Castle Menzies

Castle Menzies

Castle Menzies - Long Chamber

Castle Menzies - Long Chamber


Castle Menzies in Scotland is the ancestral seat of the Clan Menzies. It is located a little to the west of the small village of Weem, near Aberfeldy in the Highlands of Perthshire, close to the former site of Weem Castle, destroyed c. 1502. It is believed that the Menzies families were well established in Perthshire by the middle of the 12th century. They had earlier strongholds before the present castle such as Comrie Castle situated between the River Lyon and the high ground leading up to Drummond Hill to its south and 4 miles west of Castle Menzies and just a small ruin now. Garth castle is another which has early Menzies ownership. It was restored in the middle of the last century as a private residence. Likewise what is currently also a private residence, Grandtully Castle, was in an older version once Menzies owned. Others, left to the elements and less well-known, are on the Isle of Loch Tay (eastern end) and Castle Mains near Ardeonaig farther west on Loch Tay's south shore. After a fire at Comrie Castle the present area under Weem Rock was chosen by Sir Robert Menzies (11th Baron of Menzies) in 1488 to build a new mansion. It was called the Place of Weem but unfortunately was itself burnt down when attacked by Neil Stewart the then owner of Garth Castle in 1502. At some point thereafter the older Z-shaped building was erected (ie excluding the Victorian wing to the west or left of castle when looking at it from the front). It is uncertain if the second building is on exactly the same site as the older one.


It was designed not only as a residence but also was required to provide some protection from enemies. By 1577 this latter problem was thought to have diminished and alterations were made, particularly to the roof area, making it less of a fortress and giving it its present appearance. However it later had to survive through the Covenanter religious troubles of the mid-17th century and the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and the '45. In 1715 it was occupied by the Jacobites and in the '45 again by the Jacobites including their leader Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) only to be rapidly occupied 4 days later by the Duke of Cumberland's forces. A new wing was added at the back in early 18th century but not too expertly as it turned out when it was found in the current restoration that it was causing dampness problems in the middle of the building and it was therefore demolished. The present entrance was then formed instead of the old yett in the s-w tower but the porch was added later in Victorian times. The older building was much altered and decorated to incorporate the access to the new wing on all floors. In 1840 another wing was added by architect William Burn using the same stone (quarried from the hillside on south side of Loch Tay) and the style in keeping with the old building. It connected up with the 18th century added wing. At the beginning of the 20th century all the family had died out and in fact the castle had begun its difficult time before then, as it had been rented out and not lived in by the family who had moved to Farleyer to the west - a smaller mansion. From its first passing from the family it had various owners and tenants until in 1957 it was bought by the decision taken at the first meeting of what is now The Menzies Clan Society. This was a re-forming from an older Society first started in 1892 but had to stop activities during both World Wars.


Claims that the Menzies' are descended from a mythical “Scottish” King Mainus of 33BC have been made but may be dismissed as ill-founded in common with the ancient genealogies of some other clans. As with several old established Scots families the Menzies' were of Norman origin, descending from Robert de Maineriis of Mesnieres near Rouen in Normandy and settling in Etal, Northumberland, in 1166, the name becoming variously Meyners, Maynoeurs and Manners. It seems probable that a branch of this family was granted lands in Scotland in the 12th Century and eventually became established in the Central Highlands. Variations of the name appear in early charters, the first recorded Menzies being Anketillus de Maynoers whose name is appended to a charter relating to a donation to the Abbey of Holyrood during the reign of William the Lion (d. 1214). The earliest definitive “Chief” was, however, Sir Robert de Meyneris (possibly the son of Anketillus) who was at the court of King Alexander III and became Chamberlain of Scotland in 1249. Sir Robert presumably received a grant of lands in West Atholl since the earliest existing Menzies document (c. 1240) refers to the confirmation of the lands of Culdares and Duneaves by him to Sir Mathew of Moncrieffe. The grant of lands to Sir Robert included “the following, which added the element of clanship to the feudal relationship and the name in the Gaelic, Meinnearach.


Robert’s heir, Sir Alexander Menzies, was granted the lands of Aberfeldy and Weem with patronage of the Church of Weem in c. 1266 and in 1312-14, the family’s loyalty to Robert Bruce against Edward I of England, was rewarded by grants of lands in the Highlands, Glendochart, Finlarig and Glenorchy and further lands in the Abthane of Dull, and, in the Lowlands Durisdeer in Nithsdale. In succeeding years the extent of the lands held by the Menzies' fluctuated with legalistic exchanges and marriage endowments and overt usurpation in the manner typical of territorial transactions of the feudal-clan system of the Highlands, finally settling with the territories around Weem, the Appin of Dull and Rannoch, these considerable areas remaining in the possession of the Weem Menzies' until the death of Sir Neil Menzies, the last of the main line in 1910.


The first residence of the Menzies Chiefs at Weem, the “Place of Weem”, was built in 1488 by Sir Robert Menzies, the eighth Chief after the first Sir Robert. Before this, Comrie Castle was the family seat. The new house was to serve the family for but a short time, however, for in 1502, as the result of a dispute with a neighbour over the rights of the lands of Fortigall and Rannoch. With the burning of the Castle were lost the early records of the origins of the Menzies'. Restitution was ordered by the Monarch, James IV who erected the Menzies lands into the Barony of Menzies in 1510, the Chief being styled Menzies of Menzies (or Menzies of the Ilk) and the Castle, Castle Menzies. In 1665, Sir Alexander Menzies of Menzies was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia and this title continued to the 8th Baronet, Sir Neil who died without heir in 1910. After his death the Menzies’ estates were divided and auctioned by his Trustees. With the divided estates were also sold the Castle and its contents including many Clan relics and, to recreate a tragedy little less than the destruction of the ancient documents by the burning of the Place of Weem in 1502, the contents of the muniment room were apparently bundled into lots, sold and dispersed, and with them, four hundred years of documented history of the family and district.


