posted 11-28-2002 07:51 AM
Found the following on MacLellan's Castle. The castle is in the county of Dumfries & Galloway, my favourite part of Scotland.
MacLellan’s castle stand on the site of the convent of Greyfriars, established by James II in 1449. The builder, Sir Thomas MacLellan of Bombie was a prominent landowner in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. He was a powerful man in local politics and at one time the Provost of Kirkcudbright, and he acquired the site and buildings of the friary within nine years of the Reformation Act of 1560. He used the stone from the old buildings to build his new house, retaining only the chancel of the former friary as the family burial-vault. Sir Thomas built his castle in a new style, moving away from the heavily defended tower house to a domestic house on a grand scale. It was conceived, as were its castellated predecessors, to show wealth and importance of the builder.
The burgh assumed responsibility for the remainder of the Greyfriars, which continued in use as the parish church until 1838. Unfortunately, the castle did not survive intact as long. From the beginning, it was clear that Sir Thomas had ‘bitten off more than he could chew’, for it is possible that the internal fitting was never completed. By 1742 the roof had been stripped off and all the fixtures and fittings removed to Orchardton House. MacLellan’s Castle thereafter lay abandoned, remaining only as a monument to its builder.
Little is known of the early history of the MacLellan family. Very few records of the family can be traced from before the 15th century, but it is likely that there were MacLellans in Galloway from at least the 12th century. The name can be found on charters and documents from 1135, usually with the spelling “McLellan”. However, the normal spelling, particularly from the 17th century onwards, is the same as that used for the castle.
In the 19th century, a family historian found a reference to a MacLellan of ‘Bondby’ in the cartulary of Kelso Abbey, dated 1135, but this is no longer traceable. The next mention comes from the charter of Sweetheart Abbey, signed in 1273, when one of the witnesses was a ‘Cane McGillolane’. In the 14th century, Gilbert McGillolane was described as the ‘chief of the MacLellans’. This Gilbert, or possibly another family member of the same name, became Bishop of Man and Sodor in 1320/21, and was buried at Rothesay on Bute in 1329.
The family’s traditional homelands lay in the north of the country, on the east banks of the River Ken. It would appear that they were an ancient Gallovidian family, and would have been tenants and natural supporters of the Lords of Galloway, who from the 12th century considered themselves kings over this state.
The steady transfer of power from the Lords of Galloway to the Kings of Scotland happened over more than a century. For a brief time it must have seemed as though Galloway had won at last, when in 1290, a descendant of the Lords of Galloway, John Balliol, was elected to succeed to the throne of Scotland. The MacLellans supported Balliol and against Robert the Bruce, though few of their actions during the ensuing War of Independence are recorded. On 3rd March 1306, Patrick, son of Gilbert M’lolan, with fourteen other knights, took the castle of Dumfries from Bruce’s men, after Bruce’s murder of Sir John Comyn. In the same year a MacLellan may have been present in the garrison or Caerlaverock Castle. Thereafter, during the remainder of the 14th century, there are only sporadic mentions of the family.
The family’s fortunes changed in the 15th century. Indeed, so dramatic was the change that it has been suggested that an entirely new family moved into Galloway. However, it seems far more likely that the existing family improved their circumstances and became significant landowners. The MacLellans felt sufficiently strong enough in the 1440s and 1450s, to enter into a dangerous dispute with their powerful neighbours, The Earls of Douglas and owners of Threave Castle. A family story tells of the murder of Sir Patrick MacLellan of Wigtown at the hands of the eighth Earl of Douglas. Sir Patrick was trapped in Raeberry Castle on the Solway Coast, and besieged by Douglas soldiers. They failed to seize the castle by might, so they bribed a guard to let them through the gate at night. They captured Sir Patrick and his brother, and carried them off to Threave Castle, where they were hanged from the battlements, just before Sir Patrick Gray, the MacLellans’ uncle, could demand their release in the name of the king.
The principal line of the MacLellan family acquired the estate of Bombie, close to Kirkcudbright, at some time before the 15th century. Their residence was a timber house surrounded by a moat. By 1435 the head of the house was a customar of the burgh of Kirkcudbright, a position which brought a respectable income through a percentage of the customs revenue from the town’s imports and exports. At Kirkcudbright, these were chiefly hides, woollen cloth, English malt and coal. The rise in the family’s fortunes was helped by their dangerous feud with the Douglases of Threave. When they were finally toppled by James II in 1455, the MacLellans were among those who benefited from the redistribution of lands by the King. In 1466, William MacLellan of Bombie was made Provost of Kirkcudbright.
