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Evidence of 17th Century Battles Found at Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire

Michael East, Red Revolution

Archeologists working at Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, say they have found evidence from two battles dating back to the 17th century, including coins and original glass broken by the attacking forces of Oliver Cromwell.

Taking part in a project by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), amateur archeologists have uncovered glass that was trampled into the dirt as the forces of Oliver Cromwell, led by General Monck, laid siege to the castle between 1653 and 1655, shattering the windows of the impressive building during their attack as they sought to suppress royalist elements. Working alongside professional archaeologists, 400 members of the public have been working at the site for the past two weekends and have uncovered a significant number of finds from the period including coins and both pottery and wine bottles from the 19th and 18th centuries respectively. Researchers have also found pieces of flint which may indicate prehistoric activity in the area, amongst the flint was found a squared off piece of the mineral which is believed to be from a musket.

“Last year at Castle Fraser we found a 16th century silver coin but this year the evidence appears to focus more on the 17th century. Two copper alloy coins were found, one each at Crathes and Castle Fraser, and both appear to be coins called Turners (2 pence) of Charles I from 1632-1639.” – Daniel Rhodes, National Trust for Scotland Archeologist

The two coins found, while not rare, are notable for their history, being the first type of coin in Scotland to be milled rather than hammered, marking the reintroduction of the process into a British mint after an absence of some 70 years. The coins were also significant as being the first coins issued by the noted French coin engraver Nicholas Briot, who worked from the mint from 1633.

The coins also played a role in the actual outbreak of the Bishops’ Wars, the conflict between 1639 and 1640 which focused on the nature of both the governance of the Church of Scotland, and the rights and powers of the Crown. Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, first Earl of Stirling, had ensured that all profits were assigned to him alone and this, coupled with the excessive quantity of the coin that was issued, contributed to the unpopularity of King Charles I’s government in Scotland, leading to the Bishop’s War and serving as a prelude of the Civil War to come.

“The mid-17th century was a volatile time in the north-east. Following a peaceful surrender, the Marquise of Montrose camped his royalist army at Crathes in 1645 and sometime between 1653 and 1655 Castle Fraser was attacked by Oliver Cromwell’s General Monck as he supressed royalist supporters. he concentration of broken window glass around Castle Fraser may be a result of this destruction.” – Daniel Rhodes, National Trust for Scotland Archeologist
Castle Fraser, approaching from the carpark

The elaborate Castle Fraser, located near Kemnay, is a five-storey Z-plan castle which began construction in 1575 and was completed in 1636, replacing an already existing tower at the site. The castle was built as the seat of the Frasers of Muchalls, later known as the Frasers of Castle Fraser, and is now owned by the NTS.

By the 1690s Fraser sympathy had swung to Catholicism and, after the collapse of the Jacobite cause in 1690, surrendered to MacKay at Ayr. The Frasers proclaimed again for James VII two years later and were fined two hundred pounds for the trouble. The 4th Lord Fraser seemed a defiant sort and declared for the Old Pretender yet again in 1715 and after the failure of the rising became a fugitive, falling to his death off the cliffs at Pennan.

Originally named Muchall-in-Mar, the castle is said to be the most haunted in Scotland and legends surrounding the castle say that a young princess was once brutally murdered in her sleep at the castle, her bloodied body being dragged down the stone stairs, leaving a trail of blood in her wake. No matter how hard the occupants of castle tried to remove the stain, they could never remove it as it strangely reappeared after each wash, the owners being forced to encase the stairs in wood to hide the memory of the terrible events. It is said that the bloody princess still stalks the halls of the castle at night.

Another legend tells of the spirit of Lady Blanche Drummond, wife to Frederick MacKenzie Fraser, who died of what is thought to have been tuberculosis in 1873. Unable to move on and leave the castle, the woman in black has been seen roaming the grounds and the staircase with the sounds of children laughing mysteriously heard in the kitchen. Blanche had been very fond of her nieces and had no children of her own.

While the team unsurprisingly didn’t find any evidence of ghoulies and ghosties, the team have found some interesting pieces of history that help put together another piece of Scottish history at the site.

“It is great to see so many people come out and take an active part in their heritage. In addition to the protection and promotion of our properties, the Trust is keen to provide engaging experiences and the last two weekends have proven a major success in involving the public in what we do for the love of Scotland.” – Daniel Rhodes, National Trust for Scotland Archeologist
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