Doune Castle was built in the late 1330s by Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, Earl of Monteith and Fife. Robert Stewart was the younger brother of John, Earl of Carrick, who became King Robert III in 1309. In 1388 King Robert III was injured by a horse-kick and Robert Stewart took control. Although he was never king, he was the ruler of Scotland, holding the reins of government, for 22 years from 1388 until his death in 1420.
Albany was a member of the royal house of Stewart. His title, Albany, derived from ‘Alba’, which referred to the ancient heart of the kingdom north of the Forth and south of Moray. It is seen as a justifiable reference to Stewart’s territorial lordship in the region. It is believed that he resided in Doune Castle from 1401, when he wrote letters from here to Henry IV of England.
The name ‘Doune’ derives from ‘dun’ or ‘done’, meaning an ancient stronghold. The castle is situated on a wooded bend, where the Ardoch Burn flows into the River Teith, creating a naturally strong position. It was once thought that the castle was entirely designed and built at Albany’s orders, however evidence now suggests that he worked with existing structures, which can be seen in some of the arches that appear to have been rebuilt.
The outside walls of the castle host features that support the theory that a pre-Albany structure existed. Blocked gates and changes in stonework can be seen around the castle. It is also believed that many service buildings once stood around the castle. The castle may have been a main seat and crucial administrative centre of the earldom of Monteith.
The main entrance to the castle would have had a large wooden for and iron yett, or gate, just behind the door for defence. The yetts, of medieval origin, were common features of Scottish castles, acting as an extra line of protection should the door be breached.
The imposing gatehouse tower with its fine windows and circular drum tower was built for both comfort and defence and was a powerful symbol for Albany’s status. Within the tower the principle apartments of the duke and duchess could be found, as well as the main access to the castle. The large windows provided light to the high-status chambers.
A timber drawbar secures the door and just past the door is a long narrow slit in the roof. This was known as the murder hole, allowing defenders to drop projectiles on intruders. Leading off the entrance passage are several chambers that would have been used as guardrooms or porters lodges and a prison cell.
The main courtyard would probably have had a dirt or cobbled floor. Along the south and east ranges of the castle were additional buildings that are now lost. It is thought that these buildings would have been used by servants and guests, making the courtyard a hive of activity. The inner walls of the courtyard are decorated by ornate gargoyles, which are thought to have been added in the 1880s to replace simpler drainage spouts.
The massive, curtain walls that define the courtyard were not only designed for defence but also to maximise light to the grand chambers and were glazed and furnished with iron grilles. Along the top of the walls was a walkway that provided a platform from which to defend the castle and view the surrounding areas.
Within the kitchen tower is the servery, a passage through which food was passed between the kitchen and the great hall. Along the wall separating the servery from the kitchen are several hatches that would have been used for passing food and it is believed that wooden shutters may have been used to close these hatches when not in use. It is considered strange that guests would have passed through such a low status room to reach the great hall, however this is thought to be an indication that Albany was incorporating existing buildings into his work.
Within the kitchen is a low-arched fireplace, which would have had several fires lit – each for different uses. Smoke holes above the windows provided ventilation and a small bread oven was probably added after Albany’s times, possible during the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Beside the large windows are grooves in the walls, where the kitchen workers sharpened their knives.
The upper chamber of the kitchen tower is traditionally known as Mary Queen of Scots’ Bedchamber, however there is no evidence that she ever visited Doune Castle. It is possible that she may have been confused with her mother, Mary of Guise, who stayed at the castle in 1545. The room is a high-status room and would have been a suitable accommodation for a member of the royal family. The fine detailing on the fireplace makes it likely to have been used by important guests.
The great hall is the largest room in the castle and is where the majority of the household would have eaten. Some of the minor servants would also have slept in this room. The room is entered through the servery, however the door is large and finely carved, symbolising a room of high status. The hall was restored in 1880 and most of the details seen today, such as corbels supporting the wooden roof beams were added then. Five windows light the hall and no two are alike; another suggestion that the castle was adapted from existing structures. Today this hall can be rented for weddings.
Within the gatehouse tower is the duke’s hall, a great hall in the first chamber. It is thought to have provided mate private dining space, leaving the great hall to the servants, as well as being a place where the duke could conduct his business. Although this room is connected to the great hall could be entered directly from the courtyard, so the the duke and his visitors did not need to need to pass through the hall. The present decor of this chamber dates from the 1880s; in Albany’s times it would have been lavishly decorated, more so than the great hall, with which hanging adorning the walls. The duke would also have displayed his gold and silver, showing his wealth.
The upper chambers of the gatehouse tower was initially thought to have been the duke’s bedchamber but is now believed to have been his study. The room was for the duke’s private use and was lavishly decorated with part-glazed windows, a fine fireplace an en suite garderobe.
Continuing up the stairs is a similar room, attached to a grand hall. The grand hall is one of the most lavish spaces in the castle and is believed to have been the duke’s bedchamber. A large, once hooded, fireplace and large windows with glazing and iron bars suggest the high status of the room.
Above the duke’s bedchamber is the battlements, once a full height chamber that has since been lost. This chamber offered views across the landscape and was a very important part of the medieval castle.
In 1975 Doune Castle provided a filming location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail and has since become a place of pilgrimage for Monty Python fans. In the film is was the setting for Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax and the Camelot scenes. More recently, the castle was also used as a filming location for the pilot episode of Game of Thrones and as Castle Leoch in Outlander.
- Information provided by Discover Scotland tour guide
- Doune Castle Official Souvenir Guide