During the time that the Fair Maid of Galloway’s fortunes were united to the Douglases, the name of Balvenie must have been a familiar one in the highest circles of the land, and carried along with it associations of greatness and power characteristic alike of the build­ing and of the warlike lords who bore its name. As already mentioned, the estate and Castle of Balvenie was given by the Earl of Douglas, after his marriage with the Maid of Galloway, to his brother John, who, by his in­ fluence, was created Lord Balvenie in 1446. This gentleman, like all the Douglases of that- period, was of a bold and warlike temperament, and was the first to resent and avenge the inroads of the Earls of Nor­thumberland and Salisbury, when in 1488 they crossed the borders and wasted the country, leaving the towns of Dunbar and Dumfries in flames. He immediately raised his forces, and marching into Cumberland, burned the town of Alnwick, and wasted and depopulated the country to such an extent, that the English wardens collected a force of 6000 men to repel his aggressions. He did not, however, have an opportunity of meeting them in fair fight, as his brother, the Earl of Ormand, had completely routed the gallant Percy, the leader, before the Balvenie banner was unfurled; and the Mortlach contingent lost the honour of contributing to this memorable victory, so celebrated in story and in song. Another of the Lords of Balvenie took a prominent part in the festivities that followed the arrival of the Princess of Gueldres, and lasted till after her marriage with King James I., and was one of the Scottish knights who fought with the three famous Burgundian knights in the noted combat at outrance, which took place at that time. Whatever way this same laird had managed his own estate, or treated the then inhabitants of Mortlach, we cannot tell; but we find when the management of the affairs of others was placed in his hands, that insolence and tyranny of the severest kind marked all his actions. When the Earl of Douglas, in 1449, repaired to Rome he left Balvenie as procurator or administrator of his estates during his absence; but, says the historian, “his return, however, was hastened by disturbances at home, arising out of the insolence and tyranny of his brother, Douglass of Balvenie, to whom he had delegated his authority, and against the abuses of whose government perpetual complaints were carried to the King.” Such a passage certainly does not suggest pleasant pictures of life in Balvenie under such an iron rule as its lord seems to have maintained, and may well give the inha­bitants of the lordship cause to rejoice that they live under the more gentle sway of an Earl of Fife, rather than that of those haughty and warlike lords. The next time we find Balvenie turn up in history, is when he repaired to the English Court in 1451, and where he remains for a considerable time, caressed and fawned upon by the leading men in England inimical to the existing government, and plotting treason against his King with a success that afterwards developed itself in the famous rebellion of the Douglases. And the last Douglas who took his title from Balvenie we find associated with the ninth Earl in his rebellion, with whom, after the, to them, disastrous battle of Arkinholme, he escaped into a wood, and retreated to the wilds of Argyleshire, where he was received by the Earl of Ross, and for a time, with his rebellious kinsmen, sought by plotting and counter-plotting to regain the position they had lost. But the royal arms were everywhere triumphant, and Balvenie, along with all the other possessions of the Douglases, was forfeited and became the property of the Crown, and, as we have already seen, was given, along with the third husband, to the Fair Maid of Galloway. “After being held for a time by the Stewarts of Athole, it was sold to Abernethir Lord Salton, who in 1606 again disposed of it to Lord Ochiltree. From him it came to Sir Robert Innes of Invermarkie, and from his heirs to Sutherland of Kinminity. About 1666, Alexander Lord Salton reduced his father’s disposition to Lord Ochiltree, and conveyed the lands in 1670 to Arthur Forbes, brother to Blackton, from whom Alexander Duff of Braco, adjudged them and got possession about 1637/’ The Duffs of Braco were the last who inhabited the castle, and it was perhaps the more readily allowed to run to decay that the last Braco who pos­sessed it stabbed himself with a dagger in what is termed Braco’s room. From the Duffs of Braco it passed to the Fife family, and is now the property of the present Earl.

