Corgarff Castle was built in about 1550 by John Forbes of Towie. The castle would have been comprised of a tower house (much like what is seen today) set within a rectangular enclosure.
The castle is part of the sad history of Clan Forbes as told in the ballad Edom o Gordon. The Forbes family of Towie supported the infant James VI in the years following the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots in England. The Gordon family from Auchindoun Castle near Dufftown were supporters of the claim of Mary to the Scottish throne.
After the Jacobite risings of the 18th century, it was rebuilt as a barracks and a detachment of government troops were stationed there, on the military road from Braemar Castle to Fort George, Inverness. Military use continued as late as 1831, after which the tower served as a distillery and housed local workers. It remained part of the Delnadamph estate belonging to the Stockdale family until they passed the castle into state care in 1961 and gave the ownership of the castle to the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society. It is now in the care of Historic Scotland and is open to the public.
Adam Gordon (Edom o’ Gordon in the ballad) of Auchindoun (1545–1580) was the younger brother of George Gordon (c1535-1576), 5th Earl of Huntly. In October 1571, Adam with 1,000 men defeated Black Arthur Forbes of Putachie (1514-1571), brother of Lord Forbes, with his 300 troops at Tillieangus. He had concealed his superior numbers to draw the Forbes into an ambush. Arthur Forbes was killed along with 12 or 16 of his clansmen. In November 1571, Adam defeated the Forbes and a troop of the Regent's soldiers at Craibstone, or Aberdeen Bridge.
Knowing that Forbes of Towie was absent from his stronghold, Adam and his troops marched on Corgarff Castle and demanded surrender from Mistress Margaret Campbell Forbes, Forbes of Towie’s wife and daughter of Sir John Campbell of Calder. She refused and “Edom o’ Gordon” burned the castle. As the ballad mourns,
Oh pity on yon fair castle,
That was biggit wi' stane and lime
And wae for Lady Campbell herself,
Burnt wi' her bairnies nine
Oh three o' them were mairried wives,
And three o' them were bairns
And three o' them were leal maidens,
That ne'er lay in young men's airms.
As a part of the Jacobite Uprising of 1715, the 23rd Earl of Mar marched to Corgarff Castle to assemble and equip his army before marching on to Braemar. After his defeat in the same year, Government forces yet again burned down Corgarff, and the Earl of Mar's estates were forfeited. The castle was then returned by the Government to the Forbes family. However, in early 1746, Jacobite forces were once again using Corgarff Castle as an arms store after their retreat from Derby. A forced march by 300 Government foot soldiers and 100 dragoons through the snow from Aberdeen caught the Jacobites off guard and the castle was retaken. In 1748 Corgarff Castle was converted into barracks and acquired the star-shaped encircling wall.
Military use continued as late as 1831, after which the tower served as a distillery and housed local workers. It remained part of the Delnadamph estate belonging to the Stockdale family until they passed the castle into state care in 1961 and gave the ownership of the castle to the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society. The castle is now in the care of Historic Scotland and is open to the public.