Places to Visit in Scotland
- Dumbarton Castle
"Dun Breatann" or fortress of the Britons (also called "Alcluith" - the Clyde Rock), has a recorded history as a stronghold which is longer than any other fortification in Britain. The earliest reference is to St Patrick who wrote in 450AD to the King of Strathclyde about a raid by his followers on some of the Irish Saint's converts. But the volcanic plug, overlooking the river Clyde, where it is joined by the river Leven, would have been a natural defensive location even before then. In those days, in addition to a defensive position, there would be settlements sheltering on the rock and below.
In the dark ages, the Kingdom of Strathclyde, with its capital at Dumbarton, spread south from the river Clyde to cover much of south-west Scotland. They had to contend with the Kings of Rheged and Elmet further south in Norhumbria and Cumbria, the Picts> to the north and Dalriada (the home of the Scots, originally from Ireland) to the west. In 756 a combined force of Picts and Northumbrians besieged and took Alcluith and there are records of "the burning of Clyde Rock" in January 780.
By the 9th century the Vikings who had already established themselves in the Hebrides and Ireland, laid seige to the Rock for four months. They were led by Olaf the White from Dublin and Ivar Beilaus (the 'cripple' or 'one-legged') who had already captured York. Without water or food, the rock was eventually plundered - it needed 200 longships to carry off the booty and slaves.
Strathclyde recovered from this destruction and by 1018 Malcolm II was able to put his grandson Duncan (the predecessor of Macbeth>) on the throne of Strathclyde. Duncan governed Strathclyde and when he succeeded Malcolm II, Strathclyde became part of the emerging Scottish kingdom.
Although it was no longer the centre of a separate kingdom, Dumbarton Rock was in an important geographical location. A new castle was built as part of the western defences against the Norsemen who controlled the western seaboard. This role declined after the defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Largs in 1263 and the Treaty of Perth in 1266 when the western isles were ceded by Norway to Scotland.
When Edward I> marched into Scotland in March 1296, he captured Dumbarton Castle and installed his own goverenor there. One of the governors, Sir John Stewart of Mentieth, played an important part in the capture of William Wallace> on 5th August, 1305. Although there is a "Wallace Tower" in Dumbarton Castle (the remains are shown above) it is unlikely that Wallace was held there. After Robert the Bruce> led Scotland to freedom, he often returned to Dumbarton but surprisingly built a new castle for himself on the other side of the River Leven at Cardross. However, after the death of Bruce (at Cardross) in 1328, his young son King David II> was under threat following the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. He was brought to Dumbarton Castle for safety and the following year King David II sailed from Dumbarton to France, returning seven years later
The oldest part of the existing castle, the Portcullis Arch (shown here) dates from the 14th century. In the 15th century, the Governor of the castle, Lord Darnley, son of the Earl of Lennox, rebelled against King James IV>. The King beseiged the castle but, after failing at the first attempt, he had to bring the great gun Mons Meg (which is now in Edinburgh Castle>), to finish the job. King James then used the castle as a base to oust the Lord of the Isles.
In the 16th century, another Lord Darnley became the husband of Mary Queen of Scots>. Before that, however, the young Queen had stayed in Dumbarton Castle for five months after the disastrous Battle of Pinkie Cleuch (10th September, 1547) before sailing to France to marry the Dauphin. During his short reign as King Francis II, his wife, Mary, was Queen of both France and Scotland.
When Mary Queen of Scots was defeated at the Battle of Langside on 13th May, 1568, and fled to England, the Governor of the Castle, Lord Fleming, remained loyal to her and held Dumbarton Castle in her name until 1571. The Castle was eventually captured by Captain Thomas Crawford who led 100 men up the rocks and ramparts on the northern side, which everyone thought were impregnable.
Although the castle continued to be a base for controlling the western side of the country, it was most often used as a prison, including Jacobites> in the 18th century and French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Present Buildings
The Governor's House, with King George's Battery in front, was built in the first half of the 18th century, replacing the earlier medieval gatehouse. Now that the castle is owned by Historic Scotland>, the Governor's House has become a museum and visitor centre. Just visible, behind the Governor's House is the Guard House (see below).
The Guard House sits astride the steep narrow defile which leads up from the river to the two rocky peaks ("The Beak" and "White Tower Crag") which form Dumbarton Rock. It was built in its present form in the 16th century. Beyond the Guard House is the Portcullis Gate (illustrated earlier).
The natural defences of the narrow gully are clearly seen in this view which shows the Governor's House at the foot of the steep slope and the River Clyde beyond. On the other, northern side of the castle, there are only high ramparts, with no entrance.
Finally, here is a shot of the top of Dumbarton Rock, showing some of the defensive walls and the "Magazine" built in 1748 to house the gunpowder for the cannon which defended the Castle. The magazine was designed by William Skinner - who also drew up the plans for Fort George, the finest and most complete artillery fortification in Scotland. The Government of the day were going to make sure that nothing like the Jacobite Uprising> of 1745 would ever occur again!
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