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Issue 40 - Magical Menzies

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 40
August 2008

 

This article is 9 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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Magical Menzies

Charles Douglas visits Castle Menzies in the Valley of the Tay.

As you drive along the picturesque B846 from Aberfeldy heading towards Loch Tay, you cannot fail to notice Castle Menzies. It stands defiantly against a backdrop of dark hills close to the village of Weem, a striking symbol of a oncepowerful Highland clan. And it is certainly well worth turning into the drive and car park for a visit.

The Norman family of de Menzies from Rouen in France appeared in Scotland in the 13th century where one of their number became Chamberlain of Scotland to Alexander II. Unfortunately records of that early history were lost in a fire in 1592, but it is generally understood that lands extending from Glendochart to Aberfeldy were bestowed upon one of his descendants, a Sir Alexander Meygners, for services to Robert the Bruce.

The “Place of Weem,” as it was originally called, was first built near Aberfeldy in 1488 to replace Comrie Castle, which had hitherto been the Seat of the Clan. Those were turbulent and dangerous times, and the Place of Weem was burned down in 1502. Its replacement forms the oldest part of the much extended building we see today, but when exactly this was completed is unknown. However, a marriage escutcheon dated 1571 carries the initials of James Menzies and Barbara Stewart, and therefore indicates that a fortified building was certainly standing by the mid-16th century.

Life was never placid or uneventful in the central Scottish Highlands. In 1650, the invading English army under General Monk seized and occupied Menzies Castle and, in the following century, it was forcibly taken by the Jacobite forces of the Earl of Mar in 1715.

Although Sir Robert Menzies, the Chief of Clan Menzies, was loyal to George II and refused to take an active part in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, he did provide hospitality to Prince Charles Edward Stuart who stayed for two nights in 1746. Needless to say, there is a bedroom and a canopied bed in which the Prince is said to have slept.

Those were indeed extraordinary times in Scotland. You might imagine that under the volatile circumstances of the time Menzies would have resisted harbouring the Prince, but then you have to remember that his wife, Mary Stuart, was a daughter of the third Earl of Bute, one of the Prince’s supporters. In many ways, the family got off lightly when they were later made temporarily homeless by the Duke of Cumberland’s soldiers who were in hot pursuit of the fugitive Charles. At least they were allowed to return afterwards.

The last in the direct line of Menzies Chiefs died in 1918, but in 1957, Ronald Steuart Menzies from the Culdares branch of the family, petitioned the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms and was awarded the Name and Arms of Menzies of that Ilk. In the meantime, Castle Menzies had been sold and occupied by a number of families until it became a hospital for the Polish Army during the Second World War.

It then became derelict, but salvation came about in 1957 when it was purchased and restored by the Clan Menzies Society. Sadly this involved the demolition of the greater part of the 18th century wing, but William Burn’s west wing and the large Victorian ballroom survived. And although it is not packed with antique furniture and treasure, what there is to see is nonetheless atmospheric and compelling.

Today, Castle Menzies not only serves as the headquarters of an enthusiastic worldwide Clan Society headed up by its current Chief, David Menzies of Menzies, but also welcomes visitors from all over the world who want to tour a genuinely unpretentious and unspoiled Scottish mansion fortress. The Clan has also been fortunate in collecting examples of memorabilia not only relating to Bonnie Prince Charlie, but to Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots.

On the walls are portraits of many of those who have made the name famous, notably Sir Robert Menzies, who entertained Prince Charles Edward, and his 20th century namesake, who became Prime Minister of Australia in 1939 and 1949. After your tour of the house, take time to explore the charming walled garden set amid some of central Scotland’s most spectacular scenery.

Contact CASTLE MENZIES, Aberfeldy, Perthshire Tel: +44 (0)1887 820 982 Web: www.menzies.org Open April to mid October: Monday to Saturday 10.30am-5pm.

Sunday 2pm-5pm (last entry 4.30pm).

Admission charge: All proceeds exclusively used for the continued restoration and maintenance under a Charitable Trust