Seven-story Craigievar Castle is a stunning example of the original Scottish Baronial style of architecture with a continuous band of corbelling and conical-roofed turrets. This was the achievement of William Forbes, son of William Forbes, 4th Lord of Corse and brother of Patrick, Bishop of Aberdeen. William was initially a financial failure, in spite of massive loans from his brother Patrick. His luck turned with international trading success in the Baltic states, based in the city of Danzig later known as Gdańsk, Poland. This earned him the nickname of “Danzig Willy.” Forbes purchased the partially-completed Craigievar Castle from the impoverished Mortimer family in the year 1610 and finished the building in 1626. The castle originally had more defensive elements including a walled courtyard with four round towers; only one of the round towers remains today.
In 1630, “Danzig Willy” also used his fortune to become a Baronet. King James VI created the Baronetage of Nova Scotia in 1624 as a means of settling the Nova Scotia plantation. He intended to create 100 baronets, each of whom was to support six colonists for two years (or pay 2000 marks) and to pay an additional 1000 marks to Sir William Alexander, to whom the province had been granted by charter in 1621. After James died in 1625, his son Charles I continued the scheme and added the conditions that the baronets of Scotland or of Nova Scotia should never exceed 150, that their heirs apparent should be knighted on coming of age (21), and that no one should receive the honor who had not fulfilled the conditions.
Sir William, 1st Baronet, died in 1648 and his only son “Red” Sir John, 2nd Baronet inherited the castle. He had eight sons, the first of which, Sir William, 3rd Baronet, whose grandson, also Sir William, 5th Baronet, married the Hon. Sarah Sempill, eldest daughter of Hugh Sempill, 12th Lord Sempill.
In 1825, his grandson, Sir John, 7th Baronet, married the Hon. Charlotte Elizabeth, second daughter of James, 18th Lord Forbes. By the early 19th-century, the Craigievar Castle tower had fallen into decay. Sir John had considered demolishing the tower and consulted the Aberdeen city architect John Smith who advised against that course of action, stating the tower was "one of the finest specimens in the Country of the age and style in which it was built." Therefore, Sir John re-roofed and repaired the castle.
In 1884, Sir William, 8th Baronet, became Lord Sempill when he succeeded his cousin, 16th Baroness Sempill. At this point, the family was known as Forbes-Sempill. His son John succeeded as 18th Lord Sempill. His son Sir William, 10th Baronet of Craigievar and 19th Lord Sempill, gave Castle Craigievar to the National Trust for Scotland in 1963. The titles remained united until his death in 1965.
The tower was renovated and reharled from 2008 to 2010, featuring a traditional lime-based alternative to concrete-based harling and returning the castle to what would have been its original shade of pink. The castle interior boasts a Great Hall that has the Stuart Arms over the fireplace; a musicians’ gallery; a secret staircase connecting the high tower to the Great Hall; Queen's Bedroom; servants' quarters and several splendid plasterwork ceilings. The castle contains a collection of Forbes family portraits and furnishings dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. The castle is reputed to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney's castle motif.