Having traveled back and forth on the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness many a time in my travels, I’ve passed the town of Huntly without blinking. I never guessed there was a castle there, let alone one that one of my ancestors lived in!
It’s another obscure and gem of a castle hidden in this small, unpretentious village and one that I didn’t discover until I visited Historic Scotland’s website to see what other properties might interest me.
Like Tolquhon Castle which I visited last week, I read about the inhabitants, searched for the names in my family tree and was utterly amazed to find the following relation on my dad’s side of the tree:
George Marquess of Huntly Gordon (1591 – 1649)
Anne Gordon (1613 – 1656)
daughter of George Marquess of Huntly Gordon
James Drummond (1648 – 1716)
son of Anne Gordon
Mary Drummond (1675 – 1729)
daughter of James Drummond
James Francis Edward Keith (1696 – 1758)
son of Mary Drummond
Geo Alexander Keith (1715 – 1796)
son of James Francis Edward Keith
Daniel Keith (1739 – 1829)
son of Geo Alexander Keith
Nancy Keith (1766 – 1838)
daughter of Daniel Keith
Andrew S Scott (1786 – 1859)
son of Nancy Keith
Nancy Scott (1811 – )
daughter of Andrew S Scott
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Holiday (1842 – 1872)
daughter of Nancy Scott
Nancy Anne Brundage (1867 – 1948)
daughter of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Holiday
William Rose Frew II (1885 – 1976)
son of Nancy Anne Brundage
William Kenneth Frew (1917 – 1997)
son of William Rose Frew II
Claudia Louise Frew
You are the daughter of William Kenneth Frew
Needless to say I decided this was definitely a “must see” castle, especially because this ancestor was a “Marquess!”
Here’s a little bit of history about him and his wife, Henrietta Stewart Marchioness of Huntly. Note: Henrietta is also a Stewart! (I have a lot of Stewart’s in my family tree; therefore she’s probably related to me in more ways than just George’s wife, but that’s probably another story sometime and the tangled web of gentry, aristocratic families marrying one another! Tolquhon’s William Forbes’ wife was Lady Elizabeth Gordon, who was probably also related to George Gordon of Huntly. Like I said, tangled webs to try to trace out and unravel!)
Now for the history –
Originally this castle was a ‘motte & bailey’ type castle and the motte can still be seen today immediately to the west of the site of the standing remains of the castle. The bailey was reused for the site of the later castles.
According to Wikipedia: “By early 1306, John of Strathbogie, by now both Earl of Fife and Earl of Atholl, was executed by Edward I for supporting Robert the Bruce. The castle passed to his son, David of Strathbogie. After years of family support for Robert the Bruce, which included his using the castle as a base in 1307, David of Strathbogie chose to shift his support to the English early in 1314. This was a bad move, coming as it did just before Robert the Bruce’s final victory at the Battle of Bannockburn.
In response to what he would have seen as treachery, Robert the Bruce granted the castle and the lands of Strathbogie to Sir Adam Gordon of Huntly, in Berwickshire, who had shown him more consistent loyalty. This brought the Gordons to Moray, and with them the name of Huntly that was later to replace Strathbogie as the name of the place in which they settled.”
George didn’t build the castle we see today, it had been around for a long time, but he inherited it after a very tumultuous past.
According to Undiscovered Scotland:
“George, the 6th Earl of Huntly, joined a plot against James VI in 1594. The King’s response was to attack the castle, damaging it again and blowing up the remains of the old tower house on the north side of the enclosure. By 1599 George had made his peace with James VI and been promoted to Marquis of Huntly. His response was a further round of building work at Huntly Castle, designed to make the 1550 palace even grander and more decorative.
The remodeling around 1600 included the remarkable fireplaces on view in the palace, one of which is dated 1606, and the decorative oriel windows and inscription on the exterior of the upper floor of the palace. The inscription reads: George Gordon First Marquis of Huntlie 16 above Henriette Stewart Marquesse of Huntlie 02. The “16” and “02” together date the completion of this part of the work. Also dating to this remodelling is the incredible carved frontispiece stretching vertically above the main entrance to the palace on the courtyard side. This is unique in Britain.”
