Castle Huntly, or Castle Lyon as it was known for a time must surely be one of the most imposing strongholds of all the Scottish Castles built in the lofty tower and jamb style of the fifteenth century of local sandstone it radiated endurance and continuity. Today when viewed from the east it portrays the simplistic Georgian elegance of a fine country house with elegant gardens and sweeping driveways through mature parklands, but from the west it retains its full Fifteenth century baronial austerity.
The exact date when the story begins is unknown but it is considered as having been built by the Baron Gray of Fowlis some time after 1452, when a special licence was granted by James II in acknowledgement of his many faithful services. The castle was founded on a precipitous rock which rose from the level but marshy plain around it, the only substantial access route being a rocky causeway from the north.
The Lyons of Glamis (1614 to 1776)
Lyons of Glamis already held lands in Longforgan and the Mains at the Castle partly through the dower of Elizabeth, daughter of the second Lord Gray who married John, 6th Lord Glamis in 1487, and partly through mortgages to Patrick 9th Lord Glamis and first Earl of Kinghorne, born 1575, the latter purchased Castle Huntly and whole estates for 40,000 Merks in 1614.
Patrick, Earl of Kinghorne who became first Earl of Strathmore, only lived one year after that date, but had commenced to repair the castle which had fallen into a bad condition during the occupancy of the last few Grays. As his grandson stated in his Book of Record:-
“It was a place of no consideration, fitt for nothing else but as a place of refuge in time of trouble, wherein a man might make himselfe a prisoner; and in the meantime might therein be protected from a flying partie, but was never of any strength, or to have been accounted a stronghold to endure a siege, or a place capable to hold so many as with necessarie provisions could hold out long, or by salleys to doe much prejudice to an enemie, and such houses truly are worn quyt out of fashione, as feuds are, which is a great happiness, the cuntrie being generally more civilized than it was of ancient times, and my owne opinion, when troublesome times are, it is more safe for a man to keep the feilds than to inclose himselfe in the walls of a house, so that there is no man more against these old fashion of tours and castles than I am and I wish everie man who has such houses would reform them for who can delight to live in his house as in a prisone”.
When in London, the first Earl Patrick was much taken up with the many noble buildings then being erected and furnished there. He was evidently determined to bring up to date his old Castle, the name of which he changed from Huntly to Lyon which latter name continued to be used until 1776 when a new owner restored the old name. He bought a good deal of fine furniture and furnishings for the improvement of his Castle and shipped his purchases from London to Dundee. As there were no bricks made in Scotland until long after his day he probably brought bricks for his ice-house in the same manner. The Earl also brought statuary for the embellishment of his gardens and introduced many new ideas such as sash windows.
Patrick died in 1615 and was succeeded by his son John, born 1596.
John the second Earl of Kinghorne did not distinguish himself, being considered as a weak sort of fellow who fell under the influence of his first wife, Lady Margaret Erskine, and that of his younger brother James Lyon of Aldbar who embroiled him in many adventures which greatly reduced his resources. Of John it is said that, “he came to his inheritance the wealthiest peer in Scotland and left the poorest”. He was over obliging to his relations and friends, taking on heavy obligations in bonds and cautions which plunged his affairs deeply into debt. In addition, he developed a great friendship with James Graham, Marquis of Montrose. Montrose was at first a fierce Covenanter but later became more of a Royalist. There came a point when John’s conscience forced him to part company with Montrose who changed sides and took up arms against the Covenanters. John, who felt deserted considered that he had a moral obligation to the Covenanters cause, and contributed towards financing the army against his old friend Montrose, in the process committing himself to crippling debt.
He did, however, continue the work of restoration of Castle Lyon. His son crediting him with “an inteer new roofe upon the castle, which beforehand had ane scurvie battlement”.His first wife Margaret Erskine was the daughter of the Earl of Mar and his second Elizabeth daughter of the Earl of Panmure. He died of the plague at St Andrews on 12th. May 1646 where he had gone to nurse his ward, the Earl of Errol and was succeeded by his only son Patrick, born 29th. May 1642 and by then only four years of age.
Patrick the third Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne grew up to be one of the most remarkable members of the Lyon family. He was a man of extremely fine character with strong determination to do the right by his family and estates and was gifted with an exceptional administrative ability.
The long period of dissentions and unrest that affected Scotland for thirty years preceding the Restoration told severely on the estates. Both his grandfather and his father had been compelled to raise large sums of money for the exigencies of war by borrowing upon the security of their properties. Most lands were pledged in some form to creditors throughout the land. The Castle of Glamis was denuded of furniture and allowed to get into a state of disrepair and Castle Lyon was almost uninhabitable. Thus when Earl Patrick came into his inheritance, it was to shoulder a heavy burden with debts about �,000, an enormous sum in those days.
