To help keep you entertained during this strange and hopefully unique Christmas the Castle Studies Trust has prepared a Christmas quiz. Can you name the castles these pictures are or images are taken from either our projects from all years or blog posts during the year?
Amidst the tower blocks and industrial landscape of Kirkaldy in Fife is an unexpected sight. Perched on a triangular promontory overlooking the Firth of Forth stands the crumbling ruin of a fifteenth-century fortress. Now fiercely guarded by an abundance of resident seabirds, Ravenscraig is one of Scotland’s lesser-known medieval castles, yet it deserves a closer look, not least because it is a rare surviving example of a castle commissioned by a woman, in this case Mary of Guelders, queen of Scotland (d.1463).
Mary of Guelders first arrived in Scotland on the 18th June 1449 when she stepped onto the shores of Leith ahead of her marriage to James II at Holyrood Palace. Born in Guelders (today the province of Gelderland in Holland) and raised at the Burgundian court, Mary brought illustrious connections to her new home. The match, it seems, was met with approval on both sides: in 1457, Mary’s uncle the Duke of Burgundy sent James the gift of Mons Meg, the famous cannon which can still be seen at Edinburgh Castle today. James’ love of artillery, however, was to also be his downfall. Three years later at the Siege of Roxburgh the 29-year-old king met an untimely end when another of his cannons exploded and killed him. Mary, as this previous blog post has shown, was present at the siege, and following her husband’s tragic death, the newly widowed queen ordered for Roxburgh to be razed to the ground. From 1460 until her own death three years later, Mary acted as regent of Scotland, ruling on behalf of her young son, James III. It is also from this point that she becomes visible to us in the historical record as a prolific patron of architecture.
The nature of the evidence means that we don’t know too much about Mary’s actions during her marriage, but the few glimpses we can glean suggest that she played a relatively active role as consort, including at her husband’s first parliament in 1450. She was also present at the siege of Blackness Castle in 1454 (which James afterwards gave her as a gift to celebrate the Scots’ victory), and she appears to have been the driving force behind the couple’s foundation of a hospital at Fale near Glasgow. It is during her brief stint as regent, however, that Mary’s enthusiasm for building projects really becomes apparent: she not only commissioned Ravenscraig, but also Trinity College Kirk in Edinburgh, as well as improvements to Falkland Palace, which included the first recorded instance of a gallery in Scotland. Recent dendrochronology carried out by Dr Coralie Mills and Hamish Darrah on the tower of St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland has also revealed Mary’s likely involvement in the fifteenth-century alterations there. Ravenscraig was therefore one of a number of works which Mary undertook during her regency.
Shortly before his death, James II had gifted the estate of Dysart to Mary, after which she funded her major works at Ravenscraig entirely from her own revenues. We know from the Exchequer Rolls that she spent 600 pounds Scots on the castle, but it could have been considerably more, as the accounts of the queen’s lands for the first term after the king’s death are missing. Building began in the east, but Mary died before she could see the castle finished, at which point the regular flurry of works ceased altogether. Part of the castle was inhabitable before her death, however, as in 1461, the queen’s steward was able to stay there for 25 days along with several of her servants.
From the outset, Ravenscraig appears to have been intended to have a strong military appearance and is believed to be the first castle in Scotland designed to withstand cannon fire. For this reason, it has been treated as something of an enigma by historians and heritage professionals, who often regard the military design as being at odds with its supposedly intended use by Mary as a dower or “retirement’’ house. Yet the two are not necessarily incompatible. Mary’s decision to fortify the castle and to protect a vulnerable piece of coastline made perfect sense given the changeable nature of relations with the English at this point.
It was also not unusual for women elsewhere in Europe to be involved in military endeavours at this time. Mary’s contemporaries in Renaissance Italy, for example, frequently acted as military managers, fortifying towns and cities and supplying provisions and resources. Closer to home, Margaret of Anjou, with whom Mary negotiated terms in 1460, was also commissioning works on several English castles around this time, including the refurbishment of the keep of Pleshey Castle in brick. Equally, Mary’s aunt, Isabella of Portugal, in whose court the queen of Scots had been raised, was a politically active and energetic architectural patron. Mary therefore came from a tradition whereby architecture was commonly adopted as a language of female power. It is also possible, particularly given the circumstances of James’ death, that Mary intended for Ravenscraig to be part of a larger commemoration project for her husband, which also included her mausoleum at Trinity College Kirk in Edinburgh.
