2022 Kolb Berglund & McDermott Traveling Fellowship

For this year’s Kolb Berglund and McDermott Traveling Fellowships, Caitlin McCunney had the opportunity to travel to Scotland in pursuit of architectural relics that cannot be found in America – castles. Caitlin sought out a variety of castles across the country to study, creating an analysis of specific characteristics to compare between buildings. Her hope with this research is to collect and publish information on these incredible, and sometimes forgotten, historical structures, but additionally to encourage travel amongst the architecture community.

Historical Overview

As most people do not know the finer details of Scottish history, I will provide a quick overview of common names and themes (bolded) that you will see in the castle research.

You will notice a pattern in Scottish history- the Scots and English were constantly at odds. The English relentlessly fought for control of the entire island, but the Scots are historically strong- willed people and would never give in easily. This is clear in the exchange of ownership of many of the castles on my tour. There are multiple wars and complex uprisings that you will read about that describe the tumultuous relationship between England and Scotland. Another common theme you will encounter is the conflict between religion. From the start of Christianity to Catholicism, to Protestant, and to Presbyterianism. A final note is the long- standing alliance between the Scottish and French. This friendship gave support against the attacks of the English and could explain the hints of French influence in Scottish architecture.

The earliest documented history of Scotland starts in the 1st century AD with Romans invading the island of Britain. They were unable to capture the area known today as Scotland, due to the fierce native inhabitants named the Picts. By the 5th century, Celtic people from Ireland, named the Scots, immigrated to the area known today as Scotland. They were Christian and converted the native Picts with the help of Saint Columba and embraced the Pict people as their own. By the 10th century, the area was named Scotland. In 1066, Anglo-Saxons from England immigrated to the Lowlands, and influenced society structure with Feudalism.

The infamous Wars of Independence began with the heir to the throne, Margaret, dying in 1290. With 13 claims to throne, Edward I of England announced he was the decision maker, and selected John de Baliol as King. Instead of helping the English against the French, Baliol sided with the French, with established an alliance for the next 260 years. Enraged, Edward I invaded Scotland in 1296, took Baliol prisoner, and made himself King of Scotland. To frustrate the Scots even more, Edward I took the Stone of Scone, an ancient Scottish relic in which all Scottish kings had been crowned, and housed it at Westminster Abbey, beneath the English coronation chair for further insult. In response, the Scots fought back. William Wallace, now a famous Scottish hero, led Scottish forces against the English in 1297 at Stirling bridge and forced them back to England. The subsequent year, Edward I fought the Scottish again and won at Falkirk. Wallace was taken and executed, his head on display at London Bridge. (This is what inspired the movie “Braveheart”.) The Scots, unwilling to be subdued, took a new hero, Robert the Bruce, who won the ultimate battle of the Wars of Independence in 1314 near Stirling Castle, causing Edward II to finally announce Scottish independence in 1328.

Mary Stuart, or later known as Mary Queen of Scots, claimed the throne as an infant in 1542, and lived her childhood out in France. John Knox, a follower of Protestant reformer John Calvin, took control of Scotland in that time, and converted much of Scotland to a Presbyterian system. When she returned to Scotland in 1561, Mary was able to take back control of the throne for a period. But through conflict with nobles and two failed marriages, she was forced to flee Scotland. Queen Elizabeth I imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots and executed her. Her son, James VI (or later known as James I of England) was raised Presbyterian and inherited the English throne in 1603. He was able to rule the two countries, separated but united. Over the coming years, the English pushed Episcopal religion and government on the Scots, resulting in Scotland dissenting against Charles I. Civil war, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, caused the Scottish to side with Parliamentarians against Charles I and the Royalists. However, Parliamentarian army commander Oliver Cromwell executed Charles I in 1649, without consulting the Scottish. This consequently caused the Scottish to support and protect Charles’ son Charles II, infuriating Cromwell, who then invaded Scotland to assert his English rule. Eventually, Charles II was regained the English throne.

Now, we move to the Jacobite period. James II of England was removed from the throne and the national church of Scotland became Presbyterianism. The exiled Stuarts in France (descendants of Mary Queen of Scots) were still supported by Highlanders, and in 1715 Scots tried to reinstate the Stuarts to the throne. James Stuart (renamed James III) and his son Charles Edward (known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) both attempted to gain the throne with their supporters known as the Jacobites causing several Jacobite Risings. This ultimately ended in failure for Bonnie Prince Charlie at the infamous Battle of Culloden in 1746. (This plot inspired the TV series Outlander.) The losing Jacobites were forced to give up land, titles, among other things to the English government which we will see play into the castles’ stories.

History after this time for Scotland, merges with England in the United Kingdom as they took control of Scotland permanently. Modern Scotland frequently pursued independence from the UK with losing votes in 1979, 1997, 2014, and continuing today.

Castles Studied

My methodology in researching Scottish castles was as follows:

  1. Year Built
  2. Location
  3. Size
  4. Site
  5. Purpose
  6. Clan/Family
  7. Historical Events
  8. Functions
  9. Defense Mechanisms
  10. Evolution, Current State
  11. Experiential

In selecting castles, I aimed to visit as varied of location as possible. I road tripped across Scotland from the south, near Glasgow, to the west coast, near Isle of Skye, to the north, near Inverness, to the center, the Highlands, to the east coast, near Aberdeen, and finally to the southeast, in Edinburgh.

The following are excerpts from the full report.

