Inveraray Castle stands in extensive grounds to the north of the town of Inveraray, close to where the River Aray flows into Loch Shira, an offshoot of Loch Fyne. It is a magnificent chateau whose striking symmetry and conical roofed towers ensure it would look just as much at home in the Loire Valley as it does overlooking a sea loch in Argyll.
The story of Inveraray Castle is inseparable from the story of the Campbells of Lochawe. The heads of this branch of the Campbells have served as Chiefs of Clan Campbell since the end of the 1200s, and later became the Earls of Argyll and the Dukes of Argyll.
From about 1220 the Campbells served as stewards for the king's lands across parts of northern Argyll. Their stronghold was at Innis Chonnell Castle on a small island near the eastern shore of Loch Awe, about two thirds of the way down the length of the loch. Today the island is heavily overgrown, but the remains of the castle can still be made out from the shore of the loch.
Their first change in status was brought about by Sir Neil Campbell, who became a close ally and brother in law to King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. Robert granted Sir Neil's son (and Robert's own nephew), Sir Colin Campbell, ownership of large parts of the Royal estates that the family had previously looked after on behalf of the crown.
At some time in the middle of the 1400s, Sir Duncan Campbell of Lochawe moved the family seat from Innis Chonnell Castle to a new castle he built at Inveraray, as the crow flies about eight miles to the east of the old fortress. This comprised a four storey tower house complete with turrets and it was sited next to the River Aray, about 80m to the north-east of today's Inveraray Castle. The relocation may have followed Sir Duncan gaining the title of Lord Campbell in 1445 and seems to have been driven by the Campbells' expanding horizons and increasing landholdings across Argyll and beyond.
The castle rapidly became the focal point of the small settlement of Inveraray, which became a burgh of barony in 1472, and later became a royal burgh in 1648. With a good natural harbour and lying at a key focal point in the limited road network across Argyll, it had effectively become the legal and administrative centre for the County of Argyll by the early 1700s.
Over the same period the fortunes of the Campbells also continued to improve. Colin Campbell was promoted to become the 1st Earl of Argyll in 1457, and in 1470 took control of the Lordship and lands of Lorne through marriage. Archibald, 2nd Earl of Argyll, became Master of the Royal Household before dying alongside King James IV at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. By the time of the 5th Earl, another Archibald, the Campbells could field an army said to be stronger than the armies of either England or France. His influence declined after he commanded Mary Queen of Scots' losing army at the Battle of Langside on 13 May 1568.
The 7th Earl of Argyll, yet another Archibald, inherited the title in 1584 and was infamous for his attacks on other clans, especially the MacGregors. He later left the country and converted to Catholicism. His son, Archibald Campbell, the 8th Earl was additionally made Marquess of Argyll. He was a staunch Presbyterian who became an opponent of King Charles I during the wars that ravaged Scotland, England and Ireland during the middle decades of the 1600s. His stance resulted in Royalist forces under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose attacking Inveraray at New Year 1645. They inflicted a serious defeat on the the Earl of Argyll's forces here before heading north to inflict an even more serious defeat on the Campbells at Inverlochy Castle, killing some 1,300 in the process. On both occasions the Earl had to flee for his life. In 1661 he was executed for treason on the orders of Charles II.
His son, Archibald, was restored to the title of 9th Earl of Argyll but never regained the higher rank of Marquess held by his father. The 9th Earl became a strong opponent of the religious policies of King James VII and on 20 May 1685 he landed at Campbeltown with 300 Dutch troops in an uprising against James intended to coincide with the Monmouth Rebellion in England. The uprising failed and, like his father, the 9th Earl was executed.
Three years later James VII was ousted by William and Mary in the Glorious Revolution and the 10th Earl of Argyll was promoted to become the 1st Duke of Argyll in 1701. John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, commanded the Government forces at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715, an encounter which, though inconclusive as a battle, heralded the end of the 1715 Jacobite Uprising.
It was the 2nd Duke who decided the castle at Inveraray needed to be replaced with something more comfortable and prestigious. In 1720 the architect Sir John Vanburgh produced a sketch of a new Inveraray Castle which had a nearly square plan and corner towers. Both the 2nd Duke and his architect died before the idea could take shape, but after the 3rd Duke succeeded to the title in 1743 her commissioned the architect Roger Morris to turn Vanburgh's rough ideas into something that could be built.