The termination of the works at Ravenscraig upon Mary’s death in 1463 suggests that she was very much the driving force behind them. James III showed little interest in his mother’s project, instead granting the castle to the Sinclair family, who completed the building. Nevertheless, the remains stand as a testament to the ways in which Mary chose to materially express her authority as regent. They also pose a challenge to the overwhelmingly male narrative that has long dominated castle studies, reminding us that women could, and did, play active and sometimes innovative roles in shaping the physical and social life of late medieval castles.
With HES giving the provisional sign off for the excavation at The Wirk to take place in the week commencing 21 September, and the geophys survey to take place the previous week, project leads Drs Dan Lee and Sarah Jane Gibbon outline the background to the project and what they hope to find.
Located on the south-western coast of Rousay, The Wirk is located in one of the most archaeologically rich parts of Orkney. The Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) is undertaking geophysical survey, archaeological excavations and 3D modelling at this enigmatic castle site (pending approval from HES).
The Wirk, meaning stronghold in Old Norse, and with the alternative name Westness Castle, is a small stone tower located close to the coast. It has variously been interpreted as a 12th century Norse Castle, a detached fortified bell-tower, a 13th century defensive tower for an incomplete church, a hall-house garderobe tower and most recently a 16th century tower and attached range.
Minor clearance and excavation in the 1920s identified similarities in construction between The Wirk and the 12th century Cubbie Roo’s Castle, on the nearby island of Wyre, considered to be one of the earliest stone keeps in Scotland. The Wirk is located in Westness which has been a large estate since at least the 12th century when it was the home of the Norse chieftain Sigurd of Westness (Orkneyinga saga). It is adjacent to Rousay parish church, likely to date from the 12th century, with standing remains of 16th century date on earlier footings.
Recently, the 12th/13th century date attribution of The Wirk has been rejected in favour of a 16th century date. This new interpretation is based on the built remains and 16th century architectural fragments which were found in the 1920s. However, architectural fragments of 12th/13th century date were also present and nearby archaeology, particularly the discovery earlier this year of a Norse hall at Skaill by the UHI Archaeology Institute would suggest this was a high-status place in the saga period. This is not to dispute that The Wirk may also have been in use in the 16th century when the estate was owned by a prominent Orkney family. One of the objectives of this project is to excavate trial trenches over Clouston’s excavation and at the eastern end of the site to identify the earliest phases of the tower and adjacent building. Upper parts of the tower were substantially rebuilt in the 19th century and so excavation will allow us to record parts of the site that have not been knowingly rebuilt.
Along with the excavations, targeted geophysical survey around The Wirk aims to better understand any relationships between the tower and the buildings/features which surround it. 3D modelling of The Wirk and Cubbie Roo’s Castle will enhance our understanding of these comparable sites and allow the public to explore the remains online.
As part of his 2018 PhD thesis on Scotland’s early stone castles, Dr Will Wyeth assessed some of the country’s underexplored sites. One such was Loch Doon castle which provides a case study for two of Will’s key themes of his research, namely the castle’s orientation and its landscape.
Loch Doon was home to a series of small islands, one of which was largely occupied by a medieval castle, comprising an enclosure and within it, parts of a later medieval tower house. In 1935 the loch was dammed and in consequence of the resulting rising water level, the castle dismantled and re-assembled on the modern lochside to the west of its original position.
Connecting its architecture with the emergence of scattered references in documentary sources, we believe it was built by the mid-late 13th-century earls of Carrick, among whose members were Robert de Brus and his son by the same name, later Robert I. The castle appears in the 1370s Scottish (as opposed to the revised early 15th-century English) portion of the ‘Gough Map’ as loghdone. Little store can really be set by its depiction there, owing to uncertain cartographic conventions, though it is noteworthy that it is represented by two castle icons – one on the loch island, another on the adjacent shore.
