Ancient Monuments

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Balquhain Castle

A Scheduled Monument in West Garioch, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 57.3022 / 57°18'8"N

Longitude: -2.4472 / 2°26'49"W

OS Eastings: 373151

OS Northings: 823605

OS Grid: NJ731236

Mapcode National: GBR X5.1J6X

Mapcode Global: WH8NN.CQWD

Entry Name: Balquhain Castle

Scheduled Date: 30 July 1938

Last Amended: 4 March 2008

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: castle

Location: Chapel Of Garioch

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: West Garioch

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire


The monument comprises the remains of a tower house, additional buildings and associated barmkin of later medieval date, surviving as a series of upstanding walls and earthworks on a paddock and pasture field at around 95-100m above sea level. It lies at the top of a steep slope leading down to Strathnaterick Burn.

The medieval tower house consists of a quadrangular crenellated tower, a substantial stone range and two additional buildings, added to the N and W walls of the tower respectively. Its owners constructed extensions and additions at various times. The tower's fabric is mixed, random rubble. A central stone partition divides the basement of the tower house into two small vaulted chambers. The NE wall includes a large chimney and the remains of a mural stair in the N corner. Outflows for two garderobes (lavatories) are visible on the SE wall of the tower, as are five window apertures. We can interpret a barmkin and series of low earthworks around the main buildings as associated evidence for domestic settlement. The footprint of the main tower is rectangular and measures 13.75m NNE/SSW by 8.75m transversely. The tower house is located in woodland but the remains of ancillary buildings are visible in the paddock immediately to the west. A spring or well is located at the N end of the area to be scheduled.

The area to be scheduled is an irregular shape on plan, to include the tower house and other upstanding remains and an area around these in which evidence for the site's construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The above-ground remains of the modern field boundary fences are specifically excluded from the scheduling, to allow for their maintenance. The Mains of Balquhain garden wall defines the outer limit of part of the scheduled area, and this is specifically excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is an example of a tower house and barmkin, with upstanding remains, dating to the 15th to 17th centuries. There is a strong likelihood that archaeological deposits associated with the monument's construction, use and abandonment are preserved. The earliest visible component of the fabric is a quadrangular four-storey tower with a crenellated parapet, probably built in the 15th century. A Historic Scotland architect noted some surviving patches of lime plaster in the interior in 1993. The lower parts of the walls are very thick and probably original; they include deep recesses and narrow loops. A substantial stone range subsequently added at the SW corner probably comprised basement stores and a first-floor hall. Together, the tower and range formed a hall and chamber, a typical arrangement of the 15th or early 16th century. A tower and fortalice is first documented on the site in 1545. Further features were added in the 16th century, including a stair turret in the re-entrant between the tower and range, which provided access to the first floors and linked the hall in the range to the main private chambers of the tower. An additional storey may also have been added at this time, along with a building abutting the N wall of the tower. Remodelling of the S wing also occurred around this time. There is a possible garden enclosure on the south of the tower and further buildings to the north but it is unclear where in the sequence these fit in. The remains of further buildings to the north may represent stables or stores or a later phase of occupation following the Leslie family's move to Fetternear in the 1690s. The garden enclosure may be the remains of a 19th-century landscape feature. The site has considerable potential to enhance understanding of medieval tower houses and the daily lives of the people who occupied them. The multiple phases documented in the upstanding remains and associated historic records suggest that the site has the potential to provide information relating to a period of several hundred years.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is a good representative of a once numerous class. Tower houses are a type of medieval fortified site, some of which survive as occupied buildings and others only as ruins. They are the physical remains of the baronies, 75 of which were established in Strathdon between the 14th and 17th centuries. Relatively few examples survive with barmkins attached, enhancing the importance of this particular site. Balquhain is one of the examples that seem to have been located on a new site; others were deliberately built on earlier manorial centres. Balquhain Castle is said to have been the seat of the Leslies of Balquhain from 1340, when Sir George Leslie of Balquhain obtained the lands from David II. Sir John Forbes of Drumminor apparently burnt the first castle or residence by about 1420. Records indicate that the estate was in the possession of Sir William Leslie of Balquhain from 1460 and first appears as a barony in 1511.

