Loch Leven Castle

Loch Leven Castle is a ruined castle on an island in Loch Leven, in the Perth and Kinross local authority area of Scotland. Possibly built around 1300, the castle was the location of military action during the Wars of Scottish Independence (1296–1357). In the latter part of the 14th century, the castle was granted by his uncle to William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas, and remained in the Douglases' hands for the next 300 years. Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned here in 1567–68, and forced to abdicate as queen, before escaping with the help of her gaoler's family. In 1588, the Queen's gaoler inherited the title Earl of Morton, and moved away from the castle. It was bought, in 1675, by Sir William Bruce, who used the castle as a focal point in his garden; it was never again used as a residence.

Loch Leven Castle
Castle Island, Loch Leven, near Kinross, Scotland
UK grid reference NO137017
Lochleven west wall.JPG
Keep and west wall of the castle
Loch Leven Castle is located in Scotland
Loch Leven Castle
Loch Leven Castle
Coordinates56°12′N 3°23′W / 56.20°N 3.39°W / 56.20; -3.39
TypeTower house and courtyard
Site information
OwnerHistoric Scotland
Controlled byDouglas of Lochleven
Open to
the public
Site history
Built1300 AD
In useUntil 17th century

Today, the remains of the castle are protected as a scheduled monument in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.[1] Loch Leven Castle is accessible in summer by the public via a ferry.


Early historyEdit

A castle may have been constructed on Castle Island by 1257, when the 16-year-old King Alexander III of Scotland was forcibly brought there by his regents.[2] During the First War of Scottish Independence (1296–1328), the invading English army held the castle, then named Loch Leven Castle, which lies at a strategically important position between the towns of Edinburgh, Stirling and Perth. Parts of the present fortification, the curtain wall, may date from this time[3] and were perhaps built by the occupying English.[4] The castle was captured by the Scots before the end of the 13th century, possibly by the forces of William Wallace.[5]

English forces laid siege to Loch Leven in 1301, but the garrison was relieved in the same year when the siege was broken by Sir John Comyn.[5] King Robert the Bruce (reigned 1306–1329) is known to have visited the castle in 1313 and again in 1323.[4] Following Bruce's death, the English invaded again, and laid siege to Loch Leven Castle in 1335 in support of the pretender Edward Balliol (d. 1364).[5] According to the 14th-century chronicle of John of Fordun, the English attempted to flood the castle by building a dam across the outflow of the loch. The water level rose for a month, until the captain of the English force, Sir John de Stirling, left to attend the festival of Saint Margaret of Scotland. The defenders, under Alan de Vipont, took the opportunity to come out of the castle at night, and damaged the dam, causing it to collapse and flood the English camp. The story has, however, been doubted by later historians.[6]

Loch Leven Castle was strengthened in the 14th or early 15th century, by the addition of the five-storey tower house or keep.[3] According to Historic Scotland, it is of the 14th century, making it one of the oldest tower houses in Scotland which still substantially survives.[4] In 1390 King Robert II (reigned 1371–1390) granted the castle to Sir Henry Douglas, the husband of his niece Marjory.[7] From the 14th century, the castle served as a state prison. Prior to becoming king, Robert II was held here in 1369,[4] as was Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Douglas (d. 1439) in the first half of the 15th century. Patrick Graham, Archbishop of St Andrews, died in captivity at the castle in 1478.[2]

Mary, Queen of Scots Escaping from Loch Leven Castle (1805) by William Craig Shirreff.