            During the long period which elapsed between the passing of the castle to the Stewarts, to its last transfer to the Earl of Fife, it seems to have enjoyed an immunity from all sieges and attacks to which the other strongholds in the north were subjected, and, with the excep­tion of its capture by Colonel Ker, in the time of the Covenanters, seems for all that period never to have echoed to the sound of hostile horn. On this occasion, the Laird of Pluscarden, who was a staunch royalist, having been joined by his nephew Lord Reay, and others, advanced at the head of a considerable force into Badenoch. “But an advance of Leslie’s compelled him to leave that place, and march down Spey towards Balvenie. On arriving at Balvenie, he resolved to enter into negotiation with Leslie, and, accordingly, he (Pluscarden) along with General Middleton, left Balvenie with a troop of horse, to meet Leslie, leaving Huntly, Reay, and Ogilvy in charge of the forces, the former of whom sent his brother. Lord Charles Gordon, to the Enzie to raise some horse. While waiting for the return of Pluscarden and Middleton, the party at Balvenie had not the most dis­tant idea of being taken by surprise; but, on the eighth of May, at break of day, they were most unexpectedly attacked by the horse which had been sent north with the Earl of Sutherland, and which, returning from Ross, bad speedily crossed the Spey, and seizing the royalist sentinels, surprised Lord Reay at the Castle of Balvenie, whore he and about nine hundred foot were taken pri­soners, and about eighty killed. Huntly and Ogilvy, who had their quarters at the church of Mortlach, escaped.” But though the castle seems to have less seldom been visited with the calamities of war and siege, yet its strength had always given an importance to its pos­sessors, which led them to join in many of the quarrels of the times. During the troubles of the first half of the 17th century, Balvenie seems to have espoused the royalists’ cause, and joining with Huntly, was fre­quently embroiled in the quarrels and troubles of the Gordons. In 1644, Sir Walter Innes of Balvenie, along with William Gordon of Arradoul, were sent as commissioners from the Marquis of Huntly, to confer with the committees of Angus and Mearns, anent a general dis­armament. But the Knight of Balvenie seems to have been but a sorry diplomatist, for the wily Earl Marischal so imposed upon him by fair words and promises, that from his representations Huntly discontinued his arming, and lay in inactivity until Marischal had his forces armed and collected in sufficient strength to resist him.

General Mackay twice bivouacked at Balvenie Castle —first, when retreating from the too powerful force of Dundee, after that General had been joined by Keppoch and his thousand clansmen; and again, after he had himself been reinforced, and in his turn able to give pur­suit. On the first occasion, he was so closely pressed by Dundee that he had been marching all night, and only arrived at Balvenie at an early hour of the morning, his men so wearied and exhausted by long travel and want of food, that he was obliged to encamp and despatch a foraging party in search of supplies. These returned well provided with provisions by the afternoon, but the General was so alarmed at the non-arrival of a party of dragoons whom he had sent out to bring him notice of Dundee’s motions, that “he would not allow time for baking bread or feeding the horses, but gave orders for an immediate march;” and it was time, for the sergeant who had charge of the scouts was a traitor, and hail been leading Dundee upon their track the whole day, and so nearly were they overtaken in Auchindoun that the rear of Mackay’s band had scarcely crossed the Fiddich when the vanguard of Dundee’s army appeared. The chase was continued by Dundee as far as Edinglassie, where he halted to allow time for the pillaging and destroying of the house and lands of Sir George Gordon, the proprietor, who had joined Mackay that day at Balvenie. Mackay continued his retreat beyond the Bogie, where he was joined by Barclay’s and Lesley’s regiments of horse; and finding himself then strong enough to turn the tables, marched back to meet Dundee, who in his turn began a retreat, and the two armies passed again over the same ground as they traversed the previous day; and Mackay, on arriving at Balvenie, took up his quarters at the Castle for the night.

The inhabitants of Mortlach, too, very fondly cling to the idea of the fair but unfortunate Mary, who has so emphatically gained the name of Queen of Scots, having slept a night within the walls of Balvenie Castle. The occasion on which site did so, was when she journeyed north to avert the horrors of a civil war between Sir Jas. Ogilvie of Cardel, and Sir Adam Gordon, and became arbitrarin their quarrel about the possession of the barony and castle of Auchindoun. After visiting the castle of Auchindoun, and receiving the keys from the hands of the knight of Auchindoun, as a token of his implicit sub­mission to be paid to her decrees, the royal arbitrar, with great judgment, refused to lodge with the gentleman whose cause she was about to try, and therefore partook of the hospitality of the knight of Balvenie for the night, and started next day for Findlater castle, to receive from Ogilvie the keys of it iu the same manner as she had done those of Auchindoun.

