Kames Estate and Castle: Bannatynes and later owners.

Jess Sandeman.

Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society Vol.25, 2000.

Buit (has) two strengths…the round castle of Buit callit Revsay of the auld… That other Castle is callit the Castle of Kames…

These words were written by Donald Munro in 1549i, and although many other writers have described the Kames Estate with its two castles, no comprehensive history exists. The author was asked to remedy this omission as, being a member of the Local History Research Group, she had the opportunity to study books of reference and original documents lent by Murdo Macdonald, archivist Lochgilphead. Furthermore, living locally, she has heard many stories from the late Lawrence Dinnigan (underfootman), and actually worked at Kames Castle from 1974 – 1984. Many fascinating facts about the history of the Estate are brought together here for the first time.

Early History

Three miles from Rothesay, Kames Castle stands at the head of Kames Bay. (Camus is Gaelic for a bay). In earlier times the castle was also referred to as Camys, Camus, Cames and Kaimes. It has a four storey square tower, the only entrance being secured by two doors, one of iron and the other wooden. Originally built more for defence than comfort, the tower is topped by a battlement and watchtower, and was formerly surrounded by a moat, traces of which can still be seen. It was probably built in the 13th or 14th century, but there is no authenticated date of construction.ii The first documented owners were the Bannachtyne (Bannatyne or Ballatyne) family.

In 1318 a charter was granted by Walter the High Steward to Gilbert, son of Gilbert of the threepenny lands of Kylmacolmac in the middle of the island for the service of one archer in the army and attendance at three courts in Bute.iii According to Tranter, Gilbert Bannatyne of Kames flourished in the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286), and his grandson John was laird, and keeper of Rothesay Castle for the Stewarts in 1334.iv Hewson, however, says “the estate appears to have been vested in the person of a John, son of Gilbert, to whom the surname Bannatyne was given about 1338. (Gaelic patronymic McOmelyn or McAmelyne)”.v The Bannatynes were probably rulers and governors of the town of Rothesay before there was a Town Council and before it was a Royal Burgh. The popular belief that the land was granted to the Bannatynes by Robert the Bruce for service at Bannockburn has no written evidence to corroborate it.

Lord Bute (4th Marquess) quotes a charter from his private collection: “On 4th October 1473 Ninian Bannatyne, Lord of Cames, compeared in Rothesay in the presence of the Burgesses who accepted him to be their master and Captain in time coming, and promised to give him due honour and their service as their predecessors did to his ancestors, saving their duty to the King, he being true and native Captain, provided that the said Ninian always supports and justice given.”vi Ninian, the son of Thomlyne Bannachtyne built the mill in 1491.vii

For services as tutor to his son James, Duke of Rothesay, King James III granted land to Robert Bannatyne in 1475: “The King … grants to Robert Bannatyne, son of Ninian Bannatyne of Camys, lands at Atyngerar [Edinmore and Edinbeg] Ardrossigelle [Ardroscadale] Cuafaynebeg now called Mais [unidentified] Cuafanan [unidentified] and Camys [Kames] and the lands of Kylmacolmac [St Colmac] on the island of Bute etc….[further lands in Cowal and Ayr specified].”viii (This was not a grand of additional lands but confirmation of those already held.)

Ownership of land often passed between the estates of Kames and Wester Kames and sometimes it was shared between them. Stuk, for example, in 1500 was held between John Spens of Wester Kames and Bannatyne of Kames, and later sold to John Stewart of Ascog. In 1500 Scarale (or Skarellis) was in the hands of Richard Bannatyne. In 1506 the Exchequer Roll showed that Kames had 11 separate holdings while the Stewards of Bute had 13.ix On 15th August 1506 Alexander Banachtyne was granted the land of Donallid (Dunalunt) and Drumochloy, Donald Bannatyne the land of Shawland (Shalunt), and William Bannatyne that of Clakenbeg (Glecknabae).x At one time the Estate stretched from the Pointhouse Burn, up to Rullecheddan, over to Ardroscadale, Acholter, Kilmachalmaig, and right up to Glenmore, Edinmore and as far as Ardmaleish.

