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Cortachy Castle


The drummer of death

Visitors to Kirriemuir in search of the birthplace of J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, will find themselves not only at the gateway to some of the lovely glens of Angus but also in the heart of Ogilvy country. When Princess Alexandra married the Honourable Angus Ogilvy in 1963 she was allying herself with a family that can trace its ancestry back a thousand years and more to Pictish times. After Scotland became a united country Ogilvy ancestors emerged as the first Earls of Angus. Their name and lands came into the family as a reward from a grateful William the Lion when the then outlawed Earl of Angus came to his aid when the king was attacked while hunting in the area. From then the Ogilvys were always staunch supporters of the monarchy.

During the next three or four centuries advantageous marriages increased their land in the district, but increased power and influence brought equally powerful enemies. Constant feuding created a need for strongholds and in the glens Airlie House was developed into a castle planning permission granted by James I. In the next century Forter Castle was built by an Ogilvy involved in helping Mary Queen of Scots to escape from Lochleven.

It was a time of raids and counter-raids, the chief enemies being the Lindsays, the Crawfords and the Campbells. Religion made a good excuse for waging fierce attacks, and when James, 7th Lord Ogilvy, rode off in support of his king in the Civil War and was created 1st Earl of Airlie by an appreciative monarch, back home in Scotland staunch Protestants demanded he should sign the National Covenant. His refusal was all the excuse his arch enemy Argyll needed. He rallied his kinsmen. One group was sent to destroy Forter Castle while he himself marched to pillage Airlie.

The legend of his cruel and callous treatment of the ladies of the castle is commemorated in the ballad "The Bonnie Hoose o' Airlie".

"The Lady looked ower her window sae hie,
An' 0, but she grat sairly,
To see Argyll an' a' his men
Come to plunder the bonnie hoose o' Airlie"

With their strongholds of Airlie, Forter and Craig in ruins, Cortachy Castle, bought about 1623, now became Ogilvy's chief seat. Airlie had his revenge a few years later when he joined forces with Montrose and opportunity came to destroy Argyll's Castle Gloom.

It was to Cortachy a defeated Charles II fled after Dunbar hoping to find support mustered by Airlie. The castle was deserted but a weary King stayed overnight in a room still referred to as the "King's Room". A prized possession of the family is the Prayer Book he left behind. Ogilvy fortunes ebbed and flowed with the Stuarts. After the restoration Cortachy was enlarged, but support of the losing side in both the '15 and '45 ended in the Ogilvy of the day being exiled and honours and title attainted.

Eventually pardon was granted and twenty-two years later the family returned to Cortachy, although the title wasn't restored until 1826. Airlie Castle was rebuilt and is used by the Dowager Countess of Airle while Cortachy is the principal seat of the Earl. Airlie Castle is open by appointment and both Airlie and Cortachy are open under the Scotland's Gardens Scheme.

Cortachy Castle is said to be haunted by a drummer who beats out his summons whenever a member of the Ogilvy family nears death. The drummer met his death by being flung from a window in the castle tower, a punishment, some say, for philandering with the Earl's wife. Others claim he intrigued with an attacking enemy and allowed them to approach without beating out his warning to the inmates of the castle.

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