But we have perhaps said too much already about the possessors of this ancient fort, and we shall therefore go nearer it and examine it more minutely. It stands on a conical shaped mound, which the cuttings of the Keith and Dufftown Railway have just shown to be composed of fine drifted sand—though at what period or where it had come from, conjecture even seems at a loss to account for. A number of well-grown firs adorn the mound, and conceal the greater part of the Castle when at a distance, save the weather-worn tower and turrets that shoot their heads heaven-ward, high over the tops of the tallest trees, and court the gaze of the pas­ ser by their hoary and time worn aspect. But having threaded the grassy avenue and approached the massive iron gate, we find that the Castle, though ruinous, yet preserves the general outlines of its former grandeur — the walls being mostly entire, though the roofing is gone. It faces the south-east, and had been surrounded by a deep moat of fifteen yards wide, which was supplied with water from a spring rising somewhere about where the houses of Dufftown stand. Not very long since a part of a leaden cistern was dug up near the late Sergeant Scott’s, and when the foundation was taken out for Mr M‘Donald’s steam-mills, a water run was come upon which was generally believed to have been that which supplied the Castle. It was a lucky discovery for Mr McD., for he expected to have to bring water from a distance to his mills, but by it has now a copious and continuous supply. The sides of the moat was built with stone, and must, along with the bottom, have been puddled in order to retain the water, for the great depth of sand on which the Castle is founded would otherwise have absorbed and carried it away to the serious damage if not destruction of the building. The southern or left-hand side is the older portion, and is that generally known as the Pictish tower. It has no window or opening within twenty feet of the ground, and its blackened and vitrified walls are very suggestive of the dark and gloomy times when it was reared. The other, or Athole side, is of a more modern character, and has some claims to attempts at elegance if not humanity. The lower openings which give light to the dungeons and habitations of the menials, are larger than usual, and protected by massive iron gratings; and the upper apartments seem to have been illuminated with a flood of light from large and partially ornamented windows, altogether foreign to the ancient Castle. On the wall above the hall windows, is the motto of the Stewarts of Athole, cut in large characters, “Furth fortune and fill the fetters”— a motto adopted by that family from its being the pithy and parting benediction given by James II. when he sent Lord Athol to crush the rebellion of M’Donald Earl of Ross. At the north-eastern corner is a large circular flanking tower which commands the entrance, and is, as well as the other portions of the Castle, pretty profusely provided with loop-holes for cross-bow practice. The entrance to the Castle is through a low archway which leads through the keep where the old and new portions of the building join each other. This archway had been guarded by three gates, one within the other, but is now only protected by a ponderons iron-barred one, which, from its peculiar construction as well as its massive strength, excites the wonder of the spectator. There is a tradi­tion that this gate was not the original one belonging to this Castle, and is said to have been brought to Bal­venie from Rothes Castle, by Innes of Invermarkie, shortly after he became laird of the barony. It seems the Castle of Rothes, though falling to decay and unin­habited, was yet sufficiently strong to afford a tolerably secure retreat to a band of wild marauders of the Clan Chattan tribe, when they descended from the hills upon a foraying expedition; and to such an extent did they carry these inroads, that the young laird of Balvenie with a band of armed followers, had to attack them, and after driving them from Rothes Castle, caused the iron gate by which it was defended to be brought to Bal­venie. And it was to avenge the chastisement then in­dicted upon the clansmen, that shortly afterwards they made a raid to Pityvaigh and carried off three of the tenants, with their horses, sheep, cattle, &c.; and such as they were unable to take with them were cruelly killed and left lying on the ground. The archway guarded by this gate runs through the entire width of the Castle and leads into the court-yard behind. It was, however, further protected by a guard-house or keep on the left side—a narrow, dark, and ill-venti­lated, vaulted apartment, having loop-holes pointing both to the outside, and to the passage leading to the court-yard. At the end of this entrance, and on each side rises a spiral staircase which had led to the highest apartments in the building, but