Stirling Castle: As with all the castles on my tour, Stirling Castle has an impressive site. Situated on top of a 250-foot rocky volcanic outcropping, it could control the River Forth and Stirling Bridge. The site alone with its useful natural defenses in height with sight lines and sheer cliffside drops as a boundary has probably been occupied since the Iron Age. The location in Scotland is also significant in its design; the city of Stirling is conveniently located between the Lowlands and the Highlands. It was nicknamed “the huge brooch” connecting the two lands together. The Stirling Castle hosted Scottish and English royal families from the late 11th Century up to the early 17th Century, afterwards having a military focus up until 1964. It is currently owned by Historical Environment Scotland. \ READ MORE

Eilean Donan Castle: The castle was built on an island in Loch Duich, a water highway of sorts connecting to the Atlantic, right at the mainland connection to Isle of Skye. With this strategic setting, whoever held the castle could control the entry into the lands of Kintail. This was especially advantageous for stopping Viking raids and was a hopeful post for the Jacobite’s and their Spanish supporters. Besides its defensive benefits, the island location of Eilean Donan is incredibly picturesque, creating the most quintessentially Scottish landscape for a castle. Originally built to protect the lands of Kintail by either King Alexander II or III, then held off and on by the Mackenzie clan from the late 13th Century to the mid-17th Century. After being used by the Jacobite’s in 1715-1719, the castle suffered much destruction from the English. Finally, Eilean Donan Castle was bought and restored by the MacRae family in 1911, after two hundred years of abandonment. The MacRaes lived in Kintail since the 14th Century and have worked at the Castle dating back to the 16th Century. The MacRaes still own Eilean Donan today. \ READ MORE

Urquhart Castle: Records show that the site had been visited by Saint Columba in 580 for a baptism of the Urquhart family, in which the Saint also encountered a monster in the loch. Ownership of the castle exchanged power between the Scottish and the English frequently, including in 1296 with Edward I invaded (Wars of Independence). The Grant clan was given ownership of the castle in 1509 by James IV for repairs but was repeatedly raided by the MacDonalds who looted over 3,000 sheep and cattle over the years. In 1689, Protestant England garrisoned the castle again, and by 1692, the Jacobite supporters blew up the fortification deliberately to eliminate English control of the site once and for all. The castle was abandoned and in decay until 1913, when Historic Environment Scotland took control of the property and began its repair and protection. \ READ MORE

Dunnottar Castle: Off the eastern coast of Scotland, Dunnottar castle commands the North Sea near Aberdeen. With its 160- foot sheer cliffs, its height gives it a significant advantage for counterattacks and visual control. Originally a level peninsula, Dunnottar castle now stands as a steep outcropping, disjointed from its adjacent water-level land. This is due to the early inhabitants cutting away the land to create a more defendable and intimidating approach from the mainland, a steep 160-foot drop with a 2,600-foot path. Arguably the most dramatic site on the tour, Dunnottar castle was believed to be the most secure location in the entire country. The entry to this castle is absolutely incredible. You can only see the castle if you hike out from a remote parking lot, through fields of wildflowers, and onto a cliff. For a few moments, it is unclear if the castle is even accessible. Completely cut off from the rest of the land, a steep staircase can lead you down to the beach, and back up to the castle gate. Once you enter through the outer defenses, you emerge onto beautiful green fields and scattered ruins. Walking towards the edge of the land mass, you can see down sheer rock cliffs, so high that birds are flying below your elevation. Looking outwards, you cannot see anything but sea and waves, a clear reminder that this was a control point of the North Sea. My favorite building element was the “Whig’s Vault”, a hidden prison barrel vault with a tiny window to the sea below. This was complete with an oubliette, a trapdoor entrance to the vault. \ READ MORE

Blackcraig Castle: The Blackcraig Castle is an outlier on this Scottish castle tour. It, in fact, is a historic building mimicking a true medieval Scottish castle. Built in 1852, it is by far the youngest. It is designed in the Scottish Baronial style, an architectural form of the 19th century similar to Gothic Revival in which it matches the Scottish architecture of the Late Middle Ages. It is characterized by conical roofs, tourelles, and battlement styled walls. Architect Fraser owned and renovated the 16th century tower house at the site and constructed a hunting lodge, bridgehouse, and gatehouse as part of the newly dubbed Blackcraig Castle in the mid-1800s. After his death, the property was owned by an Arts Trust and then sold as guest lodging as it stands today. \ READ MORE

Edinburgh Castle: Edinburgh Castle is castle is situated on top of an extinct volcano, with the rock peak at 430 feet above sea level and cliffs surrounding it at 260 feet above the city below. The only accessible portion to the site was to the east with a less steep slope (what is now the Royal Mile), nature designing the perfect fort location. Looking up from the city below, Edinburgh Castle seems to grow right out of the volcanic rock, seemingly like the castle was born from the land itself. Castle Rock is thought to have been inhabited as early as the Iron Age, specifically as a place of defense. In the Wars of Independence, Edward I of England took control of the castle in 1296. Rebuilding and additions to the castle began in the late 1300s and continued into the late 1400s, including David’s Tower, Crown Square, Royal apartments, and the Great Hall. In the 16th century, the Scots built a town wall and artillery defenses around the castle in fear of another English invasion. Mary Queen of Scots lived in Edinburgh Castle in 1565 and gave birth to her son James in the castle. The last reigning monarch to stay in the castle was in 1633 with King Charles I. \ READ MORE