Living as I do in Perth, my latest historical blog, features a castle just along the road – originally called The Palace of Ruthven, the castle comprised of a single tower house built by Clan Ruthven in the mid 15th century. By the end of that century a second L-Plan tower was built next to this at a distance of about 3 metres to the west, the two towers were connected by a draw bridge that crossed the gap, this was so that the occupants could escape to the opposite tower if either one was taken in an attack. In 1582 the castle was held by William Ruthven, 4th Lord Ruthven and 1st Earl of Gowrie, it was he who perpetrated the treacherous act that became known as the ‘Raid of Ruthven’, where members of the Gowrie family plotted to and successfully kidnap the young King James VI. They held him at the castle for about ten months during which time they tried to gain power by controlling the king, but James eventually managed to escape. By this act, the King should have executed the Gowries but instead foolishly showed leniency, after a second attempt by Gowrie to overthrow the King, he had him executed at Stirling Castle then seized his property.
By 1586 the Ruthvens were back in favour with the king and their castle was restored to them once more. In 1600 the brothers Alexander and John Ruthven were accused, some say falsely of attempting to kidnap King James again, they were killed at Gowrie House, the Ruthven family home in Perth by an overwhelming number of the king’s men. This time the king showed no mercy to the Ruthvens, he had them stripped of all their lands and titles. He then abolished the name Ruthven, thus ending the house of Ruthven. The castle was renamed at this point to that which we know it as today, Huntingtower Castle.
By 1717 the castle was now in the hands of John Murray, 1st Duke of Atholl (Earls of Tullibardine and later dukes of Atholl). By 1767 the castle was being used as a bunkhouse for farm labourers and the last inhabitants at the castle were the family of the castle’s custodian Neil Cowan, who left in late 2002. A notable feature at the castle are the many wall paintings of the 16th century that include animals, biblical scenes, a version of the Green Man and a nearly complete decorative scheme on a wooden ceiling. Today the castle is in the care of Historical Scotland and can be visited at any reasonable time throughout the year. As with many Scottish castles, Huntingtower has a ghost known as Lady Greensleeves. Over the years there has been many sightings of a woman in a long green dress moving through the castle, her presence has been seen as a warning of ill omen to come. It is thought that the ghost is of the 1st Earl of Gowrie’s daughter Dorothea, who had fallen in love with one of the servants at the castle. At night she would sneak into the lads bed chamber in the higher east tower where they could be alone but one night they heard the foot steps of the girls mother as she crossed the wooden bridge between the two towers. In order to escape capture, Dorothea had no choice but to make the death defying leap across the gap and back to her own rooms. The following morning the couple eloped leaving no clue to where they had gone.
There is a spring by the road to the north east of the castle which is said to have healing properties but in order for the water to work, the person who collects the it must do so without uttering a single word or sound until they have returned with the water. It is customary to leave a small token behind at the well, such as a coin or charm, when collecting water, in order to cure an ailment. The castle is a wee drive from Perth city centre on the Crieff road. It is a semi ruin but still retains all the atmosphere of a lived in castle. Huntingtower Castle has hosted some notable visitors and been party to some dramatic events. Most famously, Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in 1565, whilst on honeymoon with Lord Darnley. That is another (long) story. Wonder aloud over the castle’s odd layout – its’ two closely placed tower houses form an unusual arrangement, see the painted ceiling dating from about 1540 and painted plasterwork of a similar date, the secret hiding place used for Ruthven treasures – a cupboard within a cupboard, hidden behind a stone, ask the castle warden at the gate!
The Ruthven lands in Perthshire, Scotland take their name from the Scottish Gaelic, Ruadhainn which means Dun uplands. The clan chief’s family are of Norse origin. They first settled in East Lothian but by the end of the twelfth century they were in Perthshire. Between 1188 and 1199, Swein (Sven) is recorded as giving lands that included Tibbermore to the Monks of Scone. Swein’s grandson was Sir Walter Ruthven who was the first to adopt the name Ruthven. Sir Walter Ruthven swore fealty to Edward I of England in 1291 and 1296. However, in 1297, he had led thirty men to help William Wallace at the siege of Perth. Ruthven was also with Christopher Seaton when Jedburgh was reclaimed from the English. In 1313, Perth was recaptured and Robert the Bruce appointed Sir William Ruthven to be sheriff of the royal burgh, which was then called St Johnston (the name of the city football premier league club).
The Clan Charteris of Kinfauns (the other side of Perth) are said to have received their lands as a reward for supporting Robert the Bruce against the English. However, they came into a feud with the Ruthvens (who often disputed the authority of the Charterises). The Ruthvens held considerable sway over Perth from their Huntingtower Castle. In 1544, Patrick, Lord Ruthven, was elected as Provost of Perth but at the intervention of Cardinal Beaton, Ruthven was deprived of the office and Charteris of Kinfauns was appointed instead. The city refused to acknowledge Charteris and barred the gates against him. Charteris along with Lord Gray and the Clan Leslie then attacked the town. However, they were repulsed by the Ruthvens, who were assisted by the Clan Moncreiffe.
As you can see, there is a lot of history in and around the old capital of Scotland – Perth.