With the extinction of the main Menzies of Weem line, the Clan was therefore without a Chief until Ronald Steuart Menzies of Culdares and Arndilly, the lineal heir of Colonel James Menzies of Culdares, a prominent Covenanting officer and cousin of the first Baronet, petitioned Lyon Court in 1957 and obtained arms in the title of “The Menzies of Menzies”. His son, David Steuart Menzies of Menzies is the present Chief. The Menzies’ are recorded as a relatively peaceful clan, predominately siding with law and order and the established Monarchy. Although surrounded by powerful neighbours, the Menzies held on to their inheritance without recourse to violent conflict. Differences with their neighbours were mainly resolved by diplomacy, litigation or convenient marriage and they became the oldest family in Strathtay with an unbroken descent in the direct main line down to 1910.


The loyalty with which the Clan had supported the Bruce was extended to the subsequent Stuart dynasty to which the Menzies' of Weem became associated through the marriage of Sir Alexander de Meyners (1235-1320) to Egidia Stuart, daughter of James, High Steward of Scotland, and that of James Menzies of Menzies in 1540 to Barbara Stewart, daughter of the third Earl of Atholl and second cousin to Lord Darnley. The Menzies Chiefs embraced the reformed religion but, nevertheless, supported the early attempt to restore the Monarchy during the Commonwealth. Loyalties to the Royal House of Stuart and to the Establishment were later to become divided however, and Captain Robert Menzies, elder son of the first Baronet sided with the Government forces under General Mackay at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689) while other Menzies', principally those of Pitfoddels, who adhered to Roman Catholicism, fought on the opposing Jacobite side under Viscount Dundee. When the “Old Pretender, the Chevalier St. George made a bid for the throne of Scotland in 1715, the Menzies' of Culdares, Bolfracks and Shian were among the clans who rallied to the call, but the then Chief, Sir Robert, was but nine years old at the time and represented by his great-uncle James as regent or tutor, and Captain James, who had fought at Killiecrankie with his brother on the Government side, considered it prudent not to commit his ward to the enterprise.


In the 1745 rising the Chief adopted a neutral position and took no active part, but the Clan was “out” under Menzies of Shian who subsequently paid dearly with his life for the cause. The Chief, nevertheless gave to Prince Charles the hospitality of his house for two days during the ill-fated retreat from Stirling to Inverness in 1746 which ended in the tragedy of Culloden. Scotland is indebted to the Menzies for the introduction of the larch tree which now flourishes all over the Highlands. Menzies of Culdares, “Old Culdares” who had been pardoned for his participation in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, brought the first larches from the Austrian Tyrol in 1737and presented them to the Duke of Atholl. Two of the original saplings, now grown to a great size, can be seen besides Dunkeld Cathedral. In the nineteenth century Sir Neil Menzies of Menzies, 6th Baronet, actively promoted tree planting and agricultural improvements which were continued by his son Sir Robert. Another branch of the family, Pitfoddels, now also extinct in the male line, has left as a memorial the Catholic College of Blairs in the Dee Valley, founded by the last representative of the line.


Despite various political events and being surrounded by powerful neighbours such as the Campbells of Breadalbane, the Stewarts of Grantully, the Grahams of Menteith and the Murrays of Atholl, the Menzies' managed to maintain their standing and possessions until the estates, the Castle and its contents were auctioned off to pay outstanding debts in 1914. With the extinction of the main line the Clan was left without a Chief on the death of Sir Neil Menzies in 1910. His sister, Miss Egidia Menzies of Menzies was elected Chieftainess by the Menzies Clan Society but did not apply to Lord Lyon Court to become Chief of the Clan. She died in 1918. In 1957 the descendants of the cousin of the first Baronet were successful in petitioning Lord Lyon King of Arms to be recognised as being allowed to use the arms of Menzies of Menzies. The current Chief is David Steuart Menzies of Menzies.


The Tea Room sells tea, special and fruit teas, Brodies of Edinburgh coffee, cold drinks and fruit juices, biscuits, locally produced tray bakes and shortbread, sweets, crisps and (summer months only) ice cream and lollies. Between November and March each year private tours may be arranged in advance with the Castle Manager, with a minimum of 8 persons and a maximum of 25. The tours will last approximately 1 hours 15 minutes. Cost: £10.00 per person (no concessions). Castle Menzies, the Old Kirk of Weem and the Walled Garden are all ancient buildings and places which retain many of their original features. As a result there is unfortunately very limited access for wheelchair users and there are steps and uneven floors throughout the properties. The upper floors of the Castle may well be inaccessible for those who find stairs difficult. On the ground floor they have a video area showing a detailed film of the Castle and its history, which allows those restricted to the ground floor to learn about the upper floors. They have a disabled toilet. Assistance dogs are welcome. The entry ticket includes entry to the Castle's Walled Gardens and the Old Kirk of Weem


Location :Castle Menzies, Weem, Aberfeldy, Aberfeldy PH15 2JD

Transport: Pitlochry (National Rail) then taxi. Bus Routes : 91 and 892 stop nearby.

Opening Times : 1st April through October, Daily, 10:30 to 17:00;  Sundays open at 14:00

Tickets : Adults £6.50;  Concessions £5.50;  Children (5 - 16) £3.00

Tel. : 01887 820982