Castle of Rattray

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Castle of Rattray


Castle Hill Rattray Scotland.jpeg
Castle Hill, Rattray
Grid reference: NK087579
Location: 57°36’42"N, 1°51’16"W
Village: Rattray, Aberdeenshire
Built 12th century
Condition: Destroyed, no remains.

The Castle of Rattray was a mediæval castle in Aberdeenshire, which underwent multiple variations on its structure over approximately six centuries, but of which no visible remains appear today.

Originally built as a late 12th- or early 13th century defensive motte[1] it provided protection for Starny Keppie harbour and Rattray village. Sometime between 1214 and 1233 it was upgraded by William Comyn, jure uxoris Earl of Buchan before being destroyed in the 1308 Harrying of Buchan. After Comyn's timber castle was burned down it was replaced by a stronger stone castle which was engulfed during a 1720 sandstorm along with nearby Rattray village. After the storm, the castle was not dug out and remains covered to this day.

The castle was described by W. Douglas Simpson as one of the nine castles of the Knuckle, referring to the rocky headland of north-east Aberdeenshire.[2]


The castle was sited on Castlehill, on the south bank of the now closed estuary flowing into Strathbeg Bay: the north bank was protected by the opposite Lonmay Castle. Specifically the castle was beside an inlet which led from the sea into a sheltered harbour[3] on the harbour side of Rattray village. The later stone castle is known to have had a harbour-side entrance.

Originally situated on a rock near the sea, Castlehill is today about a mile inland as shifting sands have significantly altered the shape of the coast. Located to the south of Loch Strathbeg it can be seen as a grassy circular mound. A 1791 book states it has a 'summit... [of] half a Scots acre'.[4]


Early ages

The first construction on Castlehill was a small late middle age, 12th century timber castle or motte[3] built to protect the estuary.

In the 13th century the Castle of Rattray was the principal seat of the Cummings (or Comyn), Earls of Buchan,[5] who arrived at the start of that century. Between 1214 when he inherited the Earldom of Buchan and his own death in 1233, William Comyn, jure uxoris Earl of Buchan built upon the motte but it is unclear whether he upgraded the existing buildings or built an entirely new castle. He is known to have completed a manor house[3] with a fine timber-framed hall[3] (the castle) which was accompanied by the private St Mary's Chapel which he constructed a quarter of a mile south, in Rattray village itself.

Comyn's castle survived until the Harrying of Buchan in the summer of 1308, when all the Comyn lands were bloodily burnt to the ground after John Comyn, Earl of Buchan was beaten at the Battle of Barra. The timber Rattray Castle was almost certainly attacked by Robert the Bruce or his younger brother Edward after which the castle fell into ruins if not burned to the ground.

Later ages

Following the Harrying, the site of Rattray's timber castle was rebuilt with a stone built hall.[3] This stone incarnation provided protection for Starnie Keppie harbour and the village at Rattray, as the previous incarnations did.

The Earldom of Buchan and hence the castle was inherited and divided after the harrying between John Comyn's two nieces.[6] Henry de Beaumont, the husband of one niece; Alice Comyn, claimed the title under her name but was disinherited from the lands in 1314. A 1324 charter from Robert the Bruce then gives the lordship of Rattray to Sir Archibald Douglas.[7] The lands again change hands in 1382 when Alexander Stewart was given the Earldom by his father King Robert II.

Mary, Queen of Scots, declared Rattray a Royal Burgh in 1563in order to put an end to the disputes about superiority over it between William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal and George Hay, 7th Earl of Erroll". The importance of the burgh is questionable and it soon disappeared from the roll of boroughs.

The destruction of the stone castle and the nearby village of Rattray, is said by 'a tradition' to have happened during the great storm of 1720 which cut off Strathbeg Bay. It is believed that the castle was 'blown over with sand one Sunday evening' while the inhabitants, 'a godless crew... were engaged in playing cards on the Sabbath [when] they were buried alive.'

Another story tells that the site was buried because of the plague. However there is no date or record of which plague and it is a very unlikely account.


In around 1730, a dig on the south-east side of Castle Hill found a great number of stones, supposed to belong to the kitchen of the castle.[8]

Two kiln stands were found in 1829 (today held in Marischal Museum in Aberdeen).[9]

In 1740 it is reported that a man who drove his spade through the panel of a door was immediately suffocated, having got caught in the sand.

At an unknown date, a well-made causeway was discovered at the foot of the mound under which the Castle is said to be buried.

Thorough excavations at Castlehill in 1985-1989 revealed the remains of the stone castle and traces of the previous timber one. Traces of the stone castle, revealed a perimeter wall and two mural buildings. It was ascertained that the later stone castle was approximately 66 feet by 20 feet.

Outside links


  1. Murray (1993), p.1
  2. Simpson, W.D. (1949). "Cairnbulg Castle, Aberdeenshire". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 83: 32–44. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Murray (1993)
  4. Playfair (1819), p.78
  5. Kennedy (1818), p.323
  6. Sir William Gordon Cumming, BartChief of Clan Cumming. "History of the Comyn Clan". 
  7. Robertson (1847), p.394
  8. Sinclair (1791), p.419 (footnotes)
  9. University of Aberdeen. "Item: Vessel, kiln.stand". 

The Nine Castles of the Knuckle, Aberdeenshire

Cairnbulg CastleDundarg CastleInverallochy CastleKinnaird CastleLonmay CastlePitsligo CastlePittulie CastleCastle of RattrayWinetower