Chapter 8 Part Two: The Last Stewart Kings at Dundonald Castle


by Gwen Sinclair

Following the archeological studies of the 80s and 90s1, we have now reached the period between 1449-1589 in our Year of Stories- which begins around the start of the reign of James IV (1488-1513), which finds Castle Hill in its 400th year of almost unbroken ownership by the High Stewards of Scotland, which had became the royal Stewart Dynasty.

After his coronation, King James IV (1488-1513) became the 6th monarch from the Stewart royal dynasty, and the 12th owner of Dundonald Castle, in its various forms. At the age of only 15, James IV began his reign with a wide sweeping confiscation of lands and titles belonging to those who fought to defend his father, King James III (1460-88), who died in battle against him at Sauchieburn, near Stirling. This included lands and titles of Ayrshire noble John Ross of Montgreenan, who had been the late King’s Lord Advocate, and who had held lands not far from Dundonald such as those at Montgreenan and Dunlop. But by and large, well out of the way of any dramas and intrigues at court, the reign of the 4th King James found Ayrshire enjoying a period of comparative peace. 

Portrait of King James IV from National Gallery of Scotland

We have no evidence that James IV actually stayed at or visited his castle at Dundonald, but speculation that he did surrounds an impressive bell cast in bronze with its inscription Saint Giles, pray for us, in the year of our Lord 1495 around its upper rim, that was given to Dundonald Parish Church during his reign. Clearly marked with the mysterious letter XT perhaps identifying the bell’s maker, it is similarly marked to others found in churches in Lothian.  The bell was used at Dundonald’s church from that time until 1843 when it was moved to Dundonald Free Kirk for another 40 years, and is now, due to its important historical significance, on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The Dundonald Bell image by kind permission of
© National Museums Scotland’ museum ref: H.KA 27

Dundonald Castle’s upkeep continued to be provided for by the King, and revenues from its estates were paid to him. This period perhaps gave rise to the origins of a French jetton dated between 14th and 15th century which was uncovered during excavations. Jettons were produced across Europe from around the 13th century to assist in calculations on a counting board similar to an abacus. And maybe also dating to this time, the upper floor of Dundonald Castle appears to have had a second fireplace built in its East wall, and its hall was subdivided to form an inner and an outer chamber. Meanwhile at the start of James IV’s reign in 1488, the barony of Dundonald passed to John Wallace of Craigie, and for 20 years between 1500-1520, the lands were let to tacksmen who held a lease, and may have sublet land to others. Although some tacksmen may have farmed the land themselves, most tacksmen lived off the difference between the low rent they paid to the landowner, and the rents they charged to sublet the land. By 1526, The Wallaces of Craigie were granted feu of the lands including Dundonald Castle. This meant that they had a feu agreement with the King whereby gratuitous right to the lands were made in return for services to be performed such as paying money, providing grain and/or military services.

Remains of Craigie Castle

Craigie Castle had historically close connections to the Stewarts since it was located on a ridge, about 4 miles south of Kilmarnock on lands thought to have belonged to the High Stewards of Scotland. In the 15th century Craigie contained a vaulted hall house, followed by a tower house castle with 2 court yards, all surrounded by a ditch, built upon the ruins of an earlier 13th-century fortified structure. The estate is thought to have come into the possession of the Wallaces through John Wallace 1st Earl of Craigie, 6th of Riccarton (c1307-c1377) by marriage to the Craigie estates heiress, Margaret Lindsay (1338-1404). Margaret was the daughter of Sir John Lindsay of Craigie (c1293–1355) whose parents were Sir Alexander de Lindsay (c1266-1308) and Alice Stewart (born 1268), daughter of Alexander Stewart, 4th High Steward of Scotland (1246-81).

Wallace shield


The Wallaces are thought to have arrived in Ayrshire when Richard Walensis of Riccarton, near Kilmarnock, held lands as vassals of Walter Fitz Alan the first High Steward of Scotland (1160-78) sometime around 1160. It is thought that he was originally from a family from Wales, hence Waleis, and travelled to Ayrshire from Shropshire, as did Walter Fitz Alan, the first High Steward of Scotland, and his brother Simon, at the behest of King David I (1124-53). Richard’s grandson, Adam Walays, had two sons, the eldest of whom inherited the family estates in Ayrshire, and whose younger son, Malcolm, possibly received feu for the High Steward lands at Elderslie and Auchinbothie in Renfrewshire. Malcolm was thought to be the father of Sir William Wallace (c1271-1305).

