There are later traditions suggesting that there was a fortification here that was occupied by the English around 1300 but there is no contemporary evidence to support this. It was an undoubtedly strategic location though, as important communication routes passed near Kinross, which was probably in existence by 1257. It began life as a royal castle, with the first certain recorded mentions of it dating to the reign of Robert I (the Bruce), who used it to store part of the Royal Exchequer in 1329. It is possible that the stone building which now survives dates to this period, though we cannot be certain. Lochleven was particularly important during the second wars of independence, which began in 1332. By 1335, only five Scottish castles, including Lochleven, were being held for the Scottish king, David II. In 1390, it ceased to be a royal castle, and was granted to Sir Henry Douglas. The Douglases held the castle until the seventeenth century, when it was sold to Sir William Bruce, who built Kinross House on the mainland.
The castle is probably best known for its association with Mary Queen of Scots. She visited here as a guest several times during her reign and it was here she debated with John Knox in 1563, probably in the great hall of the tower house. Her longest visit began in June 1567, when Mary was imprisoned here for nearly a year after her surrender at Carberry (she had created much opposition to her rule during her short reign). During her time there she miscarried twins and was forced to abdicate her throne in favour of her son James VI (and future I of England). Mary escaped in May 1568, with the help of Willy Douglas, who looked after the boats. However, within a fortnight of her escape, Mary’s forces were defeated at Langside and she was forced into exile in England.
The surviving ruins are dominated by the tower which dates from the 14th century. It is four stories high and is one of the earliest in Scotland to survive. Despite its early date, it is in a good state of preservation. The lower stories of the tower were mainly used for storage, with the ground floor originally only accessible by a hatch from the first floor. The original entrance to the tower gave access directly to the second floor, where the main hall was located. This is an unusual arrangement, as entrances were normally to the ground or first floors. It may have been for additional security. Or perhaps it was out of fear of flooding – the loch came much closer to the castle walls before drainage work in 1836 reduced the water level. The hall was separated from the door by a timber screen, the holes for which can still be seen. This protected the hall’s occupants from draughts and provided a space for servants to make final preparations for items being delivered to the hall. The tower also contains the rooms which formed Mary’s prison – you can still see the private oratory (small chapel) that was probably created for her during her captivity.
Diagonally across the courtyard from the tower house is the Glassin Tower. This was a later addition to the castle, designed to give extra accommodation for residents and guests. Again, the lowest floor was primarily for storage, and the presence of a water inlet suggests that water from the loch was amongst the items stored here. Further accommodation was provided in the separate hall and kitchen built within the inner courtyard, though now only the foundations of these buildings survive. The curtain wall, which encompasses the two towers and encloses the inner courtyard, is primarily late 14th and 15th century work, though it probably follows the line of the original wall. Outside this wall lay the outer courtyard, which was probably also enclosed by a wall. You can still see the remains of some of the service buildings of this outer court, needed to supply the residents and guests with food. This area also included a garden by the later 16th century, and Mary Queen of Scots is said to have spent time walking here.
For more detailed information on the history of the castle, we would recommend the official Souvenir Guide, written by Chris Tabraham, Principal Historian, which can be purchased from the Historic Scotland admissions office and shop located at Loch Leven. The souvenir guide features a guided tour and some excellent images, including drawings which demonstrate how the castle may have looked when it was in use.Lochleven Castle is managed by Historic Scotland and is open to visitors from April to October, accessible by small passenger boat. For more information on visiting the castle please visit http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk