Tour Scotland
Home Page

St Andrews Castle




St Andrews Castle

St Andrews Castle

The first Castle of St. Andrews was built about 1200 by Bishop Roger, son of Robert, third Earl of Leicester. It was seized by Edward I, and he held here the parliament at which the Scottish barons gave him their allegiance. It was again garrisoned by Edward III, but shortly after he retired to England, Sir Andrew Moray, the Regent, captured it after a siege of three weeks, and entirely demolished it. It was reconstructed by Bishop Trail about the end of the fourteenth century. At his death in 1401 the governor, Albany, took possession, and confined here the Duke of Rothesay, heir to the Crown, before his death by starvation at Falkland. The strength of the castle at this time is shown by the fact that the revenues of the kingdom, by act of parliament, were kept in "a kist of four keys," in the "Castle of St. Andrews, under the care of the bishop and prior of the monastery." James III was born in the castle.

In the days of Archbishop Beaton (1528-1589), the castle was kept with great splendour. The English ambassador wrote, "I understand there hath not been such a house kept in Scotland many days before, as of late the said archbishop hath kept, and yet keepeth; insomuch as at the being with him of these lords (Angus, Lennox, Argyle, etc.), both horses and men, lie gave livery nightly to twenty-one score horses."

On the 28th of March, 1545, George Wishart of Pitarrow, the famous divine, was burned alive before the castle by order of Cardinal Beaton. The tower was hung with tapestry as for a festival, and the cardinal and his friends reclined on cushions of velvet in the windows to enjoy the spectacle. Before his death Wishart foretold the cardinal's impending death with much exactness. At this very time, Henry VIII had entered into a conspiracy with several Scottish noblemen, includina Norman Leslev. Master of Rothes, his uncle John Lesley, and Kirkcaldy of Grange, for the murder of the prelate.

On the 29th of Nay of the same year, the conspirators, about a dozen in number, gained admittance to the castle early in the morning when the drawbridge was lowered to admit workmen who were strengthening the fortifications. They stabbed the porter, sent off the workmen, and gradually turned out all the servants as they appeared from their beds. Eventually, having thus quietly disposed of more than one hundred and fifty of his defenders, they were left alone in the castle with the cardinal. They forced open his door, and stabbed him repeatedly with daggers. "A few angry words, a bright gleam of steel as the weapons flashed in the morning light, and the cardinal fell covered with wounds, crying 'Fy ! Fy ! I am a priest; all is gone!' and vengeance was satisfied. The citizens having been aroused, assembled at the gate, clamouring for 'a word with my lord cardinal,' but were, instead, presented with his mangled body, suspended from the balcony of the tower 'by the tane arm and the tane fut,' and requested to look at their god." Sir David Lindsay of the Mount thus expresses the feeling of most of the reformers: --

"As for the cardinal, I grant,
He was the man we well might want;
God will forgive it soon.
But of a truth, the sooth to say,
Although the bun be well away,
The deed was foully done."

The conspirators were soon joined in the castle by one hundred and twenty of their friends and held the place for more than a year. The French finally sent twenty-one galleys under the command of Leo Strozzi, Prior of Capua, a knight of Rhodes, to finish the siege. Lindsay of Pitscottie relates that " when the news came that these vessels were seen off St. Abb's Head, steering for St. Andrews, the governor well content hereof, hasted him to St. Andrews, with the gentlemen of Fife, Angus, and Strathearn, and welcomed the French captain. . . . They clapt about the house so hastily and unexpectedly, that many were closed out, and divers were closed in, against their will. Then they mounted their ordnance both upon the college steeple, and also upon the walls of the abbey kirk, wherewith they commanded the castle close; so that no man durst walk therein, or go up to the wall head. The captain told the governor, that they had been unexpert warriors who had not mounted their ordnance on the steeple heads in that manner, and that he wondered at the keepers of the castle; that they had not first broken down the heads of the steeples. He caused also the great battery to be laid to the castle, the two Scottish cannons and six French; and to prevent slaughter, he devised that the cannons should pass down the streets by engines, without any man with them; which thing when the Italian engineer (which had been sent from England for the support of those within the castle) perceived, he said that they had now to do with men of war, and therefore had need to take heed to themselves. They answered that they should defend their castle against Scotland, France, and Ireland, all three. But the battery within a few hours made such breaches in the wall that, despairing of their strength, after consultation, they yielded the castle and themselves to the King of France. The French captain entered and spoiled the castle very rigorously; wherein they found great store of vivers, clothes, armour, silver, and plate, which, with the captives, they carried away in their galleys. The governor, by the advice of the council, demolished the castle, least it should be a receptacle of rebels."

The castle was rebuilt by Archbishop Hamilton, and what stands to-day is mostly his work, though portions are represented by the guides as being much older. "A genial keeper was one day conducting a party of tourists over the ruins, and was describing their various parts and explaining the uses to which they were put in the heyday of the castle. 'This, gentlemen,' he said, 'is the room used by Cardinal Beaton, and that,' pointing to the opening, 'is the window from which he wit nessed the burning of George Wishart the martyr.' 'But,' interrupted one of the party, 'this is not Beaton's castle; what remains is the work of Archbishop Hamilton.' 'I ken that,' replied the keeper, 'but if I were to pay off Cardinal Beaton and George Wishart I might just as well close the gate.'"

The ruins of St. Andrews Castle, standing on a bold headland washed by the North Sea, offer a conspicuous landmark to manners. The castle was very extensive, but is now reduced to a very ruinous condition. It was originally a courtyard about one hundred and fifty feet square, partly surrounded by a moat, with towers at each corner. The entrance was once through the central tower of the south side, the highest portion of the ruins. A new gate, reached by a drawbridge, was later cut through the north curtain on this side. Little of the internal arrangements remains. The chief items of interest to visitors are the bottle dungeon in the northwest dungeon, and a subterranean passage under the moat, recently discovered.

If you would like to visit St Andrews as part of a highly personalized small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:

Return to Scottish Castles

Tour Scotland
Tour Edinburgh
Tour Island Of Skye

Rent A Self Catering Hoilday Cottage In Scotland

Share This Tour Scotland Web Page

Top Destinations
Tour Europe