Places to Visit in Scotland
- Castle Menzies
The Clan Menzies were originally of Norman origins and Sir Robert de Menzies rose within the ranks of the court of King Alexander II, becoming chamberlain in 1249. He and his son were granted lands in Glen Lyon, Atholl, Rannoch, and Weem in Strathtay. The "Place of Weem" was built in 1488, replacing Comrie Castle as the seat of the clan. In those turbulent times, that castle was burned down in 1502 and another castle was built in its place. It is this second building which forms the oldest part of the present, much extended, building. The precise date when this Castle Menzies was built is not known but there is a marriage escutchion with the initials of James Menzies and Barbara Stewart, dating from 1571, on one of the walls (see the illustration here). It is likely that the castle existed before that date.
In the 1650s the castle was occupied by troops from Cromwell's army and the Jacobites captured it in 1715.
Although Sir Robert Menzies of Menzies, the clan chief, was loyal to King George II and refused to take an active part in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, he provided hospitality to Bonnie Prince Charlie who stayed in Castle Menzies for two nights. There is a bed in the castle which is said to be where he slept (see illustration). The explanation for someone of Hanoverian sympathies apparently willingly taking in the Jacobite leader may have been due to the fact that his wife, Mary Stewart, was a daughter of the third Earl of Bute who supported the Stewarts. And of course other members of the Menzies clan supported the Uprising. Menzies of the Culdares line, who supported the 1715 cause, was too old for active service in 1745 but sent Bonnie Prince Charlie a fine, white horse.
Shortly after the stay by Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Menzies family were temporarily evicted from the castle by the Hanoverian forces of the Duke of Cumberland, hot in pursuit of the Prince.
The last of the Menzies family line died in 1918 (though in 1957 the Lyon Court was petitioned by Ronald Steuart Menzies (a branch of the Culdares family of Menzies) and he was awarded the name and arms of Menzies of that Ilk (clan chief).
Castle Menzies was owned by a number of families in the 20th century and during WW2, it was used by the Polish army. After the war it became derelict but it was taken over by the Clan Menzies Society in 1957 and is being restored by them.
Touring the Castle
Despite its long history - and thanks to the work of the Clan Menzies Society - Castle Menzies is not an empty shell, like so many castles can be. Instead, having passed through the Victorian portico, with the Menzies coat of arms above (see illustrtaion) there is a large, rambling castle with rooms restored to what they would have looked like several hundred years ago. And unlike the properties belonging to the National Trust and some other private owners, photography is permitted inside the building - a bonus for all those with cameras!
While the amount of furniture is perhaps limited, the plaster ceilings are impressive (most had to be replaced during renovation as the originals were in a poor state) and there are numerous display cabinets with memorabilia not just of Bonnie Prince Charlie but from further back as well, including replicas of the seals of Mary Queen of Scots and Robert the Bruce - the latter is illustrated below.
Portraits of Famous Menzies
Lining the walls of Castle Menzies are portraits of many people connected with the clan and with the castle. In particular, there is Sir Robert Menzies of Menzies (who lived from 1706 to 1786) who entertained Bonnie Prince Charlie at Castle Menzies. And another member of the clan who reached high office was Robert Menzies, who became a Prime Minister of Australia.
Castle Menzies is in the heart of Perthshire at a place called Weem, a few miles west of Aberfeldy in the valley of the river Tay. It is only ten miles west of the main A9 road which runs from Perth to Inverness and is well worth the small detour. And once you have reached Castle Menzies it is only another six miles to reach the oldest living organism in Britain and possibly the world - the Fortingall Yew.
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