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Duffus Castle and Church by the late W. DOUGLAS SIMPSON, CBE, MA, D LITT, LL D FSA, FSA SCOT, HON FRIAS

 

 

HISTORY

EARLY in the sixteenth century the Italian scholar, Giovanni Ferrerio,was staying as a guest in Kinloss Abbey, and while there wrote a history of that monastery. In it he tells us that its founder, David I, stayed at Duffus Castle during the summer of 1151, while the masons were being collected and the work of building set in hand. The castles then newly built, belonged to Freskin, Lord of Strabrock in West Lothian, who had received a grant of the lands of Duffus from the King. Taking his patronymic from the Province in which he settled, Freskin de Moravia, Lord of Duffus, became the ancestor of the great family of de Moravia or Moray, which gave a succession of heroes to Scotland in her struggle for independence and today is represented by the ducal houses of Sutherland and Atholl. Like nearly all Norman castles in Scotland,Freskin's stronghold was fashioned not of stone and lime but of timbered earthwork. It consisted of a motte, or moated artificial mound, crested by a stout palisade and crowned with a wooden tower, the whole of which formed the keep or lord's residence. Attached to the motte was a bailey or basement, likewise enclosed within a palisaded bank and ditch, and containing the wooden buildings of the lord's household, hall, chamber, chapel, stable, byre, barn, smithy, dovecot, and the like. This bailey, while raised high enough above the surrounding plain for defensive purposes, was itself dominated by the lord's tower on the motte, which, having its own proper ditch, could be held against the bailey if that should fall.

About 1280 the line of Freskin ended in three heiresses, one of whom, Helen, married Sir Reginald le Chen, and so brought Duffus, or at least that part of the barony which contained the castle, to her husband. Within the castle, in September and October, 1290, the English commissioners sent by Edward I to receive the hapless Maid of Norway on her Duffus_Castle_Aerial_2.gif (13849 bytes)landing at Kirkwall, found shelter both on their northward journey and on their dolorous return. In 1297 the great revolt against English domination broke out in Moray. Sir Reginald le Chen remained true to his Plantagenet overlord. Three times his broad acres were harried and given to the flames and in 1305 he received from Edward I a grant of 200 oaks from the royal forests of Darnaway and Longmorn 'to build his manor of Dufhous'.

From this we may infer that the timber superstructure of Freskin's castle had been burned during those wild days. To judge by their architectural characteristics the stone tower and curtain wall were erected about this time; they closely resemble other buildings in Scotland which can be assigned to English occupation. Soon after 1350 the last Cheyne lord of Duffus died, leaving an heiress, Mary, who brought the barony to her husband, Nicholas, a son of the fourth Earl of Sutherland, and thus a descendant of the original house of Freskin. The castle remained in the hands of the Sutherlands of Duffus until it was sold in 1705 to Sir Archibald Dunbar, ancestor of the present owner. In 1650 they were raised to the peerage under the style of Lord Duffus but the title became extinct in 1875.

During the Douglas rebellion of 1452 the castle of Duffus was plundered and wrecked by the Earl of Moray's retainers sweeping east from Darnaway. Probably to this catastrophe we should ascribe the traces of fire still visible in the keep: to the restoration that followed will have been due the existing range of domestic buildings on the north side of the bailey.

The first Lord Duffus was a Covenanter and in February, 1645, his lands were 'plunderit, bot not burnt' by the Royalists under Montrose. The castle does not seem to have suffered on this occasion.

In April, 1689, it was visited by Claverhouse during his lightning campaign that ended at Killiecrankie. Kenneth, third Lord Duffus, was forfeited for his adherence to the Jacobite cause in 17I5 but the line was later restored. The castle seems to have been deserted when James, second Lord Duffus (1674-1705), built Duffus House, and no doubt its materials, particularly those of the domestic range, were freely used in its successor. In 1926 Sir Edward Dunbar handed over the custody of the castle to the then Commissioners of His Majesty's Works, by whom the site was excavated and the ruins and earthworks placed in a condition of repair.

 

DESCRIPTION

The grand Norman mound of Duffus Castle rises from the 'laich o'Moray', as has been finely said, 'like a boss on a buckler'. We approach it from the farm of Old Duffus and find our progress stopped by the wide outer ditch, enclosing about eight acres (3.2 hectares). This ditch, referred to in old writings as the 'great stank', must not be construed in terms of defence. It is merely a precinct enclosure, marking off the lord's demesne in the same way as the boundary wall that encloses the grounds of a modern country-house.

The ditch has been cleaned out and filled with water by the Department of the Environment. Turning to the left along it, we cross the ditch by a stone bridge and ascend the bank of the Norman bailey by a cobbled causeway, passing on the right a ruined building, probably a stable. In the course of our approach, it will have been noticed that a considerable part of the heavy stone keep, built on the forced soil of the Norman motte, has broken off and slipped bodily down the slope and that large portions of the curtain wall round the bailey have similarly tilted forward or slid down.

