St Andrews Castle

St Andrews Castle

The original castle was under the jurisdiction of the monks of St Andrews Priory. It was a relatively modest structure that guards prevented unauthorised access to the priory’s orchard (now in ruins). In 1078, Queen Margaret built a fortified palace within the castle, which acted as London’s royal residence until King John’s accession in 1199.

In 1559, after Scotland’s brutal civil wars and English occupation by Oliver Cromwell, King James VI commissioned William Schaw to conduct a survey of all defensive fortifications in Scotland and report on their condition. His reports suggested that St Andrews Castle was in need of repair and he noted particularly “the defects about the bulwarks and walls”. Twenty years later, in 1579, Schaw returned to St Andrews and noted that the castle was ‘not baith sufficient to serve for defence of a place of that rank’ and that it needed ‘hewinge out of the rockes’.

In 1580 work began on the new defences. The sea gate, with its twin towers and drawbridge, was built by master mason John Mylne. It has obvious similarities with contemporary drawings of the town wall in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The St Andrews castle mound became a principal citadel protecting Royal Burgh status for St Andrews.

The castle is replete with the most effective elements of a well defended garrison residence, including two principal gates and a network of defensive bastions. St Andrews Castle’s most striking feature is its sea gate. The twin flanking towers are linked together by a massive gun platform which runs along the base of the towers. The gun platform could be used for enfilade fire, to sweep the castle base and prevent attackers from reaching the main gate entrance.

Originally there were three tiers to the St Andrews Castle sea gate; however, only two of these are now visible as one was removed in 1810. The upper most tier provided a firing platform over the top of the gate itself. This function was to prevent any attackers from entering the castle. The gateway is also flanked by two windows which would have been used as an alternative means of defence. From these windows archers could fire down directly at their attackers if the main gate was breached.

The entrance passage, which runs through the sea-gate is divided into two halves by a massive bulwark (a cross wall that divides a defensive position). Each half then leads into one of the flanking towers via a narrow passageway. This allowed defenders to fire through to any attackers who had made it into the entrance passage. At the same time, the twin towers also contained a murder-hole, which provided an alternate means of firing into the gate passage. The castle’s main tower is a good example of a well planned defensive towerhouse and its height gives an advantage in surveillance and observation.

The castle’s south and north flanking turrets are also casemates (the recessed wall usually protected by low curvilinear or straight-lined parapet dating from c.1650). The high elevation of these turrets meant they were ideal for covering any attacks against the gate from that side.

After the Union of Scotland and England in 1603, St Andrews Castle was no longer of strategic importance and fell into disrepair. In 1640-1642 General Leslie’s army of Covenanters brought it to a state of some repair.

Sir William Bruce (1630-1710) was one of Scotland’s finest architects and spent much of his career restoring the castle. He added a south wing dormer window, which is visible from the castle ramparts, and improved the accommodation within the castle itself with a new roof and extensions made during 1704-1705 to house his own family.

After Bruce’s improvements the castle had three principal storeys. All the walls were built of finely coursed ashlar sandstone with projecting rounded towers at the corners and in the centre of each side. On each floor there was a single central room with a fireplace. The first floor contained a large hall on one side and an adjacent chamber on the other, while in the ground storey each chamber had its own fireplace.

In 1810 St Andrews Castle was garrisoned as part of the British coastal defence system during the Napoleonic Wars and many old guns were installed on its ramparts. The castle was decommissioned in 1817.

In the 1950s it was an army camp for servicemen training for service in Korea. Today it is run by Historic Scotland and is open to visitors all year round.

References: (St Andrews Castle)

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Amy Green

Hi, my name is Amy and I am a UK based teacher and blogger. I spent most of my childhood summers exploring castles of England and Wales, and most of my adulthood teaching humanities in Secondary schools. I love visiting and learning about Norman and Medieval Castles.

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