Dingwall Castle was once an important castle, and possibly the birthplace of MacBeth, but now only a few ruins remain.
Whether or not MacBeth was born at Dingwall Castle, supposedly around the year 1005, seems up for debate, as the details of his early life are far from clear. What is known is that in the late 12th century a motte and bailey castle was built here for William the Lion at the mouth of the River Peffrey where it discharges into the Cromarty Firth.
This earth and wood castle was replaced with a stone one, and it is marked on Matthew Paris’ map, published around 1250, as “Castrum Dinkeval”. From 1291 until 1292 Sir William of Braytoft (Willelmus de Braitofthe) was the keeper of Dingwall Castle (as well as Inverness Castle). During the Wars of Independence, as a royal castle Dingwall was held temporarily for Edward I of England.
In 1308 Robert the Bruce granted the burgh of Dingwall to Uilleam II, the Mormaer or Earl of Ross (also known as William of Ross), despite Uilleam having earlier sided with Edward against Bruce. Uilleam would later go on to fight alongside Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn. The Earls of Ross subsequently held Dingwall Castle for the Crown.
When the male Ross line failed with the death of Uilleam II’s grandson Uilleam III, the Earldom or Mormaerdom of Ross passed to Uilleam III’s daughter, Euphemia, who became Countess of Ross. Euphemia married Sir Walter Leslie and had two children, Alexander Leslie, who succeeded his mother to the Earldom, and Mariota, who married Domhnall of Islay, the Lord of the Isles.
Upon the death of Alexander Leslie in 1402 his daughter became Euphemia II, although she doesn’t seem to have had much influence over her earldom, being a ward of her maternal grandfather, Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany and Regent from 1406 following the capture of the infant James I.
Mariota and Domhnall were unhappy about Albany’s influence, and in 1411 the Lord of the Isles attacked and took Dingwall Castle by force, prior to the Battle of Harlaw. The battle was intended to settle the competing claims for the Earldom of Ross, and while the Lord of the Isles was defeated, they continued to press their claim.
In 1415 Albany persuaded Euphemia II to resign the earldom in favour of his son, John Stewart, the Earl of Buchan, which was again opposed by Domhnall.
When a ransom was paid to the English for James I in 1424, he returned to Scotland, and executed the Duke of Albany’s successor and son, Murdoch Stewart, destroying their power. He was also concerned about the power and influence of the Lord of the Isles however, and in 1428 defeated Mariota and Domhnall’s son, Alexander, in battle at Lochaber, then took the castles of Dingwall and Urquhart by force.
James later forgave Alexander however, and he became Earl of Ross in 1437, with Dingwall Castle being his main seat. He was succeeded by his son, John of Islay, who was to be the last Lord of the Isles. After fighting against James III, John was stripped of the Earldom of Ross in 1475, and Dingwall Castle captured by George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. The estates were placed in the care of John Munro, 11th Baron of Foulis, who became the governor.
In 1480 John was succeeded as governor by Sir Andrew Munro, 2nd of Milntown. The following year James III’s second son, James Stewart, was created Earl of Ross. Upon James III’s death in 1488, his first son came to the throne as James IV, and elevated his brother from Earl of Ross to Duke of Ross. The same year Sir James Dunbar of Cumnock became the governor of Dingwall Castle.
Some time prior to his death in 1506, Sir David Sinclair of Sumburgh, illegitimate son of William Sinclair, the 3rd Earl of Orkney and 1st Earl of Caithness, was the Keeper of Dingwall Castle.
Early in the 16th century, considerable work seems to have been done on Dingwall Castle. Following a visit by James IV to his royal castle in 1503, soon after his wedding, improvements were made and the castle significantly strengthened A new Great Hall was built at a cost of 20 pounds in 1507, and other repairs made. From 1504 until 1513 “Thomas the mason” was apparently the master mason at Dingwall Castle.
In 1507 Andrew Stewart (the elder), Bishop of Caithness, son of John Stewart the 1st Earl of Atholl, carried out some improvements to the castle after it had been attacked by the MacDonalds and the MacKenzies. Land around the castle was bought to make the approach easier to defend.