Over the next century, the family used the wealth gained in 1455 to establish themselves as the major family in the burgh of Kirkcudbright, and one of the most important in the Stewartry. By 1500, they were also customars in Wigtown, and in 1507, the second William MacLellan was appointed joint Chamberlain of Galloway, a post which brought advancement, wealth and a knighthood. Sadly, he was unable to enjoy his new-found wealth completely, since he was killed along with many of his fellow countrymen at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.
William was succeeded by his son Thomas, whose end was far less honourable, but no less violent. He was killed in a brawl in 1526 at the Kirk Style in Edinburgh High Street, by the lairds of Drumlanrig and Lochinvar, over an argument about the remarriage of his mother (against his advice) to Robert Scott of Tushielaw. His successor, also Thomas, was a minor at the time of his father’s death, and also suffered a violent death, this time at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. His son, the third Thomas and builder of the castle, was also a minor at his father’s death. His uncle, Thomas MacLellan of Auchlane, was appointed to oversee the upbringing of the young head of the family.
For the next half century, Thomas MacLellan of Bombie was at the forefront of public life in the area. From 1576 until the time of his death in 1597, he served as Provost of the burgh, and if absent for any reason, his deputy, Thomas MacLellan of Auchlane and former tutor, carried out his duties.
The Reformation of the Scottish Church provided a windfall for the MacLellans, who received lands belonging to the Church. In 1569 Sir Thomas of Bombie received a Crown charter to the lands of the former Greyfriars in the centre of Kirkcudbright. This charter was valuable and must be seen as a reward of some kind, but even this generous gift was insufficient for the MacLellans.
Work began on the site around 1570 and progress was slow. Seven years later Sir Thomas received a charter from the burgh for the lands of Castledykes, which included the ruins of an old royal castle. With sufficient stone in place, the building progressed towards completion in 1582.
The design of the castle is part of a deliberate and self-conscious change in tower house building in the second half of the 16th century. Gone was the obsession with security that had dictated the design of the severe, dark towers of the previous centuries, to be replaced by a new approach to domestic comfort and display of conspicuous wealth. Thomas MacLellan did not dispense entirely with defence, but it was reduced to a minimum, serving to ward off individuals rather than armies. A few wide-mouthed gunloops in the lower level of the walls and some pistol holes in the upper levels are half-heartedly placed to cover the entrance and approaches. It is as well that they were never needed, since they were tactically useless.
The castle has an unusual ground plan, based on the standard L-plan but with two significant variations. Firstly, there is an additional tower in the south-east corner, and secondly, there are two projections in the re-entrant angle. Both occur due to the desire to make the residence more convenient and to provide increased accommodation. The additional tower has five storeys, instead of the four storeys throughout the rest of the castle, while the added projections accommodate the private stair leading to the upper levels.
The castle entrance is in the re-entrant angle and provides the visitors with a view of the best of the mason work on the castle before even entering. Over the door is an armorial, now somewhat weathered, consisting of three panels below a pedimented head. The border of the upper panel is decorated with roses and thistles, and probably contained the royal arms of James VI, of whom MacLellan was tenant-in-chief. The lower left panel contains the arms of Sir Thomas MacLellan. The lower right panel contains the arms of Sir Thomas’s wife, Dame Grissel Maxwell, quartering the arms of Herries and Maxwell, together with the initials GM and the date 1582. However, this panel gives a confused message. Grissel Maxwell was Sir Thomas’s second wife, and the daughter of Sir John Maxwell, the fourth Lord Herries. In 1582 Grissel was only fourteen and the marriage contract between her and Sir Thomas was not signed until two years later. The date stone must have been added after the completion of the castle, rather than to celebrate his second marriage.
On the adjacent north wall, the window lighting what was probably the steward’s room has been decorated in a similar way, with a pedimented head and a debased dog-toothed ornament. A decorated cornice has been used only on the wall around the entrance. Corbelled bartisans or corner turrets are added to the north-west approach, further enhancing it.
