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St Andrews Castle

The main residence of the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews

St Andrews Castle

An Episcopal Residence

St Andrews Castle was the official residence of Scotland’s leading bishop (and later archbishop) throughout the Middle Ages. Its scale demonstrated the power and wealth of the bishops, and it was the setting for many important events which determined the course of Scottish history. Some of the key moments leading up to the Scottish Reformation in 1560 were played out within its precinct. These include the burning of George Wishart, the Protestant preacher, the murder of Cardinal Beaton, and the great siege of 1546–7, when Rev John Knox was one of the garrison.

The Bishops and Archbishops of St. Andrews

In the 10th century, the bishops of St Andrews gained overarching responsibility for the Scottish Church. Bishop Arnold (1160–2) began building a new cathedral on an unprecedented scale, and Bishop Roger (1189–1202) began the new castle as his official residence. During the Wars of Independence with England (1296–1356), the castle suffered significant damage, and had to be substantially rebuilt by Bishop Walter Trail (1385–1401).

The increasing religious tensions in the early 16th century led to further building works. Archbishop James Beaton (1521–39) strengthened the castle’s defences by building new gun towers. They were soon put to the test. His nephew, Cardinal David Beaton (1539–46), vehemently opposed the progressive move to closer political ties with Henry VIII’s Protestant England. Beaton had the Protestant preacher, George Wishart, burned in front of the castle. This provoked a raid on the castle by a group of Protestant nobles, who assassinated Beaton and occupied the castle.

The ensuing siege by the Regent Arran caused wholesale damage. It also resulted in the castle acquiring perhaps its most treasured feature – the mine and countermine. These underground passages are unique survivals of medieval siege warfare.

Decline and Ruin

The badly damaged castle was repaired by Archbishop John Hamilton (1546–71), his most obvious contribution being the new entrance front, known as the Hamilton Façade. This sumptuous work contrasts with the defensive works of his predecessors, and implies that Hamilton regarded his castle as a residence more than a fortification.

However, his tenure was brought to a premature end, courtesy of his opposition to the Reformation in 1560 and his support for Mary Queen of Scots. He was eventually hanged. The abolition of bishops in 1592 effectively left the castle without a resident or a function and it fell rapidly into ruin. In 1801 the great hall fell into the sea and further losses continued until the construction of a sea wall in 1886.

Events at St Andrews Castle

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29 March 2015

Allan Ramsay - Master Draughtsman

Duff House

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Weaving the Unicorn exhibition

Stirling Castle

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Scouse Jocks in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

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