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Issue 34 - 600 years of history

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 34
August 2007


This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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600 years of history

Charles Douglas visits Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran, home of the Dukes of Hamilton

The island of Arran is the most southerly of Scotland’s inhabited islands and sits in the Firth of Clyde between Ayrshire and Kintyre. So the first thing you have to do before planning a day visit to Brodick Castle is to check out the ferry times from Ardrossan. Better still, make it an overnight stay as Arran has many beautiful distractions to explore.

Brodick Castle itself is situated one and a half miles from the ferry terminal, and visitors can either catch the bus which drops them at the entrance or walk along the part road/part footpath.

During the centuries, the various fortifications here were destroyed and rebuilt many times, their origins lying in the fifth century when the first Scots arrived from Ireland to create the Kingdom of Dalriada. Since then, the strategic situation of Brodick (meaning ‘Broad Bay’) at the foot of the Goatfell mountain, and much fought over by Norse Invaders, the kings of the Isle of Man, and the Lords of the Isles, has never been in doubt.

But it was not until 1503, when the island and its earldom were granted by King James IV to his cousin James, 2nd Lord Hamilton, that it came into its own. Brodick Castle, at this stage, was built as a tower house, and over the following century attacked by Clan Maclean, Clan Campbell and the English, especially when the 2nd Earl of Arran was Regent of Scotland during the infancy of Mary Queen of Scots. It was he who negotiated Mary’s marriage to the Dauphin of France, for which he was created Duke of Chatelherault in the Peerage of France, and it was during his tenure that the castle was largely expanded towards becoming the splendid mansion we see today.

In 1599, the 4th Earl of Arran, Chancellor of Scotland and Keeper of both Stirling and Edinburgh castles, was created Marquis of Hamilton by James VI and I. His brother had earlier been created Lord Abercorn, and was the founder of the Ulster-based duke of Abercorn line. In 1643, James, 3rd Marquis of Hamilton, a supporter of Charles I, was created Duke of Hamilton and Premier Peer of Scotland. However, following his capture at the Battle of Preston, he was taken to London and beheaded. Two years later his brother, who had inherited the dukedom, was killed at the Battle of Worcester.

The dukedom then passed to the 1st Duke’s daughter Anne, who had married William Douglas, Earl of Selkirk. Fabulously wealthy, it was she who initiated the foundations of Hamilton Palace in Lanarkshire. Their son, the 4th Duke of Hamilton, supported the Jacobite Cause and proved an ineffective defender of the anti-Union cause in Scotland. He was nevertheless created Duke of Brandon in 1711 and died fighting a duel in London.

In 1843, Brodick Castle was inherited by William, 11th Duke of Hamilton and 8th Duke of Brandon who married Princess Marie of Baden, a cousin of Napoleon III. At this stage James Gillespie Graham was commissioned to undertake a substantial amount of building work at Brodick, almost tripling it in size.

Thereafter the Hamiltons lived in great style at Hamilton Palace, with Brodick essentially their hunting lodge. In 1869, their 19-year-old daughter Mary married Albert I, Prince of Monaco. The couple had met at a ball hosted by the Emperor and Empress of France, and their union was arranged by Prince Albert’s grandmother. Although it produced a son, the marriage did not last and following an annulment, Mary married a Hungarian nobleman.

The 12th Duke of Hamilton, had no male heir, so although the family titles passed after his death to his cousin, he entailed Brodick upon his only daughter, who, in 1906, married the 6th Duke of Montrose.

In 1957, the warm red sandstone castle was made over to the National Trust for Scotland in lieu of her mother’s death duties by the 6th Duke of Montrose’s daughter, Lady Jean Fford. Both she and her son continue to live on the island.

Stepping into the entrance hall of Brodick Castle with its legion of stag’s antlers and fine staircase is to enter the opulent past. The decoration throughout is both sumptuous and impressive with collections of fine furniture, silver, porcelain, sporting trophies, photographs, and paintings. In its modern context, therefore, Brodick Castle survives as the time capsule of a great stately home from an enormously affluent era.

The magnificent ceiling of the drawing room displays the coat of arms of James II through to the 11th Duke of Hamilton. Throughout the rooms and passages there is a sense of warmth and comfort. In the enormous kitchen, there are two fires, three ovens, and a huge collection of copper pans giving some indication as to the number of staff who once worked here.

The surrounding gardens are also magnificent and separated into two distinct sections; a formal garden of roses (started in the early 18th century) and a wooded garden containing sub-tropical plants and an outstanding display of rhododendrons which was started in the 1920s by the then Duchess of Montrose. An ‘Ice House’ and hexagonal Bavarian Summer House built in 1845 and decorated with fir cones provide interesting diversions.

Contact details and travel facts

Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran KA27 8HY.

Tel: +44 (0) 844 493 2152

Open: 3 March 30 until October 31, daily 1100- 1630 (closes 1530 at in October).

The Country Park is open throughout the year, daily, 0930-sunset.

Reception centre, shop and walled garden, open from March 30 until October 31, daily, 1000- 1630. November 1 until December 21 open Friday/Saturday/Sunday 1000-1530. Restaurant open from March 30 until October 31, daily,

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