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Threave Castle

Threave Castle

Fergus, the Celtic Earl of Galloway, had built the first fortress at Threave around 1100 but that was destroyed by Edward Bruce in 1308 when the Gallovidians sided with Edward Longshanks.

The Bruce kings needed a strong arm in the south west and David II chose the Black Douglas family to hold the Western March. Archibald the Grim became Lord of Galloway in 1369 and made Threave his power base shortly afterwards. Ruling his estates with as much power as any king he built the brutal stone tower which survives today. The castle sits on an island in the river Dee two miles west of the town of Castle Douglas, and was surrounded by a fortified village that could only be approached by boat. It had the added advantage of being far from Edinburgh allowing the Earls of Douglas scope to rule unhindered. A winch lifted military supplies to the higher floors during a siege while an exaggerated corbel under the battlements offered a place from which to hang enemies of the Douglas. McLellan of Kirkcudbright dangled here in the mid 15th century when he fatally crossed Earl William.

Threave was upgraded in 1447 to meet the threat of artillery. The buildings surrounding the castle were demolished to provide a clear line of fire for the castle gunners, and their stones cannibalised to build a low outer 'gun-werk' or artillery wall. Circular towers and a moat added to Threave's defences but James II was outraged when he learned that Henry VI of England had provided the cash for these improvements. James was spurred into action against the Douglas house, murdering the Earl at Stirling in 1452 and besieging Threave three years later. The king supervised the siege in person, inspecting the royal ordnance which included the great Flemish bombard Mons Meg. Despite these efforts, Threave held out for several months and only surrendered once James offered lands to the castle officers.

After 1526 Threave was held for the Crown by the Maxwells as hereditary custodians, apart from a brief English occupation in 1544 and several moments of crisis in 1565,1568 and 1588 when the Maxwell castellan was suspected of treason. Threave was besieged by Covenanters for thirteen weeks in 1640 before its royalist garrison accepted the offer of an honorable surrender. The roof was promptly removed and the castle abandoned. It did serve as a cold and leaky prison for French prisoners in the Napoleonic Wars and now offers visitors an atmospheric visit.

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