Unfortunately the main gate into the bailey is now represented only by a great gap in the curtain wall. Inside it, on the left, a small oven will be noticed, built of clay and stones and now preserved under a glass roof. In front, the great fourteenth-century stone tower, one of the most impressive in Scotland, proudly rises from the summit of the old Norman motte which is divided from the bailey by a wide and deep ditch.

The cobbled causeway continues along the front of the domestic range, which has been built against the northern curtain. Across the courtyard, on the south and west sides, joist-holes in the curtain indicate that there has been a range of timber buildings in this quarter. The masonry of the hall is later in character than that of the keep and curtain walls, which consist of small and low stones closely packed and regularly coursed, whereas the hall is mainly built of large boulders with a lavish use of pinnings. It is probable that the hall was rebuilt after the destruction of 1452. In its back wall a stair, of seventeenth-century date, has ascended to the upper floor and no doubt to the battlements. At the west end of the hall are two cellars, built in the motte ditch, into which they have partly sunk; beyond them again is a detached building, set into the slope of the motte. In front of the two cellars there has been a kind of vestibule, with a thin outer wall built of large ashlars, probably of the seventeenth century.

We now ascend the motte to the keep. This has been a very fine structure, marked by its superior architectural finish. Its walls rise from a doubly splayed ashlar plinth and the windows and other openings arc well wrought, with a broad outer chamber. The door is a modern, restoration and admits to a vestibule, running north and south along the front of the building, and carefully roofed with stone flags carried on continuous corbelling. Opening from this vestibule, on the south side of the entrance, a straight flight of steps led up to the main door into the hall and to a spiral stair which mounted from the first floor to the summit of the tower. Under this stair was the 'spit' or prison which must have been entered by a trap door. In the vestibule are preserved a number of carved fragments recovered during the excavations. The most notable of these has been affixed to the wall. It is part of the three-sided head of a door of fifteenth-century type and has been carved with grotesque creatures, wrought with uncommon spirit.

The interior of the keep has not been vaulted. It contained three stories and large timbers must have been required to floor it, the span being 11 m (36 feet): there was doubtless, however, a central row of posts. The great hall was on the first floor, where its fireplace flue may be seen in the west wall, while at the north-west corner, in the portion of the tower which has slid down the slope, were placed the latrines. The south wall of the keep is grievously distorted and fractured so that the window openings have been buckled, even telescoped.

The visitor should not omit to go outside the keep on the west side so as to see the magnificent wing-wall which fills up the ditch between the skirts of the mote and the bailey. Here the broad splayed plinth is stepped down the slope and the vertical sections are built in 'long and short work'. Doors from the keep, on either side, led out to the parapets of the bailey wall. A walk round the outside of this wall will show that it has contained three posterns, one on the west side near the keep, the second at the south-east corner, and the third on the east side, just where the curtain is broken off. Outside the curtain wall, on the north side, is a well.

 

DUFFUS OLD CHURCH

1.6 km to the north of the castle stands the old ruined parish church of Duffus, which is also maintained by the Department of the Environment, and is well worth a visit. The church was under the invocation of St Peter and was in existence as early as 1226. It contained a chapel dedicated to St Laurence, as well as an altar of St Catherine. The medieval portions which survive consist of the basement of a western tower and a porch on the south side. The porch was built by Alexander Sutherland, rector of the church in 1524, and displays his arms and initials on the keystone of its vault.

The outer door is pointed and has a row of well-carved rosettes in a hollow moulding. The vault within is quadripartite with ridge ribs:it is quite early in general style, but the details of its mouldings and capitals, and the florid Renaissance shield with the arms of Alexander Sutherland, place its true date beyond doubt. A tendency to hark back to early forms is characteristic of the latest phase of Scottish Gothic. Inside the church to the right of the porch is a holy-water stoup and to the left the remains of the spiral stair by which the upper rooms in the tower were reached.

The basement of the tower is covered by a barrel vault. It is lit by pointed loopholes with a broad chamber, like those at the castle. On its west front is a stone bearing the initials and arms of Alexander Sutherland.

The rest of the medieval church is now replaced by a dignified structure of the eighteenth century, Dufch11.JPG (18059 bytes)remarkable for the beautiful proportions of its windows. In the usual Presbyterian manner, the pulpit was in the middle of the south wall, and there were galleries on the north, east and west. These were reached by outside stairs against the north wall and the east gable. Two stones with the Sutherland armorial bearings are built into the north and south walls respectively. The Dunbar burial enclosure now lies outside the east end of the church. Inside the church are many interesting gravestones, mostly of the early sixteenth century.

To the south stands a fine churchyard cross, over 4.3 m (14 feet) high. Dufch10.JPG (15130 bytes)The graveyard was formerly surrounded by a causewayed path, made by a party of Cromwell's Ironsides who were stationed here, possibly in the castle.

Like the castle, the church was burned during the rising of 1298 and the rector received a gift of 20 oaks from Edward I to repair it. In addition to the parish church, the lord of the manor had a private chapel for the use of his household. This chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was founded before 1222. It stood on the farm of Unthank, to the south-west of the castle.

THIS MONUMENT is one of those held in trust for the nation by the Secretary of State for Scotland and cared for on his behalf by the Department of the Environment.

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