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Loch Leven Castle

Loch Leven Castle

Loch Leven Castle















Mary Queen of Scots


Loch Leven Castle

Lochleven Castle is one of the best and least changed examples of a fourteenth century keep remaining in Scotland. It stands on an island in the loch of the same name, which is under the control of an association of anglers. This association controls all the boats which are allowed to ply upon the loch, and only from their pier in the town of Kinross can the castle be visited. The lake is the home of a peculiar species of trout, of which an average of twenty-five thousand per year are taken by the anglers, who are required to keep an exact record of their baskets. The loch was lowered by drainage works in the beginning of the last century, so that the water, which once lapped the castle walls, has left a considerable space of greensward on all sides at present. The island seems to have been connected in very ancient times with the mainland by a causeway, which has now sunk well under the surface. Still, in very dry seasons, it is possible for a man to wade all the way to the island. The castle consists of a small keep, only about thirty-eight feet by thirty, with walls seven or eight feet thick, and five stories high. This has a vaulted basement below the level of the court, with no access to the floor above save by a hatch. The entrance is two floors above this, leaving the first floor without external communication. The upper floors are gone, and there is no access to the battlements, which have corbelled bartizans at the three external corners. This keep is provided with an extensive courtyard, which has a continuous rampart walk. At the corner opposite the keep is a
·ruinous round tower, in which Queen Mary was confined. This is of the sixteenth century, as were the other buildings in the courtyard, of which only the foundations now remain.
The earliest castle in the island is said to have been built by Congal, son of Dongart, King of the Picts. The first authentic history of the castle is given in the following quotation: "In the wars which harassed Scotland during the minority of David II, the castle of Lochleven was held in the patriotic interest by Allen de Vipont, against the troops of Edward III, who acted in behalf of Edward Baliol. John de Strivilin blockaded it, and erected a fortress in the churchyard of Kin-ross, which occupies the point of a neighbouring promontory; and, at the lower end of the lake, where the water of Leven issues out of it, it is said that he raised a strong and lofty bulwark, by means of which he hoped to lay the castle under water, and constrain Vipont to surrender. The water continued to rise daily, and the besiegers thought themselves certain of success, when, the English general and most of his troops having left the camp to celebrate the festival of St. Margaret at Dunfermline, the besieged, seizing the favourable opportunity (June 19, 1385), after much labour and perseverance broke through the barrier, when the water rushed out with such impetuosity as to overwhelm the English encamped on that side."

The most famous association of Lochleven Castle is undoubtedly the imprisonment here of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Douglases had held the castle and lands on the mainland since the time of Robert III. Sir Robert Douglas, the laird of Mary's time, was a kinsman of James, Earl of Morton, and stepfather to the queen's natural brother, James, Earl of Moray, so that he was entirely in sympathy with her captors. She was delivered into his keeping on June 16th, 1567, immediately after her surrender at Carberry Hill. On the 4th of July she was visited by Lord Ruthven, Lord Lindsay of the Byres, and Sir Robert Melville, who wrung from her her signature to an instrument purporting to resign the crown to her infant son James. This scene has been graphically depicted by Scott, in "The Abbot," as well as the other events of her stay here, and is portrayed with great pathos. Mary was not content with her unhappy lot, and succeeded in gaining the affections of George Douglas, younger son of her jailer, and in persuading him to help her to escape. The first attempt, on the 25th of April, was unsuccessful, and George was expelled from the castle. He remained in the neighbourhood and kept up correspondence with her. With the assistance of William Douglas, a young relative of the family, the second attempt, on May 2d, 1568, was entirely successful. The young lad stole the keys of the castle from the place where they were kept, while his lord was at supper. "He let the queen and a waiting-woman out of the apartment where they were secured, and out of the door itself, embarked with them in a small skiff, and rowed them to the shore. To prevent instant pursuit, he, for precaution's sake, locked the iron grated door of the tower, and threw the keys into the lake. They found George Douglas and the queen's servant, Beaton, waiting for them, and Lord Seton and James Hamilton of Orbieston in attendance, at the head of a party of faithful followers, with whom they fled to Niddrie Castle, and from thence to Hamilton." The freedom of the unfortunate queen was of short duration, however, ending with her defeat at Langside. The keys of the castle were recovered when the loch was lowered, and are now in the Armoury at Abbotsford. The castle later served as a prison for the Earl of Northumberland after his rebellion in England and capture in Scotland. He was confined here from 1569 to 1572, and then delivered to Elizabeth, by whose orders he was executed.

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