Kinairdy Castle

Family feuds, murder and witchcraft in old Scotland

Kinairdy Castle, perched on a bluff high above the River Deveron, east of the Bridge of Marnoch, dominates the road between Banff and Huntly in Aberdeenshire, north eastern Scotland. See maps for more detail.

In mediæval times it was the feudal stronghold of the Thane of Aberchirder, but it came into the Innes family at the end of the 14th century, when Sir Alexander Innes, 9th Chief of Clan Innes, married Janet, only daughter of Sir David de Aberchirder.

Originally, it was a typical Norman motte and bailey castle, a round tower surrounded by a curtain wall, with a smaller tower and an arched doorway in the north-western corner. In 1420 Sir Walter Innes, son of the 9th Chief, added a five storey tower with a flat roof and battlements, the ground floor being a vaulted dining hall.

Kinairdy remained in the possession of the Chiefs of Clan Innes until 1627, when Sir Robert Innes, the 20th Chief, sold it to Sir James Crichton of Frendraught. Lady Crichton took up residence in the castle in 1630, after her own home had been burnt down in suspicious circumstances during a quarrel with nearby landowners.

Kinairdy Castle was heavily defended and Lady Crichton stayed there till 1647, safe from her feuding neighbours and safe from the zealous Covenanters in the Aberdeen Assembly who were outraged by her Catholic sympathies.

In 1647 the estates of Kinairdy and Netherdaill in Banffshire were made over to the Rev. John Gregorie, minister in Drumoak, as a result of legal proceedings against the Crichton family who apparently owed him a considerable amount of money. The Rev. John Gregorie died in 1650, leaving Kinairdy and Netherdaill to his eldest son Alexander Gregorie, who was born in 1623.

Crichton’s sons remained in occupation of Kinairdy until 1664, when Alexander Gregorie attempted to evict them by legal means. The Crichton brothers waylaid and attacked him, and he died soon after of his wounds. As he had no children, the estates of Netherdaill and Kinairdy passed to his younger brother David. The Crichton brothers were arraigned for the murder, but were later pardoned by King Charles II for reasons that have not been recorded.

David Gregorie was restored heir to the estate later that same year, adding the typical Scottish title "of Kinairdy" to his name. He was not interested in farming and was held up to ridicule by other farmers because of the condition of his estates. However, the same people did not hesitate to turn to him in times of illness. He was a skilled physician, though entirely self-taught, and for many years acted as local doctor to his tenants and his neighbours, rich and poor alike. He was greatly admired for this — possibly because he consistently refused to charge a fee.

He showed what appeared to be an uncanny ability to foretell the weather and was believed by the local people of having sold his soul to the devil. In fact, he had made what was probably the first barometer in Scotland. Being warned by his instrument that an autumn storm was imminent, he harvested his crops, while his neighbours, sure that the fine weather would continue, lost everything.

A deputation from the local Presbytery called on him and threatened him with prosecution for witchcraft unless he could give a satisfactory explanation of his apparently uncanny ability. He explained the workings of a mercury barometer, a simple device for measuring atmospheric pressure, and managed to persuade the ministers of his innocence.

His reputation for eccentricity was increased by his regular but unusual habits. As his children grew up and his medical practice expanded, he found that he had less and less time to himself for his own pursuits. He therefore rearranged his hours so that he went to bed early, rose at about two in the morning to work for a few hours, then slept again for an hour or two before breakfast.

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), famous for the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at Blenheim, he turned his attention to gunnery and invented an "improved cannon". He completed a model and sent it to his eldest son David, Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, for him to show to Sir Izaac Newton. Newton was of the opinion that it was "distructive of the human species" and persuaded him to suppress the invention.

During the first Jacobite rebellion of 1715 he took his family to Campvere in Holland, returning to Aberdeen shortly before his death in 1720 at the age of 95. He had the satisfaction of seeing three of his sons — David, James and Charles — professors of mathematics at British universities at the same time.

David Gregorie married twice and had 29 children, fifteen by his first wife Jean Walker and fourteen by his second wife Isabel Gordon. He and his first wife and children were all "Tories and Episcopalians" while his second wife and her family were "zealous Presbyterians".

He had conveyed his estate to his eldest surviving son, David, by obtaining a new charter in 1673. David Gregorie, the younger, thus became laird when he was aged 14. In 1704, immersed in his academic responsibilities at Oxford, David sold the castle and estate of Kinairdy to Thomas Donaldson, a merchant in Elgin.

Donaldson and his wife, Elizabeth Duff, took up residence in Kinairdy and transformed the castle from a mediæval fortress into a 17th century-style country house. The original outer walls were demolished about 1725, so that the stones could be used to make a walled garden, and the windows were enlarged to let in more light, but the castle and its grounds have not been greatly altered since then.

In 1795, the Donaldson’s grandson, James Donaldson, sold the castle to the Earl of Fife and for the next hundred years Kinairdy formed part of the Fife estates. In 1897 Fife sold Kinairdy Castle to James Andrew, a farmer in Chapelton, and it was later inherited by his daughter.

Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon King of Arms, 1945-69, purchased the castle from Miss Andrew in 1923, restoring Kinairdy Castle to the Innes family, the lineal descendants of ancient Thanes of Aberchirder. — Adapted from a Scottish tourist brochure dated April, 1973. The current appearance is shown in the accompanying photos of Kinairdy in the 20th century.