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Dunnottar Castle

For over four hundred years, the Keith Earl Marischals had the privilege of overseeing all ceremonial matters at the Scottish Court and were responsible for the safety of the Honours of Scotland, the priceless Crown regalia. The rock of Dunnottar had been a fortress from the earliest times however. A chronicle entry for 681 AD bears the stark message - obsessio duin foither - siege at Dunnottar. The Pictish King Bridei survived that siege by an Orcadian fleet but there were many more attempts to capture this great coastal fortress south of Aberdeen. King Donald II fell here in 895 defending the fort against a Viking host. In 934 Dunnottar under Constantine II withstood a fierce two month onslaught by the expansionist warlord Athelstan of Wessex. With the defeat of John Balliol in 1295-6, Dunnottar fell into the hands of Edward I who placed a large garrison there. The following year Wallace and his men stormed the cliffs below the castle, bursting in upon the startled Englishmen who fled to the sanctuary of the castle chapel of St Ninian. Wallace simply barred the chapel door and burned the men alive. The castle was again under English control in the 1330s when Edward III provided a hundred archers to protect the masons, carpenters and smiths that he had sent to strengthen Dunnottars defences. Despite their extensive work (much of the present day castle structure dates from this period), Sir Andrew Moray quickly ousted the English.

Three centuries later, in 1645 Dunnottar was attacked by Montrose who hoped to capture the Covenanting 7th Earl Marischal. Failing in this, Montrose vented his wrath by burning every house in the surrounding parishes. Six years later it was the Army of the English Parliament that stood before Dunnottars cliffs, with orders to snatch the priceless Honours of Scotland, carried to Dunnottar after Charles II's rushed coronation at Scone. After an eight month siege, the Roundheads ripped the castle apart but could not find their prize. The Honours had been carried away by Mrs Crainger, wife of the minister at nearby Kinneff Parish Church. She may have smuggled the regalia out under her skirts, or lowered them in a creel to a maid who pretended to collect seaweed along the shore. The Honours were then safely buried beneath the floor of Kinneff Kirk until the Restoration in 1660.

Dunnottar never recovered from the Cromwellian bombardment of 1651-52. It was however used as a prison in 1685 at the height of 'the Killing Times'. One hundred and sixty seven men and women who refused to submit to the new royal prayer book were herded into the atrocious conditions of the cellar now known as the Whigs Vault, Nine died, two fell to their deaths trying to escape, and most of the others were shipped to slave plantations in the West Indies. Dunnotar Castle is located South of Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

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