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Issue 7 - Inveraray Castle - A Rich Heritage

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 7
March 2003


This article is 15 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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Inveraray Castle - A Rich Heritage


The name of Campbell inspires many emotions in the Scottish psyche, but much of this has been brought about by a deliberate misinterpretation of historic fact. It is certainly hard to forgive Clan Campbell for what they did to the unfortunate Lamonts of Toward Castle and Ascog Castle during the 17th century, but the on-going censure over the massacre of the McIan Macdonalds of Glencoe in 1692 does need to be put into perspective.

The Glencoe massacre was the result of an order put out by the Master of Stair, King William of Orange’s Joint-Secretary of State for Scotland, as a punishment for the McIan chief being late in taking an oath of allegiance. Now, it just so happened that the commanding officer in charge of the troops billeted on the McIans at the time was Campbell of Glenlyon, and because of this, the name of Campbell has carried the blame ever since.

But Clan Campbell was, and remains, a large and diverse clan which first came to prominence in the 13th century, and whose branches at the peak of their power extended throughout the Highlands, from Lorn to Moray, and from Taymouth in Perthshire to Loudon in Ayrshire.

However, it was the Campbells of Argyll who played the most prominent roles in the history of Scotland. From their support of Robert the Bruce during the struggle for independence against the English, and subsequent strategic marriages, they gained their extensive lands on the west coast as the influence of the Macdonald Lords of the Isles declined.

Titles in the grant of 1701, in which the 10th Earl of Argyll was created Duke, reflect the territories of this particular line of the once all-powerful family – Duke of Argyll, Marquess of Kintyre and Lorne, Earl Campbell and Cowal, Viscount Lochow and Glenyla, Lord Inveraray, Mull, Morvern and Tiree.

Dukes of Argyll were also appointed Heritable Sheriffs of Argyll and Masters of the Royal Household in Scotland in 1461, Admirals of the Western Coasts and Isles of Scotland, and Keepers of the castles of Dunstaffnage, Tarbert, Carrick and Dunoon.

Nevertheless, in the Highlands of Scotland, Torquhil, 13th Duke, is best known as MacCailein Mor, which translates from the Gaelic as ‘Son of Colin the Great’, a tribute to his ancestor of 800 years ago. He and the Duchess, the former Eleanor Cadbury, were married last summer, and Torquhil continues to work as a regional manager for whisky producers Chivas Brothers, where his responsibilities embrace the Indian Continent, Australasia and New Zealand.

The young Duke is fortunate to have a dedicated team to manage the estate in his absence, although he is in daily contact. But it also means that the day-to-day running of the castle, the family’s home on the shores of Loch Fyne since the 15th century, is continued by his mother, the Dowager Duchess.

A lively and engaging personality, Duchess Iona has transformed the castle shop into a treasure-trove for gift-seekers, and with the help of only one gardener ensures that during the summer months the spectacular flower beds which surround the castle are filled with dazzling displays of azaleas and rhododendrons. With its great Armoury Hall, fine tapestries and magnificent paintings, the castle and grounds annually attract visitor numbers in excess of 80,000.

Like all great Scottish mansions, Inveraray Castle reflects a variety of architectural styles introduced by succeeding generations.

Most of the present-day building was completed for the 5th Duke in 1773, when the entire old town of Inveraray was replaced by a model new town on the loch foreshore. To achieve this, the original plans for the castle and town, which had been drawn up earlier by the English architect Sir John Vanbrugh, were adapted by the Palladian exponent Peter Morris and overseen by William Adam, himself father of Scotland’s most remarkable family of innovative architects. Robert Milne, the master mason later responsible for many of Scotland’s great houses, was brought in to recast the castle interiors during the 1780s.

Then, a century later, the upper floors of the castle were gutted by fire. Anthony Salvin, the Victorian castle expert, was consulted, and it was he who suggested the conical roofs on the exterior corner towers, and who designed the central tower Armoury Hall, as seen today.

Earlier, in 1871, the 8th Duke of Argyll’s heir, the Marquess of Lorne, had married Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, and to mark the occasion, Matthew Digby Wyatt was invited to design an elaborate glass and iron entrance bridge, whence visitors now enter.

