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Issue 19 - Brodie's prime site

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 19
March 2005


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Brodie's prime site

Charles Douglas visits the seat of the Brodie family, Brodie Castle at Forres in Moray

The Brodies of Moray are believed to have been one of the original Celtic tribes rewarded with lands by King Malcolm IV of Scotland in the 12th century.

The name, originally “Brothie”, meaning “people of the ditch or mire,” became “Brodie” in the 16th century, and it is thought that the ditch which ran from Brodie Castle to the village of Dyke, may have produced this name. The late Ninian Brodie of Brodie was of the opinion and the other popular theory, that his family were directly descended from the Pictish King Brude, unlikely.

Over the centuries, the Brodies proved to be a steady race, if not heavily involved with the greater moments in Scotland’s history.

The 15th Laird signed the first National Covenant in 1638 and later resolved and ‘determined in the strength of the Lord, to eschew and avoid all employment under Cromwell.’ In 1649, he was chosen as one of the Commissioners sent to the Hague to treat with Charles II, but his involvement with this cause brought him considerable financial embarrassment and he died a disillusioned man.

In the 18th century, the Brodies supported the ruling House of Hanover against the exiled Jacobites, thereby avoiding the repercussions which crippled so many of the Highland clans. At the same time, Alexander, 19th Brodie of Brodie, was appointed Lord Lyon King of Arms in 1727.

Representing the ‘very presence of the Monarch’ must have gone to his head rather too significantly as he died leaving massive debts.

Providentially, one of his descendants was to return from India with a fortune and marry the daughter of the 5th and last Duke of Gordon, which provided temporary relief. However, when William, 22nd Laird, embarked upon huge building schemes, the family’s financial crisis returned. This time the situation was resolved through marriage to a wealthy heiress.

The date on the gable of the south-west tower indicates that the Brodie Castle we see today was begun in 1567 by the 12th Laird. The house is a typical ‘z’ plan tower house with square towers set diagonally at opposite corners of a rectangular building, lime-harled and with the ornate corbelled battlements and bartizans so characteristic of a Scottish fortified house of the 16th century.

Before it was partially “byrnt and plunderit” by Lord Lewis Gordon in the National Government crisis of 1645, a west wing and hall had been added. In the 18th century, the grounds were remodelled with the addition of planted avenues, a formal canal, and a picturesque serpentine drive approaching the house from the south. Inside the castle, John Ross, a mason from Elgin, erected the main staircase.

Thereafter, not much was attempted until 1824 when the architect William Burn was commissioned to make enlargements. Once again, the Brodies ran out of money and only a third of his plan was finished.

When the late Ninian Brodie of Brodie, 25th chief of the Name, and his wife Helena took over the running of Brodie Castle in 1946, they were faced with the problems which almost all post-war stately home owners had to confront.

The costs of running the castle and estate were crippling, but then salvation came in the form of the recently-formed National Trust for Scotland.

After negotiations, whereby the family provided an endowment for the upkeep and retained a small parcel of farmland, the Brodies moved into a wing of the castle.

After extensive repairs, the house was opened to the public in 1980. With the death of Ninian Brodie in 2003, the Trust is now making the Laird’s Apartment, with its seven twin bedrooms, available for high-quality holiday self-catering accommodation.

Brodie Castle is full of treasures, but retains the atmosphere of a comfortable, if opulent, family home. The dining room, for example, is filled with family portraits by distinguished artists, and around the mahogany ‘D’ end dining table which extends to 20 ft is a set of sixteen Morocco leather-upholstered dining chairs.

The table is laid with part of the large Chinese export armorial service of the Fitzhugh pattern, of which 102 pieces survive. Each piece carries the Brodie coat-of-arms and motto “Unite”, but on some of the pieces the decorator, no doubt in a moment of aberration, has inscribed “Untie.”

Inside Brodie Castle, the magnificent library, created out of imported American oak by James Wylson in 1846, today houses 6,000 volumes. In the blue sitting room, the early 17th century plasterwork carries the initials of Alexander Brodie and his wife Elizabeth Innes.

Prominent pictures include a watercolour portrait of The Duchess of Gordon in mourning and The Crucifixion by Adam Elsheimer. The red drawing room was originally the high wall of the tower house and today houses part of the collection of Dutch 17th century works collected by the 22nd Laird. But by far the loveliest room is the main drawing room where there are painted decorations on the architraves over the doors and on the ceiling. These were accidentally painted out earlier this century by local tradesmen, but have since been lovingly restored.

In this room there is a portrait of Jane, Duchess of Gordon and her son George (who later married Elizabeth Brodie) by George Romney. Jane was known as ‘the Beautiful Duchess’ and helped to raise the Gordon Highlanders by promising recruits a kiss and a shilling.

Other rooms round off the tour. The best bedroom features a William IV four-poster bed, and in the blue bedroom and dressing room leading into the picture room are shown some of the 24th Laird’s more contemporary collection of British watercolours, including works by Duffy and McIntosh Patrick, all of which he acquired for less than £25.

Brodie Castle is the prime example of one family’s centuries old accumulation of fine European paintings, fine porcelain, and furniture. Situated within 175 acres of parkland, woodland and fields, close to the Moray Firth, it is a highly to be recommended visitor attraction which, thanks to the National Trust for Scotland, and the far sighted vision of its previous owners, remains gloriously unspoiled.

Brodie Castle, Forres, Moray IV36 2TE
Tel: +44 (0)1309 641 371
Fax: +44 (0)1309 641 600
Brodie Castle is open to visitors between 1st to 30th April and 1st July to 31st August, from 12pm to 4pm; from 1st May to 30th June and 1st to 30th September, Sunday to Thursday, 12pm to 4pm.
The grounds are open all year from 09.30am until sunset

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