Fowlis Castle - A Forgotten Part of Strathearn’s Heritage

Once the Powerbase of the Earls of Strathearn now a pile of stones .

It does  look  from afar a bit like a Christmas pud on the festive table , just a large mound arising  out of a sloping farmer’s field ! That , good folks,  is all the remains  of Fowlis Castle- the locus  for generations  of the  power base of the mighty Earls of Strathearn !

The west walls  overlooked the Downie Burn - a naturally defensive position

For what was undoubtedly one of the most important  structures in the  Strath it has  been  totally neglected and forgotten – a somewhat sad  reflection  on the importance of our  heritage in the eyes of our political caretakers !

What  compounds the  general confusion over the Castle  is that there are in fact two  other castles  of the same name in Scotland – one  near Dundee and another near  Evanton north of Inverness ! The spelling does  vary  between  Fowlis and Foulis and it is  not  made  any easier  by the pronunciation  which is “ Fowls “ ( as in a number of hens ! )
Where then  exactly is  our Fowlis Castle ? Incredibly it is  no longer shown on the current Ordnance survey maps and is virtually forgotten by one and all .  Bereft of any signage explaining to the curious visitor its importance and significance in years gone by , it is somewhat off the beaten track but quite accessible.

Heading towards Perth on the A85 , look for the Newbigging Farm sign on the left hand side about a mile and a half after New Fowlis  and before the road  to the right to Madderty . Turn up and at the farm turn sharp left on the road to Blairmore Farm . The castle mound is about half mile on the left hand side . There are barbed wire fences to keep the sheep in or out so you had better watch your breeks( trousers) !

Late 19th  century Ordnance Survey maps  show the site of the Castle adjoining a farm  named Castleton which is  no longer standing . Perhaps  on account of its comparative  isolation off the main thoroughfares , it has  slipped away  from regular  attention – something  which  really should never have happened  .

Why was Fowlis Castle built and by whom ?

The Castle  was , for  many centuries , the power base of the powerful Earls of Strathearn who held  sway over a large part of what  was  to become Perthshire and that part  known as Strathearn  stretching from Loch Earn  in the west  to the town of Perth in the east .

The Earls of Strathearn were in existence before the  reign of Malcolm Canmore in the eleventh century and find  their origins in the Pictish kingdom of Fortren or Fortriu established after the Roman departure from Strathearn . We know  from documentary evidence that the aptly named  Grim  , Thane of Strathearn resided in Fowlis Castle .  He was slain in 1010 , in the Battle of Mortlach , fought by Malcolm ll against the Danes   and it is said that he was  succeeded in the Thanedom by Walinus , an Englishman of rank , whom the Scottish king delighted to honour !

The date of  construction cannot be  defined exactly  but was , in probability around the 9th or 10th Century . Call them Earls , Princes or even Kings – these overlords ruled Strathearn with an iron fist . Their power base was Fowlis Castle but they consolidated their grip by further strongholds across the valley of the Earn . Castle Cluggy on the northern  shore of Loch Monzievaird at Ochtertyre was one such site whilst their palace was a fortified  residence at Tom a Chastel where Baird’s Monument now graces the landscape .To the west the guardian barrier of Dundurn protected  against threat  from the Celts of Dalriada
( Argyll ) .

It is important to remember that these overlords were Celtic or Pictish in ancestry unlike  so many of the Scottish  nobility of the time  who held  power as an indirect result of the Norman Conquest of the southern part of these Isles . In pre Reformation Scotland  , the Church had a strong influence in everyday life . Here in Strathearn , the Earls used their direct influence  with the Pope to ensure that the Church in this neck of the woods was theoretically under their control . We know that whilst the Pope  would  have communicated  normally  with the Bishop in nearby Dunblane in dealing  with Church business he  dealt directly more often with the Earls themselves . It is interesting to note  that religious  matters in 11th Century Strathearn were the province of the Abbey of Inchaffray . Surprise , surprise  , the Abbey was a mere mile south of Fowlis Castle in what  was virtually its back garden !

South to Inchaffray Abbey a mere mile away !

The Earldom of Strathearn now stretched from Newburgh in the east to Balquhidder in the west. Inchaffrey Abbey was founded in 1200 and the name Crieff first appears in the charters. One witness is described as Bricius, the parson of Crieff ( about 1199). Earl Gilbert did well for himself. He married Matilda , daughter of the Earl of Arundel ( to become the Norfolks) . He had 8 sons and 3 daughters. He took a prominent part in the coronation of Alexander ll in 1214. He died in 1223 and was succeeded By Robert a great supporter of Inchaffrey having initially quarrelled with the Abbot over their possessions. He signed a charter in the 1222 in the ancient Church of Strageath.

The Earls of Strathearn were very important play makers in the King’s business. Malise who succeeded Robert attended the coronation of Alexander lll in 1249. The king was only 8 ! The young King married Margaret daughter of King Henry of England 2 years later. Henry tried to inveigle his way into Scottish affairs but the young King resisted. Malise was in the favour of the English King and was appointed co Regent ( there were 15 in number ) to govern Scotland until Alexander reached 21.Malise married 4 times and as a result inherited more land and property. From his first wife Marjory he obtained lands in Northumberland. From his second wife Matilda , daughter of the Earl of Caithness and Orkney he obtained the Barony of Cortachy in Angus. He then married Emma and lastly Maria, widow of Magnus , King of Man. The account of Malise tells how he used his rights to “ sell “ many of the poorer classes into service of the Church at Inchaffrey. He died in 1271.

The beginning of the end  for the Celtic Earls of Strathearn was in reality their inability   to keep  enough balls in the air at any one time ! ! One of the most incredible of events  was the confrontation of the cocky Malise , Seventh Earl of Strathearn , and King  Robert the Bruce . Bruce arrived on his doorstep complete with his army . On demanding his homage, Malise’s answer was that to give it would be to break faith with the King of England. Sir John Boyd stepped forward and said to Bruce “ Give me his lands, and put him to death as you have done to others who refused to pay homage to you “. Not surprisingly Malise did a quick about turn and homage was duly paid !

Thereafter things  went badly wrong and power began to slip away from the Earls .

The future of The Celtic Earls of Strathearn was heading towards a certain end. Their duplicity and opposition to Bruce were their ultimate downfall. In 1344 David ll would not reinstate him and granted the title to Maurice Moray . Moray’s tenure was short lived . He was killed at the Battle of Durham and the title remained dormant for a number of years. In 1370 Robert ll conferred the title upon his son David. The title passed to the Graham family when David’s daughter married Patrick Graham. The animosity between the Drummonds and Murrays arose from a court case where Sir Alexander Murray , a brother in law of the King , declined to appear before Sir John Drummond, Steward of Strathearn on a murder charge Eventually he did with much bad feeling .

And so the incredible story of the Earls – their  power and their Castle – comes  to a conclusion . Have a look around and  you will see  some tangible remains but little  else in what has  become the sleepy hollow of Strathearn !

The castle dominated the Strath 
Hewn stone from the walls

                         Natural defensive position


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