16th centuryEdit

Mary, Queen of Scots (reigned 1542–1567) first visited Loch Leven in 1565 as a guest of Sir William Douglas of Lochleven (d. 1606). She held an interview here with the Calvinist preacher John Knox.[8]

Mary returned to Loch Leven as a prisoner, from 17 June 1567 until her escape on 2 May 1568.[9] At the Battle of Carberry Hill on 15 June, Mary surrendered to her noblemen, who opposed her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell. She was taken to Loch Leven and given into the custody of Sir William Douglas of Lochleven, spending most of her captivity living in the early 16th-century Glassin Tower, at the south-east corner of the castle. Aside from Sir William, the household included his mother Lady Margaret Douglas, mother of Mary's half brother the Earl of Moray, and his brother George Douglas, as well as Willie Douglas, a young orphaned relative.[10] Mary fell ill on arrival due to suspected poisoning, and sometime before 24 July she miscarried twins that she had conceived with Bothwell, who were hastily buried in the grounds.[11] Only a few days later she was forced to abdicate as Queen of Scots, in favour of her infant son James.[12]

Mary recovered during the autumn and winter, and gradually won over George Douglas to her own cause.[13] A contemporary wrote that George was "in fantasy of love wythe hir."[14] Mary asked her servant Servais de Condé to send her materials for textile projects and embroidery, while making multiple escape attempts. Once, Mary pretended to be a laundress, while one of her ladies took her place inside the castle. However, as she was leaving the boatman that was taking her across the loch recognized her and took her back. Another attempt was made to escape by scaling the 7-foot (2.1 m) wall outside the castle, but another lady-in-waiting injured herself when they were practicing the escape.[15] On the night of the successful escape, Willie Douglas stole the keys and let Mary, dressed as a servant, out of the castle. She was rowed across the lake to where George Douglas awaited her, alongside 200 horsemen, and they fled to Niddry Castle in Lothian.[15][16] The Castle is one of many in Scotland said to be haunted by Mary's spirit, as it is said she was waiting for her twins to return to her so they would know their loss of life was not her fault. The sadness she felt about their loss, kept her trapped within the castle walls.[17]

The English Earl of Northumberland was also held here, after offending Elizabeth I of England. He was confined at Loch Leven for two years before being sent back to England for execution.[18] In 1588, Sir William Douglas of Lochleven succeeded to the earldom of Morton, as the 6th earl.[7] With the title he inherited other properties, including Aberdour Castle in Fife, and Loch Leven Castle became less frequently used.

Sir William BruceEdit

Looking across fields of oilseed rape to Loch Leven Castle

From around 1546, Margaret Erskine and her son William Douglas built a house on the shore of the Loch which was known as "Newhouse." The "Newhouse" replaced the island castle as the legal centre of the estate in 1619.[19] On 12 May 1589 William Douglas, 6th Earl of Morton entertained the Danish Admiral Peder Munk at the Newhouse. He had been to Falkland Palace taking possession of the property as part of the king's "morning gift" to his bride Anne of Denmark.[20]

In 1675, the Loch Leven estate was bought from the Douglases by Sir William Bruce (c.1630–1710), royal architect in Scotland. Bruce built nearby Kinross House on the lake shore from 1686, aligning the principal axis of house and garden on the distant castle. The "Newhouse", which was finally demolished in 1723, was just to the north of Bruce's site. Kinross was one of the first buildings in the classical style erected in Scotland. Thereafter Loch Leven Castle was no longer used as a dwelling, but it was preserved by Bruce as a picturesque focus for his gardens.[5]

Recent yearsEdit

Loch Leven Castle had fallen into ruin by the 18th century,[21] but the ruins were conserved and rubbish removed in 1840.[22] The estate passed from the Bruces to the Graham family in the 18th century and then, in the 19th century, to the Montgomerys, who no longer occupy Kinross House.[23]

Loch Leven Castle was given in to state care in 1939, and is now managed by Historic Environment Scotland.[5] Today, the castle can be reached by a 12-person ferry operated from Kinross during the summer months.[24] The remains of the castle are protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[1]


Ground floor plan of Loch Leven Castle

The castle, and an outer enclosure of which little trace remains, originally took up almost the entire area of Castle Island. The present wooded, and considerably larger, island was formed in the early 19th century when the canalising of the outflow of the River Leven, which enters the Firth of Forth at the town of Leven, led to a substantial lowering of the water level.

The castle comprises a rectangular courtyard surrounded by a curtain wall, with a tower house, or keep, at one corner, and the round Glassin Tower projecting from the opposite corner. The foundations of demolished ranges of buildings remain around two sides of the courtyard. Of the outer court, only an earth bank shows the position of the walls, with fragmentary remains of a bakehouse the only visible structures.