This member of the Wallace family who held the feu for Dundonald Castle and its estates by the early 16th century is likely to have been Adam Wallace who had inherited from his brother, Sir John Wallace, 8th Earl of Craigie 13th of Riccarton (c1475-1515) after Sir John had died in battle alongside 5000 other Scots on 9th September 1515 at Flodden in Northumbria. This was a tragic and desolate loss of life which took place because King Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) had invaded France in 1513, and so King Louis XII (1498-1515) of France called upon James for assistance. James duly did so by invading England’s North, essentially to create a diversion.


James IV and Queen Margaret Window at Stirling Castle

As it was, James’ wife, Queen Margaret, who was the sister of King Henry VIII, was said to have kept a futile vigil at Linlithgow Palace awaiting the return of her husband and son, Alexander, from the Battle;  sadly this was never to be, since both perished. James IV became the last Scottish King to die in battle. Ayrshire also lost several of its nobles including Sir David Dunbar of Cumnock, Robert Colville the Laird of Ochiltree, and the Abbot of Kilwinning as well as 12 earls, 13 lords, 5 eldest sons of peers, 2 bishops and another mitred abbot.

James IV and Margaret published by John Thane 1796


Meanwhile, Sir John Wallace’s brother Adam was made alderman of Ayr in 1515, and controlled the Royal Burgh for a decade as Bailie of Kyle Stewart, possibly until Sir John’s son James Wallace became old enough to inherit the title of 9th Earl of Craigie, 14th of Riccarton. However Gilbert Kennedy, 2nd Earl of Cassillis, a relative of the earlier keeper of Dundonald Castle on behalf of King James III, Sir Gilbert Kennedy of Dunure, was murdered on the sand dunes at Prestwick by Hugh Campbell, Sheriff of Ayr on 22nd December 1527.  Adam Wallace was said to have been implicated in this murder,  supposedly inspired by his wife, Isabelle, and controversy surrounding this incident resulted in a loss of prestige for Adam.

James IV had been described as having “wonderful powers of mind, an astonishing knowledge of everything, an unconquerable magnanimity, and the most abundant generosity”. He studied literature, science and law, spoke 7 languages, introduced the printing press to Scotland, and tried his hand at dentistry and surgery. Prior to his demise at the age of only 40, he had imported limestone and prepared for himself a rather elaborate tomb to be buried alongside his parents at Cambuskenneth Abbey. However, after his death in battle, his remains were taken to Berwick, then embalmed and placed into a lead coffin that was transported south into the care of Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), wife of Henry VIII, who was put in charge of business whilst the English king was at war in France.

Dolls of Henry III and his 6 wives

Catherine had James’ bloodstained surcoat, delivered to her husband in France, recommending its use as a triumphant war banner and James’ remains were interred in relative obscurity in a woodshed at Sheen monastery at Richmond-upon-Thames. At some point his head was reputedly used as a football for groundsmen before being retrieved by Queen Elizabeth I’s master glazier, and eventually taken to St. Michael de Wudestrate/ Great St Michael’s Church in Wood Street in the city of London, and either buried or dumped into a charnel pit of stray bones and crypt sweepings.  Sheen Priory was destroyed during the reformation and is now the site of a pub. 

St. Michael de Wudestrate, first mentioned in 1225 initially with a frontage on Huggin Lane, but later on Wood Street itself in the City of London. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and so it is likely that whatever remained of King James IV perished then too.  The church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1673 but was demolished in 1897, and many bodies were disinterred to be reburied at Brookwood Cemetery.

