One and a half miles from Castle Douglas in an island in the middle of the River Dee stands Threave Castle. It is thought that the island has been inhabited since the 6th century and that a castle was built on the site by Fergus of Galloway sometime after 1000, but this was burnt down by Edward Bruce (Bob’s brother), sometime round about 1308.
These days, to get to the castle, you have to ring this bell to summons the ferryman, all be it a very modern ferryman with an outboard motor.
The history of the castle that stands on this site now is linked into the rise and fall of the Douglas’ in the years of the wars of independence and the centuries after, which I shall zip through here at breakneck speed.
Robert the Bruce’s best pal and right hand man was James Douglas, also known as Good Sir James or the Black Douglas. And with Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn, Good Sir James’ chumminess with the king left him as one of the most powerful nobles in Scotland. The next generation of Douglas’ consolidated this position and in 1369 Sir James’ illegitimate son Archibald the Grim was made Lord of Galloway by King David II – he would later go on to become the 3rd Earl of Douglas after the death of his cousin in battle.
It was Archibald the Grim who built the main tower at Threave in the 1370s. The castle would not have stood alone on the island as it does today but would have been surrounded by a small town as can be seen in this diagram which was on a board outside the castle.
By the time of the 8th Earl of Douglas, William Douglas, in the 1400s the Douglass had become a bit too powerful and King James II had just about had it up to the eyeballs with them and was jolly well going to sort them out. Fearing that an attack was imminent and also due the small fact that gunpowder (of which both William and the King were rather fond) had been invented, William built one of the country’s first purpose built gun defences round about the castle in 1447. It was a low wall round about the castle with 3 towers for artillery, one of which is still plainly visible in the picture below.
Below is one of the slots in the tower designed to fire cannon out off.
The king and his artillery eventually arrived at Threave in 1455 and laid siege to it. There is one story that the great cannon Mons Meg, which is now to be found in Edinburgh Castle, was made in Kirkcudbright by a smith called Mollance and the gun was presented to King James for the siege. With it’s first shot the cannonball smashed right through the castle walls and took off the hand of Margaret Douglas as she was drinking her wine. There just isn’t enough damage to the castle to suggest that a cannonball ever went through the walls (Archibald the Grim’s mason seemed to know exactly what they were doing) and anyway it’s pretty certain that Mons Meg is French though it was probably used during this siege. After 60 days of siege the King used bribery to get himself into the castle – Threave is a deal solider than your average castle.
The castle saw more action in 1640 when it, now in the hands of Royalist Maxwells, held out in a 13 week siege against an army of the Covenant. They couldn’t get into the castle either and it was a letter from Charles the first himself authorising Lord Maxwell to surrender that brought an end to the siege.
The remaining artillery tower is currently full of toads.
This model of the castle is in the basement. the basement would have been mainly for storage but it is also where the well is (very important when under siege) and the dungeon, which was accessed, probably by a ladder, from the entrance level.
This large fireplace in the entrance level was where the kitchen would have been. You can see that most of the entrance level is no longer there.
The next level up, which can be seen here, would have been the great hall. Above this would have been the bedrooms of the lord and family. There was another level above this, pretty much at the crenellations I should think, which was used as barracking, especially during siege conditions. I would imagine it would be pretty crampt.
As an added bonus to my visit to the castle there was a pair of ospreys nesting near by. The viewing area is still quite a long way away from the nest and this is the best I can do with my x10 zoom.
Ospreys became extinct in Britain as breeding birds in 1916 but in 1954 a passing migrating pair recolonised in Scotland. Ospreys are still quite rare and I was delighted to see them.
Did you know, ospreys can close their nostrils to stop getting water up their nose – how useful.