The rock the Castle sits upon was forced to the surface 440 million years ago during the Silurian period. A red rock conglomerate with boulders up to 1m across known as Pudding Stone is incredibly durable. The ancient Highland rock pebbles and cementing matter is so tough that faults or cracks pass through the pebbles themselves.
Evidence of Picts living on the sea stack of Dunnicaer, just north of the Castle, has been found by a team of archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen. Carbon dating shows this to be the oldest Pictish fort ever discovered.
Saint Ninian, an early missionary among the Pictish peoples of what is now Scotland, builds a place of worship at Dunnottar.
King Donald II of Scotland is killed at Dunnottar by an invading Viking force which went on to destroy the Castle.
A new stone church in Norman style was consecrated for worship by William Wishart, the Bishop of St Andrews on the site of Ninian’s chapel.
A Scottish force under William Wallace captured the castle. The English garrison inside took refuge in the church, but Wallace burned the church with the soldiers inside, and destroyed the castle.
From the 14th Century onwards Dunnottar Castle was home to the Keiths, one of the most powerful families in Scotland.
Sir Robert Keith commanded the Keith Cavalry at the Battle of Bannockburn. Stirling Castle, occupied by the English, was under siege by the Scots. The English king, Edward II, assembled a formidable force to relieve it. This army was defeated in a pitched battle by the smaller army commanded by the King of Scots, Robert the Bruce.
Sir William Keith, the Great Marischal of Scotland, builds his Tower House, also known as the Keep which still stands proudly on the rock today.
Sir William Keith is raised to the peerage as first Earl Marischal [Scotland] by James II.
Mary Queen of Scots visits the Castle for the first time. Returning two years later and spending two nights there in September 1564.
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots
James VI returns to the Castle and spends 10 days here, hunting deer on nearby estates, carrying out court duties and enjoying the hospitality of the Keith family. One of his many visits.
Well travelled and educated, George, 5th Earl Marischal, continues to build on the site of Dunnottar and creates Marischal College in Aberdeen. Brings a pet lion to the Castle!
As the Civil War developed, Montrose at the head of a Royalist Army, marched on Dunnottar and requested a treaty with the Earl, but receiving no response to his requests, laid waste to the whole area, burning homes, farms, stables and even boats in the harbour.
Oliver Cromwell’s army laid siege and the Castle held out for eight months. Heavy cannons arrived in 1652 and on 24th May that year surrender was made.
This was not, however, before the Honours of Scotland (The Scottish Crown Jewels) were smuggled out of the Castle and taken to Kinneff Church, where they remained until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
167 Covenanters (122 men and 45 women), chiefly from the south and west of Scotland who had been apprehended during the reign of Charles II for attending “conventicles” or open-air religious services, were transferred from Edinburgh to Dunnottar Castle on 24th May, 1685.
Having sworn allegiance to the national Covenant of Scotland, they refused to sign an oath of abjuration and were confined until the end of July in the Whigs Vault, during which time some died and others attempting to escape were cruelly tortured.
The 10th and last Earl Marischal George Keith, was convicted of treason for his part in the failed Jacobite rising. His estates, including Dunnottar Castle, were seized by the government.
Following the forfeiture of the Earl’s estates by the government, the Castle was sold to the York Mining Company. Everything of any value was removed including, floors, ceilings and all furniture leaving just a shell.
George Keith, 10th Earl died, and having never married, took the title of Earl Marischal with him.
In 1919 the Castle was bought by the Pearson family. The 1st Viscountess, Lady Cowdray began a program of urgently needed restoration and thereafter opened the Castle to the public.