The title of Earl of Eglinton was created by King James IV in 1507 for Hugh Montgomerie, 3rd Lord Montgomerie (1460-1545), who had been appointed Constable of Rothesay Castle, and was a great supporter of James IV. And so it was, he was appointed as a guardian and tutor for the new King James V (1513-42), who was all but 18 months old at the time of his coronation, which Hugh had helped to arrange.  Around this time too, it seems that Ayrshire’s peace was all but gone when bloodshed and raiding parties between its families raged, and even with Lord Hugh in charge of abating crime in the area, a most notorious feud between the Montgomeries and the Boyds of Kilmarnock lasted until 1560s. Plague had returned to Scotland, and was said to have been so widespread in Ayrshire that in October 1545, an inquest into the succession to the earldom of Montgomerie after Lord Hugh’s death, had to take place in Irvine because plague was raging so fiercely on their family’s rural estates. Plague struck again in 1585, 1587, 1597 and in 1601. When it returned in 1606, it first appeared in the rural areas around Mauchline and Ochiltree, before spreading across Kyle. Fortunately, when it’s dreadful spectre returned in 1647, this was to be its last.

In 1527 a charter was confirmed during the king’s minority which granted the right of possession of Dundonald Castle to a person by the name of Wallace. However by 1536 King James V granted Dundonald Castle and its estates to Robert Boyd 5th Lord Boyd of Kilmarnock (1517-90). It seems though, that he was unable to evict the Wallaces, and so Lord Boyd eventually relinquished the lands to the Wallaces, who continued to hold the lands and castle until 1588/1589.

King James V and Mary of Guise


On 24th November 1542 a battle at Solway Moss near Carlisle, found the king’s army defeated at the hands of the English. As 10,000 lay dead, James V fell ill with what has been described as a low fever (later thought to be cholera) at Falkland Palace, and from there, in what was to be his deathbed at the age of only 30, news reached him on 8th December that his second wife, Mary of Guise (1515-60) daughter of Claude, Duke of Guise (1496-1550) and Antoinette de Bourbon (1494-1583), had delivered a baby girl. The Kings last words were to become a chillingly accurate prophesy, but perhaps not how he meant it:  “It came in with a lass, and it will go out with a lass!’ – knowing that he was going to die, and alluding to his fears that since this child was a girl, it could well mean the last of the Stewart royal dynasty. 

Falkland Palace

The first lass he referred to was his 6 times great grandmother, Princess Marjory Bruce (c1296-1316/17), daughter of King Robert the Bruce (1306-29) and mother of the first Stewart King, Robert II (1371-90), and going out with his newborn infant, and only legitimate heir, Mary, who became Scotland’s Queen 6 days later when King James V left this world.  As it was James V was the last Scottish monarch to live out his full term as its king, albeit cut short due to ill health, as at the age of 5, Mary was taken to France for her own safety, where at the age of 15, she married 14 year old Francois (1544-60), heir to the throne of France, and one year later in 1559, its King. 

By December 1560, Francois had died, and so Mary returned to Scotland in 1561, and in July 1565, she married her cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (1546-67) at Holyrood Palace. A year later on 19th June 1566, they became the parents of baby James. 

Mary Queen of Scots in an official portrait

After Henry’s seemingly suspicious death however, a cloud of suspicion fell over Mary who became taken captive at Lochleven Castle, where she was forced to abdicate the throne in favour of her son, James who became King James VI on 24th July 1567 shortly after his first birthday. Mary fled to England to seek help from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603) and yet, in 1567, was taken as her prisoner. After 19 years in captivity, Mary was beheaded at the age of 44 at Fotheringay Castle by the orders of Queen Elizabeth on 8th February 1587. Mary’s son James VI of Scotland was the last monarch to sit solely on Scotland’s throne, as he became King of both Scotland and England on the death of England’s Queen in 1603. After which, a James VI twopence dated to1623 was left behind at Dundonald Castle and uncovered in the excavations.

Indeed, after 1578, the motto of Scotland appears on minted coins from at least the reign of James VI.  Nemo me impune lacessit’  with its clear warning message ‘No one provokes me with impunity’  to be seen to this day in bold, gold letters above the main entrance to Edinburgh Castle, which became the motto of Scotland, possibly as early as the time of Alexander de Dundonald, 4th High Steward of Scotland (1246-81), after he successfully led the Scots in the battle of Largs in 1263, and after which, the geographical landmass of Scotland as we know it, all but became established. 

