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Battle of Terpersie Castle

Terpersie Castle, Image by Gerry Robb Architects

The battle for Terpersie Castle was not a bloody skirmish between Forbeses and Gordons, as was frequent in the 16th century. Instead, the battle was between The Honorable Kirstine Daranyi Forbes-Sempill and the Aberdeenshire Council. This month, 79-year-old Kirstie, as she prefers to be called, emerged victorious. The battle was over building an extension to the 16th century castle and installing an elevator so that she could continue to live in the former Gordon stronghold.

"Dalpersie House," Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland, 1852

William Gordon, fourth son of James Gordon of Lesmoir by his first marriage, acquired the estate of Terpersie (also called Dalpersie) in 1556 from William Gordon, last Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen. (Wimberley, Captain Douglas. 1900. Notes on the Family of Gordon of Terpersie. Inverness: Northern Chronicle.) He built the small Z-plan manor tower house in 1561. “The castle and lands were formerly nearly surrounded by properties belonging to Lord Forbes, and the families of his clan : in fact, it was a sort of advanced outpost of the Gordons of Strathbogie, beyond the lands of Gordon of Knockespook, which again marched with those of Druminor, formerly called Castle Forbes, and the principal seat of the head of the clan.” (Ibid.) In fact, William Gordon of Terpersie battled the Forbeses at Corrichie in (1562) Tillieangus (1571), Craibstone in Aberdeen (1571), and Brechin (1572). (See: Clan Feud: Forbes vs. Gordon.)

Terpersie Castle, circa 1980

The Gordons of nearby Knockespock eventually inherited the property and inhabited the castle until about 1885. The castle was abandoned and left to ruin: “The whole of the new wing was demolished to provide materials for a byre, the roofs of the original portion, having become unsafe, were taken down, and now there remains but an empty and mutilated shell, fast crumbling down into utter decay—overgrown with rank weeds and shrubs, and choked with fallen stones, rubbish and filth.” (Simpson, W. Douglas. 1942. “Two Donside Castles,” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Edinburgh.) In the 1980s, the castle was restored as a residence by architects William Cowie Partnership.

Kirstine Elizabeth de Daranyi née Forbes-Sempill, 1949, National Portrait Gallery

In 2011, the castle was purchased by The Hon. Kirstine Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill, daughter of William Francis Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill and Cecilia Alice Dunbar-Kilburn. She grew up in nearby Craigievar Castle. In 1968, she first marred John Michael Forbes-Cable, whom she divorced in 1989. She married, secondly, Béla Peter de Daranyi in 1990.

In May 2022, the Hon. Kirstie Daranyi-Forbes-Sempill applied to Aberdeenshire Council for permission to create an extension at the A-listed building. She requested to replace the stone spiral staircase with a lift (elevator) and create a new living room and bedroom. “But historians were left aghast at the idea, and local planning chiefs rejected the noblewoman’s pleas.” (Hendry, Ben. December 29, 2022. “Ageing aristocrat fighting to have lift installed at historic Terpersie Castle home near Alford,” The Press & Journal.)

The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland called Terpersie Castle a “textbook example par excellance” of how an ancient building can prove a “desirable residence” and they claimed it’s a “perfectly comfortable house”. Historic Environment Scotland condemned the “significant detrimental impact” and claimed that  “The proposed extension would fundamentally change the character of the castle.” (Ibid.)

Proposed Ground and First Floor Plans, Gerry Robb Architects

Undeterred, the Hon. Kirstie Daranyi-Forbes-Sempill appealed to the Scottish Government to overrule the council. Government official Trevor Croft inspected the plans in February 2024 and issued a 13-page report. He concluded that “In my opinion the applicant has gone to significant lengths to produce a proposal that reflects the history of the castle in a modern interpretation. I attach significant weight to the need of the applicant to adapt the castle to provide modern living conditions that would enable less able people to continue living there.” (Hendry, Ben. February 18, 2024. “‘The steps are lethal!’ Ageing Alford aristocrat wins battle to install lift at historic castle home,” The Press & Journal.)

As a result, the former 16th century Gordon stronghold will join the 21st century as a comfortable home for a descendent of the first Lord Forbes.


Note: The Hon. Kirstie Daranyi-Forbes-Sempill is the aunt of Jamie, Lord Sempill (far left), and grandmother of Angus Michael Craigievar Forbes-Cable (third from left), both of whom served as guides and historians for the 2022 Clan Forbes Scotland tour.

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