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The History of Rothes Castle And It’s Earl & Lady Leslies.


By Sydney Gordon Watt

A look at the history, legends and myths of Rothes Castle and of the family Leslie who graced its corridors for four hundred years.

Scetch of Rothes Castle
Rothes Castle

Rothes Castle touched the history of our country at many vital points down through the ages, its Earls being men of might both in council chamber and on the battlefield. 

Precise dating of the building of the castle could not be established; however, it was certainly around the commencement of the 13th Century.

 King William the Lion had introduced a family named De Pollock into the area around 1165 in an attempt to end lawlessness. Around 1200 he instructed Petrus De Pollock to “build a castle at Rothays”, De Pollock certainly chose his site well.

The castle’s location was such that it guarded an important highway of the early and middle ages. Through this same vale of Rothes came hordes of plundering Danes who were later to be routed by the Scots at the battle of Mortlach, Norman barons would settle here after the conquest.

Along this same route came William 1stThe Hammer of the Scots” and his male clad knights.

As the years rolled on, Church Dignitaries and Brothers of the Abbeys of Moray (bands of pilgrims on their errands of faith), Crusading warriors bound for the Holly Land, Scots spearmen for Bannockburn and Flodden, Covenanters and Jacobites varied the stream of Lairds, peddlers and beggars, who passed through the valley to and from  Moray and the South country.

 Guards posted on the Castle battlements would have commanded a wide view of the valley stretching out below, this would have afforded the castle garrison time to prepare for any attack by their enemies.

The keep was an outstanding feature of the fortress being several stories high with a vaulted top. Within the central courtyard stood the servants quarters, workshops, stables, livestock pens, stores, and armoury, the lofty wall protecting all within.

A portcullis guarded the main entrance to the courtyard; a draw bridge crossed a dry moat which ran between the walls and the steep hill on which the castle stood. Remnants of the moat are still traceable today.

This was a formidable fortress which as far as my research results show, never succumbed to attack.

As previous stated, precise dating of the building of the castle does not seem to exist, however it is know that the English King, Edward 1st. visited and stayed overnight in the castle in the year 1296, the castle at that time was called “The Manner House of Rothes” his army was bivouacked in the plain below. Edward had travelled north along with his army in an attempt to secure the people’s acknowledgement that he was their overlord. He had also acted as mediator in a dispute between Robert Bruce and Balliol for the throne of Scotland. It seems rather strange to me that he was on one hand, trying to gain allegiance from the people of the north using the threat of his army, and on the other hand, mediating in the dispute of the two contenders to the Scottish Crown.

There were no fewer than thirteen contenders to the Scottish Throne which became vacant following the death of the child Queen Mary, Maid of Norway.


Rather than take the throne by force, all contenders agreed to settle the matter in court. The court ruled that John Balliol, a descendant of David 1 should ascend the throne. Balliol became king in 1292 but had a heavy price to pay, he being forced to accept Edward 1 as his overlord; he was forcibly removed from the throne in 1296.

Prior to his stay at Rothes, Edward had spent the night of the 28th .July in the Castle of Elgin. His route south from Elgin to Rothes took him through Longmorn which then was one of the principle royal forests in Scotland.


Sir Norman Leslie was at that time Lord of Rothes, he had acknowledged the supremacy of the English King in Aberdeen along with many of his Scottish noblemen, returning to his Castle of Rothes to receive and entertain his royal English guest.

No sooner had the English King arrived at Rothes when he dispatched a detachment of his troops to scour the highland country around and quell the still rebellious mountain clans. One party of three divisions were dispatched up Speyside to the country of Badenoch, (Badnashee).

Next day Edward left Rothes and continued his journey south via Mortlach, the Cabrach and on by the Cairn O Mount to the Mearns, a common route south at the time. It was six days march from Elgin to Mearns taking his army through very barn country, there is no doubt supplies for the army was commandeered from the people, fields and granaries en-route.

The Stone of Destiny Scotland Seat of Kings

The Stone of Destiny

This journey south would alienate the feeling against the English of every being who was proud to call himself a Scott for centuries to come.

It was on this journey south from Rothes on reaching Scone; Edward appropriated and carried off to London the ancient coronation stone of the Scottish King, “The Stone of Destiny”.        

We can deduce by the dating of King Edwards stay at Rothes that the Castle was fully operational at the end of the12th. century.


The Birth of an Earldom

To trace the history of the Earldom of Rothes, we must travel back through the mists of time to the 11th. Century. The rules of succession to the throne at this time were not as clear-cut as they are today; the temptation to eliminate competitors was substantial.

King Edmund Ironside king of England had two sons, their mother, knowing her offspring were in danger, left their inheritance and fled England. They traveled first to Sweden and thence to Hungary. The elder boy died there, but the younger son Edward thrived and married the niece of the Holly Roman Emperor and had three children, Edward the Atheling, Christine, and Margaret who was destined to be ordained a saint.

Edward returned to England in 1057 but died before he could meet King Edward (the Confessor), to whom he was heir apparent.

Edgar and Margaret accompanied by their mother Princess Agatha remained in England until 1066. They had survived the short reign of Harold 11 who had been killed at the battle of Hastings. As Duke William had seized the kingship of England following King Harold’s demise, Princess Agatha fearing for her son Edgar’s life, (as he was rightfully heir apparent to the English throne as grandson of King Edmund Ironside) decided to flee back to Hungary.

Their ship was driven northwards by storms and they took shelter in the Firth of Forth. The party were invited ashore by King Malcolm 111 (Canmore), and

Edgar’s sister Margaret married King Malcolm shortly afterwards.

Edgar was proclaimed King in England by William’s opposition party, but this was not to last as Edgar apparently lacked the courage required to lead, he not being a fighting man, it also appears he was not very bright mentally.

Eventually returning to England, Edgar became a friend of King William who granted him a pension, his sister Christine took the veil and died in the convent of Romsey.

Among Princess Agatha’s party was Bartholomew (or Bartholf) a Hungarian nobleman who found great favour with King Malcolm so much so that he was appointed Chamberlain to Queen Margaret and exalted to the high office of Governor of Edinburgh.

This man was to become the founding father of the extremely powerful family of Leslies.

© Sydney Gordon Watt 2005 With the kind permission of Sydney - Thank you from SHO

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The History of Rothes Castle Scotland