Stewart was followed as governor by his brother, John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Atholl, who was in charge of the castle from 1516 until 1522. He in turn was succeeded by James Stewart, the Earl of Moray and half-brother of James V, from 1523 onwards.
During the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, George Munro, 4th of Milntown, was appointed bailie and chamberlain of the Earldom of Ross and the lordship of Ardmeanach, so becoming the next governor of Dingwall Castle.
In 1584 Andrew Keith of Forsa was created the 1st Lord Dingwall by James VI, and made governor of the castle. Keith died some time before 1606, but had previously resigned his estates and honours to William Keith of Delney, possibly in 1593. However William appears not to have taken up the title Lord Dingwall, and in 1608 the Crown sold the barony and the constabulary and keepership of the castle to James Elphinstone, 1st Lord Balmerino.
Possibly due to Balmerino’s fall from grace, he transferred these to Sir Richard Preston of Craigmillar in 1690. A favourite of James VI, he was created Lord Dingwall and Constable of Dingwall Castle. Following the death of James VI in 1625 Dingwall Castle seems to have been abandoned by the Crown, at a time when Tulloch Castle was in the ascendancy.
Preston was succeeded in 1628 by his daughter Elizabeth, as Lady Dingwall, and following her death in 1684 the castle passed to her heir and grandson, James Butler, 2nd Baron Butler of Moore Park, (later 2nd Duke of Ormonde) who became the 3rd Lord Dingwall. Butler held various offices and commands in England in particular, which he lost following the ascension of George I in 1714.
As a result, Butler supported James VII in the rising of 1715, after which his Scottish, Irish and English titles, honours and estates were forfeited to the Crown. Dingwall Castle was subsequently bought by William Munro of Ardullie, although by the mid-18th century the it was derelict and in ruins.
The castle passed through Munro’s daughter to her son, the Reverend Colin Mackenzie, the minister of Fodderty, just outside Dingwall. He used it as a quarry, removing stone to build farmhouses at Fodderty and Millmain, while one of his sons made fertiliser from the castle’s limestone.
In the 19th century more stone was taken to build new houses in Dingwall, and by 1817 the site was levelled, leaving just the few remnants that can be seen today. In 1820 Captain Donald Maclennan built a new house, known as the Castle House, partly from some of the remaining sandstone of the old castle.
Today a section of ruined masonry from the old castle still stands next to the driveway. It consists of a small circular tower around 2.6m tall, with a diameter of around 3.4m and walls around 0.5m thick. Projecting from the north-west side of the tower is a section of wall around 1.5m in length, while attached to the north-east side is a large chunk of masonry around 3.0m in height and around 3.2m in width.
Around 10.0m to the south-west of the tower is an entrance to an underground chamber with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The chamber measures around 5.0m in length by around 1.8m wide, with the ceiling at a height of around 1.7m in its centre.
On Castle Street is a rebuilt doocot taking the form of a small castellated tower. The doocot may have been built by the aforementioned Andrew Stewart, Bishop of Caithness, in 1507, although judging by its style and condition it was presumably rebuilt at a time contemporary with the building of Castle House.
The doocot does however have some interesting features. An octagonal tower of around 4.0m in height and around 3.7m in diameter, on three of the south-facing sides there are gun loops piercing the walls, which are 0.6m thick.
On the east side of the doocot are a fireplace and a doorway. It has been suggested that the doocot may originally have been one of the corner towers of Dingwall Castle, although if it is in its original position then it may more likely be part of an outer wall surrounding the castle.
A tunnel is said to have connected Dingwall Castle with Tulloch Castle, part of which can still be seen through an air vent on the front lawn of Tulloch Castle. The tunnel has apparently collapsed, and the exact position of the Dingwall end has been lost.
However since Dingwall Castle is around 1.45km from Tulloch Castle, and the tunnel would have to have crossed the River Peffrey, it seems rather an unlikely story.