Braemar Castle was built in 1628 in a commanding position overlooking the River Dee. There were wide sweeping views up towards the mountain passes of Glen Clunie and the Lairig Ghru and down towards Deeside. The lands around the castle were owned by the Earls of Mar, hence the name Braemar, which translates as the ‘hills of Mar.’ The castle was an excellent place for the Earl to survey his domain and all who passed through it.
Braemar castle, an L-shaped tower, was built primarily as a hunting lodge. It was a base for grand hunting parties going to hunt deer, wild boar and perhaps the last few wolves that haunted the ancient forest. It replaced a much older royal castle, Kindrochit, built by Malcolm Canmore in the 11th century. Recent stabilisation work at Kindrochit has revealed what is possibly the oldest stone-built castle in Scotland. The ruins of the castle can be seen opposite the butchers in Braemar village.
The Earls of Mar were one of the most powerful political families in 17th century Scotland. The 2nd Earl, John
Erskine, who built the castle, was a childhood friend of King James I of Scotland and England. His principal residence was Alloa Tower but he also had apartments in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Stirling Castle and a town house on the Gallowgate in Aberdeen, as well as another castle on Deeside, Kildrummy.
However, by the beginning of the 18th century, the Erskines would lose all that they had worked for for. The 6th Earl of Mar made some disastrous political decisions, which saw him flip-flop between working closely in the British Government, to being a treasonous rebel whose wealth, lands and titles were taken from him.
Find out much more in our Jacobite exhibition, which runs throughout the 2015 season.
Differences in religion and the power of the Catholic Church has caused terrible unrest and bloodshed through the 17th century Europe. Much of Britain was now Protestant, and an all-powerful Catholic monarch on the British throne threatened the authority of the British Government. In 1688, Government deposed the Catholic King James II in favour of his son in law, the Protestant William of Orange.
Supporters of King James called themselves Jacobites, after the Latin Jacobus for James. Many Highlanders were still staunch Catholics, and in 1689 they rebelled under the charismatic leadership of John Graham of Claverhouse, romantically known as Bonnie Dundee. Braemar Castle was burnt down by a Jacobite, John Farquharson, to stop the Government gaining a toehold on Deeside. When Bonnie Dundee was killed at Killiecrankie, the rebellion lost momentum and fizzled out.
In 1715, the Jacobites rose again, this time under the command of the 6th Earl of Mar, a government supporter turned rebel. The clans gathered at Braemar, but once again the rebellion was squashed.
The final Jacobite Rising took place in 1745, led by the James II’s grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie. The rebellion, which at first seemed very promising, led only to the final bloody defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden Moor. Braemar Castle was taken over by the British Army, to quell any further thoughts of rebellion in the Highlands.
Find out much more in our Jacobite exhibition, which runs throughout the 2015 season.
The main threat to the power of the Earls of Mar on Deeside were the Farquharsons, who held lands all around the Braes o’ Mar. On either side of Braemar Castle were the Farquharsons of Invercauld and the Farquharsons of Inverey.
John Farquharson of Invervey served in the Jacobite Army of Bonnie Dundee in 1689. Farquharson was a notorious outlaw on Deeside, known as the Black Colonel for his swarthy looks and dark deeds. He had supposedly killed the Baron of Braichley, and is immortalised in song. The Black Colonel burned Braemar Castle to prevent its use as a base for Government troops. After the Battle of Killiecrankie, the British army took revenge for the rebellion, and burned down the Colonel’s stronghold at Inverey.
John Farquharson, 9th Laird of Invercauld fought as a Jacobite with the Earl of Mar in 1715. He was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison in London for treason, but was eventually able to plead for clemency. He was able to keep his lands and wealth. In 1732, he purchased the ruins of Braemar Castle, and stepped into the power vacuum left by the Earl of Mar. John Farquharson didn’t participate in the ’45 Rising, and leased the Castle to the British Army after Culloden.
The British Army moved into Braemar Castle in 1748. The castle was partially in ruins, having never been repaired after the fire nearly sixty years before. The army repaired the roof, and built a new star-shaped curtain wall, in the style of the latest French military architecture. Documentary evidence from surviving letters also shows that the soldiers complained bitterly about the chimneys “vomiting smoke” into the rooms of the castle. Further evidence from the mid-twentieth century suggests that the repair works never managed to address this problem!