Loch Doon castle featured in an episode of the war which saw Sir Christopher Seton, brother-in-law of Robert the Bruce flee to the castle. It was besieged and thereafter was surrendered to English troops by Sir Gilbert de Carrick in 1306, who was probably a kinsman to Robert. While the meagre early history of the castle is reasonably well-known, what has hitherto not been explored in great detail are two other elements of Loch Doon Castle. What can it tell us about its builders? And is there evidence for a wider landscape to the castle, and what can this tell us?
Why build it on an island?
There is a significant volume of evidence, and discussion by many earlier and contemporary historians, regarding the long-lived tradition of natural, modified or artificial island lordship centres in Scotland. So was Loch Doon castle referencing this tradition, alive and well in contemporary Scotland? I argued that while there was no question of an island site’s defensive advantages, as well as an acknowledged similarity to the crannog tradition, Loch Doon castle was more of a castle than a crannog-like castle.
The way the castle’s formal entry point, its large pointed portal, opened nearly straight onto water, whilst its work-a-day entry (the sole other access) opened onto part of the island with a beach for ease of landing and more space, suggested similarities with the managed routes of access to castles specifically: the rest of the island can be imagined as small outer yard. Such routes and configurations may have been apparent in contemporary crannogs, but evidence is simply lacking. Both insular castles and medieval crannogs may have been built to draw attention to vast sheets of natural water for which terrestrial castles elsewhere used ponds and lakes. The castle’s long southern wall, forming the exterior face of its great hall, was designed for maximum exposure to the sun, but also towards routes from Galloway in the south.
The castle is
situated at the border of two counties; indeed, at the time of its
construction, it was located at the south-eastern extremity of the earldom of
Carrick. A routeway from the political heartland of medieval Galloway in
Glenken runs through the valley of Loch Doon towards the royal centre at Ayr.
Another route ran from another politically important area in eastern
Wigtownshire into the valley of Loch Doon.
There is evidence
for all kinds of medieval activity near to the castle. At the farm sites of
Starr and Loch Head south of the castle are traces of rig-and-furrow
cultivation assumed to be medieval in origin. The nearby farm of Portmark
evidenced later medieval metalworking, and its name suggests a tangible
connection to the castle; elsewhere, port– place-names mark the
embarkation point for medieval crossing to insular lordship centres. Perhaps
this was what the Gough map was representing as a second ‘castle’? Such
composite island-waterside complexes are widely recognised in Ireland. Lastly,
in the rugged hilly district south of the castle, in neighbouring Galloway, are
a cluster of place-names connected to deer traps, from the Gaelic eileirig,
as well as the location of a hitherto unattested hunt hall (possibly medieval
in origin) at the aptly named ruined building named Hunt Ha’.
What was the
It is difficult to establish a conclusive answer. In 1306, Sir Henry Percy seized administrative and military documents stored at the castle for the English crown following its surrender. Whether these documents were at the castle as a matter of course (so making the castle a manorial centre of sorts) or because of the political violence unfolding across the kingdom is not clear. Both may be true. The evidence from the castle and its landscape suggests it was ‘doing’ many things. It was made to be seen from far and wide. Its position by a routeway through the rugged Galloway Hills is typical for castles in general. Its insular setting may reflect a castellar rendering of the crannog tradition, or a Carrick take on the watery landscapes of castles lowland Britain and Ireland. The earldom’s main and older centre – Turnberry castle, on the coast in lowland Carrick and over 31km as the crow flies from Loch Doon – was its only other castle. Thus, Loch Doon castle may have as much been a retreat for leisure, for welcoming guests and the comital ensemble travelling to Galloway, as an administrative centre for the earldom’s extensive upland districts.
deadline for grant applications passed on 30th November. We’re going through
the various projects now. Altogether the 13 projects, coming from England,
Ireland, and Scotland are asking for over £88,000. They cover not only a wide
period of history but also a wide range of topics. In a little more detail,
here are the applications we’ve received:
The main aim is to recover evidence for the base natural topography around the approach to the main gate of the once royal castle, from the area of the medieval village, and explore how this was altered, presented and exploited to create a sense of theatre for visitors to the site.
A geoarchaeological auger survey of the moats that surround this former royal castle and palace of Thomas Becket. The survey aims to answer such questions as what were the moats original profiles, when were the moats filled and how do the two moats compare with each other.
