A history of Rosneath Castle
A castle has stood at Rosneath since approximately the 12th century. During its time it has been host to many
historical figures including William Wallace, Winston Churchill and Dwight D Eisenhower, even Wilhelm II
Emperor of Germany.
It has also been home to many interesting people namely the Dukes of Argyll and been
the unlucky victim of many a fire which ultimately led to its demise.
The original castle was built overlooking what is now known as Castle Bay. Its main entry point was through
tunnels from the shore which led into the basement of the castle.
One of the first mentions of Rosneath Castle is in the poem Blind Harry’s Wallace, thought to have been written
between 1478 and 1488.
Then to Dumbarton Cave with merry speed,
March’d long e’er Day, a quick Exploit indeed.
Towards Rosneath, next Night they past along,
Where English-Men possest that Castle strong.
Who that same Day unto a Wedding go,
Fourscore in Number, at the least, or moe.
In their return the Scots upon them set
Where Fourty did their Death Wounds fairly get.
The Rest scour’d off and to the Castle fled,
But Wallace who in War was nicely bred,
He did the Entry to the Castle win,
End slew the South’ron all were found therein.
After the Flyers did pursue with Speed;
None did escape him, all were cut down dead.
On their Purveyance seven Days lodged there,
At their own Ease, and merrily did fare.
Some South’ron came to visit their good Kin,
But none went out, be sure, that once came in.
After he had set Fire to the Place,
March’d straight to Faukland in a litle Space.
A brief translation tells of how Wallace and his men, travelling from Dumbarton, came across at least 80 English
soldiers who were going to a wedding at Rosneath Castle. Forty were killed instantly and those who escaped
ran to the castle where they later met their fate as Wallace stormed the castle killing all within. Seven days
passed when a patrol of English soldiers came to visit their countrymen. Again Wallace fought them, setting fire
to the castle for good measure before marching to Faukland Castle in Fife.
Other stories say that Wallace, while being chased by the English soldiers, jumped with his horse off the cliff
now known as ‘Wallace’s Leap’. He managed to escape by swimming to Cairndhu Point, just across the water in
Rosneath Castle was gifted to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll on the 9th January 1490 by King James IV. In the
1600’s it was an L shaped, 3 story building with a tower in one corner. In October 1743, Archibald Campbell,
succeeded his brother to become the 3rd Duke of Argyll. In 1744, he visited Rosneath Castle and found it to be
an empty shell after his brother’s widow had decided to sell the furniture. This was to be the start of a major
reconstruction and plans to make the castle square but the reconstruction never happened.
In August 1745 architect, William Adam, was computing estimates for the building when the news of Bonnie
Prince Charlie’s landing threw the country into complete turmoil. It was the Duke’s cousin, John Campbell (4th
Duke of Argyll), who questioned Flora MacDonald and produced a written document of her confession in aiding
the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Eventually in 1757 the Duke was able to stay at Rosneath Castle following a
complete refurbishment which took several years to complete.
At around 6pm on the 30th May 1802, Ronseath Castle met its final fate and was consumed by fire. The 5th
Duke, John Campbell, was frequenting Ardincaple Castle at the time. As he saw his home burning, he
supposedly, calmly, expressed great gratitude by saying, ‘I thank my God I have another house to go to’.
Although some parts were still habitable the Duke decided to build a new home further inland and so Rosneath
House was built.
In 1803 construction started on the Rosneath House. Going against advice, the 5th Duke decided to go with the
design of Joseph Bonomi. Bonomi had long wanted to build ‘A Countryman’s Estate’ and some of his ideas were
used in the construction of Rosneath House.
The house was of a neo-classical design but was never completed to Bonomi’s original design. Following the
death of the 5th Duke in 1806, the 6th Duke’s monitory constrains meant that building work was halted in 1810
and work on the interior finished in 1820. Below are some Bonomi’s designs for the house.
In his book ‘Rosneath Past and Present’,published in 1893, William Charles Maughan describes the house as
being 184 feet long and 121 feet in breadth.
From the high circular tower in the centre there is a good panorama of the woods, water, lawn and moor. You
look right up the Estuary of the Clyde far beyond Dumbarton and down the river as far as Bute in another
direction and towards the north.
The stone is the finest sandstone from the famous Garscube quarry near Glasgow. Each door and window is of
stately proportion and the interior is of the same scale of classical sculptured adornment. A spacious corridor
extends from one end of the building to the other of which large public rooms open up, from each window is a
beautiful view. The rooms are very lofty and handsomely proportioned and have decorative friezes on the upper
portions of the walls and ceilings.
