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Threave Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Dee and Glenkens, Dumfries and Galloway

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Latitude: 54.939 / 54°56'20"N

Longitude: -3.9688 / 3°58'7"W

OS Eastings: 273967

OS Northings: 562254

OS Grid: NX739622

Mapcode National: GBR 0CQB.K9

Mapcode Global: WH4W0.04C1

Entry Name: Threave Castle

Scheduled Date: 30 December 1921

Last Amended: 12 February 2004

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90301

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: castle

Location: Balmaghie

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Dee and Glenkens

Traditional County: Kirkcudbrightshire


The monument comprises the remains of the 14th century tower house and later artillery defences at Threave Castle, surviving as earthworks, as substantial stone structures, and as buried archaeology, together with an area defined by the outer defences. The reason for this rescheduling is that no adequate documentation can be traced from the time of the original scheduling.

The site is located on an island in the River Dee. In medieval times the access was by boat from the W side into the harbour at the base of the tower, with alternative access by means of a hidden causeway at the S end of the island. The river level was higher in medieval times, when only the S third of the island would have been habitable. It is likely that the island was occupied as a fortress of the Lords of Galloway from the 11th century. Some of the stone structures and ditches, revealed in the 1970s excavations, appeared to pre-date the Douglas occupation. The form of any earlier fortifications is unknown.

This is one of the earliest tower houses, built by Archibald Douglas 'the Grim', soon after his elevation to the lordship in 1369. The site is dominated by the great tower, 5 storeys high, which stood to a height of 30m with walls 3m thick. A wet ditch, fed from the river, surrounded the tower. Beyond this was an outer enclosure; part of this area was excavated in 1974-78, when considerable additional accommodation was revealed. These included two substantial masonry ranges, likely to have been 2 storeys in height, which alone would have provided an additional 600sq m of living space. One of these ranges would have been the great hall, while the other is likely to have contained lodgings and a chapel. The rest of the small island is likely to have contained other buildings, mostly workshops and storehouses. Some of these are visible as low earthworks.

Threave witnessed the downfall of the house of the powerful Black Douglas at the hands of James II in the summer of 1455. The tower house is enclosed by an innovative freestanding artillery wall, built by the Douglases in the middle of the 15th century. In its developed form, as it survives today, it comprised two stone walls, wrapped around the tower house, with three circular gun towers. The surviving gun defences are likely to date from the later 15th century, built to replace the original that would have been badly damaged in the siege.

Following the siege, the castle and the Lordship was annexed to the Crown until its abandonment in 1640, following a siege by a covenanting force. Minor works to the tower house were carried out in the early 19th century to enable the incarceration of French PoWs. The property came into care in 1913, and conservation work began soon after, including the rebuilding of the stone vault in the tower house.

The area proposed for scheduling comprises the remains described and an area around them within which related material may be expected to be found. The area proposed for scheduling is larger than that of the area of the property in the care of Historic Scotland. The area is irregular on plan with maximum dimensions of 190m from the northernmost point to the southernmost point, by 138m from the easternmost point to the westernmost point, as marked in red on the accompanying map extract. The modern fences are excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance, as the well-preserved remains of a late medieval castle, successfully adapted to accommodate new ideas of artillery warfare. This is one of the largest of the early tower houses, the form of which came to dominate later medieval castellated architecture in Scotland. The site has the potential to provide data on the initial development and form of such castles. The scale and design of the castle contributes to this national importance, as an expression of the power and wealth of the great Douglas Earls. The outer ward has provided important archaeological information regarding the infrastructure of such residences, notably the remains of domestic and ancillary ranges, and has the potential to further inform this understanding. Moreover, Threave has informed an understanding of the development of artillery defences, where added to earlier castles. Threave was successfully adapted to serve the needs of gunpowder artillery and firearms, and in doing so was one of the first purpose-built gun defences constructed in Britain. The national importance if further underlined by the status of the castle as a property in the care of Scottish Ministers.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NX76SW7.


Good G L and Tabraham C J 1981, ?Excavations at Threave Castle, Galloway, 1974-78?, MEDIEVAL ARCHAEOL, 25, 90-140.

Good G L and Tabraham C J 1981, ?The artillery fortification at Threave Castle, Galloway?. In Caldwell D H ed. 1981, SCOTTISH WEAPONS AND FORTIFICATIONS 1100-1800, Edinburgh, 55-72.



Stell G P 1986, EXPLORING SCOTLAND'S HERITAGE: DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY, Exploring Scotland's Heritage Series, Edinburgh, 104-7, No. 38.

Tabraham C 1989, ?The Scottish medieval towerhouse as lordly residence in the light of recent excavations?, PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 118, 271-3.

Tabraham C 1993, THREAVE CASTLE, Historic Scotland guidebook.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Threave Castle
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Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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