St Andrews Castle was built around 1200 to serve as a luxury residence for the Bishops of Scotland. It was slighted to prevent further military use during the Wars of Scottish Independence but was rebuilt in the early fifteenth century. Later it was the scene of the brutal murder of Archbishop David Beaton.



A religious community has existed at St Andrews, which was originally known as Kilrymont (meaning 'church on the head of the King's mount'), since at least the early eighth century AD. However, it grew in status when the relics of Saint Andrew, one of the disciples of Jesus, were brought to the site. This in turn led to the foundation of a Benedictine community at nearby Dunfermline by Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm III, in the late eleventh century. She also funded a ferry between the new community and the site enabling pilgrims to visit the Saint’s shrine. In 1140 David I gave permission for the founding of an ecclesiastical centre to be known as St Andrews. This became the seat for the Bishop of the Scots and around 1200 work started on St Andrews Castle to provide that magnate with a luxury residence. This early fortification probably took the form of an enclosure castle with a substantial curtain wall providing the only line of defence.


In 1286 Alexander III had died without leaving a male heir and his successor, Margaret Maid of Norway, passed away in 1290. The succession was unclear and multiple claimants vied for the Scottish throne. To prevent anarchy, a number of Scottish magnates - including Bishop William Fraser of St Andrews - invited Edward I of England to arbitrate between claimants. However the King, fresh from his conquest of Wales, seized the opportunity to take control of Scotland. He eventually chose John Balliol on the assumption he would be a puppet King through which England would dominate. However, Edward immediately placed his vassal in an impossible position when he demanded the new Scottish ruler provide soldiers for a continental war. When John refused the First War of Scottish Independence started. English forces sacked Berwick-upon-Tweed, then Scotland's foremost port, and then advanced north achieving a rapid victory at the Battle of Dunbar (1296). With resistance effectively quelled, English forces took control of much of central and lowland Scotland including St Andrews. The Scots however fought back with the rebellion of Sir William Wallace. Although his insurrection was dealt a crushing blow at the Battle of Falkirk (1298), resistance continued and St Andrews hosted Edward I in 1304 as he came north to recapture Stirling Castle. The English ordered lead to be stripped from the St Andrews cathedral for use as shot for the trebuchets.


William Wallace was captured in 1305 and Edward I must have been hopeful that control of Scotland was finally in his grasp. However, supported by Bishop William Lamberton of St Andrews, Robert the Bruce rebelled the following year. When Edward I died in 1307, on his way north to defeat Bruce, the rebellion gained momentum especially as the new English King, Edward II, was a less able commander. Bruce commenced a systematic policy of destroying castles across Scotland to prevent the English from using them to control the country. St Andrews Castle however escaped destruction at this time - presumably as Bruce didn't want to antagonise Lamberton - and in 1314 the decisive Scottish victory at Bannockburn effectively eliminated any likelihood of the English returning in the short term.


The second War of Scottish Independence commenced in 1332 with the English triumphing at the Battle of Halidon Hill (1333). St Andrews Castle was captured by the English who saw it as a useful foothold into Fife that could be easily supplied by sea. The castle's defences were strengthen and a garrison installed but in 1337 a Scottish force under the Regent, Sir Andrew Murray, recaptured it with the aid of a huge stone throwing machine called 'the Boustour' which smashed the walls. Once captured St Andrews Castle was slighted to prevent its further use by the English.


The ruined castle was rebuilt by Bishop Walter Traill from 1385 onwards. The new structure consisted of a pentagonal curtain wall, which may have followed the line of the original castle wall, and had a large square towers on each of the five angles. The towers provided residential accommodation and also served ancillary functions such as providing storage and kitchen facilities. The entire site was surrounded by a deep rock cut ditch. Concurrent with the redevelopment of the castle, St Andrews itself continued to rise in prominence with the foundation of a University in 1412 and the elevation of the Bishopric to that of an Archbishop in 1472.


During the first half of the sixteenth century, Scotland and England had a particularly difficult relationship. In 1513 James IV had invaded England on behalf of his French allies but had been killed at the Battle of Flodden. Alexander Stewart, Archbishop of St Andrews was also killed in this battle and was succeeded first by Andrew Foreman and then in 1521 by James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow. To mark his new status the Archbishop began significant rebuilding work at St Andrews Castle with the south-east and south-west towers being demolished and replaced with artillery blockhouses. He also had the fore-building substantially modified and relocated the castle's entrance to its current position.


James died in 1538 and was followed by his nephew, David Beaton. He harboured a vigorous hostility to Protestant ideas and was anti-English especially as that country had broken with the Catholic church. For these reasons he strongly opposed the proposed marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to Prince Edward of England resulting in the outbreak of war with England in December 1543, the so called Rough Wooing. He also successfully alienated many potential Scottish allies against him when, in March 1546, he ordered the execution of George Wishart at St Andrews prompting fury amongst the Protestant nobility. In May 1546 a number of Protestant Fife lairds gained access to the castle and murdered Beaton and hung his naked body from the castle's walls. These attackers, who were backed by the English, then took control of St Andrews Castle prompting the Scottish Government to besiege the site. A truce was brokered during which John Knox, Protestant preacher and later leader of the Scottish Reformation, joined the rebels but the arrival of a French fleet saw the castle bombarded into surrender. The rebel garrison, including Knox, was seized and condemned to be slaves on French Galleys.


Following the siege St Andrews Castle was left a devastated ruin. John Hamilton became the new Archbishop and he made some repairs to the site including stylising the entrance. However this was a time of great upheaval for the Scottish church and his efforts were largely focused on trying to prevent the reformation. He failed and the Reformation Act (1560) outlawed Catholicism. St Andrews Cathedral was abandoned and the castle, which was first and foremost a luxury residence for the Archbishop, became irrelevant. It was never repaired and drifted into ruin.




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What's There?

St Andrews Castle consists of the ruins of the fourteenth century castle along with later modifications including foundations of two artillery towers. A highlight of any visit are the siege tunnels and the countermine which are accessible to the public.

St Andrews Castle. The castle was an enclosure fortification without any Keep or final redoubt. Its primary purpose was always to provide high status accommodation for the Bishop (and later Archbishop).

Siege Tunnels. The siege tunnel and countermine date from 1547 when Protestant rebels held the castle against the Earl of Arran.

Fore Tower. The Fore Tower was originally the castle's entrance but was remodelled by James Beaton in the 1500s and he moved the entrance to its current location.

Getting There

St Andrews Castle is located in the north-east corner of the town. It is a major tourist attraction and is well sign-posted. On-road car parking is possible in the immediate vicinity or alternatively there is a large car public park nearby.

Public Car Park

Golf Place, KY16 9JA

56.344898N 2.802157W

St Andrew Castle

The Scores, KY16 9AZ

56.341907N 2.790464W