History of the Castle
The earliest known written reference to the site is to be found in the Annals of Ulster record a siege of Dún Fother in 681. Dunnottar is also mentioned as a site for a battle between King Donald II and the Danish Vikings in 900 AD. A raid into Scotland via land and sea by King Aethelstan of Wessex in 934 included an attack on Dunnottar.
William the Lion used Dunnottar as an administrative complex. King Domnall II was the first man to have been called rí Alban (i.e. King of Alba), when he died at Dunnottar in 900 AD. All his predecessors styled themselves as either King of the Picts or King of Fortriu.
William Wallace is said to have led the Scots to victory over the English at Dunnottar in 1296. The outcome was completed by Wallace imprisoning and burning alive the defeated English soldiers in Dunnottar castle church.
By 1336 the resources of Edward III of England ordered Willam Sinclair, 8th Baron of Roslin to sail eight ships to the partially ruined Dunnottar castle for the purpose of rebuilding and fortifying to use as a forward supply base for the northern campaign. Sinclair took with him 160 soldiers, horses, and a corps of masons and carpenters English efforts were undone when the Scottish Regent Sir Andrew Moray led a Scottish force that captured the same year and again destroyed the castle defences at Dunnottar.
By the close of the 14th century, Dunnottar was under Scottish control, owned the Clan Keith, whose chiefs were hereditary Earls Marischal of Scotland. The castle was rebuilt and augmented over generations by the Earls Marischal, including a large scale reconstruction under George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal (d. 1623), founder of Marischal College, Aberdeen (1593).
Early in the 16th century the Keiths added a new block to the east of the castle keep.
Mary, Queen of Scots, visited Dunnottar Castle in 1562 and again in 1564.
In 1575 a stone gatehouse to the castle was constructed, which serves as the present day visitor's entrance.
James VI was in residence for a portion 1580.
From 1580 to 1650 the Earl Marischals converted a medieval style fortress into a decorative castle, constructing ranges of edifices around a quadrangle on the northeast. These resulted in luxurious living quarters.
Between 1582 and 1584 a west wing to the fcastle was erected. Also, during the 16th century, a new chapel was built. Then, early in the 17th century two other wings to the chapel were added.
In 1639 the owner of Dunnottar was William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal. In that year he joined the Covenanters, in opposition to the established Episcopal Church and consequently in opposition to King Charles I himself. James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, an ally of Marischal, attempted to return him to the Royalist side. Unsuccessful in his attempt, Montrose attacked the fortress, and set firs to the surrounding fields. Marischal held the fortress but it sustained structural damage.
Simultaneously the Covenanters met at a conference in nearby Muchalls Castle. Events at Dunnottar and Muchalls Castles were important during the English Civil War, and played a role in the reconciliation between the monarchy and the Covenanters.
King Charles II was received in a visit to Earl Marischal in 1650; but in 1651 the English General Overton began a siege of Dunnottar Castle seeking the prize of Scotland's Regalia, the royal crown, sword and sceptre used in the coronation of Charles II at Scone Palace. The castle was defended by a small garrison of approximately 70 men. Governor Sir George Ogilvy of Barras surrendered to Overton's predecessor, General Morgan; however, the English were denied the Regalia, which had been smuggled away during the siege by Anne Lindsay.
In 1685, during the rebellion of Argyll and Monmouth, 125 men and 42 women were herded into the dungeon known as the "Whigs Vault" in the Dunnottar Castle. Many perished in the prison; the survivors were transported to the West Indies.
Both Jacobites and Hanoverians used Dunnottar Fortress. In 1689 during Viscount Dundee's campaign, fourteen suspected Jacobites from Aberdeen were held in the fortress for about a year, including George Liddel, professor of mathematics.
In 1715 the Dunnottar cannons were used by the Jacobites. Following this uprising all the possessions of the Earl Mariscal were forfeit, and the fortress was dismantled three years later.
After the seizure of Dunnottar from the Earl Marischals, the castle was neglected until it was purchased by the Cowdray family in 1925. The 1st Viscountess Cowdray embarked on a programme of repair. Since that time the Castle has remained in the Cowdray (Pearson) family, and has been open to visitors.
The Hon Charles Anthony Pearson, the younger son of the Third Viscount Cowdray, currently owns and runs Dunnottar Castle which is part of the larger Dunecht Estates. Dunecht Estates extends to 53,000 acres and comprises seven different Estates – Dunecht Estate, Ramoir and Campfield Estate, Dunnottar Castle, Forest of Birse, Edinglassie Estate, West Durris Estate and Bucharn Estate.