To try and understand the date of the construction of the castle owned by the MacDougall clan through various through buildings and materials analysis including radiocarbon dating and mortar analysis.
Fraoch Eilean, Loch Awe
To try and understand the date of the construction of the former royal castle through various through buildings and materials analysis including radiocarbon dating and mortar analysis.
The aim of the project to continue the work the CST funded in 2019 with excavations and building survey. Further excavations will try and understand the purpose of the structures found in the 2019 excavation season and if they were related to the original great tower.
Holme Pierpont, Nottinghamshire
To build up an understanding of this late medieval great house, never previously researched. The work will include a mixture of desk research, building survey and geophysical survey of the parkland surrounding it. The house is the most complete of the three late medieval brick-built houses in Nottinghamshire.
To develop a reconstruction drawing of the castle as it would have appeared in the second half of the 12th century. Lincoln Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century.
To fund a second year of excavation, this time to understand the rampart of the inner bailey. The geophysical survey carried out in the 2019 suggested there could be remains of buildings there, possibly even a late Saxon church. Shrewsbury was a very important border castle up until the 13th century and frequently used as a base for English raids into Wales.
Sowing the Seeds
The aim of the project is to try and understand better everyday life in castles by seeing if there are any surviving plants at four Irish castles that were planted, grown and cared for by medieval people. The research will involve ecological surveys at each location.
Strongholds of Wessex
The aim of the project is to understand the military organisation of the northern part of Wessex (Wiltshire and West Oxfordshire) from the transition from Saxon to Norman rule between the 9th and 12th centuries. The work will involve documentary research, landscape and place name surveys. Sites examined will include Castle Combe, Cricklade and Silbury Hill.
The Wirk, Orkney
Could the Wirk be a Norse castle? Based on the island of Rousay, this stone tower is situated close to the old parish church and recently discovered Norse Hall. However, no one knows what this tower was used for or even when it was built. The work would involve a geophysical survey of the surrounding area as well as two trial trenches to try and find dating evidence.
Thermal Imaging of Castles
To test how useful thermal imaging could be in understanding castles. The thermal survey using a FLIR camera of two castle facades in different climates. within the UK—Caisteal Uisdein, on the coast of Loch Snizort, and a castle farther south and slightly inland, Castle Rising.
Using various forms of geophysical survey to try and understand the subsurface features for the former caput of the Dukes of Northumberland. The survey will focus on the bailey inside the 12th-century curtain wall as well as the strip of land outside but on the early earthwork castle, the motte and field near the entrance to the castle.
The applications have been sent to our expert assessors who will go over them. And if you want to know more about how the assessment process works, we have a brief summary.
We are excited to announce five grants totalling a record £27,000 that will advance our understanding of castles. These awards mean we have reached the landmark of giving away £100,000 in grants. It has taken six years for us to do that during which time the Trust has doubled the maximum amount we can award to £10,000.
Druminnor, Aberdeenshire – Using GPR for an investigation of the 15th century core of the castle – presently under a hardcore car park. This was the original caput of the lords of Forbes. During the 15th century they were amongst the most powerful families in the North-east of Scotland.
Hoghton Tower, Lancashire – This project aims to form an axis of research into Hoghton Tower’s unique physical history. The main focus will be to investigate and advance the knowledge of the pre-1560 site and specifically try to test the hypothesis that the north side building may form part of the ‘original’ Hoghton Tower.
Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire – Excavation to try to confirm the findings of the geophysical surveys the CST funded in 2018. These indicated that the castle was placed right on the top of a high status Saxon dwelling.
Shrewsbury, Shropshire – Geophysical survey and excavation to determine how the castle buildings were laid out in the bailey. This will be the first time the well preserved motte-and-bailey castle has been excavated. First mentioned in 1069, Shrewsbury Castle was a key point along the Anglo-Welsh border and fell into ruin following the conquest of Wales.
Wressle, East Yorkshire – A geophysical survey of the area to the south of the castle ruins which had been covered by the previous earthwork survey funded by the CST, to get more information about the various garden structures there, as well as other details regarding the deserted village, moat and fishponds. The 14th century castle was one of the most important castles owned by the Earls of Northumberland.
