Dundee’s original castle

Shrouded in the mystery of time long past, the records sadly destroyed by the final battles it was engaged in. Dundee Castle was a legendary place in ancient Scotland’s history where King’s and Queen’s visited, and many battles were fought.

The ancient settlement of Dundee, which in its earliest days consisted of two main streets, the Seagate and the Cowgate, was dominated by a huge 90ft tall cliff faced hill atop which sat the Castle of Dundee. The castle was simply known as the Castle of Dundee, but the hill upon which it sat was locally called the Black Rock, due to the black colour of the rock. It must have been quite the intimidating sight for intruders to see a black 90ft tall rocky cliff with a castle standing on top.

The memory of the castle lives on in the name Castle Street, which is located on the site of the castle after the last parts of the rocky hill were blasted away with dynamite to make way for the street. Before this there was still a considerable hill of 20 – 40ft at this location. No one can be sure when the castle itself was erected, and sadly no painting or sketches of the castle remain.

The oldest records of Scotland’s history say that Dundee was a place of considerable importance shortly after the spreading of Christianity. Some historians say that the castle of Dundee was a refuge to Carinthius, king of the Picts, after his army had suffered a defeat in Fife, by the legions of Agricola of Rome. They go on to say that under the cover of its impregnable walls, he not only defended himself from the the enemy, but had time also to deliberate with his chiefs after which he entered into a league with Galgacus, king of the Scots. This was to oppose the onslaught of the armies of Rome.

It’s also been suggested that Donald I, accompanied by his queen and courtiers, visited Dundee about 860 and remained there for a considerable time where they are said to have been baptized into the Christian faith. It is also noted in several sources that King Edgar Atheling died here in 1106 after a reign of 9 years. So Dundee was certainly a town of great importance, and possibly the seat of royalty at a very earlier period.

The Castle was one of the main fortresses of Scotland and played a prominent part in Scotland’s War of Independence. After the death of Alexander III, the country was thrown into chaos. While Edward I plotted to take control of Scotland, after being asked to help decided who the new king should be, the Castle was handed over to Gilbert de Umfraville, Earl of Angus.

Once Edward I began his campaign to take control of Scotland, he decided the main strongholds of the country should be handed over to someone who would hold them on his behalf. Dundee Castle was handed over to Brian, son of Alan, against the Earls wishes. After John Baliol was declared King of Scots, with some interference from Edward I, Brian was ordered to hand the Castle over to him. After Baliol capitulated to Edward’s rule in July of 1292, Dundee Castle was again in the possession of the English, although it had been under their control in all but name.

William Wallace was at this time rising against Edward I, and it was while besieging Dundee to reclaim the town and the and Castle, that Wallace received word of the advance of the English army. He left Alexander Scrymgeour to continue the siege which after a long and bloody battle, was a success. Dundee Castle was now back in control of the Scots.

When Wallace returned to Dundee he named Alexander the “Skirmischur” and appointed him the hereditary Constable of the Castle of Dundee and bestowed him the right to carry the royal standard in war. Unfortunately Alexander Scrymgeour did not hold the castle for long, as although Edward I retreated after his victory at Falkirk he left behind a garrison in Dundee, and wrote to them in 1300, telling the garrisons to “keep themselves by truce as best they can till Pentecost next” (May 1301) when the truce was to end.

Alexander Scrymgeour continued as Constable of Dundee and remained at the Castle even after Edward I’s complete subjugation of Scotland in 1303, but events must have unfolded at the Castle as shortly after this English garrisons were in command and the castle stayed under their control for several years.

After his coronation at Scone on 27th March 1306, Robert the Bruce took to the field against Edward. He was at once joined by Alexander Scrymgeour, and Dundee Castle was back in the hands of the Scots. However soon after Scrymgeour was taken prisoner after being defeated at Methven. Six weeks later, along with other prisoners taken at that battle, he was hanged in Newcastle. After his defeat, Bruce fled to the west and Dundee Castle was in the hands of the English.

The English garrison managed to hold out for another year, after which it was taken back by Bruce in 1313. After this he gave the order to destroy the Castle, to prevent it being used against him. It had changed hands between the Scots and the English eight times in the last 22 years. It was likely seen as much of a curse as a blessing, allowing whoever occupied it to remain in place in the region due to its position above the rock for defence, and right beside the shore for a speedy escape when needed.

After the destruction of all local records the details of such battles and other stories of the Castle have been lost to time, only a few mentions of the Castle in the records of Edwards army remain along with tales and legends, such as that of Carinthius. But as the memory of the castle lives on in the name Castle Street, and a plaque reminds us of its location, we can only imagine how different the city centre would look were the castle still standing today.

wallace-plaque

3 thoughts on “Dundee’s original castle

  • April 4, 2016 at 9:43 am
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    So interestng. Can’t wait to go on the tour and learn more about the history of Dundee!

  • December 10, 2016 at 4:30 pm
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    If you walk along Exchange street and go into what is now a private car park, you will be standing where the shore line was and you can look up at the high wall which now rises at the South end of St.Paul’s cathedral.
    It is easy to imagine the original castle as it would have stood back in the 13th.Century. and the time of Wallace and The Bruce. ( probably a wooden then )
    Dundee has a long and fascinating history which has been much under played. I hope this will change as we become aware of our history as a once proud, independent Nation.

    • December 10, 2016 at 5:49 pm
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      A brilliant spot where we always make sure to stop and look up at the back of St Paul’s on our Twisted in Time tour, hard to imagine just how different it would have looked.

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