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Q: Scottish Castles: When did they become Obsolete ... ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Scottish Castles: When did they become Obsolete ...
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: probonopublico-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 07 Oct 2004 22:09 PDT
Expires: 06 Nov 2004 21:09 PST
Question ID: 411873
As a means of protection?

And why?

EXPLANATORY NOTE for foreign students:

Scotland is in the United Kingdom, north of England. 

There isn't much up there except a few crumbling castles but it is
famous for its kilts, bagpipes, whisky, salmon and haggis. Everybody
up there is called Mac-something (Don't ask me why.)

Sportswise, the inhabitants toss cabers (I kid you not) probably
because of their inability to master more popular forms of sport like
football or cricket.
Subject: Re: Scottish Castles: When did they become Obsolete ...
Answered By: leli-ga on 08 Oct 2004 07:39 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear Bryan

Dear me, so naughty to tease us about Scotland. After I've answered
your question, I shall have to challenge your "tartan & whisky" view,
especially just 24 hours before such an important day in Scottish

But first, some thoughts about Scottish castles and obsolescence ~


The short answer to "when" is that the last traditional Scottish tower
houses were built in the early 17th century, but you could still be
glad of a fortress for at least another century, with Blair Castle
coming under siege as late as 1746.

Let's start by assuming the "crumbling castles" you're thinking of are
ruined mediaeval tower houses, or sites including a tower house, like:

Craigmillar Castle

The tower house was the dominant castle design for about 300 years,
from the 14th century on, and plenty were built earlier, in the 12th
and 13th centuries.

In the 16th century, many tower houses were enlarged and glamourised.
The now-ruined "palace block" at Huntly Castle is an example:

Before 1600 design still concentrated on protection, though, with
Huntly's solid walls at ground floor level.

The latest tower houses were built in the first half of the 17th
century. Even though it would be another century before Scotland was
free of besieging and burning, by the late 1600s well-to-do Scots
families had stopped building defensive structures, and were placing
more emphasis on comfort and style.
Of course, there were still plenty of big fortified castles left for
the powerful families involved in the political upheavals of the 17th
and early 18th centuries.

People started moving away from their old tower houses, and from the
late 18th century some replaced them with a grand new castle on the
same site, like:

Culzean Castle


The answer to the "why" part of your question is not cut-and-dried,
and like other questions of social change could be a topic for a
weighty book, or several books.

First I should give you the traditional explanation for the tower houses:

"They appear to endorse the view that Scotland in the late Middle Ages
was a pretty nasty place to live; a time when, in the words of Sir
Walter Scott, 'Everybody was too busy fighting to write anything
down'. Incessant violence between the king and his nobles prompted the
latter to lock themselves away in dark forbidding towers for their own
safety and protection. "

This is not the whole picture, and many people would argue that
building a sizeable tower house required not only prosperity, but time
out from doing battle. Nevertheless, the peaceful period in Scottish
history around 1600 coincided with a change in architecture, and saw
the beginning of the end of fortified castle construction.

Part of this story must belong to James VI, whom you may know as James
I. He had a grand vision of bringing peace, and union with England. He
worked to make Scotland a more stable place and after he went south,
his nobles kept the country peaceful for some time. The king told the
English parliament in 1607 that Scotland was now ruled by the pen, not
the sword:

"This I must say for Scotland, and I may truly vaunt it; here I sit,
and govern it with my Pen; I write, and it is done; and by a Clerk of
the Council I govern Scotland now, which others could not do by the
Sword. "

Although there was trouble to come - Cromwell, for instance - by the
end of James VI's reign in 1625 Scotland felt like a more united and
better-administered country. The mood of the times had changed and
castle-building for defensive purposes was on the way out, although
some castles would continue to be used for protection for another
hundred years and more.

By the late 17th century, some people were building "peaceful" country
mansions like this:

Cromwell and General Monk built a few forts of their own, and George
II built a ferocious anti-Jacobite fortress at Fort George, but
they're not typically Scottish, and I think you're not asking about

Fort George

Trouble between Jacobites and Hanoverians meant a fortified castle
might still be useful in the 18th century. Blair Castle was probably
the last Scottish castle to be besieged, in 1746, the year of the
battle of Culloden:

Some of the more important castles were of course used for protection
during the political upheavals of the 17th century, and quite horrible
things went on in their dungeons:

"The rapid changes in political faith which then took place amongst
the nobility rendered their Castles the frequent scenes of retribution
for crimes committed within their walls. And thus the dungeons of
Dunnottar Castle were tenanted alternately by Covenanters and
Episcopalians as either of these parties gained the ascendancy. "

Dunnottar ended up being destroyed, like a number of other castles
which had played a role in great causes of the 17th century. And so it
started to crumble . . . .

Some castles crumbled because they were abandoned when their owners moved on, like:

Hermitage Castle

Others had been burnt or bombarded before being abandoned. One of my
favourites was destroyed by Cromwell's men:

Tantallon Castle

Urquhart Castle was deliberately blown up so the Jacobites couldn't use it.

Urquhart Castle

I hope this gives you a reasonable overall picture, but please ask if
there's something missing which you'd hoped I would cover.

And now to draw your attention to a great day in Scotland, i.e.
tomorrow. Not only is there more to life in "North Britain" than
haggis and kilts, but please understand that footballs are *far* more
popular than cabers. Please see:


To be really provocative, I could discuss the school of thought which
says kilts were invented in 1822:

But I won't . . . 

Best Wishes  - Leli

Search strategy

A couple of decades living north of Hadrian's wall has allowed me to
visit many Scottish castles, so I thought about your question and used
some internet resources like:

Timeline, including castle building

National Library of Scotland on James VI:

Historic Scotland

Request for Answer Clarification by probonopublico-ga on 08 Oct 2004 08:03 PDT
Absolutely brilliant, Leli, as usual!

I never realised that you lived 'up there' or that you would be such a
mine of information on Scottish Castles (in addition to everything

You have already done all I that asked and more but if you feel like
going for a bigger bonus, you might say a few words about ...

On second thoughts, I'll post a separate question directed to you, as
a matter of fairness.

So keep your eyes peeled please.

All the Best


Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 08 Oct 2004 11:32 PDT
Thank you so much. 

I rather enjoyed meandering around some castle webpages with nice
pictures to remind me of places I've visited. So, as usual, thanks are
due to you: for a chance to revisit some fine buildings, stars, tip,
and generous comments.

I'm off to look at your other question now, and will post a
preliminary comment when I've had a chance to think about it.

probonopublico-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Sorry, Leli

I still haven't figured how to beat the 5 Star Barrier!

All the Best


Subject: Re: Scottish Castles: When did they become Obsolete ...
From: dmrmv-ga on 08 Oct 2004 11:25 PDT
FWIW, "Mac", "Mc", and the Irish "O'" are surname prefixes indicating
"son of". Eg. MacDonald means "Son of Donald". This is equivalent to
the English suffix construct eg. Johnson. When these became family
names rather than literal I don't know.

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