The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

Toady I thought I would do something different, I would actually go inside St Andrews Castle,

I have passed it often enough and, read reams on the castle over the years. Sadly there is not a lot left of what would have been a most impressive castled, it really is a rune, perched high above the North Sea, looking down on Castle Sands.

A castle has stood here since the time of Bishop Roger (1189 – 1202) the son of the Earl of Leicester. It was the home of the Bishops whilst St Andrews was the ecclesiastical center of Scotland, in the years before the Reformation.

During the Wars of Scottish Independence, the castle was raised to the ground, it was rebuilt and destroyed sever times as it changed hands between the English and the Scots. It was occupied by Edward 1st of England in 1303 after the sack of Berwick, 11 years later after the Battle of Bannockburn, the castle once more fell into Scottish hands and repaired by Bishop William Lamberton, Guardian of Scotland. Lamberton was a loyal supporter of King Robert the Bruce.

In 1330 it was once more in the hands of the English, who reinforced the defenses in 1336,

But despite this, the castle fell once more to the Scots in a siege lasting three weeks, under the leadership of Sir Andrew Moray, Regent of Scotland in the absence of David 11. fearing the English would once more take control of the castle and use it as a stronghold, it was destroyed by the Scots in 1336-37. years later Bishop Walter Trail, set about rebuilding the castle, completing the work in around 1400, he died within its wall in 1401.

After this time many Bishops and Kings spent time here. Including James the 1st of Scotland 1406 – 1437, receiving part of his education from Bishop Henry Wardlaw (founder of St Andrews University, in 1410).

later Bishop James Kennedy was in residence, he was an advisor to James 11nd of Scotland (1437 – 1460).

and in 1445 became the birthplace of James 11 of Scotland

like all castle it had its dungeon but the one in the castle of St Andrew was notorious the Bottle Dungeon. A dark airless pit cut deep into the solid rock and shaped like a bottle, once inside there was no escape. Other than the lawless of the community, there were the noteworthy such as David Stuart, Duke of Rothesay in 1402. Duke Murdoch in 1425, and Archbishop Patrick Graham – judged to be insane and imprisoned in his own castle in 1478

During the Scottish Reformation, the castle became a centre of religious persecution. John Knox referring to the bottle dungeon wrote,

“Many of God’s Children were imprisoned here.”

James Beaton, then Archbishop of Glasgow became Bishop of St Andrews in 1521 and took up residence in the castle.

Beaton altered the defenses to enable the castle to withstand a heavy artillery attack, as tension grew between English Protestants and Scottish Catholics. In 1538 James Beaton was succeeded by his ambitious and wealthy nephew, Cardinal David Beaton.

It was he who put up strong opposition to the marriage between Mary Queen of Scots, and Prince Edward (later King Edward 5th of England) Edward was the some and heir of Henry 8th of England, this helped spark a new round of fighting in 1544.

This was a terrible time in Scottish history, Protestants were seen as enemies of the state, and in 1546 David Beaton imprisoned the Protestant preacher George Wishart (1513 – 1546) in the Sea Tower, then had him burned at the stake in front of the castle wall.

In response some of Wishart’s friends gained entry to the castle dressed as stone masons, they overcame the guards and seized Cardinal Beaton, and hung him from the walls of the Castle stuffed his mutilated body into a barrel of brine and lowered it into the bottle dungeon.

The Protestants then took refuge in the castle and formed the first Protestant congregation in Scotland.

A siege was ordered by the Scottish Regent, James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran. Today you can still see the mine cut through solid rock by the attackers, and a second tunnel cut by the defenders. During the armistice in April 1547, John Knox entered the cattle and served as the garrison’s preacher for the remainder of the siege.

The end came when the French arrived with their Italian engineer, Leone Strozzi who directed a devastating artillery bombardment to dislodge the Protestants from the castle. One of the largest Scottish canons was called “Thrawynmouthe” and it was said by Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie that the bombardment rendered the castle undependable in only six hours. The defeated Protestants were taken, some to France others like Knox condemned to the galleys.

Again the battered castle was rebuilt by Archbishop John Hamilton, the legitimate brother of Regent Arran. The castle was then occupied by the Constables Parliament after the death of Archbishop Hamilton in 1571. and separated from the church in 1606, later granted to the Earl of Dunbar, constable since 1603 – 1612. by 1689 the Reformation of Scotland was complete and the office of bishop was finally abolished. Deprived of any real use the castle quickly fell into ruin. By 1656 the castle fabric was so bad that the council ordered the materials to be used in the repair of the pier.

All that remains of this once great castle is the south wall enclosing a square tower, the bottle dungeon, a kitchen tower, and the underground mine and counter-mine. (the mines were closed to visitors because of coronavirus.)

On my way home along South Street I took a couple of pictures on the evergreen Oak in the grounds of the science labs.

Stay safe.   

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