Ardvorlich House

Ardvorlich House

Ardvorlich House Details

  • Access: Private
  • Condition: built over
  • First build century: 16th
  • Closest To: St Fillans, Lochearnhead
  • Grid Ref: NN631230
  • Last use century: 21st

Ardvorlich is a privately occupied house on the southern side of Loch Earn in upland Perthshire. It was in medieval times part of the earldom of Strathearn. A native Gaelic dynasty of mormaers which certainly predates their earliest mentions in the mid 12th century remained in place until the mid 14th century, when Earl Malise managed to play his cards extremeley badly – and was forfeited by both Edward Balliol in the 1330s, and Robert Stewart on behalf of David II in 1344. King David granted Strathearn to Maurice de Moravia, who was married to Malise’s daughter Mary, but when Maurice was killed at Nevilles Cross in 1346 the earldom reverted to the Crown, and was granted to Robert Stewart when David II was ransomed in 1357.

There were native defended sites at Edinample and at Kenmore at either ends of the loch, but no evidence exists for a similar site at Ardvorlich. When he became king, Robert Stewart granted Strathearn to his rather overlooked son David (d1386) and Davids daughter Euphemia held it until 1413. Her son Malise then held the earldom until it was confiscated from him (before 1427) by King James I, who made him earl of Menteith instead, and annexed Strathearn to the crown.

In about 1488, William Stewart of Baldorran, the great grandson of the executed Duke Murdoch Stewart of Albany, was appointed royal Baillie of the crown lands of Balquhidder, which lies a short distance to the south-west of the west end of Loch Earn, and was the founder of a number of Stewart families who occupied this upland area of Perthshire. His great grandson Akexander (1560-1618) was the first Stewart of Ardvorlich. He was granted a crown charter in 1580 for the lands of Ardvorlich, which is the earliest mention of the place I have found. Curiously, in 1587, a crown document discussing the activities of “broken men” (outlaws) in highland areas mentions Clan MacKean of Ardvorlich, so it appears likely that the area was occupied by a family of this name prior to the grant to Alexander Stewart.

The problem is that I have found NO other references to this clan at all. The MacKeans (and all derivative spellings) are supposedly connected to the McIains – who were based considerably further north-west, so I have no idea who the reference may be referring to. In fact Ardvorlich may be a mistranslation and the reference may be to Abrach, near Fort William – the original spelling is Avricht. On Ponts map of Strathearn, which is dated to about 1590, there is a settlement of “Ardvouirlig” depicted, with an icon that may represent a lairds house, but certainly not of much distinction.

Alexander (I) was followed by his son Major James, also known as the Mad Major (thanks to Sir Walter Scott), who fought alongside Montrose as a royalist in 1644, but quarreled with Montrose and his allies, who had caused damage to the Ardvorlich estate when passing through, and changed sides. In revenge, Montrose laid waste to what was left of the estate the following year. Despite this, in 1654 the major signed up to support the future Charles II, and was instrumental in the capture of the chief of the outlawed MacGregors. Major James (II) died at Ardvorlich between 1658 and 1662, and was succeeded by his son Robert (III), of whom very little is known. Robert’s son James (IV) served as chamberlain of the Earl of Moray and was governor of Doune Castle. He died in 1698, leaving his son Robert (V) to succeed him, who was only 17 at the time, and who died in 1751 without children. This takes the family up to the end of the Jacobite period. Robert was followed by his cousin, another Robert (VI), who is believed to have been of limited mental capacity, being described as an “idiot” in his own lifetime, and his affairs seem to have largely been managed by his mother.

At about this time, Ardvourlich appears as a solid red square on the Roy map, indicating that ther ewas a hosue of some substance here – but we cannot be certain of its appearance.

However, in 1751, the same year as the death of Robert (V), another Robert Stewart, the laird of Balimeanach was resident at Ardvorlich, and styling himself laird of Ardvorlich when his son was born there in 1754. This Robert, who is said to have died in 1760 – the same year as the idiot – was also a distant cousin and heir to Ardvorlich, and is referred to as Robert (VII). The 1754 son, William (VIII) was chamberlain and factor to the Earl of Breadalbane, and lived until 1838.

Ardvorlich House was built in about 1790 by the architect Robert Ferguson, and therefore for William (VIII) of Ardvorlich. It was extended in the 19th century. However, it seems probable that it incorporates works from an earlier tower house of the Stewarts, who remain in residence to this day. The second photo, showing the front of the house, shows the 1790 three bay two storey house which retains footings from an earlier period. (This is the bit with two turrets at the end). The crowstepped building in the first photo is c1890, the extension to the rear which I didnt see is 1839.

The gardens are sometimes open to the public through the Scotlands Gardens Scheme – on this occasion I had a chat with Mr Stewart who was happy for me to take my photos from a distan

HES Canmore database entry