fp-1.1 Ancient History

Findlater Castle

Research notes by Findlay Pirie (Volume 1.1)


From “The Banffshire Journal Annual 1971”: -

THE REIGN OF TERROR 1793 -Raising Fencibles in our North-East – by Dr. A.A. Cormack

Findlater Castle

You may well ask – why did this last Earl of Findlater and Seafield live in Germany for the last twenty years of his life, 1791-1811, away from his wife, amid the long bitter wars between France and Britain. Let me explain.

When in 1959 Castle Grant was vacated, the Grant family library, 1503-1811, was transferred to Cullen House with portraits, furnishings, arms, etc., I was invited to list the books for sale at Christie’s, London. Inside an old book, I found a letter of explanation dated 1797.

One day in 1791 the Earl of Findlater and Seafield was expecting a visit for lunch of Brodie of Brodie, who was returning from Aberdeen on horseback, accompanied by his male servant. As Brodie was late, the Earl postponed the meal. When Brodie did arrive, he apologised, explaining that he had been delayed in Aberdeen at the launching of a vessel – the “Duchess of Gordon,” which was to carry goods and passengers coastwise to the small Moray Firth ports. It was the latest in Moray Firth smacks.

The Earl had had disputes over salmon fishings with the Duchess, Bonnie Jean, the recruiter, by kissing, of Gordon Highlanders 1743-1812, wife of Alexander, Fourth Duke of Gordon. Brodie, waxing eloquent over this fine new vessel, emphasised its novel feature – it had a copper bottom on which to rest high and dry at every low tide in the small harbours. Whereat the Earl commented sourly, “Weel, Brodie, I aye kent that yer Duchess had a brass neck and a brazen face, but I niver kent she had a copper bottom.” The narrative did not use the word bottom but a four letter word beginning with ‘A’.

Findlater castle 1500′s

This story was too good for Brodie to keep to himself. When it reached the Duchess of Gordon, she instructed her law agent to take action for slander in the House of Lords against the earl of Findlater and Seafield. At once the Earl betook himself to Dresden in Germany in 1791 and died there in 1811. He had taken with him from 1791 to 1799 his butler David Clark and David’s wife, whose son James, born at Cullen House in 1788, was boarded out in Cullen from 1791 to 1799. This boy James later became Sir James Clark, Bart. of Tillypronie, physician to Queen Victoria. See my booklet “Two Royal Physicians – classmates at Fordyce Academy.”

The vessel, the “Duchess of Gordon” was lost at sea on 14th March 1809*, with a man James Duff, aged 22, on board, son of the Rev. Robert Duff, M.A. D.D., King Edward, who was a natural son of William Duff of Braco, later Earl of Fife, patron of King Edward, thereby presenter of ministers to that parish.


Antiquities & Scenery of North of Scotland in a Series of Letters to THOMAS PENNANT Esq., by the REV. CHARLES CORDINER, Minister of St. Andrews Chapel, Banff. 1880: -

June 3rd. 1776 -

On a peninsulated rock, betwixt Portsoy and Cullen, lie the remains of Castle Findlater. The top of the rock has been so thoroughly covered with buildings, that the outer walls, particularly fronting the sea, precisely correspond with the face of the precipice. Owing to the irregular surface of the rock, some of the lower rooms are so contrived, as to having their inner ends of the solid mass, well cut, and in many places the plastering remains on it entire. The apartments are strongly vaulted above, and have large windows, which look to the sea; but there seems to have been little else than dead walls on those parts of the rock which are next the neck that joins it to the main. About a hundred yards from the isthmus there are conspicuous vestiges of a double rampart, which has been drawn, round as an outwork to defend the castle. Within the rampart are the remains of several stone buildings, probably store-houses, stables &c. and an area, ample enough for exercising many hundred men.

The castle was relinquished by the family of Findlater, for more commodious and inland seats, towards the end of James 5th’s reign. The dawn of a more auspicious age, when civil discords were subsiding, would be sufficient inducement to the noblemen and chieftains, to choose more fertile and pleasant situations, where they could plant, have gardens, and enjoy rural entertainment.


Banffshire Reporter, Wednesday, August 26 1903: -

LOCAL NOTES: – To the west of Sandend, occupying the top of a high rock, stands the ruins of Findlater Castle, once the chief stronghold of the Ogilvies of Deskford and Findlater. It had entrenchments on the mainland in front. The Ogilvie family obtained this castle by marriage in 1437. The legend attached to it is that while the nurse was amusing the heir, a mere child, at an open window, he jumped from her arms and fell into the gulf below. The girl jumped after the child, but both were soon lost in the abyss. It is said that after this the family lost all taste for the castle, and it began to decay.

(Book 1.1/Findlater Castle)

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One Response to fp-1.1 Ancient History

  1. I am now not sure where you are getting your info, however great topic. I needs to spend a while finding out more or figuring out more. Thanks for wonderful info I used to be in search of this information for my mission.

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