Edinburgh Castle entrance


‘Ayrshire may well claim to be a royal county; Carrick for the Bruce, Kyle for the Steward, Cunningham for the mother of the Stewart monarchs –  surely a threefold cord of fame of which the county might well be proud.”

Robertson, W. ‘Ayrshire, Its History and Historic Families’ 1906

This concludes our Year of Stories as our contribution to Visit Scotland’s 2022 campaign to encourage people to not only come and visit Scotland, but to explore our nation’s remarkable stories. It has been an enormous privilege, and at times a challenge to piece together and bring to life the stories of those who lived at Castle Hill within its known stages of human habitation. By referencing the huge body of work undertaken by archaeologists at Dundonald in the 80s and 90s1 this has helped to understand how the land and its resources shaped countless number of lives – and so I was keen to explore who they were, and what their lives were like. At times little or no records could be found, and so I interwove those chapters with local legends to help build a deeper comprehension about those who came before us, and at times too, I became acutely aware of the unimaginable challenges that they faced. Many played a huge and intrinsic part in the history of Scotland itself, and it’s my hope too, that this work goes some way to ensuring that they will not be forgotten. Lastly, I hope that our community will gain a deeper sense of place, and perhaps adding further to the knowing that a walk up Castle Hill is a walk in the footsteps of so many of Scotland’s legends.  Gwen Sinclair, Digital and Outreach Assistant, Friends of Dundonald Castle 


#TalesofScotland   #Yearofstories   #YS2022

Find out more about Ayrshire’s fascinating history from National Library for Scotland digitised free-to-read online book written by William Robertson in 1908:


1Dundonald Castle Excavations 1986—93
Author(s): Gordon Ewart, Denys Pringle, David Caldwell, Ewan Campbell, Stephen Driscoll, Katherine Forsyth, Dennis Gallagher, Tim Holden, Fraser Hunter, David Sanderson and Jennifer Thoms
Source: Scottish Archaeological Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1/2, DUNDONALD CASTLE EXCAVATIONS 1986—93 (2004), pp. i-x, 1-166
Published by: Edinburgh University Press
Stable URL:

Prebble J, The Lion in the North: one thousand years of Scotland’s History. Book Club Associates. 1974.

Robertson, W. Ayrshire, Its History and Historic Families. Volume II. Dunlop and Drennan Standard Office, Kilmarnock. Stephen and Pollock Ayr. 1908.

Johnson G Harvey, The Heraldry of the Stewarts. 1906.

Caldwell D, Scotland’s Wars and Warriors-winning against the odds. Historic Scotland. The Stationer Office Edinburgh..1998

Hume-Brown P. A Shorter History of Scotland. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh. 1908.

THE SCOTS PEERAGE, ed. by Sir James Balfour Paul, Vol II, Edinburgh, 1906, pp. 448-50.

Robertson, W. Ayrshire, Its History and Historic Families. Volume II. Dunlop and Drennan Standard Office, Kilmarnock. Stephen and Pollock Ayr. 1908

Paterson, James History of Ayr and a Genealogical Account of the Ayrshire Families. John Dick, Ayr.1847.ædia_Britannica/Boyd,_Robert_Boyd,_Lord


Cover by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC

Timeline by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC

Image of Edinburgh Castle Entrance showing the motto of Scotland By Daniel Kraft – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Craigie Castle by Rosser1954 Roger Griffith – Own work, Public Domain,

Mary Queen of Scots by Unidentified painter – Blairs Museum – The Museum of Scotland’s Catholic Heritage., Public Domain,

Image of the Dundonald Bell by kind permission of ‘Image © National Museums Scotland On display at Level 1, Scotland Galleries, Kingdom of the Scots, Medieval Church.

Dolls of Henry VIII and his wives from Tower of London gift shop by Gwen Sinclair 

King James IV and Queen Margaret windows in Stirling Castle by Gwen Sinclair 

Wallace shield by Czar Brodie – This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this file:, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Falkland Palace by Sam Styles, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Dundonald 400 Years of Stewarts role call by Gwen Sinclair