St Andrews Castle

The fortress cum bishop's palace sits on a rocky promontory overlooking the North Sea and may have been founded by Bishop Roger Beaumont (1189-1202), a younger son of Earl Robert of Leicester (d.1190).   The later archbishops of St Andrews, when writing from here, dated their letters and charters at the castle as ‘our palace' (apud Palatium nostrum).  Despite this, the castle was not the first building on this location as an excavation of 1988-90 found evidence of prehistoric structures on the site.

Like many of the Scottish castles, St Andrews only reaches the historical record with the fighting that occurred from 1296 onwards, despite the fact that excavation has found Bronze Age material on the site.  In 1303 the castle was outfitted for a visit from King Edward I.  After Robert Bruce's victory at Bannockburn in 1314, the castle was retaken and repaired by Bishop William Lamberton (d.1328).  The fortress was subsequently destroyed, for in 1335, according to Fordun, King Edward Balliol (d.1364) had Henry Ferrers rebuild it before Earl David Strathbogie was killed at the battle of
Culblean near Kildrummy that December.  As a result of the refortifications carried out by King Edward Balliol at various places throughout Scotland, Andrew Moray (d.1338), acting as regent of Scotland for King David II (d.1371), set about reducing these strongholds.  With the earls of March and Fife as well as William Douglas, they attacked and destroyed Falkland tower and then marched on St Andrews.  After a siege lasting three weeks and using various siege engines, one called Bowstower (Boustour), the garrison surrendered on the last day of February 1336 to save their lives and their members.  The attackers then threw down the nobly constructed walls and burned what remained.  A later chronicle claimed that they cast it doune.  Once the slighting was done they moved on to besiege Bothwell, taking their siege engines with them.

The castle remained in this ruined state until Bishop Walter Trail (1385-1401) rebuilt it at the turn of the century.  He seems to have completed his work on the castle by 1400 and died within its walls in 1401.  On his death the duke of Rothesay (d.1402) besieged the castle and nearby Reres castle.  The result was that by the end of 1401 the castle was prepared to surrender to him.  However, this may have been a ruse and in attempting to ride to the castle from Edinburgh, Rothesay was arrested by his own men for his arbitrary behaviour.  He then went to imprisonment first in the castle he was trying to take and then in Falkland castle, where he was to die in March 1402.

King James I of Scotland (1406-1437), the younger brother of Rothesay, received part of his education here from Bishop Henry Wardlaw (d.1440), the founder of St Andrews University in 1410.  In 1445 the castle was the birthplace of James III of Scotland (d.1488).  The castle also played its part in the running of the kingdom, being the prison for such prominent individuals as Duke David Stuart of Rothesay in 1402, Duke Murdoch in 1425, and even Archbishop Patrick Graham, who was judged to be insane and imprisoned in his own castle in 1478.

During the Scottish Reformation, the castle became a centre of religious persecution and controversy.  Referring to the castle's bottle dungeon the Scottish reformer, John Knox, wrote, 'Many of God's Children were imprisoned here'.  In 1521
Archbishop James Beaton of Glasgow (d.1539) was translated to St Andrews and took up residence in the castle.  He then altered the defences to enable the castle to withstand a heavy artillery attack, which was a threat as tensions grew between the Catholics and the English supported Protestants.  This work consisted of 2 massive circular gun towers built on the landward side and the equipping of the wallwalks for heavy carriage mounted guns.  The archbishop died in his episcopal castle in February 1539 and was succeeded by his ambitious and wealthy nephew, Cardinal David Beaton (d.1546).   His strong opposition to the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots, with Prince Edward (later King Edward VI), the son and heir of Henry VIII of England, helped to spark renewed fighting in 1544 as the War of Rough Wooing.

In 1546 Beaton imprisoned the Protestant preacher George Wishart (1513-1546) in the castle's sea tower and later had him burnt at the stake in front of the castle walls on 1 March.  On 26 May, Wishart's friends gained entry to the castle by disguising themselves as masons working on the fortress.  They overcame the garrison and murdered Cardinal Beaton, hanging his body from a
castle window.  Protestants then swarmed to the fortress and formed the first Protestant congregation in Scotland.  The Scottish regent, Earl James Hamilton of Arran, appalled at the crime besieged the castle.  In October 1546 a mine was begun outside the gatehouse, but the defenders successfully counter-mined it.  Although Henry VIII made plans to assist the Protestants, he died on 28 January 1547 and the Protestants were left to their fate.

In April 1547 John Knox entered the castle to serve as the garrison's preacher for the remainder of the siege.  However, when a French fleet arrived bringing an Italian engineer, Leone Strozzi, a devastating artillery bombardment began.  Guns were placed on the towers of St Salvator and the cathedral.   According to Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie the castle was then reduced within 6 hours.  The garrison were then deported, some to prison in France, others like Knox to serve on the Spanish galleys as slaves.

The damaged castle was subsequently rebuilt by Archbishop John Hamilton (d.1571).  During the rebuilding his heraldic emblem, the 5 pointed star, was placed above the rebuilt
castle gate.  The Scottish parliament separated the castle from the archbishopric in 1606, when it was granted to the earl of Dunbar, who had been constable since 1603.  With the success of the Reformation in Scotland, the office of bishop was finally abolished by William of Orange in 1689.  With this the castle was allowed to fall into total ruin.  Indeed as early as 1656 the burgh council had ordered that its materials should be reused to repair the pier.

The castle consists of an irregular enceinte set on the sea cliff.  The original entrance was through the Fore Tower and may date back to the twelfth century and
was rebuilt for the same purpose in the late fourteenth century, apparently by Bishop Trial (d.1401).  The rectangular gatetower is standard for an eleventh or twelfth century gatetower and, although not overly common, many other examples exist.  Externally the gatetower has a fine fourteenth century plinth, encasing the earlier tower.  It has also been refaced, although some of this facing has now been stripped away to expose the remains of the original entrance and one of the long holes which allowed a beam to pivot through it to raise and lower the drawbridge.  This design is more French than English.  From the side the two phase construction of the tower is even more clear, with the red sandstone plinth, standing out strongly from the grey stone of the original early tower.  This is topped by the fourteenth century red sandstone.  The inner face of the gatetower is now gone and a fourteenth century barrel vault has been added to the gate passageway to make an undercroft.

Bishop Trial (d.1401) is thought to have added two more rectangular towers to the enceinte - the Kitchen and the Sea Tower to the north-east and north-west respectively.  The Sea Tower was some 20'x15' and once had 3 storeys.  Little remains today, but the basement and the infamous unlit bottle prison.  The Kitchen Tower was slightly larger than its compatriot and housed the kitchen on its first floor as this had easy access to the nearby hall.  It is possible that Bishop Trial also built 2 more towers to the south-east and south-west under the sites of the later sixteenth century blockhouses of Cardinal Beaton.  The east wall of the castle has been eroded away by the sea, taking with it many of the service buildings and the great hall.  The original chapel seems to have been just east of the Fore Tower.  

The Beatons were probably responsible for making the Fore Tower into a normal rectangular tower and making a new entrance to the castle further west.  This they did by building a new wall forward of the old south-west curtain and linking it to the new round south-west blockhouse.  This new wall also mounted artillery both within and on top.  This certainly increased the defences of the vulnerable south side of the castle.  Such vulnerableness is emphasised by both blockhouses seeming to have been heavily damaged in the siege of 1546-7.  Indeed, only one gun loop remains in the last fragment of the south-west blockhouse, while the south-east curtain and blockhouse have disappeared in their entirety.

 During the siege of 1546-7 the Catholics mined towards the castle from the safety of the town, making a fine spacious tunnel large enough for pack animals to be used in clearing the debris from their works.  Internally the besieged made at least 3 attempts to break the mine.  From the ditch outside the Fore Tower a shaft can be entered which leads to a narrow shaft that breaks into the oncoming mine.  This action caused the attackers to halt their attack.  Two further abortive countermines can still be seen on either side of the current south-west entrance to the castle.

Why not join me at St Andrews and other Great Scottish Castles this Spring?  Information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry