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Issue 88 - Outlander Uncovered: Doune Castle

Scotland Magazine Issue 88
August 2016

 

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Outlander Uncovered: Doune Castle

Christopher Coates visits the iconic site of Doune Castle

Even those of you who are not familiar with the television adaption of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels will, I think, already recognise the famous castle pictured opposite – Doune Castle near Stirling. Privately owned until 1984, when Douglas Stewart, 20th Earl of Moray, donated it to the state, it is now managed by Historic Environment Scotland.

Arguably one of Scotland’s most iconic fortifications, this towering edifice was already well acquainted with filmmakers, long before the STARZ crew arrived, as it had already featured heavily in the 1975 film
Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Indeed, Python-related pilgrimages to this particular keep are so popular that the visitor centre team has been known to keep coconut shells on hand for any die-hard fans that wish to re-enact some of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Although the Monty Python troop had originally intended to use a number of different Scottish castle properties for the making of their film (which is, oddly enough, actually set in the Kingdom of Mercia, in modern day England), a last-minute withdrawal of filming permission by the National Trust for Scotland led to this particular location, which at the time was still owned by the Stewarts, being used to represent at least five different locations.

Fast forward to today and the property is once again in the public eye following its use as a stand in for the fictional Castle Leoch, the seat of Gabaldon’s version of Clan Mackenzie. In reality, the clan’s seat is at Castle Leod near Strathpeffer in Easter Ross; however it seems the author was unaware of this prior to the publication of the series. First seen at the end of episode one, Castle Leoch features in the early parts of the
Outlander series and many tense scenes take place there in episode two, when the protagonist Claire is suspected of being an English spy.

The real castle can be found just outside Doune, a small village that sits near to the borders of both Perthshire and the Trossachs, about eight miles from Stirling, to the south-east, and Callander, to the west. Evidence suggests that a fortification of some kind occupied this strategic position, overlooking the River Teith, long before the creation of the castle that exists today, and the remains of a Roman fort nearby attest to the location’s tactical value.

The Doune Castle that survives is largely the doing of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, who held the title of Guardian of the Kingdom from 1388 – 1420 and is known as the ‘uncrowned king.’ Stewart was the illegitimate (and later legitimised) third son of Robert II, and took on the mantle of power following the debilitating injury of his eldest brother John, Earl of Carrick. After the death of Richard II, John took to the throne under the name Robert III, but his health issues later led to the ascension of his young son David Stewart, 1st Duke of Rothesay, to the position of Lieutenant of the Kingdom – in theory ruling in the place of his father.

Nevertheless, Robert Stewart still held considerable influence and, after a series of political missteps, the 24 year old Duke was imprisoned on Albany’s orders and later died. King Robert III tried to protect his remaining son, James Stewart (later James I), but despite his best efforts the young heir was captured by the English. This turn of events left Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, unchallenged in his control of Scotland.

Albany died in 1420 at the ripe old age of 80, after effectively ruling Scotland for the best part of 32 years. Unfortunately for his son, Murdoch Stewart, Doune Castle only officially became a royal residence after his execution by King James I in 1424, who was somewhat irked by his long captivity in England, the end of which was meant to have been negotiated by Robert Stewart as part of his role as Governor and Regent. In 1828, Sir Walter Scott wove their stories and that of the castle into his novel
The Fair Maid of Perth. The author also set parts of The Lady of the Lake (1810) at the castle and drew upon its use as a Jacobite prison during the 1745 uprising in Waverley (1814).

The castle itself was clearly built to impress and, along with its obvious fortifications, its cathedral-like great hall was well suited for entertaining a great number of guests. However, something of a mystery is the castle’s haphazard construction, evidenced by its missing ranges to the south and west, which has led some to speculate that there was once much more to Doune Castle. Indeed, architectural elements suggest that either these two ranges were planned and never constructed, or perhaps that they were demolished. Nevertheless, the castle is an imposing sight and one that should be seen when visiting the area, whether a fan of
Outlander or not.

Visitor Information
Doune Castle Castle Hill, Doune, FK16 6EA +44 (0) 1786 841 742 www.historicenvironment.scot