There is a concentration of tower houses in Strathdon with examples including Castle of Hallforest, Slains Castle and Colquhonnie Castle, amongst many others. This concentration may relate to, and give insights into, the fragmentation of regional lordships and the development of baronies in this part of Scotland. The history of Balquhain Castle is inextricably linked with that of Fetternear (Category B-listed - HB Number 2835), which became the seat of the Leslies after the abandonment of Balquhain.

Associative characteristics

There are historical records pertaining to the site or its estate dating from the 14th to 18th centuries. Mary Queen of Scots spent the night at Balquhain Castle before the Battle of Corrichie in 1562. The Battle of Harlaw (1414) also took place nearby. The castle has suffered major fires on at least two occasions, the first being in 1526 during a feud between the Leslie and Forbes families. Sir William Leslie, seventh Baron of Balquhain, rebuilt the castle in 1530. John Leslie, Bishop of Raphoe (d. 1671), who was known as the 'fighting bishop' and defeated Cromwell's forces at the Battle of Raphoe, was born at Balquhain Castle.

Two stones built into the gable of Mains of Balquhain, the adjacent farmhouse, may originally have come from the tower. They include the religious monograms IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator) and MRA (Maria Regina Angelorum) and the date 1677. A similar plaque exists at Fetternear. This combination of monograms is very rare in Scotland, but more common on the Continent. Its significance lies in the fact that the Leslie family maintained its links with eastern Europe and Catholicism in the 17th and 18th centuries. The IHS monogram is associated with the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits); the Leslie seat of Fetternear became the headquarters of the Jesuit Mission in Scotland in the 17th century. This loyalty to Catholicism is seen in the Leslies' allegiance to the Jacobite cause, which led to the destruction of Balquhain Castle in 1746 at the instigation of the Duke of Cumberland.

The monument retains significance for the descendents of the Leslie family, and in particular the various branches of the Clan Leslie Society, upon whose websites Balquhain Castle features prominently.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to contribute to an understanding of the past, in particular the construction techniques, defences and domestic life of a medieval tower house. The survival of associated upstanding remains, most notably the barmkin, enhances this potential. The monument may also shed light on the nature of the 75 or so baronies established in Strathdon following the fragmentation of the regional lordships in this area. The site's relatively good preservation and the survival of extensive historical records relating directly and indirectly to the monument's occupation enhances this potential. Its loss would seriously impede our ability to understand the medieval architecture of Strathdon and the nature of medieval baronies.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the monument as NJ72SW 5.

Balquhain Castle is B-listed (HB Number 2849).


Bogdan N and Bryce I B D 1991, 'CASTLES, MANORS AND 'TOWN HOUSES' SURVEY', Discovery Excav Scot 1991, 28.

Coventry M 2001, THE CASTLES OF SCOTLAND (3RD EDITION), Musselburgh: Goblinshead.



Kent R 1993, HISTORIC SCOTLAND - BALQUHAIN CASTLE, Gordon, Grampian - File Number AMH/90/1/1: Architect's Report. Unpublished Report.


Shepherd I A G 1986, EXPLORING SCOTLAND'S HERITAGE: GRAMPIAN, Edinburgh: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Shepherd I 1994, GORDON: AN ILLUSTRATED ARCHITECTURAL GUIDE, Edinburgh: The Rutland Press.

Simpson W D 1936, 'BALQUHAIN CASTLE, ABERDEENSHIRE', Aberdeen University Review 1936, 200-104.

Slade H G 1971, 'THE HOUSE OF FETTERNEAR: A HISTORY AND A DESCRIPTION', Proc Soc Antiq Scot 103, 1971: 178-91.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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