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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNJ90NW0011
NRHE Card No.NJ90NW22
NRHE Numlink 20130
Site Form Documentary Record Only
Site Condition Destroyed
Details Site of a castle which was first mentioned in 1264. It was surrendered to Edward I after 1285. Aberdeen's castle is an elusive affair. It slips in and out of history relatively quickly. Despite this it has attracted a considerable amount of attention over the years: it is also at the centre of a number of enduring myths about Aberdeen's history. The first castle on this site may have been a timber castle of the motte and bailey Norman style. The first evidence for a stone castle on this site comes from the mid 13th century when it was repaired by Richard Cementarius (Richard the Mason) in 1264 (Stuart and Burnett, Exchequer Rolls I, 1264-1359, pp 11 and 12). Richard has been claimed to be the first provost of Aberdeen. At the time the title was Alderman, but it is still not true to say that he was the first Alderman: it would seem more correct to say that he was the first person whose name has been associated with that position to come down to us. However, that is not true either, in all the contemporary records about him he is simply styled as a baillie and burgess. In 1264 there was also a chapel in the castle. Despite the fact that this is the only reference to an individual building in the castle we can safely assume that there were several other buildings inside its outer walls, such as a great hall, an armoury, kitchens, bedrooms, a dungeon (or prison cell of some variety) and stables. The castle remained, for the duration of its existence, the property of the monarch. In this regard we can guess that certain other buildings may have been contained there: these would have included the town's mint (Aberdeen's mint produced coins from around the later 12th century); the exchequer and possibly some of the higher courts. The castle would have been held for the king by a castellan or keeper. The majority of what we know about the castle comes from the Wars of Independence. Throughout this period Aberdeen's castle was in English hands and was held for Edward I by a succession of English keepers and castellans. From June 1291 John de Guildford held Aberdeen's castle for the English king. Whilst from 14 July to 19th 1296 Edward I stayed in Aberdeen: an anonymous chronicler who accompanied him wrote that in Aberdeen they found 'bon chastell et bon ville sur la mer…' (Stephenson, J., (ed.) Documents Illustrative of the History of Scotland, II, (Edinburgh, 1870) p.29). In 1304 John de Strathbogie, 9th earl of Atholl, was the Scottish castellan of the castle for Edward, and he made repairs to the castle. In 1306-7 Gilbert Pecche was constable of the castle and under him the garrison stationed in the castle was composed of 3 knights, 20 esquires, 12 balisters and 20 archers. In 1306 Robert the Bruce began his 'rebellion' against Edward's invading army. By 1308, moving southwards from the north, Bruce's troops had arrived at Aberdeen. A siege of the castle seems to have taken place sometime in early July 1308. Two letters dated 10 July, one from Edward II to William le Betour (captain of his navy) and one from Walter Reginald (Bishop Elect of Worcester) make suitable arrangements of men, money and ships to assist in raising the siege of the castle. A later debenture written by Gilbert Pecche, as a claim for back payment of wages, claims wages for the garrison at Aberdeen's castle between 8 July and 16 August (NA E/101/13/16). The debenture was written at Berwick on 14 November and it is tempting to assume based on the claim it contains that 16 August was the date that the English forces were finally forced out of Aberdeen and its castle. Prior to 1308 the castle had been a prominent landmark in Aberdeen and had consequently appeared as a property boundary in a number of documents and sasines. Exactly what happened to the castle has been the subject of much speculation. It seems fair to say that the castle was destroyed during the siege: it may have been the case that parts of its walls and foundations survived. Indeed a number of later documents do refer to features such as 'Castle Dykes'. At any rate the controversy arose because it has been claimed that Aberdonian forces themselves overwhelmed the English troops and then levelled their own castle so that if the English returned again then they would not be able to rule Aberdeen from the castle. Moreover the story goes that the secret watchword which started off the attack was 'Bon Accord': hence it is the town's motto. It would not be unfair to state that there are a number of problems with this story. Firstly why would it have fallen to the Aberdonians to attack the castle? They were merchants; Bruce's troops were battle hardened. Secondly there is no contemporary evidence to connect the term Bon Accord to the story. The term first appears on a town seal dated 1430 some 122 years later. The story of the taking of the castle first appears in the 1520s in Hector Boece's book The Lives of the Bishops of Aberdeen but without the use of the term Bon Accord (despite the fact that some historians still claim that Boece first mentioned the use of the term Bon Accord). The version of the story which includes the term does not seem to be any earlier (or later, depending how you view it) than the 17th century. Despite these facts the term Bon Accord remains the town's motto and despite its weak claim to historical veracity it remains an important part of how the town views and projects its own past.
Last Update13/01/2021
Updated Bycpalmer
Date of Compilation13/09/2017

Easting: 394600.245, Northing: 806407.811

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National Grid Reference: NJ 9460 0640

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