicated at least two types of material used to build up the ground to the E side of the castle - possibly upcast from the nearby ditch.

May 2007: A second short period of archaeological monitoring was required during the removal of a small area of turf. As

part of works to improve access to the Castle the decision had been taken to fill a small hollow just to the N of the end of the drawbridge. This involved lifting the turf from the area, raising the ground level with imported soil, and replacing the turf, revealing nothing of archaeological interest other than a small group of stones thought likely to represent tumble from the outer defensive earthwork.

Archive to be deposited with RCAHMS.

Funder: Historic Scotland.

Sarah Hogg, 2007.

Architecture Notes

EXTERNAL REFERENCE:

Edinburgh Public Library- Scots Magazine - February 1812 - 1 reproduction of engraving

Activities

Aerial Photography (1972)

Oblique aerial photographs of Threave Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, taken by Mr John Dewar in 1972.

Publication Account (1986)

Stark and uncompromising in a flat and watery landscape, Threave Castle is a menacing giant of a tower. Set with an aura of gloomy majesty on its island fastness, this building still receives the awe and respect that its medieval owners intended. Appropriately, it was the main power base of the Black Douglases, who were for about a century before their forfeiture in 1455 the most powerful of the Scottish nobility and a constant thorn in the side of the early Stewart kings. The island may have been an early centre of Galloway lordship, and the tower was built after the acquisition of that lordship in 1369 by Archibald, 3rd Earl of Douglas. Unfortunately, the actions and ambitions of the later earls collided with those of King James II, and a sustained royal campaign against the Douglases in the early 1450s culminated in sieges of their major strongholds in 1455, including a two-month siege of Threave.

From 1455 custody of the castle and the offIce of Steward of Kirkcudbright were vested in a succession of royal appointees, and from 1526 were heritably attached to the Lords Maxwell. The castle was briefly in English possession in 1545, and in 1588 the suspect loyalty of the Catholic Maxwells brought a royal anny to the region. But the castle and its keeper honourably discharged their fmal duty in defence of the reigning monarch when, in 1640, Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale, and his garrison resisted a 13-week siege by a Covenanting anny, surrendering only upon the king's order. Later that year the local War Committee decided that the castle be partly dismantled to make it unusable. Apart from minor modifIcations made during the Napoleonic Wars, that is how the castle remained until taken into State custody in 1913.

Since 1913 the castle has been scrupulously preserved, and some of its less obvious qualities (and many exciting artefacts) have been brought to light by archaeological excavations. Thanks to such efforts, Threave now boasts the most complete medieval riverside harbour discovered in Scotland. It would have admitted small boats of shallow draught, required especially when the river ford at the southern end of the island was impassable. The harbour-walls were of timber and stone construction, and because of its water-girt position the tower itself is probably laid on a timber raft foundation.

BefItting the pre-eminence of its owners, this is the earliest and largest tower in the region, probably archetypal to many Galloway lairds and their nasons, whether they regarded the Douglases with affection, envy or fear. The original entry was later lowered and narrowed to its present position and width, but was still reached by a timber stair. Directly above, at the wall-head, 26m above the ground, is part of a slotted platform from which offensive objects could be dropped on unwanted visitors. Around the head of the tower on the other three sides are three rows of sockets which originally held the cantilevered timbers of a framed wooden gallery, a suggested reconstruction being depicted in the accompanying drawing.

Inside, the entrance opens on to an intermediate level ceiled with a stone barrel vault The south end of this entresol was the kitchen, and the basement, formerly reached by ladder, contained the well, storage cellars,and a prison. The newel stair is the key to the layout of any tower; here it is set within the west angle. The great hall takes up the second floor, and is provided with a grand fireplace and large mullioned and transomed windows set within stone-benched embrasures; the latrines on all floors are in the south angle. There are paired chambers on the floor above, and slots in the walls indicate strutted timberwork used in the construction of the floors. The topmost floor was unheated, and had no less than nine windows together with a doorway that led out on to the wall-head platform, no doubt a busy place in time of siege.

Ancillary buildings provided the extra services and accommodation needed to sustain the noble household. A low earthen bank may represent the circuit of an early apron-like enclosure, but the tower acquired a more regular and closely-fitting curtain-wall. Two straight stretches of this wall survive, fronted by a ditch and incorporating a gateway which shows the impress of a drawbridge in an uplifted position. The loopholed walls have a sloping outer face and projecting circular angle-turrets equipped with gun-ports. There are grounds for doubting the claim that this was the work of the 8th Earl of Douglas in about 1450, anticipating trouble from James Il, and ascribing it instead to the subsequent period of royal custody.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Dumfries and Galloway’, (1986).

Watching Brief (February 2007)

NX 739 622 February 2007: An archaeological brief was maintained at Threave Castle during works in advance of the replacement of the drawbridge to the E side of the castle. Three small trenches were excavated. Variation in the deposits encountered indicated at least two types of material used to build up the ground to the E side of the castle - possibly upcast from the nearby ditch.

Watching Brief (May 2007)

May 2007: A second short period of archaeological monitoring was required during the removal of a small area of turf. As part of works to improve access to the Castle the decision had been taken to fill a small hollow just to the N of the end of the drawbridge. This involved lifting the turf from the area, raising the ground level with imported soil, and replacing the turf, revealing nothing of archaeological interest other than a small group of stones thought likely to represent tumble from the outer defensive earthwork.

Archive to be deposited with RCAHMS.

Funder: Historic Scotland.

Audits (2016)

NX 7329 6228 (NX76SW 7) Most of the stones in this small collection are unexceptional, but it was possible to see how corbels and drainage troughs are shaped by their functions. Two stones with similar mouldings may have formed part of the same mullion, possibly from a wide and imposing doorway.

This and other inventories of carved stones from Historic Environment Scotland’s properties in care are held by the Collections Unit. For further information please contact at collections@hes.scot

Mary Márkus – Archetype

(Source: DES, Volume 17)

References

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