Within the Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre, we have an interesting exhibition, complete with a newly installed museum grade display case and intricate models showing the settlement’s evolution from Iron Age hill fort, to a castle fit for King Robert II and his household, in the 14th century.
We also have a great selection of dress-up clothes and accessories for our visitors to gain the full medieval experience.
The Dark Age Hill Fort c.500AD
The first of our models is an imaginative reconstruction of the hill fort which existed about 1500 years ago. Hill forts such as this were common throughout the British Isles and beyond and their origins can be traced back to the Bronze Age as is the case at Dundonald. The hill fort lay within the British kingdom of Strathclyde and was probably the stronghold of a chieftain of some importance.
The hill fort was to be further developed as a dun with rectangular buildings replacing the early roundhouses. Pottery finds indicating a trade in perfumes and other luxury goods from the continent indicate that the dun continued to be possessed by a chieftain or sub-king. One of these may have been the Donald whose names survives to this day as Dundonald or Donald’s fort.
The Late 12th Century Motte and Bailey
In 1070 King Malcolm III married Princess Margaret, an English refugee from the Norman Conquest. One of their younger sons, David the Earl of Huntingdon, was to return to Scotland to become its king in 1124. David had spent most of his life at the Anglo-Norman court and he brought with him from England the younger sons of nobles anxious to have lands of their own. Among these was Robert de Brus, the ancestor of the victor at Bannockburn and Walter Fitzallan who was made high steward and given lands in the west of Scotland.
The Normans introduced castles to England in the form of the motte and bailey built of wood on earthen mounds and surrounded by ditches. The motte with its tower provided a last refuge in the event of an attack while the bailey comprised all the buildings – feasting hall, chapel, stables etc. required by a great lord. In some respects the bailey was similar to Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlements all of which centred on the feasting hall. The Norman innovation was the motte with its wooden tower, the precursor of the great stone built castles of the thirteenth century.
Walter Fitzallan was probably responsible for the construction of the motte and bailey castle built at Dundonald in the middle of the twelfth century.
The Late 13th Century Castle
This was built in the middle of the thirteenth century for Alexander Stewart, a descendant of Walter Fitzallan, and would have been a formidable fortification occupying the whole of the castle hill and with gatehouses in the French style at its eastern and western perimeters. At this time the western isles of Scotland were part of the king of Man and the Western Isles were claimed in turn by the Vikings of Norway who twice during the century raided in the Firth of Clyde.
This second castle was probably destroyed in the early years of the Wars of Independence. William Wallace and Andrew de Moray defeated an English army at Stirling Bridge in 1297. This led to a reprisal by King Edward I who defeated Wallace at Falkirk in 1298 and then led his army west into Ayrshire. The royal castle in Ayr was destroyed, possibly on the orders of Robert the Bruce, to prevent it falling into the hands of the English and it seems likely that Dundonald Castle was destroyed at the same time. The lord of the castle, James Stewart, was a close ally of Robert the Bruce.
The Third Castle c.1450
The third castle was built about 1371 when Robert Stewart, grandson of Robert the Bruce, became king of Scotland on the death of his uncle, David II. At this time there was a marked departure in the design of castles in Scotland which tower houses replacing the earlier castles of enceinte. Dundonald, along with David II’s tower in Edinburgh Castle and Threave Castle, are impressive examples of this new style which was to typify Scottish Castles in succeeding centuries. This third castle, built on the ruins of the west gatehouse of the previous castle, is particularly impressive for its scale and for its two feasting halls with their stone vaulted roofs.
These four models were designed based on what is currently known about the castle’s history. We are undertaking archaeological investigations to try and put together a more complete story of the castle’s history which may or may not comprehend what these models are demonstating. For more up to date information, please get in touch.