The young Earl’s guardian was unwilling to undertake the rescue of a property so deeply involved. He was advised that his estates were irrecoverable, but his uncle, the Earl of Panmure did much to preserve a remnant sufficient to start him in life, though quite inadequate to his rank in Society. It is testament to his tenacity that after 40 years of hard work he once again restored his estates to solvency.
Castle Lyon had been made the jointure house of the family and he stayed there with his mother. In 1650 when the boy was only eight years of age his mother was married for the second time to the Earl of Linlithgow who treated his stepson with harsh cruelty. After his wife’s death this Earl compelled the repayment of all monies expended by her on the young heir out of her jointure income.
Having completed his studies at St Andrews the young Earl returned to his castle at Huntly in 1660, in his eighteenth year, and even at that age had formed his resolution to restore as far as possible the honour and estates of his family. Cultured, shrewd, industrious and with the flair for building he applied himself to enlarging and beautifying the castle and recovering the waste lands around it.
The lamentable condition in which he found the castle he graphically describes in the Book of Record: “I had a verie hard beginning, there was not even a bed in the castle and I had to borrow one from the minister at Longforgan, while I was awaiting the arrival of my humble student’s furniture from St Andrews.” His stepfather had stripped the house of all furniture. The barns byres and stables were empty and as he puts it — “Att that time I was not worth a four-footed beast safe the little dog that I keepit att and brought with me from St Andrews.” He described the pend and entry as a quagmire as was the most part of the enclosed ground besouth it. Inside, conditions were not much better with only bare walls.
He also brought home a bride, the Lady Anna Murray daughter of the Earl of Tulliebardine. The magistrates of Dundee gave the young couple a Civic Reception.
Patrick did not curtail himself to renovation of the castle. In his diary, known as the Glamis Book of Record, he describes the roof of the Church in Longforgan as — altogether ruinous.By exercising his influence, he organised the replacement of the roof and had a private room and seat built for himself. He was to make many improvements to the grounds and surrounding policies which remain in evidence today.
It is he, who is credited with the excavation of the ornamental pond, which follows the contour along the north-east flank of the knoll on which the castle sits. While it is described as “The Moat” in contemporary writings and maps, it could never have served any defensive purpose due to its shallow depth and distance from the actual castle building. The Old Statistical Account describes several mineral springs in the grounds and it is one of those which is the water source for the moat.
As well as building the high stone wall surrounding the estate, he planted a substantial amount of timber, not only for decoration, but by way of an investment. A 1743 survey records 8557 growing trees on the estate, and remarks on the quality of sweet chestnut trees which were much sought after by ships’ carpenters. A feature of his planting which can still be observed from a high vantage point, was the tree-lined avenue, known as the Grand Avenue, 30 feet wide and almost 1 mile long, running in a straight line north-west, from the castle to what was then the main road at a point opposite the farm of Snabs. At that time the road from Dundee to Perth was further north than it now is and bypassed the village, the present road not being constructed till 1790. In the time of Earl Patrick there was no road leading to the village as there is today.
The Grand Avenue originally had six gates, five of which no trace remains. The outer, or first gate was dismantled sometime around 1790 and re-erected at the present entrance. It is built of a similar sandstone to that of the castle and consists of a central gateway 16 feet wide with two side arches of 7 feet. Two piers are decorated with ornamented semi-circular Tuscan pilasters and all are surmounted with elongated pyramids aligned to the cardinal points of the compass. The gate was known as Port Patrick but became corrupted to Port Patience.
The next gate along the Grand Avenue was the Rustic Gate, said to be a noble arch with a little postern on each side. To the right of this gate was the deer park and to the left, the nursery ground.
The third gate was the Iron Gate and had two strong pillars with rich capitals, all the pillars being of well cut stone, set for hanging an iron gate. The enclosure to the north contained the farm steading and to the south, the family offices and the gardener’s house. It was between the farm steading and the avenue where the fabled Glamis Tree stood.
The fourth gate was the Coach House Gate. This was formed of two large plain pillars with capitals and bases. The fifth gate was at the foot of the incline up to the castle and known as the Ionic Gate. This was decorated in the ionic style with four columns and capitals.
The last gate in the series was the Castle Gate, with two plain hewn pillars and capitals, and a globe of stone on each pillar. To the left of this gate was a postern where the Grand Avenue terminated. Beyond the postern was Ye Beggars Seat, a stone seat, said to be capable of holding 30 people.
On either side of the avenue was the Bow Butts, grassed walkways, 5 yards wide and 80 yards long. At each end was built a stone wall, faced with turf. These were for archery practice with the right side reserved for nobility and the left for the commoners.
The most striking piece of civil engineering was that of the terraced gardens, which were formed by the force of quarry mells and peiks. This garden today bears the name of the Italian Gardens, and is said to be made up of carried soil which was imported from Italy as ballast for ships discharging at Kingoodie.