Be sure to follow us on social media where we’ll be bringing you updates from the field, with work starting this month. In the meantime, here are some of our supporters discussing our work. we hope you’re looking forward to this year’s projects as much as we are!
In the later Middle Ages, the Keith family were some of the most important people in Scotland. Sir Robert Keith was made marischal of Scotland in 1293, a title that descended through his heirs. As marishal, Sir Robert and his successors were could hold courts during wartime and were responsible for maintaining order within the Scottish parliament. The castle at Keith Marischal, half a day’s journey from Edinburgh, was the family’s ancestral home.
For a family which was amongst Scotland’s richest in the 16th century, their seat was an important place which would have embodied their power and prestige. The great hall, the social heart of the castle, vied with royal palaces in its size. William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal was forced to sell Keith Marishcal during the Civil Wars, and, despite being an important piece of Scottish history, the castle was gradually demolished. Part of the castle survives and was incorporated into the later house built on the site, but much of Keith Marischal has vanished.
2017, Miles Kerr-Peterson suggested carrying out a geophysical survey to look
for buried remains just north of where the house currently stands. He
successfully applied to the Castle Studies Trust for funding, and in May 2018
he and Rose Geophysical Consultants visited Keith Marischal to search for the
evidence in an area of 2 hectares.
methods were used: resistivity and ground penetrating radar (GPR). As different
materials conduct electricity differently, testing the electrical resistance of
the ground can be used to find features such as walls (high resistance as there
is little water) or ditches (low resistance as ditches tend to hold water), and
is effective to a depth of about 0.75m. GPR works by sending electromagnetic
pulses into the ground and tracking how they are reflected. Part of the area
north of the house is a carpark, which makes survey resistivity ineffective,
but GPR can still be used.
Deciphering a geophysical survey takes a trained eye. The resistivity survey found several features, and working out what they are has been an interesting challenge. There are two features running in a mostly straight line perpendicular to the current house at the west end of the survey. The longer of the pair could be a drain, but it’s uncertain. And what are the features at the north end? The feature runs beyond the edge of the survey, so we don’t know the full shape and size of it. With trees nearby it could even be part of a root system, but the straight lines suggest it could be man-made and could be part of the lost castle.
allows us to peer deeper, and to work out a rough stratigraphy of features. The
survey was able to corroborate some of the anomalies found with resistivity.
The pair of parallel features at the west end are visible, but the one on the
right runs deeper. The fact it’s so narrow suggests it might be a drain. The
GPR also found an anomaly at the north end of the survey area, lining up with
the one found using resistivity. It was visible some 0.38-0.63m deep, which suggests
it might be artificial rather than natural.
results of the survey are certainly interesting. We didn’t find the extent of
the lost Keith Marischal Castle, but most discoveries don’t happen overnight.
Geophysics is an excellent way to identify areas of interest ahead of
excavation. Without excavation, we can’t be sure about the interpretation of
these features. If the anomaly at the north end of the survey is part of the
lost castle, we don’t have a way of dating it without breaking out a trowel.
The survey was a vital step in the understanding Keith Marischal. Thanks to Miles and Rose Geophysical Consulting, any future excavations will know where to look. Keith Marischal has an exciting future, and the Castle Studies Trust are proud to be able to have played our part in supporting the work.
The deadline for grant applications passed on 30th November. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the 12 projects, coming from all parts of Britain and one from Ireland, are asking for over £75,000.* They cover not only a wide period of history but also a wide range of topics. In a little more detail, here are the applications we’ve received:
Contributing towards a community excavation at the early Tudor palace commissioned by Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. According to building accounts the palace was built around three courtyards and was the first brick building in Northamptonshire. The palace was demolished in 1640 and the site has never been excavated before.
Using Ground Penetrating Radar for an investigation of the 15th-century core of the castle – presently under a hardcore car park. This was the original caput of the lords of Forbes. During the 15th century they were amongst the most powerful families in the North-east of Scotland.
Hoghton Tower, Lancashire
This project aims to form an axis of research into Hoghton Tower’s unique physical history. The main focus will be to investigate and advance the knowledge of the pre-1560 site and specifically try to test the hypothesis that the north side building may form part of the ‘original’ Hoghton Tower.
