A few miles north of Ballater and south of Braemar sits the old castle and town of Aboyne, which is one of the oldest parts of Aberdeenshire. The lands have been owned by the Gordon family since at least 1226, when William I de Gordun appears in a charter. It is an ancient stronghold that has served as both a military garrison and a hunting lodge for many years. Today it still stands proud as one of Scotland’s best preserved medieval castles.
It is the second oldest castle in Scotland, after Balvenie Castle in Fife. The castle and lands were given to Sir John Stewart of Bonkyll, who later became Earl of Buchan by King Robert the Bruce himself for his part in the Battle of Bannockburn. While it is not clear if he fought at Bannockburn, Bruce granted him the lands for his service to the throne. He also gave several other Gordons possession of their lands as a reward for their service against Edward I.
Sir John Stewart died in 1346 and his lands, including Aboyne Castle, passed on to his third son, Sir William of Aboyne. The Stewarts were staunch supporters of the Stuart clan and they remained supporters of the Stuarts until well into the 17th century.
In 1354 William de Bonkyll’s lands were given to David II as a reward for his part in helping him regain control over Scotland from Edward Balliol. Undeterred by this, William de Bonkyll set sail for France where he was appointed as the Scottish ambassador. Not long after, he joined the French army and died while defending France against England in 1356.
Just before his death King David granted the lands of Aboyne Castle to Sir Hugh of Abernethy, who then passed them on to his son in 1359. In 1366 Sir Hugh of Abernethy was appointed as the king’s chamberlain. He died a year later and left his lands to his eldest son.
In 1562 a new tower house was built by Alexander Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, in the style of Aboyne Castle. Not long after construction began on the castle he was granted permission from Mary, Queen of Scots to build it. The old tower house was abandoned in favor of the newer one and a new keep was built at the same time. By 1588 the castle had been altered to include more defensive measures, as well as a great hall with a fireplace, due to the threat of war.
Today, Aboyne Castle is managed by Historic Scotland and is open to the public during October. The castle has been used for many different purposes over the years, including military defense of northern Scotland.
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