Horticulture played an important part in the life of the estate. 300 feet was under glass with a steam heated melon pit, 20 feet by 12 feet. Much of the area under glass was heated by copper pipes some of which were contained within the walling. Grapes and peaches grew with notable success possibly due to the innovative steam dew, a by-product of the melon pit, which was said to, “preserve the trees from suffering by various insects “.
His sister Lady Elizabeth Lyon and he began their first attempt at housekeeping on a most parsimonious scale. Having scrambled together some old pots and pans and collected some old furniture, they began with their own hands to decorate their lonely dwelling and make it habitable for the time. In the Glamis Book of Record, Patrick writes of his sister some twenty-five years afterwards — “Her company was of great comfort to me so young as we both were. We consulted together and in two years got together as much coarse furniture as in a verie mean and sober way filled all the rooms of my house some way or other.”
His sister remained with him until his marriage in 1662 to Helen daughter of John, Lord Middleton Royal Commissioner for Scotland. The marriage took place at Holyrude Abbey Archbishop
Sharpe officiating. In his writing 25 years later, it was considered by him to be — verie successful.
He brought his wife home to Castle Huntly in 1663 and set about altering and improving the buildings and policies and the status of the family. Thus in 1672 he obtained a Charter from Charles II erecting the lands of Castle Huntly into a free Barony to be called the “The Lordship of Lyon”, and it was then that he changed the name to Castle Lyon. Similarly in 1677 another Charter provided that in future the Earls of Kinghorne should be styled “Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Viscounts Lyon and Barons Glamis, Tannadyce, Sidlaw and Strathdichtie”.
He was a nobleman who shone as a patron of the arts and devoted his life to improving and beautifying his domains. He was a Privy Councillor and Lord of the Treasury and in 1686 an Extraordinary Senator of the College of Justice. The entries in his Book of Record show that he was a master of finance. At the time of his death in 1695 in his 53rd year he had cleared most of the debt on his estates and had made considerable alterations and additions to his castle at Glamis as well as at Castle Lyon.
His two daughters both married members of the local nobility and his eldest son John, born 1663, succeeded as fourth Earl of Strathmore.
The fourth Earl, though a man of considerable talent and a Privy Councillor in the reign of Queen Anne took relatively little part in public affairs. By his marriage with Lady Elizabeth Stanhope daughter of the Earl of Chesterfield he had six sons. Two of whom became Lord Glamis, both predeceasing their father, and four other brothers who succeeded to the Earldom in turn, the eighth Earl and youngest son being the only one who had an heir.
John the third son and fifth Earl was to display the family’s royalist sympathies when he joined the Jacobite cause, and on the breaking out of the Mar rebellion, although only eighteen years of age, raised a regiment in Angus and took an active part in the campaign. He was slain at the battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715.
Charles, the fourth son and sixth Earl was not directly implicated in the rebellion and although both his family seats were visited by the Old Pretender, James VIII and III he was not disturbed in his rights. In 1725 he married Lady Susan Cochrane daughter of John Earl of Dundonald who was considered to be the most beautiful woman of her day in Scotland. Earl Charles was killed in an unfortunate brawl at Forfar by Carnegie of Finavon in May 1728 and left no heir.
James the next in succession died without issue in 1735.
Thomas was the last of the four brothers. Notwithstanding the Jacobite antecedents of his family he refrained from that cause in 1745. For a time he was MP for Angus. He died in 1753. His son John succeeded.
In general these later Earls lie outside our immediate theme for Castle Huntly being the jointure house was mostly occupied by the widows of various Earls. Thus Lady Susan the widow of Charles sixth Earl resided at Castle Huntly for seventeen years after her husband’s death in 1728. Later she made an unfortunate second marriage and left for the Continent where she died in 1754.
The ninth and tenth Earls must be mentioned, partly because of a marriage which was destined to have an historic outcome and partly because with the tenth Earl the family link with Castle Huntly ceased. John the ninth Earl of Strathmore was only sixteen when he succeeded. Thirteen years later, in 1767 he married Miss Mary Eleanor Bowes of Streatham, a great Durham heiress, who inherited a large fortune and great estates from her father, and with this John assumed the name of Bowes Lyon. He died on a health cruise to Lisbon in 1776 leaving three sons and two daughters.
The heir another John was seven years old at his father’s death. He can have known little or nothing of Castle Huntly for his mother Countess Bowes Lyon removed at once to London and the Castle and its estates were sold.
In 1776 the widow of John, seventh Earl of Strathmore and ninth Earl of Kinghorne, elected to live in London and sold the estate of Castle Lyon — as it was named then — to the Indian nabob, George Paterson, who paid �,000 for it. Then with the prestige he had acquired he married the Hon. Anne Gray, daughter of the twelfth Lord Gray whose ancestor had built the castle in 1452. Thus the grand old fortalice was reunited with its original owners. Mr Paterson restored its first name of Castle Huntly.