“Huntly Castle last played an active role in Scottish History in 1746, when it was held by Government Troops against the Jacobites. It later became a handy quarry for those building the town of Huntly before its value as an attractive ruin began to be appreciated in the late 1800s. It was passed into State care in 1923, and is now looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.”
Now that we’ve talked a bit about the history, let’s have a look at this place.
Of note is the “hand of God” on the facade to the left of both George’s and Henrietta’s names, signifying they were ‘divined’ by God. Hmmm….
This little sign solved a mystery. I was looking at my family tree, and noticed that George’s ancestors were from Strathbogie, but yet also associated with Huntly castle and this was confusing to me. Now I know!
As soon as you cross the threshold when entering the door you encounter a spiral staircase! These steps do not appear to be the original ones and I can’t help but think that there must have been some sort of landing inside the door with stairs leading up to the main floors and on the other side perhaps a door, separating the other stairs leading down to the servants area below. It’s just a guess; doesn’t seem right somehow because they put so much thought and design into the rest of the castle, I would think they would’ve given much more thought to this grand entrance to impress guests.
So let’s head downstairs first…
The lower part of the castle had two levels, so now we’ll head further down to the lowest level.
Mainly it had three vaulted ceiling rooms like the room above for storage of grains, wine, etc. But at the end of the corridor was this narrow passageway that lead to the dungeon!
On the walls of the corridor we found some very old graffiti!
Let’s head back upstairs now and check out the upper floors, shall we?
Straightway we come to the Grand Hall, the first room visiting guests would have seen!
Then, beyond that door at the end of the room you move into this room below…
Up the stairs and directly above this room was the Masters bedroom as shown below.
The “privy” or toilet adjacent to the bed-chamber.
Further up the stairs to the next level…
Wow! This looks interesting! Henrietta’s “Withdrawing Room.”
Nice bay windows too with wonderful views to boot! I like this room!
Let’s check out the room adjoining this one…
Looking out the bay windows, I can get a close up look at the facade below.
There’s still one more final floor to explore; up the stairs we go to the highest point…
And what a view it is indeed! I can just imagine my great grandfather gazing out this window surveying his lands below.
One last little room at the tippy top and it’s back down the stairs we go…
One last look back at the castle that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring. Rather unique in oh-so-many ways.
It always never ceases to amaze me how much more I feel connected with ancestors after having spent time wandering around the places they inhabited. At first glance, I wouldn’t think it would make that much difference, but am continuing to be amazed each time I visit a place where they lived, breathed, cried, loved, and often also died, just how much more I feel I know them, and myself, better. Some little part of my DNA resonates with theirs and I know whence I came from in part.
People often ask me why I continue to come back to Scotland over and over again. My answer, “I feel compelled to do so.”
After visiting Scotland the first time to visit Dingwall where my emmigrant great grandfather had come from I actually believed that would be my one and only visit. A few years later, after I retired, I first started to build upon my family tree and investigate my heritage further.
I never imagined it would lead to these adventures. I was just curious. After four years of judiciously building the tree I got glimpses into where I came from and the intrigue began. Having found out even more information about my heritage, I decided it would be nice to return to Scotland again and explore some more. Including the present visit, I have now come back 5 times and who knows how many more there might be.
Each stage seemed ‘unconnected,’ but now, in hindsight, I’ve found that in reality, each step of the way has proven to be a journey of self-discovery. Just when I think I’ve exhausted the trail of clues, new ones emerge, making the story of “me” fuller and more complex. The more I discover, the more I want to explore. If that means returning to Scotland over and over again, then so be it. Here…twist my arm!
After that wonderful tour of the castle we exited through the reception area and I found this little tidbit. What was its purpose? It seems to be a riddle. I think maybe it might have been the head to a puppet. Who knows?
We had worked up an appetite so we headed across the bridge and down to the river to enjoy our picnic lunch before heading over Broombrae with its wonderful view of where we’d been to head back home to Aberdeen.