History

Steeped in History

Dunnottar is much more than just a topographical curiosity. This rock and the magnificent buildings on it have borne witness to much of the rich and tragic tapestry of Scotland's history. Visit us to create your own unforgettable experience and discover the importance of Dunnottar – an impregnable fortress that holds many secrets of this country's colourful past.

Explore the Past

Steeped in history, this romantic and haunting ruin is a photographer’s paradise, a history lover’s dream and an iconic tourist destination for visitors the world over.

Stills 2 1 109 1

440 Million years ago

Rock formation

The rock on which the Castle stands is as remarkable at close quarters as it is from a distance. The conglomerate is known as a 'pudding stone' and consists large rocks and pebbles held in an immensely strong cementing matter, like raisins in a fruitcake. It was forced to the surface of the earth during the Silurian period and the cementing matter is so tough that faults or cracks do not pass between the pebbles and their binding material, but straight through the pebbles themselves.

Around 5000BC

Picts at Dunnottar

Evidence of Picts living on the sea stack of Dunnicaer, just north of where the Castle is situated today, has been found by archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen. Carbon dating shows this to be the oldest Pictish fort ever discovered, in fact the name ‘dun’ is Pictish for ‘fort’. It is not known exactly how long ago the site was originally inhabited, it is believed that the Picts established it between 5000BC and 700AD.

Dunnicaer stones 2
OIP2 2021 09 30 143555 zdfv

Around 400 AD

St Ninian arrives

Saint Ninian, an early Christian missionary, establishes a place of worship on the site where the Castle now stands and converts the Picts of Dunnottar to Christianity.

900 AD

King Donald and the Vikings

King Donald II of Scotland is killed at Dunnottar by an invading Viking force which went on to destroy the buildings here.

Donald the Second
IMG 0077 copy

1276

William Wishart, Bishop of St Andrews

William Wishart, Bishop of St Andrews, consecrates a stone chapel at Dunnottar, parts of which remain.

1297

William Wallace and the Wars of Independence

In the first of these struggles, after the invasion of Scotland by English forces, William Wallace attacks an English garrison at Dunnottar, taking it back under Scottish control. Legend has it that Wallace showed no mercy to the soldiers and set fire to the Chapel where they had taken refuge, condemning all inside to a terrible death. Others were driven over the cliff edges, with no survivors.

William Wallace
Edward I

1336

English forces seize the garrison

The Second War of Independence saw English forces seize Dunnottar Castle again in support of Edward Balliol’s bid for the Scottish throne. He was known as the 'Hammer of the Scots'.

1392

The Keep

Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland, builds the first stone castle at Dunnottar, now known as The Keep.

Stills 3 1 28 1
Pope benedict xiii 1

1395

The Pope is involved

Pope Benedict XIII intervenes in a dispute over the building of fortifications (the Keep) at Dunnottar on consecrated ground.

1458

William Keith, 1st Earl Marischal

King James II created Sir William Keith, 1st Earl Marischal, a hereditary royal officeholder and chivalric title under the sovereign of the United Kingdom.

Keith coa
Dunnottar George

1562

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots visits the Castle for the first time. Returning two years later and spending two nights there in September 1564.

1593

George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal

George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, continues to add buildings to Dunnottar. A pet lion is brought to the Castle and is housed in what we know as The Lion’s Den. He also founds Marischal College in the City of Aberdeen, the second of Scotland's post-medieval 'civic universities', following the University of Edinburgh.

Lion
7th EM

1639

William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal

William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal, declares allegiance to the Covenanters, resisting religious reforms of Charles I.

1645

Plundered and burned

As civil war develops, James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose marches at the head of Royalist Army to attempt negotiation with the 7th Earl Marischal. The Earl repeatedly refuses and when diplomacy fails, Montrose and his army lays waste to Stonehaven and the barony of Dunnottar.

Dunnottar castle
008 001 026 504

1651–52

The Honours of Scotland

During the war between Scotland, England and Ireland in the mid-1640s, known as the War of Three Nations, King Charles II is a guest of the 7th Earl Marischal. The young King’s arrival to Scotland prompts an invasion by the Parliamentary Army, led by Oliver Cromwell. Dunnottar Castle plays a vital role in the safekeeping of the Scottish crown jewels, the Honours of Scotland.

The Honours of Scotland are on display at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh.

