Kildrummy Castle was once one of the most magnificent and imposing castles in Scotland. It was built in about 1250 by the Earl of Mar. The castle was intended to consolidate the Mar dynasty's hold over north-eastern Scotland and was located where it could command important routes across the region. It may have replaced an earlier castle built on a motte a mile to the north-east and since occupied by Kildrummy Kirkyard.
The film Braveheart, whatever its historical credentials, did a lot for a sense of Scottish identity. Its treatment of Edward I, on the other hand, has left him with a bigger image problem than the one given to Richard III by Shakespeare's equally unbalanced telling of his story.
Edward I paid at least two visits to Kildrummy Castle, in 1296 and 1303. Both times he came as a guest on his way south from Elgin, and he may even have lent his favourite mason to help design a better gatehouse for the castle. What emerged as a result was very like the gatehouse of Edward's castle at Harlech.
Kildrummy Castle's plan is best appreciated from the model in the visitor centre. It was built as a "D" shape, with its rear wall towering over a ravine. Circular towers were built at the two back corners, and on either arm of the D, leaving the gatehouse to guard the apex of the design. The main living quarters were originally in the Snow Tower, a highly sophisticated seven story tower copied from the very latest in French castle design at the time. There was also a Great Hall backing on to the rear wall of the castle, and a chapel on the east side.
By 1306 relations between Scotland and England had changed (see our Historical Timeline). Robert the Bruce had declared himself King of Scotland, and Edward I had dispatched an army to quell the Scots under his son Edward, Prince of Wales. Kildrummy Castle was held for Robert by his brother Sir Neil Bruce against an extended siege by the Prince of Wales' forces. This came to an end when Osbourne, the castle blacksmith, betrayed Bruce and set fire to the castle. The defenders, including Neil Bruce, were hanged. Osbourne was paid handsomely in gold: poured, it is said, molten down his throat.
Following repairs, the castle was again besieged in 1335 by supporters of the English. Its defence was commanded by Lady Christian Bruce, sister of Robert the Bruce. It successfully held out until relieved by Lady Christian's husband, Sir Andrew Murray. In 1357 it was once more attacked, this time successfully, by King David II to defeat the disloyal Earl of Mar. In 1435 the castle and estates were annexed by King James I in his efforts to control the power of the barons, and over the following decades the castle was strengthened and improved.
The estate passed to the Elphinstone family in 1507, who added a tower house to the castle, now known as the Elphinstone Tower. The castle was occupied by Jacobites during the 1689 uprising, and damaged by them as they left. It had been repaired enough to serve as the base for the 23rd Earl of Mar when he launched the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. Defeated, Mar accompanied the Pretender to France, and Kildrummy played no further part in Scottish history.
The next two centuries were largely a period of decline for Kildrummy. The exceptionally high quality of its stone led to its use as a handy quarry for the area, and the mighty Snow Tower collapsed in 1805. However, in 1898 the castle was acquired by Colonel James Ogston, who until his death worked steadily to restore parts of it. Kildrummy Castle was placed in the care of the State in 1951, and is now looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.