Huntly Castle

Mary, Queen of Scots Home Page

Huntly Castle

Huntly Castle from the east range

When Mary first arrived in Scotland she maintained a conciliatory and neutral stance vis-à-vis the new religion. She rejected a proposal to send military assistance to the Prince de Condé, the leader of the Huguenots in France, but also turned down Lord Huntly's proposal of a catholic rebellion. From that point onward, her relationship with Huntly, who had great influence in the north of Scotland, began to deteriorate. When the never-to-be meeting with Elizabeth I of England was postponed in August 1562, Mary decided to overcome her disappointment by visiting the northern part of her kingdom. Lord Huntly's son, John Gordon, had recently escaped from the Tolbooth, where he had been imprisoned for gravely wounding Lord Ogilvy of Airlie in a brawl in Edinburgh. The Ogilvys now wanted him brought to justice. On 27th August, Mary had reached Aberdeen where Elizabeth, Countess of Huntly, interceded on behalf of her son. He surrendered on the 31st, and was ordered at the Tolbooth of Aberdeen to ward himself in Stirling Castle. John however broke his bond, and Mary altered her route to head for Inverness. She stayed at Darnaway Castle where she conferred the earldom of Moray on her half-brother, Lord James. At the same time, she issued orders for the apprehension of John Gordon. In retaliation, the keeper of Inverness Castle, Alexander Gordon, barred Mary entrance when she arrived on the 11th. Inverness was a royal property and Alexander's act was considered treason (all that remains of Inverness Castle, which was blown up by Bonnie Prince Charlie in the eighteenth century, is a well and bastion wall. On the site is a nineteenth century building which houses the Sheriff Court). When he was finally persuaded to open the gates, he was promptly seized and hanged over the ramparts. A few days later Mary made her way to Spynie Palace with her forces now augmented by large numbers of horsemen and retainers on foot. John Gordon's light cavalry constantly harried the flanks of Mary's baggage train.

A rare example of a 17th century fireplace Back view of the south part of the castle: the Palace

Lord Huntly was a grandson of James IV and therefore Mary's cousin. Although he might have been a powerful ally against the Protestant extremists, his track record of deviousness, double-dealings and intrigues with England made him too unreliable. He also had a deeply rooted hatred of Lord James, who had now inherited the earldom of Moray, the revenues of which Huntly had been administering for some time. It was clear that sooner or later Huntly would declare himself an open threat to Mary. Mary passed Findlater Castle, calling upon its garrison to surrender, which they refused to do. At Aberdeen on 22nd September, she mustered a larger force, including Kirkcaldy of Grange and James Cockburn. In the meantime, Huntly dispatched his eldest son, George Gordon, to confer with his father-in-law, Châtelherault, while sending Mary a message that he would help her seize John. But Huntly remained on the run, never staying in the one place for more than one night.

Kirkcaldy then devised a plan whereby they would seize Huntly by surprise during the day. A group of men set off on 9th October to reach Strathbogie by noon. But the plan was thwarted by the sudden appearance of John's cavalry on the horizon as Kirkcaldy was arguing with Huntly's porter on the doorstep. In a panic, Huntly escaped out of a back window unarmed and shoeless. From then on it was clear that Huntly was his son's accomplice. Huntly retreated into the wilds of Badenoch while his wife Elizabeth once more attempted to intervene on his behalf, but Mary declined to see her. Huntly then decided that he would march on Aberdeen at the head of his own army and by so doing, signed his own death warrant. Huntly was counting on the many men who, although on the Queen's side, wore heather sprigs in their caps to signify their allegiance to him, but desertion occurred in his own ranks. The carnage that took place on the Hill of Fare at Corrichie on 28th October cost the lives of 220 men. 120 others were taken prisoners including Huntly who was brought before Mary's generals on horseback and hands bound. However, obese and in poor health, the forty-eight year old Huntly toppled over from a stroke. His body was embalmed and shipped off to Edinburgh until it was paraded before Parliament a year later, in order that the act of forfeiture and attainder might be formally passed upon it. James Douglas, Earl of Morton, succeeded him as Chancellor. John Gordon was executed in a horrible manner on 2nd November in the presence of Mary who, abhorring violence, fainted and was carried away weeping hysterically. She pardoned his brothers George and Adam, the former seeing his execution commuted to a term of imprisonment. Both went on to fight for her later after her escape from Lochleven.


View of the pentagonal shape of the inside rooms

Click here to see a reconstruction of the original L-plan towerhouse before the attack by Black Douglases in 1452.

Huntly served as a baronial residence for over five centuries. During that time the castle underwent several transformations before reaching its present form. The first stronghold built by the Earl of Fife, was made of earth and timber. Early in the 15th century a Gordon had a stone tower house constructed; by 1550, an earl of Huntly had abandoned the tower in favour of a more palatial residence. The greatest triumph of the mason employed by the first marquis of Huntly to enrich his palace is unquestionably the splendid "frontispiece" over the main doorway (above left). Nothing quite like it exists anywhere else in the British Isles. (click here to view a clearer picture and a more thorough explanation.)

Open daily all year except closed Thursday PM and Fridays October to March. Tel.: 44+ (0)1466 793 191.

Music Playing: "Cock o' The North"