1685

The Whigs Vault

Over 167 Covenanters and Whigs are imprisoned within a cellar in terrible conditions at Dunnottar for refusing to acknowledge religious reforms imposed by King Charles II.

IMG 0096 copy min 1
10th EM

1715–16

George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal

George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, is a key figure in the failed Jacobite Rising to overthrow King George I. As a result of his service to the Jacobite cause, he forfeits his title and estates, including Dunnottar Castle.

1717

Dunnottar is sold

Following the 10th Earl Marischal’s forfeiture of his title and lands and after 400 years of Dunnottar being the seat of Clan Keith, it is sold by the Government to the York Mining Company. Everything of any value was removed including, floors, ceilings and all furniture leaving just a shell.

Dunotter Castle 2019 Georgegunn32 min
Annie Pearson ne Cass Viscountess Cowdray

1919

Lord and Lady Cowdray

Lord and Lady Cowdray purchase the Castle and begin an extensive programme of conservation and restoration works, protecting it from further damage and deterioration. The Castle is re-opened to the public following these works. It remains in the same family and open to this day.

1923

Stonehaven War Memorial

The Black Hill was gifted by Lord and Lady Cowdray to the local community for the Stonehaven War Memorial. It was designed by the Stonehaven architect, John Ellis, and the fundraising for building the monument was organised by locals. It is unique in that it can be seen from most parts of Stonehaven and the surrounding area.

The structure is an incomplete round temple and was intentionally designed as such to be a reminder of the loss of life and incompleteness of a full life of those who died in the Wars. An inscription carved into the stone at the top of the temple is written: "One by one death challenged them, they smiled in his grim visage and refused to be dismayed".

War mem
Dunnottar Duke of Rothesay

Present Day

The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay

Today, the Castle is one of Scotland’s most popular and spectacular tourist attractions, welcoming over 135,000 visitors in 2019. We were delighted to give The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, as The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall are known when in Scotland, a tour of the Castle in October 2019.

440 Million years ago

Rock formation

The rock on which the Castle stands is as remarkable at close quarters as it is from a distance. The conglomerate is known as a 'pudding stone' and consists large rocks and pebbles held in an immensely strong cementing matter, like raisins in a fruitcake. It was forced to the surface of the earth during the Silurian period and the cementing matter is so tough that faults or cracks do not pass between the pebbles and their binding material, but straight through the pebbles themselves.

Stills 2 1 109 1

Around 5000BC

Picts at Dunnottar

Evidence of Picts living on the sea stack of Dunnicaer, just north of where the Castle is situated today, has been found by archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen. Carbon dating shows this to be the oldest Pictish fort ever discovered, in fact the name ‘dun’ is Pictish for ‘fort’. It is not known exactly how long ago the site was originally inhabited, it is believed that the Picts established it between 5000BC and 700AD.

Dunnicaer stones 2

Around 400 AD

St Ninian arrives

Saint Ninian, an early Christian missionary, establishes a place of worship on the site where the Castle now stands and converts the Picts of Dunnottar to Christianity.

OIP2 2021 09 30 143555 zdfv

900 AD

King Donald and the Vikings

King Donald II of Scotland is killed at Dunnottar by an invading Viking force which went on to destroy the buildings here.

Donald the Second

1276

William Wishart, Bishop of St Andrews

William Wishart, Bishop of St Andrews, consecrates a stone chapel at Dunnottar, parts of which remain.

IMG 0077 copy

1297

William Wallace and the Wars of Independence

In the first of these struggles, after the invasion of Scotland by English forces, William Wallace attacks an English garrison at Dunnottar, taking it back under Scottish control. Legend has it that Wallace showed no mercy to the soldiers and set fire to the Chapel where they had taken refuge, condemning all inside to a terrible death. Others were driven over the cliff edges, with no survivors.

William Wallace

1336

English forces seize the garrison

The Second War of Independence saw English forces seize Dunnottar Castle again in support of Edward Balliol’s bid for the Scottish throne. He was known as the 'Hammer of the Scots'.

Edward I

1392

The Keep

Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland, builds the first stone castle at Dunnottar, now known as The Keep.

Stills 3 1 28 1

1395

The Pope is involved

Pope Benedict XIII intervenes in a dispute over the building of fortifications (the Keep) at Dunnottar on consecrated ground.

