The Fascinating History of Inverness Castle


Sitting in the heart of a bonnie little city, Inverness Castle holds a commanding presence along the banks of the River Ness. Its strong walls and interesting architecture hold a prominent place in the skyline of Inverness, the Cultural Capital of the Highlands.

If you’re in the area, it is well worth a visit. The city of Inverness makes for a great day out and walking around the castle itself will certainly be memorable. Plus, it is believed that the castle which stood on the hill in the middle ages is the one featured in Shakespeare’s famous play Macbeth, giving Shakespeare fans an additional reason to take a look!

But this version isn’t actually the one standing on the hill today. In fact, a succession of at least 5 different castles have stood on this site in the past 800 years or so, the history of which is rich and turbulent. Let’s dive in!

The History of Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle was built on the site of earlier fortifications, first mentioned in the early 11th century. The castle that stands today has become an emblematic Scottish monument, overlooking the River Ness at the north, and the ancient city of Inverness. This position has brought significant importance to the Castle, which has found itself at the centre of mercantile, political and religious life throughout history. Naturally, the strategic location of the city has attracted military incursions and the Castle has been the ground of many blood drenched battles.

The first castle set up in the 11th century was established by King Malcolm III and shortly after, Inverness was granted the title of Royal Burgh. It was strategically positioned at the opening of the Moray Firth, an inlet of the North Sea. Inverness quickly became a flourishing pre-eminent Highland trade artery, bustling with harbour activity and exporting goods across the North Sea to Flanders and Scandinavia. Products exported to the rest of Europe included wool, cloth, fish, cattle and more.

But like any castle in Scotland, Inverness didn’t remain peaceful for long. The first attack on the castle was led by Robert the Bruce in 1307 during the Scottish Wars of Independence, who was growing increasingly worried that the castle was becoming a defensive wall against his authority in the north of the country. The castle was partially destroyed in the attack.

It was later rebuilt in a strong stone structure by the earl of Marl, before being passed to the Huntly family. However, the castle was only to be destroyed again in the 15th century. The iconic Mary Queen of Scots held siege to the castle in 1562, with the support of Clan Munro and Clan Fraser, although the castle remained under Huntly governance.

The Rich History Continues

While there was peace for a few years at Inverness Castle, this didn’t last long. Later, Oliver Cromwell, leader of the Commonwealth Government of England later invaded and took the castle from the Huntley’s, adding a tall, square, stone tower known as the Cromwell Clock. During this period, the castle was known as Cromwell’s Fort, or Cromwell’s Citadel. But this did not last long, either. At the death of the ruling king, Cromwell’s citadel was dismantled, and its stones used to build the Ness Bridge. (You can actually walk across this bridge today, now with a greater appreciation of where the raw materials came from!)

After the first Jacobite Uprising, the castle was rebuilt and fortified, then extended by General George Wade. For a while it was known as Fort George. The Fort was shaped like a pentagon, providing accommodation for soldiers surrounded by wet ditches and ramparts, accommodating a garrison of around 1000 men.

But as if the castle hadn’t already had enough bombardments, there is more to the story... The Jacobites rebelled against the then-current monarchy and believed the Stuart family should be restored to the throne of England and Scotland. They did not give up their cause after their first defeat at Inverness, and eventually, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, they won over Inverness Castle at the battle of Culloden… and proceeded to blow it up with explosives.


The Inverness Castle of Today

With all this destroying and rebuilding you might wonder what is actually left of Inverness Castle today. Well, the structure we see today overlooking the city, the fifth such structure on the site, dates back to the early 1830s. The architectural style is neo-Norman, designed by the architect William Burn and the good news is that it still stands!

Most parts of the old castles have been destroyed. But if you look around closely, fragments of medieval fortifications remain. Around the castle you can see the bastion wall and the oldwell, poignant remnants of days gone by. You can also still see Cromwell’s Clock tower; Cromwell’s Citadel was obliterated but the Clock tower in fact still remains in Inverness, albeit located some 500m to the North of the castle!

Nowadays, Inverness Castle actually remains in use and houses the Sheriff’s court (although this has been largely confirmed to be relocating in 2020). Unfortunately for now there is no tourist access to the interior but that by no part means there isn’t plenty to see. Part of the castle is accessible as a panoramic viewpoint, giving stunning views over the river and the city of Inverness. Even just standing in it’s shadow, you can marvel at the structure of the castle from the outside and appreciate some of the rich histories that the site holds.

A walk along the River Ness provides some excellent views, as well as just a wander through Inverness itself.

Take a Trip to Inverness Castle

For a castle that looks so neat on the outside, it sure hasn’t had such a peaceful past. Hopefully with a bit more knowledge of Inverness Castle this gives you a greater appreciation for what has transpired here before our time. Maybe it has inspired you to at last make a visit to the bonnie City of Inverness to see it for yourself!

If you’ve already visited, why not check out some unique tartan artwork as a little memento to yourself? Inverness Castle Cityscape


1 comment

  • Mark MacLennan

    Hi there, three is an inaccuracy in this page about the history of Inverness Castle. Cromwells fort was a completely new and seperate fortification located near the harbour and was only in existence from 1650 to 1658. The castle still stood at this time. Mark

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