This fascinating castle sits atop the hill in Dundonald, most of which was built by King Robert 11, the first of the Stewart kings, in the late 14th century. It has steep slopes, to which anyone who walks up to view it can testify, if slightly breathlessly, and was thus easy to defend.
Robert had fathered a large brood of children, in an age when dynastic alliances were all important. Nine of his children were by his first wife, who died in 1353, and many of the others, at least 8 sons and unnumbered daughters, were illegitimate. He then married Euphemia, daughter of the Earl of Ross, a widow in her thirties. They were married for 16 years before he succeeded to the throne of Scotland.
Robert had become much more of a peacemaker by this time, and thanks to lavish gifts and hospitality, remained on good terms with the Scottish nobles, never an easy feat. His sons did vie for power. Alexander was the ‘Wolf of Badenoch’, so christened for his marauding activities in the north.
In 1355 Dundonald became Euphemia’s home. She went on to have 4 children, 2 sons and 2 daughters, and to her fell the task of being stepmother to the other 9 as well. She ran all his estate while he was away.
In 1384,Robert gave many of his responsibilities to his son John, and he remained permanently at Dundonald Castle from this time. By then it was a comfortable medieval stronghold, surrounded by flocks of sheep, cows and horses. There was a large Laigh hall, with a high table, at the south end. It was well lit by windows, and near the spiral stair to the level above. The king sat comfortably on a chair while everyone else used stools or benches. Euphemia would have also had a chair but a less imposing one.
The annexe built at this end holds private chambers, warm and comfortable, and with latrines to the side where the excrement slid safely down the outside wall……one reason why medieval people and right up to Tudor times and beyond, moved to alternative castles , thereby vacating their castle for cleaning.
The Great Hall, situated above the Laigh hall, was used for banquets.
Euphemia lived at the castle until she died at the age of 65 in 1387. Robert died 3 years later. Euphemia must have had a very busy life. Managing the food and the necessary lavish hospitality for the King would have been no easy task. Gardens had to be planted and overseen. Food of all kinds, especially meat, had to be prepared for the table. Ale would have to be made and bread baked. There were no short cuts and no shops, only the markets.
The Castle is under the care of Historic Environment Scotland but is managed by Friends of Dundonald Castle, who also run the cafe at the bottom of the hill. There has been a recent geophysical survey taking place with many interested archeologists. Who knows what may be added to our knowledge of this very important castle for Scotland.
Barbie Short. April 2017