Tullibardine Castle and the Pride of the Scots Navy !

Proposed 18th century Adam alteration to 
Tullibardine Castle

                                The Great Michael 

I ran a “ blog “ in    August  2012 on Tullibardine Chapel 


Directly north of the Chapel is a large field It was in the  centre of this that the now demolished Tullibardine Castle stood .There is a connection  between the church and the castle . The Chapel was built  by Sir David Murray  away back in 1446 and it became the traditional burying place of the family – the Murrays of Tullibardine – until they moved northwards  to Blair  Castle near Pitlochry . The Castle which was demolished in 1830 was built in the 13th century by the Murray family and was the first Murray  habitat in Perthshire. A Murray  had  married Adda  , the daughter of the Seneschal of Strathearn , thus acquiring the lands of Tullibardine .

Pont's map showing the castle 

The Murrays were  to grow into perhaps  the most powerful family in the county and their strength and power  was no doubt increased by their ability  to produce large broods of children especially boys ! In the 15th century , one , Sir William Murray of Tullibardine , produced  seventeen sons and nearly ran into trouble  with the reigning  monarch James V . The King was endeavouring to ensure none of his nobles travelled the land  with more than one retainer in their retinue and had a special Act of Parliament passed to the effect . Imagine  his rage  when being told that Sir William Murray was approaching the King’s castle in Stirling  with an armed “ tail “ of some thirty seven men ! Poor Sir William was dragged in front of his Sovereign to explain this blatant ignoring of his commands . Sir William meekly stated that he had brought his sons along and  surely it was permissible  for them to have a servant each ? The King realised  what had happened and duly welcomed Sir William and his sons  to Court ! 

The Murrays went from strength  to strength and became an ever increasing influence in Scottish politics and in  a general proximity to the incumbent monarch . One Murray became  joint Keeper of Stirling Castle and Guardian of the young James VI only to suffer exile for smashing the face of the Duke of Argyll with the hilt of his sword ,something  many of his  peers felt was somewhat overdue  ! In due course the King forgave him and made him Lord Comptroller . His son John became master of the Household and  in 1600 became the 1st Earl of Tullibardine . The 2nd Earl married the only daughter of Stewart Earl of Athol and thus began a new line in the Athol Earldom . A later descendent  became the  1st Earl of Athol and  from then onwards  the heir t o that title became known as the Marquis of Tullibardine . Tullibardine Castle  witnessed  little  fighting due  to the strength and power of the family . It was visited  by a number of monarchs over the years  and surrendered  to the Hanoverian supporting Duke of Argyll in the 1715 Uprising and was lived in by the great Jacobite military leader Lord George Murray .

I recall in the 1980s when carrying out  some work for the Strathallan Estate being told by the late Sir William Roberts , the owner of Tullibardine and the adjoining farms  that the stones used to build West Third farm house were taken from the ruins of the adjoining demolished castle . Why the castle was demolished  may have  reflected the economic  depression that followed the Napoleonic Wars . Archives held in the  National Archives of Scotland show the plans of William Adam the eminent Scottish architect who modernised the property in the 18th century . What is particularly interesting about Tullibardine  is that like all grand houses of the time it had landscaped gardens in its immediate vicinity . There  was , however , one particular feature  which has been recorded and  investigated over the years and that was  that part of the gardens had been laid out planted in the exact shape of the warship , the “ Great Michael “  . It had been Scotland’s naval pride and joy in the  early 16th century and was the largest , by far , of any fighting vessel in the whole of Europe. This was at a  time  when England , France , Spain and Portugal dominated the waves and Scotland was very much regarded as a Second Division player !

Michael (popularly known as Great Michael) was a carrack or great ship of the Royal Scottish Navy. She was too large to be built at any existing Scottish dockyard, so was built at the new dock at Newhaven, constructed in 1504 by order of King James IV of Scotland. She was ordered around 1505 and laid down in 1507 under the direction of Captain Sir Andrew Wood of Largo and the master shipwright Jacques Terrell, launched on 12 October 1511 and completed on 18 February 1512. When Michael was launched in 1511 she was the largest ship afloat, with twice the original displacement of her English contemporary Mary Rose which was launched in 1509 and completed in 1510.

The chronicler Lindsay of Pitscottie wrote of the building of Michael that "all the woods of Fife" went into her construction (it has been suggested that by this period there was not much forest left in Fife). Account books further add that timbers were purchased from other parts of Scotland as well as from France and the Baltic Sea. Supposedly, there were many cargo loads of timber imported from Norway that were used in Michael 's construction. Lindsay gives her dimensions as 240 feet (73 m) long and 35 ft (11 m) in beam.  Michael was supposed to have been built with oak walls 10 ft (3.0 m) thick. She displaced about 1,000 tons, had four masts, carried 24 guns (purchased from Flanders) on the broadside, 1 basilisk forward and 2 aft and 30 smaller guns (later increased to 36 main guns), and had a crew of 300 sailors, 120 gunners, and up to 1,000 soldiers.

Michael 's other curious claim to fame is that she is said to have carried among her armament Mons Meg, the great cannon used earlier in the siege of Threave Castle, which had a calibre of 22 inches (560 mm) and thus made her the warship with the largest calibre gun in history. That incredibly also includes  the battleships of the WW2 period !

Henry Vlll of England decided that he too must have such a massive warship and so the 
" Great Harry " ( formal name Henri Grâce à Dieu ) was launched  This 1 000 ton creation proved   somewhat top heavy and ended being a  virtual 16th century royal yacht and did  not see active service.

The Michael was named after the archangel Michael and built with the intention of leading a crusade against the Ottoman Empire to reclaim Palestine for Christendom. This grandiose plan had to be changed when the commitments of the Auld Alliance with France required Scotland to go to war with England to divert England from her war with Louis XII of France (see the Italian Wars).

In August 1513 a Scottish invasion force was assembled to attack English possessions in France. Commanded by James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran, the chief ships were Michael, Margaret and James. Instead of attacking the English, Arran raided Carrickfergus in Ireland and returned with loot before proceeding to France.

A warship of this size was costly to maintain. Michael was hired by France in late August 1513, and after James IV and many of the nobility of Scotland were killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in September 1513, Michael was sold to Louis XII of France on 2 April 1514 for the bargain price of 40,000 livres and was known as "La Grande Nef d'Ecosse" (The Big Nave of Scotland; nave is from the medieval Latin navis, meaning 'ship'). In March 1514 it was reported that Michael was docked at Honfleur because she was too big for the harbour at Dieppe. Most historians have accepted the account of the Scottish historian George Buchanan that after this the French allowed her to rot at Brest. However, one historian, Norman MacDougall, has recently suggested that it is worth investigating the possibility that, under her new French name, she took part in the French attack on England in 1545 that led to the sinking of the English warship Mary Rose in the Battle of the Solent on 19 July 1545.

The Battle of Flodden saw the death of James and with him much of his Scottish nobility . Thus ended the dream which had  seen the Michael built as a means to project Scotland's image not just south of the Border  but in Europe as a whole .

How do we know about the creation of the garden feature at Tullibardine of the Great Michael ? It was again Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie who had written so much on the " Michael " He stated  that there had once been a garden laid out there in the precise shape and dimensions of a great early 16th-century warship known as the ‘Great Michael’ by a local man who had been a shipwright on the construction of the great vessel . He had planted the outline in hawthorn bushes. in the garden  beside the Castle . Research has indeed  revealed that one of the Royal carpenters to James was one John Drummond  from Auchterarder and that timber  from both Tullibardine and Kincardine ( the one near the Lang Toon and not elsewhere ! ) . It has been suggested that it seemed strange to have transported the timbers  from the heart of Strathearn all the way to Newhaven on the Firth of Forth but remember that the ship was  built of oak and that records indicate that not only had  it taken all the timbers  from the forests of Fife but it had necessitated the importation of additional requirements  from Scandinavia . In the light of this Tullibardine was on the virtual door step !

Looking north to where the castle was located

In 2010 , BBC Radio Scotland featured Tullibardine  Castle and  in August of that year organised a series of test trenches and carried out a geophysical survey which pinpointed the ruins of the Castle .Careful examination of cartographic records allowed the identification of the garden canal, shown on Roy’s 1750s map as a low bank and boggy area to the N of the castle site. This location is traditionally known as the Great Michael planting; however, its dimensions far exceed those of 16th-century "Carrick" and the feature is considered to be a shallow 18th-century garden canal..

In his book " Perthshire in History and Legend " , the late Archie McKerracher narrated a chat  he had had with Mr Maxtone , late factor of the Estate . Mention was made of the Chair Tree , an ancient oak which is still standing and is thought to be in excess of 700 years old ! In earlier times the Lairds of Tullibardine had a platform built in its branches from which they used to watch contests of strength and skill  taking place in the area below .The same interview  also revealed that when ploughing takes place  near the garden area that was , periodically hawthorn tree roots  are dug up.


Sadly nothing remains of the Castle although the ancient Tullibardine Chapel has  been thoughtfully restored and is in fine condition . The Murray family were important players in the Scottish scene for  many centuries and it is important not to forget the significance of the part  they played in our history . The Great Michael was an ambitious move  to raise the Scottish profile  on the European stage . This was sadly curtailed  with the tragedy of Flodden Field but should  not be forgotten .



  1. Thanks for sharing this great post. It’s very enlightening. I absolutely love to read informative stuff. Looking forward to find out more and acquire further knowledge from here!

    Decking & Pergolas Blairgowrie


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