Ravaged once more by fire in 1975, the castle was again extensively renovated. Twenty tons of scaffolding were employed in the restoration of the central towers, and the entire house has been re-lined, re-pointed, plastered and painted in the authentic 18th-century manner.

The result is a magnificent showpiece that not only reflects the status of one of Scotland’s most important dynasties, but also encapsulates the style and triumphalism of Scotland following the 1707 Act of Union with England.

Thankfully, many of the castle treasures survived the fires. In the State Dining Room there are elaborate paintings on the wall panels by two French masters, Girard and Guinard. The work is of a standard unequalled in Britain at the end of the 18th century, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Girard was one of the principle decorative artists employed by the young Prince of Wales at Carlton House. Almost
all the ornamental painting here is original, but the areas of plain colour were repainted in 1978 by Robert Stewart of Inveraray.

Chairs in this room are part of a large set in the French style. The ormulu mounted sideboards date from the late 18th century, and the dining table, probably by Gillow of Lancaster, dates from 1800. The Waterford chandelier, the largest of a set of three, of which a smaller pair hang in the Tapestry Drawing Room, is circa 1830.

The Tapestry Drawing Room, like the dining room, represents the most sophisticated taste of the 1780s and still retains its original set of Beauvais tapestries. Known as ‘Pastorales à draperies bleues et arabesques’, after J.B. Huet, they were recently cleaned by the Textile Conservation Centre at Hampton Court Palace. The circular giltwood palm-tree table with its specimen marble top is inlaid with the
arms of the 7th Duke and his third wife, Anne Colquhoun Cunninghame of Craigends, whom he married in 1831.

The dramatic idea of linking the central hall to the two flanking staircases was derived from Vanbrugh’s entrance halls at Castle Howard and Blenheim, but here the soaring 95-foot ceiling and generous open spaces are made more exciting by the fall of light from different directions through the arches. The display of arms is an enhancement of that ordered by the 5th Duke in 1783, and includes a collection of
16th- and 17th Century pole-arms and roundels of Brown Bes muskets from around 1740, with spandrels of muskets alternated with Lochaber axes.

The Saloon, which extends across the back of the castle, is a splendid room, hung with large family portraits, including one of the 8th Duke of Hamilton, son of Elizabeth Gunning, wife of the 5th Duke of Argyll by her previous marriage to the 6th Duke of Hamilton. This lady was not only the wife of two dukes, but also the mother of four dukes. Apair of French vitrines contain a display of silver, including
the silver-gilt toilet service of HRH Princess Louise. The tapestry-covered furniture is the remainder of the large set gilded by Dupasquier in 1872.

The showcases in the north-west hall feature a collection of antiquities, mostly Bronze Age and Iron Age. There is a bronze bust of the Marquess of Lorne, later 9th Duke, when Governor General of Canada, by Henrietta Montalba. On the staircase landing is a display case featuring the coronation robes of HRH Princess Louise, the robes of a Knight of the Thistle, the robes of the Order of the Thistle, and the baton of the Hereditary Master of the Queen’s Household in Scotland which is carried by the Duke of Argyll on ceremonial occasions.

Next on the tour is The Victorian Room, which contains a maple wood writing desk given by Queen Victoria to her daughter Princess Louise on her marriage in 1871 to the Marquess of Lorne. Between the windows is a painting of their state wedding ceremony in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, by Sydney Hall.

From here, guests step through into the MacArthur Room which features the four-poster bed traditionally held to have belonged to the MacArthurs of Loch Awe. In the adjoining Turret Room is a display of photographs and other material relating to the present Duke and his family.

There is so much more than this to see at Inveraray Castle, and the best advice for those who are interested is to go and see for themselves. They will be assured of a warm welcome at this most elegant and stylish of Scottish castles, its contents a singular reminder of Scotland’s past glory and the trappings of 1,000 years of Highland history.

Inveraray Castle is open every day except Friday from the first Saturday in April until the second Sunday in October, and daily during July and August. The castle and gardens can be visited by appointment only, but the wooded grounds are free.