The Army stayed in Braemar to ensure that the Act of Proscription was being upheld. The law had been passed after Culloden to ensure that the Highlands never rose in rebellion again. The law banned the wearing of tartan and any form of Highland dress, the speaking of the Gaelic language, the playing of the bagpipes and restricted the possession of weapons. In fact, life seems to have been fairly quiet for the soldiers. Their main source of excitement was chasing Highlanders who persisted in wearing tartan. When the Act of Proscription was repealed, military attention turned to illicit whisky smuggling, a lucrative black market. By the 1820s, the need for a garrison at Braemar had waned and negotiations began between the Military and the Farquharsons for the return of the Castle. However these negotiations were protracted over many years with the castle not being finally vacated until 1831. Catherine Farquharson, who had inherited Invercauld estate from her father, set about a refurbishment programme to turn the castle once more into a comfortable family home.
In keeping with the fashion for Gothic revival the peaked turrets of the military garrison were altered and crenelations added. The star shaped curtain wall was also crenellated at this time. By 1850 Deeside had become established as “Royal Deeside” following the decision of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to buy the nearby Balmoral Castle as their highland holiday residence. The royal couple regularly attended the Braemar Gathering in the grounds of Braemar Castle and took tea in the drawing room with the Farquharsons. For such grand entertaining, a new kitchen was needed. An extensive new kitchen and 11 rooms, to accommodate servants, were added around the 1880s at the rear of the castle covering in the courtyard between the main wall and the curtain wall. One of the points of the curtain wall was cut off, and a temporary ballroom was erected, just where the disabled parking is today.
Over the next 100 years the castle was lived in by the Farquharson family and enjoyed by flamboyant characters such as the 13th Laird, James Ross Farquharson, nicknamed Piccadilly Jim and the Visitors Book records frequent visits from British and foreign royalty and dignitaries.
In 1948, Alwyne Compton Farquharson, the 16th laird, married a flamboyant American, Frances Lovell Oldham. Mrs Farquharson had been a fashion editor for Vogue and for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s and her love of fashion and colours continued throughout her life. By the 1950s Mrs Frances Farquharson of Invercauld had put her very personal stamp on the castle decorating many rooms in her favourites shades of pink and yellow and upgrading the soft furnishings. So many requests were received by the Farquharsons to see round the Castle that in the early 1960s, Captain Alwyne and Mrs Farquharson decided to open it to the public for the first time. The Castle remained open as an important visitor attraction for the district until 2004 when the ill-health of the manager lead to its closure.
The castle is a typical L shaped tower house, which means that its rooms stretch off in two directions, with the spiral staircase forming the corner of the L. The main entrance of the castle takes you directly into the staircase, through the iron yett, or gate. It is thought the yett may have originally been made for Kindrochit Castle and was re-used here.
The laird’s pit, or bottleneck dungeon is a favourite of adults and children alike. Designed as a holding cell, prisoners would not have been kept down in the pit for an extended period. It was where prisoners awaited their punishment, perhaps a fine, or in extreme cases, hanging.
Look out for the many stags’ heads around the castle. Hunting was the raison d’etre of the castle, and only the finest stags would have been chosen for display. The huntsmen who shot these stags were often Farquharsons, but occasionally a member of the royal family was responsible.
There are many ghost stories associated with the castle. On quiet nights, one can sometimes hear a baby wailing. The story goes that one of the servant girls working for the soldiers had a newborn with her in the castle. Night after night, the child refused to settle. This enraged one of the soldiers so much that he ripped the child from the cradle and beat it against the wall until it would never cry again.
More tragedy befell the castle in the 19th century, when the castle was often let out as a holiday home. A honeymooning couple leased the castle for their wedding night. In the morning, the bride woke up alone in her bed. Believing she had somehow displeased her husband and that he had deserted her, she threw herself from the main turret. A ghostly woman in a nightdress sometimes appears to visitors, but only newlyweds.