Often referred to as Tarnaway Castle, Darnaway Castle is a looming mansion located in the heart of Darnaway Forest roughly 3 miles southwest of Forres in Moray, Scotland. Being rebuilt in 1810, it retains its original staple piece, the old banqueting hall that is able to accommodate 1,000 people.
The history of Darnaway Castle
Darnaway Castle sits strongly on the same site that once housed many early castles that date back to around the 13th century. Nowadays, it is the private residence of the Earl of Moray and his family. There is a lot to know about this gorgeous imposing mansion situated in Scotland.
The early history
It is likely that the very first castle was built by Sir Thomas Randolph. In 1346, John, 3rd Earl, died at the Battle of Neville’s Cross without any male heirs to take his place. This then meant that the earldom went to Patrick Dunbar who was the husband of one of John’s daughters.
In around 1430, the male line of the Dunbar family failed, and the earldom fell into the hands of the Douglas family. In 1455, when Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray died in Battle fighting with his brothers against the powerful King James III, who had decided to curb the power wielded by the Douglas family, the Moray title and estate were forfeited. This was done along with various other Douglas family possessions.
Then, Darnaway Castle passed to the Murray family, then the Stuart family. The castle now remains in the hands of their descendants to this day.
The Banqueting Hall
The only remaining portion of the original castle erected in 1450 is the banqueting hall. Erected by Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray, it retains its original 15th-century hammer-beam roof. This makes it one of only two medieval halls within Scotland with its original roof. It is extremely unique and has been described as such many times.
The Darnaway Forest was an incredibly important source of timber that many people relied on back then. In March of 1497, King James IV sent the famed priest David Arnot to supervise the carpenters taking great trees for the royal artillery. The hall was then re-roofed with ‘spune thack’, wooden shingles hewn by a carpenter on the command of James IV.
James IV Mistress
In 1501, the maidens of Forres came to Darnaway in order to sing for him. Janet Kennedy, James IV’s mistress stayed at Darnaway with their beloved children and her companion Katrine Douglas. Then, in 1502, he sent a lutenist named Adam Dickson to Darnaway Castle to keep his mistress, children, and companion entertained.
A couple of years later, in 1504, he brought four Italian minstrels and the famed African drummer known as the ‘More taubroner’. The maidens of Forres danced for him and the next day it was the maidens of Darnaway. In 1505, he played cards at Darnaway Castle while watching dancing described as “capers” or “capparis” in the hall.
The hall was already quite famous in 1562 when English observer, Thomas Randolph, described it as “verie fayer and large builded.” Mary, Queen of Scots also visited on 10 September 1562.
In 1589, James VI stayed at Darnaway Castle. Then, in 1590, a huge feud began between the Earl of Huntly and the Earl of Moray after the widow of the Grant of Ballindalloch married John Gordon, son of Thomas Gordon of Cluny. Frustrations arose when one of John Grant’s servants was killed by Grant, former Tutor of Ballindalloch, the administrator of the estate.
In 1590, the Earl of Huntly stormed over to Ballindalloch to arrest the Tutor for the murder. The Chief of Grant, John Grant of Freuchie promised to deliver the Tutor and his accomplices, accused of murder and other crimes, to Huntly Castle when this all happened.
However, Freuchie joined with the Tutor’s men and the Earl of Moray and came to Darnaway. It was there that he shot pistols at Huntly’s officers and cannons from the castle. John Gordon, brother of the Laird of Cluny, was subsequently killed.
Demolishing Darnaway Castle
In 1625, the Earls of Moray moved into a brand-new tower house at Castle Stuart near Inverness. In doing so, they left Darnaway Castle as a secondary home. In the 17th century, the castle hosted a troop of Cromwell’s Soldiers. In 1810, the old castle was completely demolished with the only exception being Randolph’s Hall.
The hall was then completely reclad and redecorated to match the rest of the now modernised mansion.
The current day
In 1900, the castle was once again remodeled. It has remained the same ever since. To this day, the Earl of Moray and his family still live there. It is very rarely open to the public.
Another beautiful castle to explore in Scotland is Floors Castle.
Darnaway Castle Timeline
- 1346- John, 3rd Earl, dies at the Battle of Neville’s Cross without any male heirs to take his place
- 1430- The male line of the Dunbar family fails, and the earldom falls into the hands of the Douglas family
- 1455- Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray dies in Battle fighting with his brothers against the powerful King James III, who had decided to curb the power wielded by the Douglas family
- 1450- The banqueting hall is built
- 1497- King James IV sends the famed priest David Arnot to supervise the carpenters taking great trees for the royal artillery.
- 1501- The maidens of Forres come to Darnaway in order to sing for King James IV
- 1502- King James IV sends a lutenist named Adam Dickson to Darnaway Castle to keep his mistress, children, and companion entertained
- 1504- King James IV brings four Italian minstrels and the famed African drummer known as the ‘More taubroner’
- 1505- King James IV plays cards at Darnaway Castle while watching dancing described as “capers” or “capparis” in the hall
- 1562- An English observer, Thomas Randolph, describes the castle as, “verie fayer and large builded”
- 1562- Mary, Queen of Scots visits the castle
- 1589- James VI stays at Darnaway Castle
- 1590- A huge feud begins between the Earl of Huntly and the Earl of Moray after the widow of the Grant of Ballindalloch married John Gordon, son of Thomas Gordon of Cluny
- 1590- The Earl of Huntly storms over to Ballindalloch to arrest the Tutor for murder
- 1625- The Earls of Moray move into a brand-new tower house at Castle Stuart near Inverness
- 17th century- The castle hosts a troop of Cromwell’s Soldiers. In 1810, the old castle was completely demolished with the only exception being Randolph’s Hall
- 1900- The castle is once again remodelled
Darnaway Castle facts
- The name Darnaway represents an anglicisation of the Gaelic form Taranaich
- Darnaway Castle is also often referred to as Tarnaway Castle
- The earliest castle on the site was built sometime in the 13th century
- Mary, Queen of Scots once visited the castle
- James VI once stayed at Darnaway Castle
Who owns Darnaway Castle?
Nowadays, the castle is owned by the Earl of Moray. It is the private residence of him and his family. It is rarely open to the public for this reason. While the Earl and his family aren’t directly responsible for caring for everything, they do have a hands-on approach.
Unfortunately, Darnaway Castle is very rarely open to the public. When it does open, you have to be quick to book tickets as they sometimes sell out in only minutes. Nearby, you can visit Brodie Castle, Glenfiddich Distillery, The Glenlivet Distillery, The Macallan Estate, Elgin Cathedral, and Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens.