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.
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.
With the Forbes forces dispersed, Adam Gordon of Auchindoun sent Captain Thomas Kerr 26 miles southwest of Tillieangus to take Corgarff Castle, built in about 1550 by John Forbes of Towie. His wife was Margaret Campbell Forbes, daughter of Sir John Campbell of Calder. Lady Towie refused to surrender the castle and Gordon ordered the castle to be burnt with its occupants, including the children of John and Margaret Forbes. 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, John Erskine, 23rd Earl of Mar (1675–1732) 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.
A descendant of Alexander of Towie, George Forbes, 5th laird of Skellater (1715 - 1767) inherited the castle in 1738. He then sold it to the British Government in 1746. According to Colonel James Allardyce, "This would form an outpost from Mar Castle, one of The principle garrisons for keeping the Highlanders in order." (Allardyce, Col. James; Historical Papers Relating to the Jacobite Period: 1699 - 1750, New Spalding Club, 1845.) The government built the enclosing wall of star points ("salients") with many gun loop-holes.
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.