This castle is of unknown antiquity. One portion is considerably older than the other, but its date we have not been able to ascertain. It is understood that there was a fortalice of some kind on the spot at the time the battle of Mortlach was fought, in the beginning of the 11th century, and it may not be extravagant to suppose that the older portion of the existing ruin dates from that period. The history of the edifice is enveloped in no little obscurity. It doubtless formed part of the extensive domains of the Cumyns during the time they held sway over the north. On the forfeiture of the Cumyns, during the reign of Bruce, it passed to the Douglas family, with whose name we find the lordship of Balvenie first associated.

William de Douglas, who succeeded to the Douglas estates on the resignation of his uncle Hew, in 1342, was by maternal descent the grandson of John Cumyn of Badenoch, and the nephew of the Red Cumyn stabbed by Bruce in the convent at Dumfries, and the same William de Douglas, the first of the house who bore the title of Earl (and whose father, Sir Archibald Douglas, youngest brother of the ‘good Sir James’, had distinguished for his attachment to the Bruce and his son David II., and who, during the minority of the latter sovereign was for a time Regent of Scotland, obtained in 1374, from Robert the Second, a charter of the ‘forest of Cabrach, in Banffshire,’ and it would seem strange that a southern house should seek such a possession in the far north unless they had already had other property in the neighbourhood. The probability that the Balvenie property passed into the hands of the Douglasses at the period alluded to is increased by the fact, that we afterwards find a charter of King James I., dated April 18 1426, concerning a donation made by Archibald the Grim, third Earl of Douglas, to his brother, James (who, by a curious train of circumstances, became seventh Earl), of the lands of ‘Botharm, Balvany, and Conveth, (now Inverkeithny), in Banffshire.’

On the death of James, the Balvenie property fell to the fifth son, who is styled ‘Sir John Douglas, Lord of Balveny.’ This knight seems to have shared all the daring ambition which characterised and which proved the ruin of his house. He supported his two elder brothers, William and James, the eight and ninth earls, in their opposition to the authority of the sovereign, James II. He was with his brother, James, when he attempted to raise the siege of Abercorn, then carried on by the royal troops; and when Earl of Douglas deserted by Hamilton and the other supporters fled into England, Sir John Douglas of Balvenie, with the Earls of Moray and Ormond, rallying some followers, harassed the king for some time, until, hazarding a battle at Arkinholm, on the 1st May 1455, he and his confederates were completely routed by the royal forces. Having shared with his family in their rebellion, Sir John participated in their disgrace, and at a Parliament held in Edinburgh in the following June, his forfeiture was solemnly decreed, as well as that of his other relatives – the barony of Balvenie lapsing to the Crown.

The property did not long remain in the possession of the Crown. Lady Margaret Douglas, ‘the fair maid Galway,’ the relict of the eight Earl of Douglas, had been married to James, his brother and successor, and in whom the title and estates were forfeited. After the forfeiture, Lady Margaret made an appeal to the king, representing that she had been forced into the second ‘ungodly nuptials’ against her will. The king, it is said, received her into favour, and bestowed her in marriage on Sir John Stewart (eldest son, by Johanna, Queen Dowager, of Sir John Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorn), who had been created Earl of Atholl, and of which title he was the first holder. As a dowry with Lady Margaret, the king gave the barony of Balvenie. By this Lady Atholl has only two daughters, and with them the barony would in all likelihood have gone, had not the Earl taken the precaution to secure, in the favour of himself and second wife, Elonora Sinclair, a daughter of the Earl of Caithness, a second charter, dated 8th December 1476, of the lordship of Balvenie.

We may remark, that he also had, on the 7th November 1477, another charter of the lands of ‘Botruthin (Botriphnie), Boharm, and Aberlour.’ It was in all probability during the time the property was held by the Stewarts that the greater part of the castle was built. The motto assumed by the first Earl of Atholl, and still borne by the Murrays, who hold the title of the Duke of Atholl of ‘FURTH FORTUINE AND FILL THE FETTRES,’ is displayed in large letters across the front of the castle. By his second wife, Atholl had two sons and several daughters. The younger son became Bishop of Caithness. The elder, who succeeded his father, was killed at Flodden, leaving an only son, who became third Earl. He had two sons, the younger of whom is designated ‘Sir James Stewart of Balvenie.’ The property continued in the hands of the family till 1595, when John, fifth Earl, died, leaving no male issue. His widow marrying into another branch of the Stewart family, her husband, Lord Innermeath, was created Earl of Atholl. James, his son and successor, married his stepmother’s daughter, by her first husband; and in him was again revived the lordship of Balvenie, to which he had a charter granted him on the 6th of April 1610. Dying without male issue, however, the titles again reverted to the crown in 1625. The title of Earl of Atholl was conferred on John Murray, the second Earl of Tullibardine, a descendant by the female line of the Stewarts of Atholl. In this family, the title of Earl of Atholl still remains, and with it seems to have gone that of Lord of Balvenie, for among the honourable designations borne by the present Duke of Atholl, appears the title of Lord Balvenie.

On the death of the last Earl of Atholl of the Stewart line, if not before, a separation of the titles and the property appears to have ensued. As we have seen above, the title of Lord of Balvenie is claimed by, and accorded to, the present Atholl family. On the other hand, in Douglass’s ‘Scottish Peerage,’ we find it noted that, on the 4th day of March 1618, George, sixth Earl and the first Marquis of Huntly, obtained a charter of the ‘fortalice of Balvenie,’ a statement which, if the date be correct, is calculated to suggest doubts as to whether the charter of the 6th of April 1610, mentioned above, was more than a patent giving right to assume the title. Whether this be the case or not, the property certainly passed about the date mentioned to the Gordons, who retained it for a considerable period. It also belonged for some time to the Inneses, a branch of the ancient family of Coxtown; and the present baronet of the Innes Family takes the title of Sir James Innes of Balvenie. The property, we need scarcely say, now belongs to the Earl of Fife, in whose family it has been for a century and a half.

The ruin is still in excellent preservation. All the four walls are standing. They are of great strength, being in some portions three or four feet thick. Several chambers and staircases in the later portions of the building, on the Southern side, are yet pretty complete. The Castle has been surrounded with a fosse, which is yet distinctly marked. The ruin is surrounded with a rom of trees, the shelter of which is thought to contribute in a great measure to the preservation of the walls. To the eastward lies what is supposed to have been the garden of the Castle.

The Castle occupies a very commanding position, and affords a fine view of the country. It overlooks the entire valley of the Fiddich – the banks of the river fringed with beautiful natural birches and alders, the arable acclivities on either hand interspersed with wood, among which may be seen mingling the birch, the fir, the oak, the ash, the elm, the plane, the chestnut, and other varieties.