One extremely elegant room is the circular library under the tower with sandstone walls and classical ceiling
decorations. Downstairs the kitchen is of great size with various other vaulted halls and rooms, several of these
at the east end being unfurnished and used for storing plants. The upper part of the castle has a number of large
rooms, all plainly fitted up for there is little splendour in any of the internal furnishings.
There is believed to be only one internal picture of the house which is a picture of the drawing room.
This house wasn’t safe from fire either. In 1911 a fire broke out early in the morning. No-one was in the house
at the time but there were plenty of amateur fire fighters on the estate who tried to vanquish the flames.
Helensburgh Fire Brigade were called when the extinguishers weren’t powerful enough and the hose was full of
leaks. It took two hours for the fire brigade to turn up during which time the blaze had been kept under control
by a human chain of volunteers and help from the crew of training ship Empress which was anchored nearby.
The upper part of the building was greatly damaged including the studio of Princess Louise, wife of the 9th Duke
of Argyll. To thank those who fought the fire, the Duke and Princess held an award ceremony where each and
every person who helped received a token of their gratitude.
Sadly this was not the last fire to affect Rosneath House. In 1947 the house was again damaged by fire which
ultimately led to it being demolished in 1961.
Rosneath Castle was not only home to the Dukes of Argyll but also home to the Rosneath Terrier, better known
today as the West Highland Terrier. Scottish Terriers have been around since before James VI but it was this
king who ordered that 12 of these white dogs be procured from Argyll and presented to the Kingdom of France
as a gift.
The name of West Highland Terrier was recognised in 1908. Previously they went under two names, the
Rosneath Terrier and Poltalloch Terrier. Edward Donald Malcolm was the 16th Laird of Paltalloch, near
Lochilphead. He started breeding white terriers after he mistakenly shot his beloved dog thinking it was a fox.
Around the same time George John Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll was also breeding white terriers. It is
thought that Malcolm and Campbell got together at times but mostly concentrated on their own breeding
programmes. In 1904 the first Rosneath Terrier breed club was set up by Niall Campbell, 10th Duke of Argyll. A
few years later the Countess of Aberdeen set up a breed club for the Paltalloch Terrier. The club was later
chaired by Malcolm himself and in 1908 the Kennell Club recognised both terriers under the name of West
Highland Terrier and so the name has stuck to this day.
The 8th Duke of Argyll was close associate of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. He acted as Lord Privy
Seal between 1852-1855 and 1859-1866 and his first wife was mistress of the robes to Queen Victoria. These
positions no doubt helped with their son becoming the Queen’s son in law.
John George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll, married Princess Louise on the 21st
March 1871. Their marriage was a difficult one with long periods of separation.
Queen Victoria gave the then Marquis of Lorne, the position of Governor General of Canada. At the age of 33
he was the youngest person to have held the position. During his time in Canada, Lorne was greatly interested
in Canada and Canadians. He constantly travelled meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures
including the First Nations. Lorne and Louise made lasting contributions to Canadian society, especially in the
arts and science, including the establishment of the Royal Society of Canada, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts
and the National Gallery of Canada. Lorne also helped in the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
During their time in Canada, Lorne and Princess Louise were involved in a sleigh accident. Their horses were
spooked causing them to bolt and the sleigh was turned upside down with its passengers dragged along until
the horses eventually stopped upon meeting another sleigh on the road. The Princess was concussed and her
ear was torn with a shard of glass later found embedded in it. She never fully recovered from the accident
having reoccurring headaches.
The time in Canada was a stain on the marriage. Princess Louise felt home sick and returned to London
resulting in long periods of distance between the pair. The marriage was also a childless one thought to be due
to a childhood illness of the Princess but also the rumoured sexuality of Lorne. They grew close again with
Princess Louise nursing her husband towards the end of his life until his death.
Along with his interests in arts and science, Lorne was the first president of Rangers football club, founded by
Moses McNeil who is buried in Rosneath Old Graveyard. In 1907, great efforts were made ensuring Lorne
wasn’t involved in the investigation into the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. Lorne was a close friend of Lord
Ronald Gower who, although himself innocent, was an associate of the people believed to be involved.
In 1895 Lorne and Princess Louise raised £170,000 to purchase Rosneath House from his father. The 8th Dukes
third marriage disgusted Lorne and he didn’t want Rosneath falling into the hands of his father’s new wife.
