Dunnottar Castle

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Dunottar Castle, now a ruin, is near Stonehaven and about 15 miles south of Aberdeen. Built on an outcrop of sandstone that juts out into the sea it has a rugged beauty and in its day was a fearsome stronghold. It is thought that St Ninian had been here in the 5th century and the castle was besieged by William Wallace in 1297 when he burned the English garrison alive in the castle church. Later in 1336 Edward III seized it and held it for a few months, and in 1645 it withstood siege by the Marquis of Montrose.

The castle is remembered as the stronghold in which the Scottish Crown Jewels were held for safe custody. The garrison of 69 men with some 42 guns withstood assault by Cromwell's troops for eight months in 1651. But the Regalia had been smuggled to safety by lowering them in a basket to a servant woman apparently gathering seaweed on the shore, who took them to the parish church of Kinneff a few miles away where they remained hidden below the floorboards until the Restoration in 1660.

Dunnottar's place in Covenanter history is from its use as a prison in 1685 for 122 men and 45 women. In particular they were thrown into the "Whigs Vault", which was a room about 55 ft long , 15.1/2 ft wide and 12 ft high with two tiny barred windows. Here they were packed so tight that they could not sit, lean or lie down, and many of them died where they stood.

The incarceration of the Covenanters in Dunnottar stemmed from fears that the staunch Covenanters would support a rebellion and , perhaps, a rescue attempt might be made, when the Duke of Argyll arrived from Holland with troops. So it was that 224 Covenanters from the Tolbooth prisons in Edinburgh were hurried away  to an assembly point across the River Forth at Burntisland in Fife in May 1685. Here they were interrogated and some were released on taking oaths of allegiance and giving bonds for their good conduct. Of these some 36 men and 4 women were able to convince the authorities that they were not dangerous and were returned to Edinburgh. Of the remainder, some escaped and others died on the march through Fife and Forfar to their prison in the dungeons of Dunnottar Castle.

 The cell was described as cramped without room to sit down , the floor ankle deep in mire, and little fresh air to breath. Their keep was rudimentary and they were even forced to pay for water to drink. Forty of the Covenanters were later transferred to a deep dungeon, and some relief was afforded the women who were allotted two rooms to themselves.

There was an attempt by 25 of the prisoners to escape by descending the steep cliff overhanging the sea but in their feeble condition 15 of their number were soon recaptured. Despite their poor condition the escapees were lashed to low benches and tortured for three hours by placing burning slivers of wood between their fingers. For some, this treatment was too much and they lost fingers or subsequently died from their injuries.

Among those cast into Dunnottar were:


John Fraser

Alexander Dalgleish

William McMillan of Galloway

William Niven or Niving

William Hannah of Tundergarth

James Forsyth of Lochmaben

William Campbell of Middlewood, Ayrshire     

Robert Goodwin of Glasgow

Quintin Dick of Dalmellington

John Black

John Campbell

Christian Cavie

John Corbet

John Casson or Carson

Barbara Cowan

Charles Dougal or Douglas

Jant Ferguson

John Ford

John Foreman

Thomas Gray

George Brown or Broun ** Died

John Crichton

Andrew Corbet

Agnes Corhead

Marjory Cowan

Patrick Cunningham

William Douglas

Elspeth Ferguson

Fergus Grier

Robert Gilcrist

John Harvey

Adam Hood

John Hutchinson

George Johnson

James Junk

James Kirkwood

John Kellie

Bessie Gordon

James Forsyth

John Gray

James Grierson

John Gilfillan

John Henderson

Annabel Gordon

John Hodge

John King

John Kincaid

Katharine Kellie

Margaret Leslie

Janet Lintoun

John Martin

John Marschall

Margaret Miller

James Murehead

William McCalmont

Walter M`Min or McEwen

John McEwin

Robert McLellan

Andrew McLellan

John McGhie

Andrew Paterson

William Oliphant

John Pollock

Peter Russell

Thomas Russell

Christian Strang

William Sprat or Sprout

John Sinton or Swinton

John Steven or Seton

William Trumble

Patrick Urie

John Watt

Grizel Witherspoon or Wotherspoon

Elizabeth Whitlaw

William Wilson

Robert Young

Robert Main

Ananaple Jackson

An extended list of the prisoners as shown in "The Black Book of Kincardineshire" is here. 

Extracts from the records of the Edinburgh Tolbooth confirm some of the names above. * *These include a statement regarding George Brown who died in the Edinburgh Tolbooth.  Other entries record prisoners returned from Burntisland, Fife, who were not sent to Dunnottar having indicated their willingness to swear the required oaths of allegiance. The release of the returned prisoners are also contained in several entries during May and June 1685.

After the danger of the Argyll insurrection had passed the prisoners were released from Dunnottar and 30 men and seven women took the Oath of Allegiance. The remainder, who refused to take the oath, were transported to America on the "Henry & Francis"

In Dunnottar Kirkyard there is a simple memorial commemorating those who died in the dungeons of Dunnottar Castle and in an attempted escape:

Here lyes John Stot, James Atchison, James Russell & William Broun and one whose name wee have not gotten and two women whose names also wee know not and two who perished comeing doune the rock one whose name was James Watson the other not known who all died prisoners in Dunnottar Castle Anno 1685 for their adherence to the word of God and Scotlands Covenanted work of Reformation. Rev 11. Ch 12 Verse

It is thought that the four missing names from the inscription are John Whyte, William Breadie, Mary Gibson and Jean Muffet. Of historical interest is that this stone was created by Robert Paterson, " Old Mortality" of Sir Walter Scott's novel, whom he met there while the work was being done.

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Greyfriars Kirk Yard

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