Inside the entrance a small lobby gives access to the principal stair straight ahead, and to the kitchen passage and store rooms off to the right. The whole of the ground floor is vaulted, and three storage cellars occupy the main block. The eastern cellar is narrower than the other two, to allow room for a service passage from the kitchen to a service stair. Each cellar is lit by a small window in the south wall. The thick walls and little light would have ensured they stayed constantly cool. The cellar at the western end could be reached directly from the laird’s private chamber by a service stair, so is thought that this was his wine cellar.
At the corner where the two passages meet is a peculiar feature – a square stone pillar with a splayed opening behind. It is thought to have been a lamp recess, to light the floor of this busy corner of the castle, providing safe passage for servant running from the store rooms to the kitchen, or carrying trays of food to the great hall.
The kitchen is roomy, about 16ft (5m) square, with a window in its east wall and an oven in its west. At the north end is a deeply recessed fireplace, a little over 13ft (4m) wide and 6ft (2m) deep. The kitchen has a window in its west wall, which was later altered into a doorway and then reduced to a window again. There is also a slop sink opposite the window and a serving hatch by the door. Food would have been carried from the hatch to a service stair in the south-east of the castle, and thence speedily upstairs to ensure the food was till hot when it reached the table.
The first floor contained the family’s principal apartment and other accommodation. The principal stair gives access to a straight stair, more elegant and convenient than the usual circular stairs. At the top of the stairs, a ‘platt’ or landing leads, to the left, the accommodation in the north wing, and to the right, the remainder of the accommodation. The room in the north wing was probably the steward’s room, for the laird’s right-hand man who kept his house and household in order. It is a well-appointed chamber with a view over the main entrance, and contains a fireplace, a dry-stool closet and a good-sized bed closet.
Along the passage to the right of the stair-houses is a small chamber or spy-hole known as a ‘laird’s lug’. It contains a small hole that looks out through the back of the fireplace into the great hall, and would allow the laird to eavesdrop on the people in the hall.
The laird’s principal apartment consisted of a suite of rooms on the first and second floors of the main block. These comprised the great hall and private chamber on the first floor, and the principal bed-chamber, reached by a private stair, on the second. The great hall served as an entertainment and business room, as well as the family dining room. Measuring about 11m by 6m, it occupies the full width of the west wing of the castle, and was well lit by four reasonable-sized windows. In the opposite wall traces can be seen of a buffet recess, now blocked up, which once housed a cupboard for display purposes.
To the west of the great hall is the laird’s private chamber, which is well lit by windows in the north and south walls. It was heated by a fireplace in the west wall and had a dry-stool closet in one corner. Here the laird would discuss private business or spend a comfortable evening with family or close friends. The private stair between the great hall and private chamber led down to the wine cellar or up to the principal bed chamber.
The upper chambers were reached by three stairways. The private stair exclusively for the use of the laird and his family was in the main block. The upper rooms in the north wing were approached by a stair leading off the landing at the head of the principal stair. These rooms are well provided with dry-stool closets and bed closets. The rooms in the south-east tower were reached from the upper levels of the service stair from the kitchen, and, being slightly smaller and less well provided for, were probably reserved for guests. Each has a stool closet, a fireplace, and at least one window. Although all the upper chambers were reached from separate stair, they were also inter-linked for convenience. In all, there were at least fifteen rooms of domestic accommodation.
Clearly a well respected man in Kirkcudbright, Sir Thomas had the running of the town in hand. He was prosperous and frequently in Edinburgh, and on at least one occasion, in France. He also found favour with the King, for in 1580 he was made a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. This was despite that a few years earlier he had been reprimanded for wrongfully detaining the cargo ship “Jonnet” in Kirkcudbright harbour, along with all her cargo. He was also reprimanded in 1577 for making a purchase from a pirate, Leonard Robertson. Both actions were a little unexpected in a man holding the post of customar. His dealings were not restricted to customs duties, and his financial transactions and land deals brought him into conflict with members of his own family as well as the Commendator of Holyrood Abbey.
His first marriage was to Helen, daughter of Sir James Gordon or Lochinvar. After her death in 1581, he married Grissel. Thomas had six legitimate children by his two wives, and one natural daughter whose mother is unknown. He was succeeded by the eldest son from his second marriage, Robert.