the steps arc almost entirely gone and long since appropriated to other uses. Turning to the left and entering by a broken doorway we get access to the older portion of the Castle. It had consisted of three storeys, each arched with stone and protected by walls of immense thickness; but these arches have fallen down, and nothing bat the bare walls remain save where some hardy sapling has taken root in the chinks of the windows, and throws its green and living branches in graceful triumph over such a mass of death and desolation. What strikes one most on enter­ing this apartment is the gloom that pervades it. Even though the arches that divided and darkened it arc down, and free access to the open air and light of heaven given from the top, there is a sullen darkness pertaining to it that never fails to carry the visitor back to the gloomy times when watch and ward was kept within its gates. How the lower apartment had been lighted does not appear, for the only openings seem to have been two doorways; and possibly as it was bakehouse, kitchen, and servants’ hall, these were the only inlets for the then little courted goddess Light. The huge fire-place or ingle of the second floor, will probably next attract the attention of the visitor, and conjure up visions of the fireside revels of the feudal lords of Balvenie, when that large recess was filled to overflowing with crackling logs, that by turns sent their biting smoke through the hall, and out at the large but finely-built chimney. In the opposite wall from the door, there is a strange passage leading to the new or Athole portion of the Castle. It had been cut or quarried out of the vitrified wall of the old tower, for the passage of servants from the kitchen, and other rooms pertaining to them, to the more modern and airy apartments of the family, and is not remarkable for its convenience or artistic merits. It is not much, if any, over two feet in width, and from five to six in height, and leads to what had been the grand hall of the Castle; but as our lady friends nil wear crinoline, it will be madness to attempt to thread it with them, and we shall endeavour to make an entrance by some other way. Turning then to the right of the entering archway, we are admitted into a number of dark and dingey vaulted apartments, which had pertained to the garrison, and which by numerous loopholes command the slopes on the north side of the ground; and at the end of these is the dungeon or prison of the Castle, where in the centre of the roof where the arches meet, had used to be seen the iron staple to which the culprits were wont to be suspended, when privately executed. From the dungeon a staircase leads to the private apartment of the laird; and no doubt, if that narrow circular opening could tell the dark and vengeful purposes of the Lords of Balvenie, as they ascended and descended the spiral steps, we would have tales of tyranny and horror of the most heart­ rending description. In the laird’s room above, or Braco’s room, as it is called, from being the place where that unfortunate man drew his own dagger upon himself, some cicerones had used to point out the marks of his blood upon the wall, but eyes are becoming less clear, or the marks more effaced than formerly, for no one can find traces of them now.

            The large court-yard which adjoined the Castle, was surrounded by a massive wall, from twenty to thirty feet in height, which yet remains entire, with the excep­tion of the north-eastern corner, where a guard-house had been, which has just fallen down. On each of these comers, and at intervals along the top of the walls, had been parapets, perforated with strangely twisted loop­-holes, by which the defendants could fire to the bottom of the walls upon an assailant without the chance of| having the fire successfully returned. Within these walls the number of half-broken vaults, and the quantity of rubbish that remain, show where the out-houses of the garrison bad been though perhaps the last use to which any of these vaults were applied was as a smiddy to John Milne, Butts of Buchromb, who, for lack of a better place to start in, commenced business as a black­ smith there. From the walls of the court-yard, or from the largo window in Braco’s room, one of the finest views of quiet scenery to be met with in a Highland glen, is obtained—“ The rich and spacious valley, enclosed with sloping hills, on the declivities of which the elder, birch, and hazel, intermixed with the wild cherry trees, grow and enrich the banks of the river Fiddich, as it winds through the dale, and adds beauty and fertility to the adjacent fields; whilst the country around rises into mountainous scenes, where the plantations of Scotch fir and other forest trees, vary their dark verdure with the glowing heath, and are thriving apace over those heights where strength of vegetation seemed to have been denied.”