Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Rebellion, royalty and romance at Duchal Castle

On a rocky promontory near the village of Kilmalcolm in Renfrewshire and surrounded on three sides by a river, stands Duchal Castle choked in luxurious greenery.

LEFT: Kilmacolm Motte
RIGHT: Looking down to the gorge from the 13th century walls

The sides of the promontory are precipitous rendering attack impossible and it was not until the days of cannon that these natural defences were overcome.

The original castle may have been at Kilmacolm, where there is a fine motte, but by the 13th century this had been abandoned in favour of the present site.

Duchal Castle consists of a strong wall tracing the edge of the precipice to which, at a later date, was added a tower house. That it was inhabited until at least the late 16th century is attested by the addition of gun loops. By the 18th century it had been abandoned.

TOP: The wall fronting the gorge
BOTTOM: Looking up to Duchal Castle from the gorge

In 1489 Duchal was attacked by James IV when its owner, the Earl of Lennox, rebelled and garrisoned it against him along with the castles of Crookston and Dumbarton.

The king reacted by transporting the royal artillery from Edinburgh to Renfrew. Among the cannon was the famous Mons Meg whose gunners were awarded ‘XVIII shillings in drink-silver’ by the king for dragging the six ton monster some 50 miles overland.

In the west the artillery train was divided – some pieces going to Dumbarton and the others to Crookston and Duchal. It is more than likely that Mons Meg went to Dumbarton, by far the strongest castle.

Labour was obtained at Paisley to level the road for the passage of the guns to Duchal where Lord Semple was conducting the siege. James himself turned up to view the action between the 25th and 27th July. Duchal was unable to withstand the royal cannon and yielded. One gun must have done the king particular service as it was christened with the proud name of ‘Duchal’.

With the fall of Crookston and defeat in battle Lennox fell back on Dumbarton only to surrender.

James was to return to Duchal on the 16th of March 1498 where he celebrated his 25th birthday. There he encountered Marion Boyd who was to become his favourite mistress. The following year she bore him a son, Alexander, who was to die alongside his father in 1513 at the Battle of Flodden.

LEFT: Fragment of the 15th century tower house
RIGHT: The gorge wall

A peculiar story is attached to the castle: In 1296 the Lanercost Chronicle records an apparition which settled on the turrets of Duchal where it was shot at with arrows, but

...whatever was driven into that damned substance was burnt to ashes

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 04 Jan 2022 Updated: 06 Mar 2022
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