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Scalloway Castle

A fine castellated mansion

Scalloway Castle

A fine castellated mansion built in 1600 by Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney, who was notorious for his

Black Patie’s palace

In 1592, Patrick Stewart succeeded his father, Robert, to the earldom of Orkney and lordship of Shetland. There was then no castle in Shetland – unless the stronghold on Loch of Strom, beside Tingwall, was still habitable, which is doubtful. So he built  Scalloway in 1600.

Over his front door, Earl Patrick placed a Latin inscription. It has now been eroded away, but it was recorded in 1800 as: ‘Ut domus cuius crepidoinis est in a silicis vadum sto sive in sand vadum cado.’ This translates as ‘That house whose foundation is rock will stand, but will perish if it be shifting sand.’ It was probably intended to portray Earl Patrick as the ‘wise man’ of Matthew 7:24–26.

If so, it was well wide of the mark. Though his castle remains, Patrick’s own fall was great indeed. He presided over a tyrannical regime in the Northern Isles – for which the islanders dubbed him ‘Black Patie’. In 1609, however, he was arrested. He was eventually executed in Edinburgh.

Seat of government

In medieval times, Shetland’s seat of government was Law Ting Holm -- Tingwall, ‘parliament valley’. There the representatives of the local ‘tings’ (assemblies) met annually to settle weighty affairs; chief among them was the earl of Orkney.

That title fell into abeyance in the 16th century, but was re-established in 1581 when Earl Robert Stewart, Mary Queen of Scots’ half-brother, was made earl of Orkney and lord of Shetland. He did not build a residence on Shetland but lived mostly in Orkney, at Kirkwall Castle (now long gone) and the <Earl’s Palace> he built at Birsay.

It was his son, Earl Patrick, who moved the seat of government to Scalloway, in 1600.

A self-contained residence

Scalloway served both as residence and courthouse. That is, it contained within its walls all that Earl Patrick required in the way of public and private accommodation. In most respects it is typical of late-medieval Scottish tower houses, though it is somewhat larger than most.

It is also similar in layout to the other castle he built, the Earl’s Palace, in Kirkwall. It is L-shaped on plan, with the entrance in the projecting jamb at ground level. The kitchen and stores, including the well, were at ground level in the main block.

The great hall, where Earl Patrick both entertained his guests and dispensed justice, occupied the whole of the first floor. The earl’s own private suite of rooms was spread over the top two floors, together with guest rooms.

After the tyrant

For a while after Black Patie’s downfall, Scalloway continued to be used for local administration and justice. Bishop Law of Orkney held court there in 1612 and 1613.

In 1640, a new executioner’s axe was ordered, a gruesome reminder of the nature of justice dispensed.

As late as 1733, public letters were still being drafted at the castle, but by then the business of government had mostly been transferred to Lerwick.

  • The location – in Shetland’s ancient capital, with stunning views upon Cliff Sound.
  • The great tower house – standing much as built, minus its roof.
  • The great hall – stand here  and contemplate the injustices wrought by ‘Black Patie’.
  • cruelty.


Region – Shetland

In Scalloway, 6m from Lerwick on the A970.

Grid reference - HU 405 393.


The key for the castle is available from the Scalloway Museum during normal opening hours

Telephone 01856 841 815 for details.