Queen Mary granted the royal estates in both Orkney and Shetland to Stewart rule in 1564 in the aftermath of the hand over of Orkney and Shetland to the Scottish Crown in 1469. Orkney and Shetland were part of the wedding dowry of the daughter of Christian I, King of Denmark and Norway when she was wed to James III, King of Scotland.¬† A Sinclair Earl regained the lead position in the islands, as they had under Norse rule for almost 100 years, before rule was passed to the Stewarts.
Earl Patrick Stewart, son of Robert Stewart, played his part in 40 years of cruel mis-goverment of Orkney and Shetland, during which time he erected Scalloway Castle as a suitable headquarters for his representative and as an occasional residence for himself. The castle, a fortified four-storey mansion, was built in the year 1600 and it is said that the mortar was mixed with blood and eggs, though it is accepted that this is more an expression of hatred of a tyrannical oppressor than an account of real events.¬† The Master of Works to Earl Patrick was one Andrew Crawford and it is presumed that it was he who was responsible for the building of the castle. He is buried in the Tingwall kirkyard, up the valley from Scalloway.
During the era of the castles full use it increasingly housed the Sheriff Court for Shetland, which had formerly taken the form of lawting sessions throughout the isles. Extensive records of the court proceedings are still in existence and are available in published form. The first of such modern publications of original court books covers the¬† period from 1602 to 1604, when it is evident that the legal system in Shetland still drew heavily on the¬† influence of centuries of Norse rule. Part of Earl Patrick’s abuse of his position was that he used whatever legal system best served his own wealth and interests during his rule, leading to an Act of Scottish privy council being introduced to prevent this parallel use of legal systems in 1611.¬† After 1615¬† the court was ruled by a Sheriff, more so than in previous years, and the records from this era provide an insight into the crimes, judgements and agreements of the era.¬† These range from land agreements to petty theft, peculiar crimes of the era and punishment for witchcraft. The range of punishments decreed to offenders was brutal and extreme, ranging from banishment to beheading and from branding to burning after drowning. ¬† It was even decreed that the new settlement of Lerwick be demolished and burnt due to its lawless iniquity in 1625.
Earl Patrick was imprisoned in 1609 for his errant rule, then granted bail, before his continued misbehaviour led to his execution in 1615. The castle must have fallen into dereliction from that period onwards as by 1703 it is recorded at that time¬† by J.Brand that the paintings therein were much defaced, the well (in the kitchen) wass little used, the slates had mostly fallen from the roof¬† and the timber was beginning to rot. He comments on the fine lintels and other large stonework that he states were imported from Scotland. He also records that the castle had been used as a garrison for Cromwell’s English soldiers when their army was in Scotland.
Around a century later permission was granted to Sir Andrew Mitchell to plunder the ornamental stonework from the castle to furnish the house he was building at Sand in the parish of Sandsting, leaving the massive walls as the only enduring monument.
Later, in 1908, the Marquis of Zetland placed the castle under the guardianship of the Commissioners of H.M. Works and some restoration to stairwells and support for overhanging walls was undertaken to maintain the fabric of the building.
Today the castle in owned and maintained by Historic Scotland and there are interpretive display boards within it providing information for visitors. The castle is open much of the time, there is no admission fee, and if it is locked the key can be obtained from the nearby Scalloway Hotel.