Work began in 1745 on a site 80m to the south-west of the existing castle, which was later demolished. The castle was not fully finished until 1789, though the family took up residence in 1770, three years before they were visited by those early tourists to the Highlands, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, who recorded their impressions of the castle in their respective accounts of their tour. The castle that emerged was mainly two storeys in height, and comprised a rectangle whose sides measured seven bays by five (which is why it is easy to assume it is square). A flat-topped three storey circular tower stood at each corner and the centre of the castle was dominated by the upper half of the massive armoury hall, which was by far the tallest part of the building. As part of the project the existing old town of Inveraray was removed and replaced by a new town developed further to the south, clear of the castle's grounds.
While overseeing the building of his new castle, Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll also found time to serve as Lord Justice General of Scotland. The 4th and 5th Dukes were professional soldiers, the latter being the second member of the family (the first being the 2nd Duke) to attain the rank of Field Marshal. The family's fortunes were set back by the string of debts and illegitimate children left by the 6th Duke, though they were later restored by his brother, who became 7th Duke.
The 8th Duke, who succeeded in 1847, became a cabinet minister in the UK Government. In 1871 his eldest son John, Marquess of Lorne, who would become the 9th Duke of Argyll in 1900, married Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. The occasion was marked at Inveraray Castle by the building of a new entrance porch on its north-east side by the architect who had helped build London's Paddington Station, Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt.
In 1877 fire broke out in Inveraray Castle and did considerable damage. The 8th Duke has already commissioned the architect Anthony Salvin to design a wing to one corner of the castle in the Scots Baronial style. In response to the fire he asked Salvin to retain the existing shape of the building, but give the whole castle a makeover in the Scots Baronial style. The result is pretty much what you see today. Tall conical roofs were added to the top of each corner tower and the height of the main castle was raised from two storeys to three, the upper floor being lit by a series of dormer windows in the new roof. The design was criticised by some at the time for obscuring a large part of the central hall which had previously risen much further from the surrounding structure, but to modern eyes the result is extremely pleasing.
The 11th Duke of Argyll undertook a major renovation of the castle following World War Two, and it opened to the public in 1953. A second serious fire caused considerable damage to the upper parts of the castle in 1975, and it was subsequently restored to its former glory by the 12th Duke. Since 2001 the castle, the estates, and the role of MacCailein Mor or Chief of Clan Campbell have been in the care of Torquhil, 13th Duke of Argyll.
Today's visitor to Inveraray Castle begins in the car park to the north-west of the castle itself. From here you progress to the main entrance on the castle's north-east side, perhaps first visiting the shop, cafe and other facilities in the basement of the castle. Beyond the grand entrance porch and ticket booth is a surprisingly modest entrance hall. Modesty is not the first word which comes to mind as you progress from the entrance hall to the state dining room with its magnificent decoration and furnishings: and still less as you move back through the hall to the tapestry drawing room. This room is much as it would have been in the 1780s, a small piece of high Parisian society dropped into Argyll complete with an original set of tapestries hung in 1787. A hidden doorway from the drawing room leads to the china turret, home to the castle's collection of porcelain.
Back in the entrance hall you proceed into the central area of the castle, and come face to face with the breathtaking armoury hall. This is one of the most magnificent rooms you will find anywhere. It rises 21m, or the full height of the castle, to the ornate ceiling, and every wall is covered by displays of muskets, swords, pikes and bayonets. Beyond the armoury hall is the saloon, a genteel reception room overlooking the gardens to the south-west of the castle. Further on, the tour leads visitors up one of the impressive staircases used as a family gallery to a series of rooms on the first floor of the castle. Then you descend to the basement of the castle, where you can explore the old kitchen before finishing your tour in the castle shop and tearoom.
There are extensive gardens to the south and south-west of Inveraray Castle. They are open to visitors during the standard castle opening times, and access to them is included in the admission price to the castle. They are part of a much larger estate which in total extends to 180 hectares. The gardens were first laid out to accompany the building of the "new" Inveraray Castle in the latter half of the 1700s, and they were re-designed from 1848. Today the gardens have three main areas: lawns immediately to the south-west of the castle; more formal gardens beyond the lawns; and a much wilder area which is home to many notable trees further to the south.