The Exterior and Courtyard of Midmar Castle, Aberdeenshire drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by J. H.Le Keux. Source: Edinburgh (1852). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by the Artist

On one of the roads, for purely agricultural purposes, leading from the town of Aberaeen into the heart of the county after many a barren or uninteresting stretch of country the forest trees thicken, the ground becomes broken, and, peeping over a rich mass of wood which clothes a recess in a mountain range, are seen the white clustering turrets of Midraar. The sheltered nook which the Aberdeenshire laird had so fortunately chosen for his stronghold is on the northern declivity of a broad-backed lumpish mountain, running for some miles parallel to the Dee, called the Hill of Fare. The neighbourhood has considerable liistorical interest in its connection with the extinction of one of those great struggles In which, from time to time, some aspiring and fortunate member of the feudal nobility shook the uncertain power of the crown. In the earlier and happier days of Mary's reign, when she showered her royal favours on the brother destined to supplant her, she had determined to crown his greatness with the powerful earldom of Murray, by which posterity knows his place in history. The Earl of Huntly had already been vexed and irritated by the cold reception of his overtures to re-establish the Catholic ascendency, and as he considered himself in virtual possession of the earldom of Murray, this abrupt disposal of so great a source of power and wealth drove him to frenzy. Since the fall of Donald of the Isles, the Gordons had been waxing great in the north, and absorbing here and there the disjointed fragments of that Celtic potentate's power. Like the Douglases on the Border, their chief thought he had now concentrated among the northern mountains an influence which might try its strength with the Crown. He haughtily invited the Queen, more In the tone of a prince than a subject, to visit him at his castle in Strathbogie, where he kept royal state; and, on her celebrated northern progress, his captain closed the gates of Inverness against her. It was necessary to decide definitely whether Huntly or the Queen reigned beyond the Grampians, and Murray put himself at the head of a con-siderable force, consisting in some measure of northern gentlemen who did not think fit to submit to the feudal rule of the Gordons. As in the other instances where the Crown heartily and vigor-ously put forth Its strength, the opposing force dwindled away. Huntly had taken up his position by the banks of Loch Skene, a small lake in the flats on which MIdmar Castle looks down. The royal forces having advanced from Aberdeen, he found it necessary to retreat up the hill with his dispirited band, dwindled to eight hundred men. On the top of the Hill of Fare there is a wide marshy hollow, called the How of Corrichle, whence issues a small mountain torrent. There Huntly's band was attacked and routed. He was borne dead from the field ; but whether he properly met a soldier's fate is doubtful, since the author of the Diuimal of Occurrents unromantically tells us that the rebel leader "was tane be ane Andro Eeidpeth, quha put him upone his horse to have brocht him to the Quenis Majestie ; hot howsein he was set upon horsback, incontinent thelrefter he bristit and swelt, sua that he spak not ane word, but decelssit" (p. 74). Tradition says that Mary was present at the battle; and an elevated rock, which had overlooked the whole field of conflict, is still called Queen Mary's Chair. It was on this expedition that the spirited young Queen is reported to have said, that "she repented she was not a man, to know what life it was to lie all night in the fields, or walk the rounds with a jack and knapscull."

The only notable event with which the castle itself can be connected, is associated with the attempt to revive the Huntly power, broken by the disaster at Corrichie. In the year 1593, Huntly, Errol, and other chiefs, called the Catholic Lords, broke into open rebellion, in a great and final effort for the restoration of the ascendency of Rome. They inflicted a severe defeat on the King's troops in the battle of Glenlivet, where the Highlanders of the West encountered those of the North with characteristic ferocity. The gentry attached to the two sides of course carried on a feudal warfare of personal reprisals against each other; and in the course of this conflict Midmar Castle, then called Ballogie, appears to have suffered. In the records of the Secret Council, of date the 7th November 1594, there is a "Declaratioun in favouris of the Erll Marishaell and utheris," that the burning and destroying of the place and fortalice of Ballogy of the month of October last, and thereafter demolishing the place and fortalice in Newtown, "wes and is done be his Majestei's espres comand, allowance, and approbatioun" (Pitcairn's Crimmal Trials, i. 344. There is however another Ballogie, a modem mansion, a few miles south of Midmar). The author of the Statistical Account of the parish says, "Tradition informs us that part of it was erected by Sir William Wallace, when governor of Scotland, as a hunting seat for his friend Sir Thomas Longuville" — a vague sort of tradition applied to many Scottish strongholds. It appears to have at an early period belonged to a family named Browne. In the proceedings of Parliament for the year 1368, there is a decision "uper discussione inter Johannem Broune de Migmar, et Robertum d'Umfraville" Acts of Parliament, i. 148; Antiquities of the Shires of Aberdeen and Bauff, ii. 42). A George Browne, grandson of the Laird of Midmar, became Bishop of Dunkeld in 1484 (Keith’s Catalogue, p. 91)). Among the minor troubles which Spalding records is the departure of Doctor Scroggie, "ane old reverend preacher, compelled to quit his dwelling-house in Old Aberdeen, and yeards pleasantly planted, the most part by himsel," in consequence of the triumph of the Covenant. "So he removes this day (23d June 1641) his wife, bairnes, haill faralllie, insight plenishing, goods and gear, furth and from the samen, and delivers the keys to Mr William Strachan, that he may enter alsweli to the bigging as to the pulpit. Himself transported all to Ballogie, and took ane chamber for his coming and going in New Aberdeen" (Spalding’s Troubles). A topographical writer of the early part of last century, in his brief account of the place, says, "Ballogie, at first a castle, and since erected a court, lately the seat of Forbes of Ballogie, (descended of Tolquhon, the first of this family being son to Pitnacalder, about the middle of the last age,) but now possessed by Mr Grant, son to Grant of [space and brackets in original] under the name of Grantfield Castle" (View of the Dioeeae of Aberdeen), printed for the Spalding Club, 636). We must conclude these meagre notices of one of the most picturesque and fanciful of the turreted mansions of Scotland with the remarks made on it by Francis Douglas of Paisley, as he travelled in Aberdeenshire in 1780: "In a deep glen, surrounded by mountains and woods, stands the house of Midmar, the property of Miss Davidson, a minor. Since the beginning of the present century, this estate has been the property of four heritors, and distinguished by three different names. It was originally Midmar, nest Ballogie, then Grantsfield, and now it is Midmar again. Such, "continues the acute agricul-turist, raising himself to an unusual height of moral musing, is the folly and weakness of mankind, who consider not the fluctuating nature of property and all earthly things" (Description of the East Coast of Scotland, 254).

R. W. B.

[These images may be used without permission for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission as long as you credit the Hathitrust Digital Archive and the University of California library and link to the the Victorian Web in a web document or cite it in a print one — George P. Landow ]


The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland illustrated by Robert William Billings, architect, in four volumes.. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, 1852. Hathitrust Digital Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 10 October 2018.

Last modified 13 October 2018