Excavation to establish the form and location of the southern perimeter of the curtain wall of the 15th-century castle known as the Northern Court of which nothing remains above ground from the period. It was one of the most important castles in the north west of England in the late 15th and 16th centuries. The castle was besieged twice in the English Civil War and then slighted. In 2017 we funded analysis of masonry recovered in earlier excavations, which indicated architectural links with Caernarfon Castle.
Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire
Following on from last year’s grant, this project would undertake excavation to investigate features identified during the geophysical survey. The survey suggested that the castle was built over an Anglo-Saxon lordly residence, and the excavation would test whether there is further evidence to corroborate this.
Lewes, East Sussex
This research aims to answer an intriguing question: why does Lewes Castle, East Sussex, have two mottes? Do they represent a highly distinctive architectural statement, or did burial mounds of possible Romano-British or earlier origins influence the form of the 11th century fortification?
Loughmoe, County Tipperary
To produce the first-ever detailed survey and structural history of the building which dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, and to determine using geophysics the extent of the original castle and whether the renaissance part had a precinct, other buildings, and gardens.
Using inferences from previous geophysical surveys to focus on key areas of the lower terraces and bowling green of the castle potentially revealing more about the clandestine political activity of the Somerset family in the late 16th and 17 centuries.
Geophysical survey and excavation concentrating on the inner bailey to in particular examine the tail of the north rampart. Despite being one of the main fortresses on the Welsh border no major excavations have taken place in the bailey. Thus the medieval plan of the enclosure, and the missing domestic ranges that should be there, are completely unknown.
Excavations in this important Welsh border fortress that was in use from just after the conquest to the English Civil War. The aim is to answer some key questions about the castle e.g. the keep’s entrance and final form, to establish the form of the North Tower and along the south side to see if that was where the entrance was.
Funding post-excavation costs of a community archaeology project. The project will be trying to see discover a number of things about this royal castle including if there was a southern entrance into the outer bailey, and what buildings there were along the north east range of the inner bailey.
Wressle, East Yorkshire
A geophysical survey of the area to the south of the castle ruins which had been covered by the previous earthwork survey funded by the CST, to get more information about the various garden structures there, as well as other details regarding the deserted village, moat and fishponds. The 14th century castle was one of the most important castles owned by the Dukes of Northumberland.
From 15 high quality applications we had to choose which ones we could fund. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but we have managed to support six different projects – the most we’ve supported in a single year – with a total of £22,000. You can learn more below, and if you would like to hear about the results when they are ready be sure to sign up to our newsletter.
Bolingbroke Castle was built by the Earl of Chester in the 1220s and Henry IV was born here in 1367. It is unclear how the Rout Yard and Dewy Hill were used, so Heritage Lincolnshire will carry out geophysical surveys at the castle to find out more about the site.
Founded in 1093, Pembroke is the oldest castle out of this year’s projects. Rebuilt by William Marshall, one of the most famous knight of his age, the castle was also the birthplace of Henry VII. Neil Ludlow and James Meek’s project will excavate in the outer ward to find out more about a late medieval hall. We also funded a geophysical survey at the castle in 2016.
With funding from the Castle Studies Trust Dig It! will be producing a series of eight videos exploring castles in southern Scotland, and sharing them with an online audience. By making it easier to access information about these important historic sites through YouTube and Wikipedia the project aims to inspire the next generation of castle enthusiasts!
The Castle of Keith belonged to the powerful Keith family. The castle has since been demolished, with some parts built into Keith Marischal House which now stands on the site. Miles Kerr-Peterson and and Rose Geophysical Consultants will be carrying out a geophysical survey to search for the castle’s lost tower and great hall.
The castle is undocumented in medieval sources, but the earthworks of the motte-and-bailey castle are impressive: the motte itself is 9m tall. To find out more about Laughton-en-le-Morthen Castle, Duncan Wright will be carrying out a geophysical and aerial survey.
First documented in 1277, Ruthin Castle was controlled by Reginald de Grey in 1282. This once great castle is a ruin today and much in need of interpretation. To help with this, Chris Jones-Jenkins will create a digital reconstruction of Ruthin. Chris also worked on the reconstruction of Holt Castle, which was built around the same time some 18 miles to the east.
Stay in touch!
We will have updates from these projects throughout the year. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss out.