Moray: About 2.5 miles north of Elgin, on minor roads east of A941, west of Spynie Loch, south of Terchick Burn (Spynie Canal), at Spynie Palace.
HES NJ 231658 OS: 28 IV30 5QG
OPEN: Open Apr-Sep, daily 9.30-17.30; last ticket 30 mins before closing.
Tel: 01343 546358 Web: www.historicenvironment.scot
One of the finest fortresses in Scotland, Spynie Palace consists of a massive 15th-century tower at one corner of a large courtyard, enclosed by a wall, with square corner towers. In one wall is a gatehouse, and there were ranges of buildings, including a chapel, within the courtyard walls.
The main tower, David’s Tower, rises six storeys to the parapet, and has very thick walls. The garret and upper works have gone, although the corbels for the parapet survive. The walls are pierced by gunloops. There are fine views from the tower.
There were two entrances at basement level, one from the courtyard into the basement, and one, a postern, from outside the walls, which opens onto a stair to the first floor. The courtyard entrance led to the vaulted basement, which contains a large round vaulted chamber, formerly the basement of an older tower. Also housed in the basement of David’s Tower, and reached by a passageway, is a wine-cellar, which was only reached from above by a hatch from the hall.
The main entrance, on the first floor, is approached by a stair up a mound. It leads, through a lobby, to a turnpike stair in one corner, and to a guardroom in the thickness of the wall. The hall,
on the first floor, was a fine chamber with a large moulded fireplace and windows with stone seats. Five vaulted chambers, one above another, are built into the thickness of one wall, although these
have been rebuilt. The top floor was vaulted, but this has collapsed, and has been replaced by a modern roof of a ‘unique’ design.
One corner tower of five storeys survives, as does a section of curtain wall and the gatehouse, but the rest of the courtyard is ruined. The elaborate gatehouse was defended by a portcullis.
‘Cast. of Spyny’ is marked on Pont’s map of Elgin and Moray, and is shown as a massive tower of seven storeys in a courtyard with corner towers. There is a walled park or orchard.
In 1200 Bishop Richard de Lincoln moved the cathedral of Moray to Spynie, where it stayed for 24 years. Later bishops fortified a promontory in Spynie Loch, once a sea loch with its own port, and although the cathedral was moved to Elgin, they kept their residence and stronghold here. Over the next two centuries they built the grandest surviving bishop’s palace in Scotland.
The palace was probably built by Bishop John Innes, just after Elgin Cathedral had been burnt by Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch. Bishop David Stewart, who died in 1475, excommunicated the Gordon Earl of Huntly, and built the great tower, David’s Tower, to defend himself against retribution by Huntly. James IV visited the palace in 1493 and 1505, as did Mary, Queen of Scots in 1562. James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell and third husband of Mary, sheltered here after defeat at the Battle of Carberry Hill in 1567, but soon fled north to Orkney and the Continent, where he was imprisoned in the Danish castle of Dragsholm until his death.
After the Reformation, the lands had been sold to the Lindsays, and Alexander Lindsay, Lord Spynie, got into trouble for sheltering Bothwell but was pardoned. He was slain in Edinburgh’s High Street in 1607 by David Lindsay of Edzell when he tried to intervent to prevent bloodshed between Lindsay of Edzell and David Lindsay, Earl of Crawford, who had killed Edzell’s father.
The castle was subsequently used by Protestant bishops. James VI stayed here in 1589. General Munro besieged the castle in 1640, and compelled Bishop John Guthrie to surrender it, and the bishop was imprisoned. The castle was held by Innes of Innes and Grant of Ballindalloch – who were Covenanters – against the Gordon Earl of Huntly, who besieged the palace unsuccessfully in 1645, while acting for the Marquis of Montrose. The last resident bishop was Colin Falconer, who died here in 1686, and Bishop William Hay, the last bishop, was removed from office in 1688. The building then became ruinous, and was stripped. It passed into care of the State in 1973.
There were stories of the bishops being in league with the Devil, and that every Halloween witches would be seen flying to the castle. The castle is also reputedly haunted, and unexplained lights and unearthly music are said to have been witnessed here. There are also stories of a phantom piper and a ghostly lion.
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