Ninian Bannatyne went to Inveraray in April 1538 and signed a bond of manrent with Argyle, affirming that they would defend and support each other. Bannatyne had had difficulty in getting some of his tenants in Cowal to pay their rents, so two days later he went over to Auchincrossan in Cowal with one of the Spences and two other Bannatynes as witnesses. He ordered the tenants to pay the long overdue rends or to leave. They ignored him. Six weeks later he went back and threw three items of furniture out of each house, but the tenants still stood firm. He next returned and drove out all their cattle and drove on his own. The tenants, encouraged by young Lamont of Inveryne, drove the laird’s cattle out and drove their own back on. Bannatyne, greatly enraged, complained to Argyle that he was not giving the promised support. Argyle then summoned Inveryne to court in Dunoon, and the case was passed on to the Sheriff of Kyle and Ayr.xi Unfortunately, there is no written record the court’s findings, but they were presumably in Bannatyne’s favour, since the family are known to have possessed the lands in question from before 1475 until 1623.xii

In 1544 the Earl of Lennox with 12 vessels and 300 hack butters, 200 archers and 200 pikemen, in the name of the King of England, razed Brodick Castle to the ground and took over Rothesay Castle, where he found little resistance. James Stewart the Sheriff had been obliged by the superior force of the enemy to yield possession of the Castle to Lennox. No sooner had the English left the Castle than the Sheriff was to set upon “herried, spulzed and shut up in Rothesay Castle by James MacDonald and Alister MacLean, assisted by Ninian Bannatyne of Kames”.xiii The matter was said to be instigated by the Earl of Argyle. In consequence of this a bitter feud ensued between James Stewart and Ninian Bannaytne. Reid devotes several pages to arbitration on 20th May 1547 regarding this matter and to the “spulzie and violent possession of Barone.” He speaks of Ninian Bannatyne as the perpetrator of the outrages. John Boyle of Kelburn was the chief arbitrator, along with Ninian Stewart of the outrages. John Boyle of Kelburn was the chief arbitrator, along with Ninian Stewart of Largiebrechtan and several others. They decreed “The Sheriff is to take the advice of Kames in all matters that he has ado and failyean thereof the said Ninian Bannatyne shall tak na pairt nor in na evil that answers of the samyn except in sudden chaudmilly [melee or riot]. That Kames and his heirs shall tak the pairt of the Sheriff and his heirs male in all their lawful and honest matters except the Crown Governor, and my Lord Argyle; and that the Sheriff was decreed to tak the pairt of Kames on the same conditions …”xiv It is uncertain whether it was before or after this decree, but it was in the same year of 1547 that Ninian divorced his wife Janet (the Sheriff’s sister) on the grounds of consanguinity.xv

Among those who signed the National Covenant in 1638 were Hector Bannatyne of Kames representing the landowners of Bute and Matthew Spence representing the landowners of Rothesay.xvi Hector dealt with many of the administrative matters of the island, and as Commissioner for Bute, served in the Scots Parliament in 1617 and 1639-41.xvii A Bannatyne of Kames is also recorded as a Member from 1669 – 1684.

In 1647 the Commissioners of the Assembly made over to Hector Bannatyne of Kames “the debts and uther guids, gaar and means” of James Boyd, son of the late Bishop of Argyle “who has been and still is in the rebellion” to enable him to meet the expenses of maintaining a local garrison in his castle of James, and authorised the Commissioners of Isles and his deputies within the Isle of Bute “to seek payment made to him”.xviii Two years later in 1649 Hector Bannatyne was on the Committee of War when 13 horsemen were levied on Bute.xix Ninian (the younger) of Kames served on the jury at the trial of Janet McNicol who was hanged as a witch at the Gallows of Craig in 1673.xx

John Blain reports that “on 18th December 1660, 85 Hogshead of papers and original records were lost on board a ship returning to Scotland with the papers seized by Cromwell”.xxi Although fairly good records have survived from those old days, there are several years with scanty information – no doubt it still lies on the seabed.

On 1st November 1678: Rothesay Magistrate and Council imposed “a month’s cess to be uplifted from the inhabitants for defraying a part of the Laird of Kame’s expense in going on town and country’s desire to Inverary to solicit the Earl of Argyle for permission to dispense with the military company of Bute going to Mull, and also for compensation to Kames for the expense of other journey’s made by him in the public service.”xxii

The petition must have fallen on deaf ears because on May 10th 1679 the Earl of Argyle told Kames that he was “required and commanded to have the Militia Company of Bute in readiness with sufficient cloaths, 40 days loane [provisions] fixed arms and a pair of spare shoes besides the shoes on their feet to march to Achalder against the 20th of that month on His Majesty’s Service against the Popish Rebels and outlaws in the Highlands”.xxiii

The journal of the Hon James Erskine (1683 – 1687) gives an eye-witness account of the depredation caused when Argyle’s soldiers attacked Rothesay Castle in 1685.xxiv There is no record of Kames Castle being under attack, but it is highly probable that Wester Kames did not escape from the marauders as it was reported to be a ruin shortly afterwards.