At the end of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one sees an impressive but small castle out on a lake. That is Castle Stalker, which is a privately owned castle on a tidal islet on Loch Laich in Scotland. It is thought that the castle was named ‘Stalker‘ because James IV of Scotland stayed at it during his various hunting or stalking expeditions in the fifteenth century. The name Stalker just seems to have stuck for all these years.
Castle Stalker is believed originally to have been the site of a Fortalice (a small fortified building) belonging to the MacDougalls when they were Lords of Lorn, and built around 1320. The MacDougalls lost their title after their defeat by King Bruce at Brander Pass in 1308 but regained it for a period after 1328. In about 1388 the Lordship of Lorn passed to the Stewarts, the lands including Castle Stalker.
The castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail was a three storey, rectangular tower house. The ground floor comprised of two cellars and a pit prison, all of which were barrel vaulted. The upper two storeys were two large halls, the lower one probably serving as a Great Hall whilst the upper level was probably divided into chambers by timber partitions. The main entrance into the castle was on the first floor directly into the hall.
Sir John Stewart was murdered in 1463 by Alan MacCoul, an affiliate of the MacDougalls. He was followed by his son, Dugald, who defeated the MacDougalls and killed Alan at the Battle of Stalc (1468) fought on the shores opposite Castle Stalker. In 1497 Dugald was killed in a skirmish with the MacDonald of Keppoch and Castle Stalker passed to his son, Duncan. During his tenure he forged a close relationship with his cousin, King James IV, who made regular trips to the castle to exploit the excellent hunting facilities in the vicinity. Duncan was murdered in 1512 and followed by his younger brother, Alan. He was present at the Battle of Flodden (1513), where James IV and many Scottish magnates, were cut down by an English force under Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Surprisingly Alan Stewart survived the encounter.
In 1620 Castle Stalker passed into the hands of the Campbells of Airds after Duncan Stewart lost it during a wager. It was briefly regained by the Stewarts of Appin in 1689 when they supported the first Jacobite rebellion in support of the ousted James VII (II of England). The uprising was defeated at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689) and the Campbells attempted to retake control of Castle Stalker. A two month siege followed before the castle finally fell to the Campbells.
During the 1745/6 Jacobite rebellion, Castle Stalker was garrisoned by the Campbells with a force of 59 troops. The Stewarts of Appin, who again supported the Jacobite cause, tried to exploit the uprising to recover the castle. They attacked Castle Stalker with a force of 300 men but their attempt failed. Despite much of the area falling under the influence of the rebels, the castle’s garrison was sustained by the Royal Navy as ships sailed between the Campbell’s stronghold at Inverary and Fort William in the north. The rebellion was defeated at the Battle of Culloden (1746) and, in the months that followed, Castle Stalker was used as one of numerous local centres where arms were surrendered to Government forces.
Castle Stalker remained in use as a residence until circa-1800 when the Campbells built a new house on the mainland. By 1831 the castle had lost its roof and was drifting into ruin. In 1908 it was finally recovered by the Stewarts when it was purchased by Charles Stewart of Achara. He did little with the structure nor did his successor, Duncan Stewart, and in 1965 it was purchased by Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Allward who commenced a decade long restoration project.
Castle Stalker is featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as Castle Aaarrgghh, is briefly featured in Highlander: End Game and is the inspiration for ‘Castle Keep’ in Susan Cook’s children’s book, The Boggart. The castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is accessible only by a small boat from the east.