Robert MacLellan did not just inherit his father’s land and castle, but also some of his abilities, and continued to raise the status of the family. He served both James VI and Charles I as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, knighted in 1633 and created the first Lord Kirkcudbright. But his stormy career and extravagance laid the foundation for the ruin of his family. In 1607, while in his mid-teens, he became Provost of Kirkcudbright. This however did not ensure his good behaviour, and as a young man was imprisoned in Blackness Castle for taking part in an affray on the High Street of Kirkcudbright. Few details of the dispute survive, but he was heavily fined for his part in it. Furthermore, in July 1607, he assaulted Robert Glendinning, the minister of Kirkcudbright, during a session meeting at the church. Later that year, whilst visiting his sister in New Abbey, he shot a George Glendinning, was placed in Edinburgh Castle and forced to pay compensation. Yet despite all this, in 1621 he was elected as Member of Parliament for Wigtownshire. Four years later he was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the Stewartry.
In 1610 Robert applied for lands in Ulster, as part of the Plantation Scheme. He succeeded, and held properties at Rosses in County Donegal and Ballycastle in Londonderry. His second marriage, to a daughter of Sir Hugh Montgomery of North Down, Ireland, brought him much needed wealth and considerable influence in Ireland. However, Robert managed to squander all his wealth, mostly on administering his Irish estates and raising a regiment in support of the King there. In 1638 it was suggested that Lord Kirkcudbright’s troop should be sent over to quell trouble in Galloway, as the Irish were considered to be fit and light, and able to run through the bogs and hills.
By the time of his death in 1639, Robert had sold off most of his estates to pay off his debts. He died at Ballycastle, leaving no legitimate hale heir, although he had three illegitimate sons.
His nephew, William MacLellan of Glenshinnoch, a zealous Covenanter, became the second Lord Kirkcudbright. In 1640 he raised a regiment of cavalry, the South Regiment, in support of the Earl of Leven, which fought at the Battle of Marston Moor and at the siege of Newcastle, before re-crossing the border to help defeat the Marquis of Montrose at the Battle of Philiphaugh, near Selkirk. Despite being given substantial compensation by the Scottish Parliament, and receiving honours for his service, the second Lord Kirkcudbright sacrificed much and was greatly out of pocket. He died in Ireland in 1647.
The final blow to the family fortunes was dealt by his cousin, John, third Lord Kirkcudbright. Also a noted Covenanter, he raised forces in Galloway to fight the cause with zeal. His regiment was sent to Ireland and was part of a force cut to pieces at the Battle of Lisnagarvey. He and his men limped home. Once there, Lord Kirkcudbright faced the ruin of his estates. To add to his troubles, he opposed the introduction of an Episcopalian minister at Kirkcudbright, was imprisoned in Edinburgh and died in disgrace in 1655.
None of the descendants of Sir Thomas MacLellan took any interest in his castle. By 1741, the family were at such a low ebb that the current Lord Kirkcudbright, William MacLellan, had become a humble glover, reduced to standing in the lobby of the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, selling his wares to dancers at the ball. The only time he removed his apron and dressed as a gentleman was when he attended a vote to elect the Scottish representatives to sit in the House of Lords.
By this time, the castle was owned by the MacLellans of Orchardton, who in 1742, removed the contents and stripped of the roof. Forty years later they sold the shell to Lord Selkirk. Thereafter it stood neglected until 1912, when it was placed in State care by Sir Charles Hope.
Nigel Tranter – The Fortified House in Scotland - Volume 3, South-West Scotland – James Thin, First Edition, 1962; Reprinted, 1986
D.Ronald Macgregor – Castles of Scotland – A Collins Map – William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., First Edition, 1974; Revised Edition, 1975
Hubert Fenwick – Scotland’s Castles – Robert Hale Ltd., First Edition, 1976
Mike Salter – Discovering Scottish Castles – Shire Publications Ltd., First Edition, 1985
Brian Wakefield – A-Z of Scottish Castles – W & W Publishers, First Edition, 1988
Mike Salter – The Castles of South-West Scotland – Folly Publications, First Edition, 1993
Doreen Grove – Maclellan’s Castle – Historic Scotland, First Edition, 1997
[This message has been edited by AJR (edited 11-28-2002).]