Urquhart Castle has been the scene of violence since at least the 13th century. To the ghosts of its one-time defenders, the current war of words over Historic Scotland’s development plans must seem tame by comparison.
The most conspicuous of the ruins visible today actually rest upon the even older remains of an iron-age stone and timber fort. When Edward I invaded Scotland in the late 13th century, this position was again fortified, this time by Englishman Sir William Fitzwarine, who defended it against the Scottish warrior, Andrew Moray. Fitzwarine successfully withstood a siege, but when William Wallace’s army marched westward from Aberdeen, the English abandoned the site.
In doing so, they turned over some greatly improved defenses to the Scots, which enabled them to endure a lengthy siege during Edward’s next foray into Scotland. Eventually, the English won out, but only by starving the defenders into a desperate, doomed attempt to escape.
Once again the English occupied the castle, this time until 1306, when Robert Bruce rose in rebellion and drove the invaders out of Scotland. Thereafter Urquhart Castle remained in Scottish hands, but its history became no less turbulent. Its very reason for existence–guarding the strategically important route along the western shores of Loch Ness–made it a constant target in the struggles between the Highland clans.
In 1509, James IV awarded the Castle to John Grant in return for his loyal and just service, on the condition that John improve its defences. These improvements comprise another large portion of the ruins on the site today. Renovations alternated with episodes of vandalism until 1692, when its garrison blew it up rather than risk its capture by the Jacobites. By then, advances in artillery had signaled an end to the age of fortifications such as Urquhart Castle, and no attempt was made to rebuild. Today, the struggle is over how best to preserve the site, rather than restore it.