Threave Castle

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Threave Castle, a fine ruin in Balmaghie parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, on an islet formed by the river Dee, 1½ mile W of Castle-Douglas. A tall, square, battlemented tower, massive but roofless, it is surrounded by remains of a strong outer wall, with circular towers at the four angles. It was built by Archibald, 'the Grim,' third Earl of Douglas, towards the close of the 14th century on the site of a fortalice of Alan, the last native lord of Galloway; and William, eighth Earl of Douglas, kept here in 1451 a retinue of more than a thousand armed men. Threave was the scene in 1452 of the murder of Sir Patrick Maclellan, the tutor of Bombie; and in 1455 it was the last of the Douglas fortresses to surrender to James II., who employed 'Mons Meg' against it. (See Douglas Castle, Edinburgh, and Kelton.) After the fall of the Douglases, the castle went into the possession of the Crown; but it was afterwards transferred to the family of Maxwell, who became Earls of Nithsdale and hereditary keepers of Threave and stewards of Kirkcudbright. During the troubles of Charles I. the Earl of Nithsdale, at his own expense, held this castle for the King, and armed, paid, and victualled a garrison of 80 men; nor did he flinch, till the king, unable to send him any assistance, instructed him to obtain the best conditions he could for himself and his garrison. The Earls, as keepers of the castle, received from each parish of Kirkcudbrightshire 'a lardner mart cow,' or a fattened cow in condition to be killed and salted at Martinmas for winter provision; and, in 1704, when they sold the circumjacent estate, they, for the sake of this perquisite, retained the castle itself. In 1716, at the attainder of the fifth Earl, the levy of the 'lardner mart cow' fell into desuetude; and, in 1747, at the abolition of hereditary jurisdictions, the last vestiges of the ancient power and importance of the castle disappeared. Threave House, on Kelton Hill, 1½ mile S of Castle-Douglas, is a Scottish Baronial edifice of 1873, the seat of William Gordon, Esq., who acquired the estate of Threave in 1870, and who holds 1469 acres in the shire, valued at £2025 per annum.—Ord. Sur., sh. 5, 1857.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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