Pope benedict xiii 1

1458

William Keith, 1st Earl Marischal

King James II created Sir William Keith, 1st Earl Marischal, a hereditary royal officeholder and chivalric title under the sovereign of the United Kingdom.

Keith coa

1562

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots visits the Castle for the first time. Returning two years later and spending two nights there in September 1564.

Dunnottar George

1593

George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal

George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, continues to add buildings to Dunnottar. A pet lion is brought to the Castle and is housed in what we know as The Lion’s Den. He also founds Marischal College in the City of Aberdeen, the second of Scotland's post-medieval 'civic universities', following the University of Edinburgh.

Lion

1639

William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal

William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal, declares allegiance to the Covenanters, resisting religious reforms of Charles I.

7th EM

1645

Plundered and burned

As civil war develops, James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose marches at the head of Royalist Army to attempt negotiation with the 7th Earl Marischal. The Earl repeatedly refuses and when diplomacy fails, Montrose and his army lays waste to Stonehaven and the barony of Dunnottar.

Dunnottar castle

1651–52

The Honours of Scotland

During the war between Scotland, England and Ireland in the mid-1640s, known as the War of Three Nations, King Charles II is a guest of the 7th Earl Marischal. The young King’s arrival to Scotland prompts an invasion by the Parliamentary Army, led by Oliver Cromwell. Dunnottar Castle plays a vital role in the safekeeping of the Scottish crown jewels, the Honours of Scotland.

The Honours of Scotland are on display at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh.

008 001 026 504

1685

The Whigs Vault

Over 167 Covenanters and Whigs are imprisoned within a cellar in terrible conditions at Dunnottar for refusing to acknowledge religious reforms imposed by King Charles II.

IMG 0096 copy min 1

1715–16

George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal

George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, is a key figure in the failed Jacobite Rising to overthrow King George I. As a result of his service to the Jacobite cause, he forfeits his title and estates, including Dunnottar Castle.

10th EM

1717

Dunnottar is sold

Following the 10th Earl Marischal’s forfeiture of his title and lands and after 400 years of Dunnottar being the seat of Clan Keith, it is sold by the Government to the York Mining Company. Everything of any value was removed including, floors, ceilings and all furniture leaving just a shell.

Dunotter Castle 2019 Georgegunn32 min

1919

Lord and Lady Cowdray

Lord and Lady Cowdray purchase the Castle and begin an extensive programme of conservation and restoration works, protecting it from further damage and deterioration. The Castle is re-opened to the public following these works. It remains in the same family and open to this day.

Annie Pearson ne Cass Viscountess Cowdray

1923

Stonehaven War Memorial

The Black Hill was gifted by Lord and Lady Cowdray to the local community for the Stonehaven War Memorial. It was designed by the Stonehaven architect, John Ellis, and the fundraising for building the monument was organised by locals. It is unique in that it can be seen from most parts of Stonehaven and the surrounding area.

The structure is an incomplete round temple and was intentionally designed as such to be a reminder of the loss of life and incompleteness of a full life of those who died in the Wars. An inscription carved into the stone at the top of the temple is written: "One by one death challenged them, they smiled in his grim visage and refused to be dismayed".

War mem

Present Day

The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay

Today, the Castle is one of Scotland’s most popular and spectacular tourist attractions, welcoming over 135,000 visitors in 2019. We were delighted to give The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, as The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall are known when in Scotland, a tour of the Castle in October 2019.

Dunnottar Duke of Rothesay
Geology

Geology

The rock on which the Castle stands is as remarkable at close quarters as it is from a distance. The conglomerate is known as a 'pudding stone' and consists large rocks and pebbles held in an immensely strong cementing matter, like raisins in a fruitcake. The cementing matter is so tough that faults or cracks pass not between the pebbles and their binding material, but straight through the pebbles themselves.

In contrast, the red sandstone of the Castle itself wastes relatively rapidly when exposed to the elements. There are many impressive examples of 'differential weathering' of the sandstone which looks like large honeycomb features in the Castle walls.

Dun is the Pictish word meaning 'place of strength'. The word Dunnottar, originally 'Dun Fother' probably meant 'Fort in the low country' as the Castle lies in the Mearns, the lands to the east of the Grampian Highlands between Montrose and Stonehaven.

Dunnottar Castle 282

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