Tower houseEdit

The tower house, or keep, at the west corner of the enclosure, measures 36.5 feet (11.1 m) by 31.5 feet (9.6 m) and originally had five storeys, although the roof and timber floors are now gone.[3] The lowest level is a vaulted basement, with a vaulted kitchen above. The hall was on the next floor, with chambers above, all linked by a spiral stair.

Glassin TowerEdit

The Glassin Tower is a round tower that was built into the south-east corner of the ancient curtain wall, probably around 1550. The derivation of 'Glassin' is unknown. The purpose of the tower was to provide additional accommodation and to give the castle a more imposing appearance. Gunholes that allowed fire to be directed along the external face of the curtain wall improved defence. The tower has a vaulted basement for storing water, accessed separately from the courtyard. The basement has separate channels to allow water to be collected from the loch and waste water to be drained through a slop-drain. The lower chamber has an oriel window which would have given views over the loch. The upper chamber served as a bedchamber. At the very top a small room, accessible only from the wall walk, was possibly a study or library. [25]

Archaeological findingsEdit

A minor excavation in 1995 found the footings and two steps of a stone stairway that provided access to the Great Hall of the tower. 16th-century pottery and animal bones were found in 0.75 metres (2.5 ft) of debris near the forestair.[3]


  1. ^ a b Historic Environment Scotland. "Lochleven Castle (SM90204)". Retrieved 2019-03-27.
  2. ^ a b Lindsay, pp.342–344
  3. ^ a b c d "RCAHMS - Lochleven Castle". Retrieved 2008-12-07.
  4. ^ a b c d "Lochleven Castle: About the Property". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2008-12-07.
  5. ^ a b c d e Coventry, p.301
  6. ^ Grose, pp.225–227
  7. ^ a b Historic Environment Scotland. "Lochleven Castle Castle Island. Lochleven  (Category A (removed)) (LB11199)". Retrieved 2019-03-27.
  8. ^ Lindsay, Maurice (1986). The castles of Scotland. London: Constable and Company Limited. p. 344.
  9. ^ Lindsay, Maurice (1986). The castles of Scotland. London: Constable and Company Limited. p. 343.
  10. ^ Fraser, pp.401, 423
  11. ^ Fraser, p.409
  12. ^ Fraser, p.412
  13. ^ Fraser, p.418
  14. ^ Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol.2 (1900), p. 404 no. 652, 9 May 1568.
  15. ^ a b Goodman, Jean (1983). Debrett's Royal Scotland. London: Webb & Bower Ltd. pp. 79–80. ISBN 9780399128318.
  16. ^ Fraser, p.427–428
  17. ^ "Haunted trail of Mary, Queen of Scots - Scotsman.com News". The Scotsman. 2005-12-08.
  18. ^ Lindsay, Maurice (1986). The castles of Scotland. London: Constable and Company Limited. p. 344.
  19. ^ Sanderson, Margaret H. B., Mary Stewart's People (James Thin: Edinburgh, 1987), p. 69.
  20. ^ David Stevenson, Scotland's Last Royal Wedding (John Donald: Edinburgh, 1997), pp. 102-3.
  21. ^ "Gazetteer for Scotland - Loch Leven Castle". Retrieved 2008-12-07.
  22. ^ Francis H. Groome (1882). Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical. Thomas C. Jack.
  23. ^ "Kinross House and Gardens: The History - Subsequent owners". Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
  24. ^ "Lochleven Castle: Getting there". Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
  25. ^ Tabraham, Chris (2010). Lochleven Castle The Official Souvenir Guide. Historic Scotland. pp. 18–19.


  • Coventry, Martin. (2001) The Castles of Scotland 3rd Edition. Goblinshead
  • Fraser, Antonia. (1970) Mary Queen of Scots. Panther
  • Grose, Francis. (1791) The Antiquities of Scotland Vol.II. S. Hooper
  • Lindsay, Maurice. (1986) The Castles of Scotland.

External linksEdit