Doune Castle really is the complete package for those visiting Scotland and seeking out iconic Scottish castles. Its history is filled with fascinating stories of royal ambition, political power, and wealth. Honestly, if you ask me, Doune is like many Scottish castle sites (and historic sites in general) in that it is rife with so much drama and intrigue. Related to this character-like quality, Doune Castle has also served as a filming location for a few different famous productions over the years (Outlander and Game of Thrones fans- I’m looking at you). But we will get into all of that below. So, let's continue with the latest instalment of our castle series (previous articles in this series can be found here and here) and jump right into our brief but adventurous exploration.
Position, Power, and Politics
Historic Environment Scotland cares for Doune Castle and does a fantastic job at outlining its history both at the Castle through informational boards and through their official souvenir guidebook written by Dr Nicki Scott. Therefore, both were my sources for much of the information that is provided in this article outside any of my personal experiences exploring the Castle.
Doune Castle is strategically situated on the River Teith and is famous as it was once the home of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. There appears to be archaeological evidence that the site was, in some way, inhabited prior to Albany. However, much of what historians know relates to Albany’s time (and proceeding) at the Castle.
Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, came from a prominent Scottish family- especially being able to have the Scottish iconic hero, Robert the Bruce, as his great-grandfather and his father, Robert II, as the founder of the royal Stewart dynasty. Despite that fact that he was a younger son, he came into power in 1388 when he was named Governor of Scotland. This was achieved through dramatic political power moves including undermining and taking advantage of his father’s (the King) and his older brother’s, John, Earl of Carrick (the future King Robert III) weaknesses. Once he was named Governor, he was pretty much running Scotland without actually holding the crown; that is why he is known as the ‘uncrowned king’. However, this all ended in 1393 when his brother’s (King Robert III’s) son, David (Duke of Rothesay) “began to increase his influence”.
The historical take on Albany’s reputation is mixed and seems to have tarnished over time. According to Historic Scotland, his reputation suffered the most due to his possible involvement with his nephew’s, the Duke of Rothesay’s, death. In an apparent bid to maintain control of Scotland, he imprisoned his nephew. And, as a result of either dysentery or possibly due to being starved to death, he died while in Albany’s custody.
After subsequent historical events, the Castle eventually became a possession of the Crown and a royal retreat. There have been interesting ‘guests’ at Doune- some voluntary and others involuntary. For those who know a little bit about Scottish history (or are long-time readers of the blog), you probably will not be surprised to learn that Mary, Queen of Scots stayed at the Castle (you can read more about her here). In fact, one of the best-preserved rooms in the castle is known as the ‘Mary Queen of Scots Bedchamber’.
In a bit of fun, historical trivia, Doune Castle once held the anti-Jacobite prisoner, John Witherspoon, in the mid-1700s. What is particularly interesting about Witherspoon, is that he later became president of the Presbyterian College of New Jersey. However, some of you might know it better by its current name- Princeton University. Of further significant note, Witherspoon was also a signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In fact, John Adams called him “as high a son of liberty as any man in America”. He certainly lived quite an interesting life- going from Castle prisoner to American notable.
However, Doune Castle is a wonderful place for tourists- not just because of its dramatic history- but also because of its more recent role in movie and television productions.
From Hosting Winterfell, to Claire & Jamie, and a Legendary Scottish King
The structure of Doune Castle lends itself well to visitors and even movie/television production companies. For example, the Great Hall is quite magnificent and is the largest room in the Castle. According to Historic Scotland, there was a great deal of restoration done in the Victorian period at Doune Castle and many of the features in the Great Hall (and the Duke’s Hall just off of the Great Hall) were restored at that time (e.g. the roof and minstrels’ gallery). In fact, the Great Hall- and other parts of the Castle- provided the backdrop for many scenes in the Monty Python classic, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. More recently, Doune Castle was featured in the very first episode of Game of Thrones when it was transformed into Winterfell.
Perhaps one of the more famous productions to have filmed at the Castle is the wildly popular Outlander television series based on Diana Gabaldon’s books. A visit to Doune Castle is a must for any Outlander fan. Not only do you get to explore ‘Castle Leoch’, but you can take your best photographic shot at dressing up like Claire or other Outlander characters as the Castle provides Outlander-inspired clothes. What Outlander fan wouldn’t want a chance to take part in a little cosplay? Finally, my last tip for Outlander fans is to make sure to get the audio guide as you can listen to Sam Heughan (as well as Terry Jones from my Monty Python) provide great narration on various Outlander filming trivia and information relevant to the Castle.
Most recently, Doune Castle served as one of the filming locations for Netflix's Robert the Bruce movie, Outlaw King (you can find more information on another Outlaw King filming location in our Craigmillar Castle article). If you watch the movie, keep an eye out as it served as Douglas Castle. There’s a great shot where they are riding away on horseback and the castle is engulfed in flames. But, don’t worry because, of course, it all was just a bit of movie magic and special effects.
The spirit of Doune Castle is kept alive through the historic stories, beautiful (well-intact) construction, and its continuous use as a backdrop for various film and television series. I hope that this brief article has piqued your interest in this fascinating castle. If you would like to learn more, make sure to check out Historic Scotland's webpage on Doune Castle .
Our golden retriever tour guide, Sawyer, sure had a great time during his photo shoot outside the Castle. If you would like to take a walking tour of Edinburgh with 'King' Sawyer and learn more about the history, myths, and legends- please check us out here.
Until next time- Explore & Discover