While Lorne and Princess Louise were away from Rosneath, the house was rented out to pay for repairs and
improvements needed on the Campbell estate. These included fixing Kilcreggan pier and construction of offices
at Rosneath pier.
Lorne died at Kensigton Palace in May 1914 and is buried in Kilmun Parish Church. Before being buried his
funeral possession stopped at Rosneath where the whole village, including the crew of the training ship
Empress, turned out to pay their respects. His coffin spent the night in St Modan’s church guarded many groups
of the area before being taken to his final resting place. Princess Louise continued to visit Rosneath until her
death in 1939.
Princess Louise was born Princess Louisa Caroline Alberta on 18th March 1848. She was the 6th child of Queen
Victoria and Prince Albert. The birth of Princess Louise would be the first to be aided by chloroform. During
their childhood, Prince Albert thought it important that his children be taught practical skills such as cooking,
farming, household tasks and carpentry. These skills were obviously important to Princess Louise as she set up a
school to teach the ladies of the Rosneath village to sew amongst other skills. In 1916 she became the 1st royal
patron of the Girl Guides with the Dunbartonshire Girl Guides became Princess Louise Own Girl Guides.
She was a very skilled artist and sculptor, one of her most famous pieces of work is of her mother which can be
seen outside Kensington Palace. Other works can be seen across Canada and Inveraray Castle.
In 1890, Princess Louise bought Ferry Inn, which she was originally indenting to use as a Dower house. With the
help of architect Edwin Lutyens, the Princess redesigned Ferry Inn but she never lived there instead gifting the
house to injured soldiers of the Boer War to convalesce. Princess Louise also became the 1st Patron of Erskine
Hospital originally known as Princess Louise Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers. She regularly visited the
hospital until her health made it impossible to do so.
Along with Erskine Hospital, Princess Louise was patron of many places including St Modan’s church in
Rosneath. She contributed to the church’s organ fund, building of the vestry and the installation of electric
lighting in the church and manse. On her suggestion a stained glass window in memory of the men of the parish
who died during WW1 was installed behind the Communion table. In memory of her husband and father in law,
a carved picture of the Last Supper was also installed behind the Communion table and a bible used by Queen
Victoria was also donated.
While in Canada with her husband, Princess Louise made a really good impression on the Canadian people. As
well as being patron to many projects, there are many places named after her including the Province of Alberta,
Mount Alberta and Lake Louise. The names of Alberta rather than Louise are because Princess Louise wanted to
pay tribute to her father and so the name Alberta was settled upon.
Princess Louise died 3rd December 1939 at Kensington Palace. If she had died in Scotland she would have been
buried with her husband but is instead cremated and laid to rest at Frogmore House next to her parents. A memorial service was held at St Modan’s Church at the same time as the service in England.
Following the death of Princess Louise, Rosneath House started a new chapter and became an American Naval
Base during WW2. During WW1, the house had been used as a military hospital but WW2 would have a much
different role for Rosneath House.
Acquired by the American Navy under the Lease Agreement secret operations were being carried out in 1941
while America was still neutral. Initially used for the repair and maintenance of Atlantic support vessels, this all changed after Pearl Harbour. In 1942 the base became a training centre for amphibious operations and where
Operation Torch, an attack on North West Africa, was devised. Rosneath House was used as the Head Quarters
of the base with officers living in the house. There were many huts set up in the Green Isle housing over 6,000
men and a 200 bed naval hospital set up at Portkill. Discussions and preparations regarding the D-Day landings
were organised at Rosneath between Churchill, Eisenhower and Montgomery. The USN Eleventh Amphibious
Force provided rocket and artillery fire in support of the landing troops of the landings. Injured people were
taken to Portkill hospital for treatment.
The Americans handed the base back to the British in 1945. Before the end of the war, Rosneath was home to
Russian and Dutch Naval personnel before being finally closed in 1948.
In 2000, the United States Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Rosneath Anvil Trust,
dedicated a memorial to the American and British Forces who served at Rosneath.
In 1954 the Quibell family bought the land now known as Rosneth Castle Caravan Park. Although the house was
still standing, it was in a state of disrepear after a fire in 1947, and was eventually demollished in 1961 for safety reasons, bringing an end to Rosneath Castle and Rosneath House.
Rosneath Past and Present by William Charles Maugh
The Wallace by Blind Harry
A Victorian Burgh by Richard Reeve
United States Navy Base Two: Americans at Rosneat 1941-1945 by Dennis Royal
Read more about Rosneath during wartime by clicking here