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Balvenie Castle

Balvenie Castle Aberdeenshire Scotland

A great pit by the walls of Balvenie records this site's first appearance in recorded history. It contains the bones of a Viking host destroyed by the Scots under Malcolm II in the Battle of Mortlach in 1005. The armies clashed along the banks of the Dullan Water and the hard-pressed Scots were in low spirits until Malcolm called upon St Moluag for divine assistance. Duly fortified, the Scots chased the Vikings northwards, slaughtering them on the brae where Balvenie Castle now stands. A grateful King Malcom extended the nearby Mortlach Church by the length of three spears and placed the severed heads of three Viking leaders in niches within the church as a warning to other Scandinavian invaders. One of these skulls is known to have provided sport for local schoolboys as late as 1760.

Despite this bloody start, the subsequent history of Balvenie Castle was relatively peaceful for it suffered no sieges during its long history. This is curious given its strategic importance. Sitting above the waters of the Fiddich, the castle controls the junction of roads between the rich lands of Aberdeenshire and Strathspey. As a stronghold of the Black Comyns, Balvenie was a key link in the chain of fortresses that linked their extensive landholdings in Buchan and Badenoch. The Lordship of Balvenie came into the hands of William Comyn, one of the new breed of Scotto-Norman aristocrats, when he married the last heiress to the old Celtic Earldom of Buchan in the early 13th century. His son Alexander probably built the first proper stone castle here, originally known as the Castle of Mortlach, on the site of an earlier Pictish fort.

In 1308 the Comyns were crushed by Robert the Bruce and after his 'harrying' of the Buchan lands, Balvenie Castle stood abandoned for some years. Local legend links the castle in the late fourteenth century to Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch. Balvenie was certainly held by the family of the Black Douglas in the early 1400s but their ambition also aroused royal resentment. When James II wiped out Douglas power in 1455, Balvenie was given over to the safe hands of his kinsmen, the Stewart Earls of Atholl. They incorporated a fine Renaissance house within the magnificent thirteenth century curtain wall in time for the visit of Mary Queen of Scots in September 1562. In 1610 Balvenie passed from the Stewarts, and was bought by the Duff family who held it until the suicide of the last laird in 1718.

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