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Issue 68 - Braemar Castle - A turbulent history

Scotland Magazine Issue 68
April 2013


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Braemar Castle - A turbulent history

Charles Douglas charts the life and times of Aberdeenshire's Braemar Castle

The story of Braemar Castle is one of strength and turbulence, and of backing the wrong side. Yet despite the onslaught of clan feuds and rebellion, this bulky, fortified house which can be seen from the road in the Aberdeenshire town of Braemar, only eight miles from the Royal Family's holiday home of Balmoral, has survived relatively unspoiled.

Tradition has it that Malcolm III (Canmore) and his first Queen, Ingibiorg, first visited the spot on a hunting expedition in 1060, and attended a trial of strength which manifested itself through the centuries into the annual Royal Braemar Gathering. On their visit, Malcolm and Ingibiorg would have taken up residence at the now totally ruined Kindrochit, a Royal hunting lodge on the banks of the River Clunie.

Braemar Castle, the imposing edifice built to replace Kindrochit, was begun in 1628 by John Erskine, second Earl of Mar (in the title's second creation). Situated on a strategic route through the Grampian mountains (now the A93), it enabled Mar, an on-and-off favourite of James VI of Scotland, and momentarily Regent of Scotland, to deflect the insurgencies of the neighbouring clans, the Farquharson, the Forbes, and the Gordons.

In 1689, the unsuccessful attempt by John Grahame of Claverhouse (Viscount Dundee) to re-establish the direct line of the Stuart monarchy against that of the Dutch William of Orange resulted in the occupation of the castle by Government troops. In that same year, John Erskine succeeded his father as sixth (and twenty second) Earl of Mar.

Not for nothing was the second Earl known as “Bobbing John”. Appointed Secretary of State for Scotland in 1713, he was dismissed from office the following year by the Hanoverian King George I and, in a fit of pique, raised his standard in favour of the de jure James VIII, the exiled Jacobite Old Pretender. At the ensuing Battle of Sheriffmuir, Mar's forces, although greatly outnumbering those of his opponent, failed to win the day, and he fled with James to France where he died in 1732.

Meanwhile, Braemar Castle had been attacked and burned by Mar's neighbour, John Farquharson of Inverey, with its Government occupants ejected. With Mar's title attainted and his lands confiscated, Farquharson, who surprisingly evaded prosecution, seized the opportunity to purchase the Braemar estate in 1724. During the subsequent Jacobite Uprising of 1745, he wisely remained neutral and, in 1748, he once again leased the castle to the British Government, whereupon it was rebuilt in its current form.

However, by 1798 its use as a Highland military garrison had come to and end, and the castle was handed back to the Farquharson family who have since made use of it as an additional family home. In the 1950s, under the inspirational guidance of the late Frances Farquharson of Invercauld, a former fashion editor of American Vogue and editor of Harpers Bazaar magazine, the interiors were filled with furnishings and personal memorabilia.

Opened to the public, it is currently leased and run by Braemar Community Ltd, an inspiring local initiative dedicated to the sustainable development of the town and its surroundings. At Braemar Castle volunteers have embarked upon an ambitious restoration programme.

The building is a five storey L-Plan castle with a star-shaped curtain wall of six sharp-angled salients, and with three storey angle turrets. The central tower comprises a round stair tower built of granite and covered in harl.

The main entrance retains an original iron yett, and many of the windows are protected by heavy iron grilles.

On view to visitors is the Victorian kitchen, stocked with its original utensils; the elegantDrawing Room with its 200 year old grandfather clock; the Morning Room, accessed up a turnpike staircase, and the Laird's Bedroom which features a handsome four poster bed and a secret corner housing a tribute to Long John Silver and his creator, the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote Treasure Island while staying in the town.

Among the other exhibits are a bronze age sword and a swathe of tartan once worn by Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

Some of the graffiti left behind by the Hanovarian troops quartered here after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 can still be seen.

For those with an interest in the supernatural, a piper has allegedly been seen and heard in the back corridor, and a clash of steel is sometimes heard on the staircase. The ghost of Colonel John Farquharson of Inverey is a regular visitor and, from time to time, his dark shadow is said to feature against the draperies in the Laird's Bedroom.

Braemar Castle
Braemar, Aberdeenshire AB35 5XR.
Tel:+44 (0) 13397 412 19
April, May, June, Oct:
Weekends, 1100 – 1500
July, Aug, Sept:
Weekends and Weds, 1000 – 16.00.
First three weeks in August, open six days
(closed Mondays)