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The Real History of Inverlochy Castle

Many historians have incorrectly portrayed Inverlochy Castle has having been first built in the 13th Century by the Comyns (Cummings). The structure built by the Comyns of Badenoch is nothing more than a refinement of the castle originally constructed in the 8th Century for King Achaius.

ruins of Inverlochy Castle, Fort William

ruins of Inverlochy Castle, Fort William

Achaius is derived from the Latin Eochaidh. The name Eocho or Eochu was anglicised to Eochy, and further developed into Eochaid and Eochaidh. It is also said to be based upon the Greek Achaeans or Achaioi. It is this lineage from which Achaius’ name was founded. Many Scots Gaelic names surround this line, including geographical landmarks and cities, all of whom are prefixed with the word Achna.

The Scottish meaning of Achaius is: horse friend, or friend of a horse. This is said to be a fitting name for King Achaius as his rule was enforced through the use of cavalry, his family reign brought on through the use of armed riders, and their great fondness of horses as witnessed by extensive stables.

King Achaius was the Pictish King of Scots, ruling from 797 through to 819. Although he had several fortified strongholds and castles throughout the Highlands of Scotland, his primary residence was at what is shall be referred to as Early Inverlochy Castle. There is little information regarding the exact date of the construction or demise of this fortress, but many scholars do accept the facts of his rule and the its whereabouts, noting the destruction by Danish invaders.

Inverlochy has strategic significance, as it was accessible by sea, via Loch Linnhe and the River Lochy. The site of Early Inverlochy Castle was ideal, as it was bordered along one side by a river, and the remaining sides by a moat. The moat has since filled with silt and then dirt, but its placement is obvious when viewing the site.

Roads leading away from Inverlochy Castle carried visitors, troops, and residents in one direction to a smallish settlement, later to be founded as Fort William, and in the opposite direction, towards present day Inverness.

King Achaius is most widely known for his alliance with Charlemagne. Scotland, under Achaius, and France, Germany, Italy, under Charlemagne, were under constant siege from the Saxons. Word of Achaius ability to repel, and defeat, the invaders spread across Europe. Because of this notoriety, Charlemagne visited Achaius, and proposed a treaty.

The treaty, signed in Achaius’ second year of rule, was an agreement stating that should either ruler be attacked by England, the other would come to his aid.

As a showing of solidarity between Scotland and France, King Achaius took for his standard a yellow background featuring the Red Lion Rampant in the fore. Rampant means the lion is standing upright, on its back legs. Two circles of fleurs-de-lis, the French emblem, surround the red lion. This combination of Scottish and French symbols represented the alliance between Charlemagne and Achaius.

Charlemagne was so impressed with Achaius that he offered the hand of his daughter in marriage, thus sealing the deal. The two went on to marry, have three sons and one daughter.

Charlemagne, further enamoured by Achaius and his troops, went on to employ Scottish bodyguards. It was about this time that King Achaius established the Most Noble Order of the Thistle. Achaius appointed 12 others to join him in The Order, making the total of Knights 13. This number was selected to be symbolic of Christ and his 12 apostles. For several hundred years afterward, there were never more than 13 Knights. King George IV changed this law, thus allowing more than 13 Knights in The Order.

Early Inverlochy Castle continued for many decades after the rule of King Achaius, before its destruction by Danish invasion somewhere between the 10th and 11th Century. It was later rebuilt in the early 13th Century by Comyns of Badenoch, and named Inverlochy Castle.

In 1836 Lord Abinger built a new Victorian chalet and named it Inverlochy Castle, a few miles from the ruins of the ‘true’ Inverlochy Castle, in Torlundy. Lord Abinger’s decision to name his new home, which is a present day hotel, Inverlochy Castle has sparked a naming controversy. There is now Early Inverlochy Castle, home to King Achaius, Old Inverlochy Castle, built by the Comyns, and Inverlochy Castle, the hotel built by Lord Abinger.

Regardless of its name, the ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle are just a few minutes from Fort William, in the Lochaber Region of the Scottish Highlands, and definitely worth a day trip to enjoy.

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