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The life of Mary Queen of Scots is one of the most dramatic and tragic tales in Scottish history. She became Queen at only 6 days old after her father, James V, died. Mary was sent to France at age 5 where she was raised by the French court. In 1558 she married the French King’s eldest son, Francis. The marriage was short lived. Francis died in 1560 aged just 16, and Mary returned to Scotland as a young widow.

Mary’s second marriage in 1565 was the start of a series of tragic events. Within two years she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate. In 1568 she fled to England where she was held prisoner by her cousin Elizabeth I for 19 years, before being executed for treason.

This 19th century copy depicts a young Mary wearing a black dress with a Medici collar. The painting is attributed to Charles Landseer, an English artist known for historical portraits.

Dumbarton Castle

Dumbarton Castle guards the point where the River Leven joins the River Clyde. Its recorded history goes back 1,500 years.

Back then, the place was known as Alt Clut (‘Rock of the Clyde’). Later it became known by the Gaelic name Dun Breatann (‘Fortress of the Britons’) from which the name Dumbarton is derived.

In the 1220s, the castle was a border stronghold – the Norwegian frontier lay just 10 miles downriver. The Treaty of Perth (1266) gave control of the Western Isles to the Scottish Crown, removing the threat from Norway – but an even greater menace from England soon replaced it.

Dumbarton was an important royal castle in the Middle Ages. In later centuries, Dumbarton Rock became a mighty garrison fortress, its defences packed with guns. It last saw military action as recently as the Second World War.

Citadel of the Dark Ages

Dumbarton Rock was a mighty stronghold in the Dark Ages. Waters swirl around the base of the volcanic rock, which rises almost vertical into the sky. From its twin peaks – White Tower Crag and the Beak – you can see for many miles.

Dumbarton was a great fortress and the capital of a kingdom that covered the area now known as Strathclyde.

The Rock was besieged several times. The assault by Viking kings Olaf and Ivar of Dublin in 870 was by far the worst. The pair carried off slaves and looted treasure in 200 longships following a four-month siege.

Medieval castle

Alexander II of Scotland built the medieval castle around 1220 as a defence against the threat from Norway, whose kings ruled the Hebrides and the islands in the Clyde.

In 1305, Sir John Menteith, keeper of Dumbarton Castle, caught Sir William Wallace and handed him over to the English for trial and execution.

The castle’s location away from Scotland’s political heartland lessened its importance somewhat. But it also made Dumbarton a good back door through which her rulers could come and go with relative ease. It sheltered David II (in 1333–4) and Mary Queen of Scots (in 1548) until ships could take them to France and safety.

Garrison fortress

When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561, to begin her personal reign, she landed at Leith. Dumbarton’s long and distinguished role as ‘gateway’ was over, but it remained a garrison fortress.

Substantial new artillery fortifications built in the 1600s and 1700s are what visitors see today. Nothing visible survives from the Dark Ages fortress, and precious little from the medieval castle.

Natural history

The castle rock:

  • was formed some 340 million years ago
  • displays some fine geological features of volcanic and glacial activity
Find out more about Dumbarton Castle

Details

Date Made
19th century
Dimensions
565 x 663mm
Property Information
Dumbarton Castle
Object Number
DUM175
Access Status
Storage

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