A castle for ‘Scotland’s crowned king’ | Home of ‘the big spender’ | ‘The banner’d towers o’ Doune’
A castle for ‘Scotland’s crowned king’
The oldest parts of the castle probably date to the 1260s when Walter Stewart acquired the earldom of Menteith through marriage. A later Stewart, Robert, gained the castle too in 1361, through his marriage to the countess of Menteith, Margaret Graham.
The form in which the castle survives today mainly dates to this period, when it was the seat for Robert Stewart, the 1st Duke of Albany, Earl of Menteith and Fife. He was the younger brother of King Robert III, who was politically weak and physically infirm after an injury. But Albany’s astute political manoeuvring enabled him to become the effective ruler of the kingdom from 1388 until his death in 1420. He is known to history as ‘Scotland’s uncrowned king’, and his seat at Doune was virtually a royal castle.
Only after Albany’s death, and that of his son, did Doune Castle finally gain the status Albany had perhaps desired – it became a kingly residence. However, it never rivalled the great royal castles at Stirling and Edinburgh. Rather, it was used as a royal retreat from the burdens of state, a pleasant summer residence where the royal family could relax and hunt in the nearby forests in the Trossachs. Only when King James VI left for London in 1603, to become James I of England, did Doune’s role as royal retreat effectively come to an end.
Home of ‘the big spender’
A near-contemporary, Abbot Bower of Inchcolm, described Albany as ‘a big spender’. Albany certainly spared no expense on Doune. Even in its ruined state, the castle inspires awe and wonder in those who visit it. This gives the visitor a wonderful opportunity to see what the leading man of his day felt was appropriate for his needs and aspirations. This was an age when the conspicuous display of wealth and status was seen as vital in maintaining authority and good governance.
‘The banner’d towers o’ Doune’
There seems to be something missing from Doune – the south and west ranges. The projecting tusks on the kitchen tower and the impressive windows in the south wall indicate one of two things. Either two ranges were planned but not completed, or they did exist at one stage and have been thoroughly dismantled, leaving very little trace.
The historical records of the grand lords and ladies who were guests of Albany at Doune lend weight to the argument that the castle, as it is now, is not big enough and there must have been something there. However, there is convincing architectural and archaeological evidence of any other ranges, at the moment.
As seen today, a lofty tower, the gate tower, provided the duke and duchess with a spacious four-storey apartment, with its own defended courtyard entrance and independent access from its first-floor Duke’s Hall into the great hall – entering at the high-status end with a raised floor, known as the dais. At the other end of the great hall was the kitchen tower, smaller than the gate tower but housing an impressive kitchen and two floors of respectable lodging space. The entire ground floor was taken up by storage cellars.
Doune’s cathedral-like great hall impresses most. Measuring 170 sq m it rises 11m to the roof. Standing inside it, the visitor begins to appreciate why Albany was described as a man noted for his ‘large tabling and belly cheer’!