Shetland, unlike the rest of Scotland, is not known for its castles and, in fact, there are only two substantial castles and two smaller castle-like ruins on the islands. Shetland’s castles make up less than one per cent of Scotland’s castles.
Scalloway Castle is the most impressive, dominating the skyline of the village of Scalloway. Standing as a roofless ruin, this dominating building was completed around 1600 by the tyrant, Earl Patrick Stewart.
Using forced labour the castle was completed in 1600 and built from locally quarried limestone with sandstone finishings imported from Eday in Orkney. Patrick was also responsible for the Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall. Both these buildings, and Muness Castle in Unst represent the Scottish Tower House style and nothing like it had been seen before – or since – in Shetland. Folklore tells us that to build the castle, Patrick mixed eggs, blood and human hair with the mortar. The claim may be true as organic material and shells were commonly used in making mortar at this time.
The castle was the administrative seat of power in Shetland and, from about 1600.
The downfall of Earl Patrick Stewart can’t be attributed to the long-suffering everyday Shetlanders who had endured so much at the hands of their Lord, but rather, to the landowning classes who resented the aggressive and heavy-handed approach Patrick took to rule. He made himself a very unpopular man among all – rich and poor – by raising taxes and demanding more and more from an already overstretched society.
Patrick was no diplomat, and he was known to quarrel violently with anyone who opposed him – even those closest to him. He was a man with mounting debts who, in response to these, increased taxes on the people. From the 1590s, not long after Patrick came to rule, word of his ill-treatment filtered back to Edinburgh and, soon, these became too outrageous to ignore.
In 1609, unable to ignore the dictatorial nature of Patrick’s rule, a party of men were sent north to capture him and bring him back to Edinburgh for trial.
He was arrested at the Scalloway Castle and was taken to Edinburgh and, later, held in Dumbarton Castle where he made futile attempts, until 1614, to secure a release.
Patrick was tried and executed for treason on 6th February 1615. He was given the royal treatment and was beheaded by the maiden in Edinburgh. It’s also said that the execution was delayed because Patrick had to be given time to be able to recite the Lord’s Prayer which he was unable to remember.
Written by Laurie Goodlad