The Decline of St Andrews Castle and Cathedral

During the siege, in November 1546, the French ambassador in London, Odet de Selve, learned that the St Andrews Castle’s besiegers were digging a mine beneath the walls in an attempt to undermine the fore tower. He also learned that the defenders were counter-mining to intercept them.

After months of stalemate, an armistice was agreed in December 1546, and the following April John Knox, the future Protestant leader, was able to join those under siege. While the peace lasted Knox was given freedom to preach in the parish church in St Andrews, but in 1547 a French fleet arrived to support the Regent, leading to a massive artillery onslaught, which caused enormous damage to the castle. The Sea Tower was destroyed during the bombardment and one report stated the guns “schote doune all the battelyne and caiphouse of the seytowre”. Those inside surrendered; some were imprisoned in France, while others, including Knox, were condemned to the galleys. Knox remained as a slave on a French galley, until his release in 1549.

Archbishop John Hamilton carried out extensive repairs to the badly damaged castle. He rebuilt the entrance, decorating it with a carving of his coat of arms and a frieze of five-petalled flowers or cinquefoils – his family emblem. His tenure, however, was cut short as he opposed the Reformation and was eventually hanged.

After several years of travel, John Knox returned to St Andrews in June 1559, during the political and religious upheavals of the Scottish Reformation. Protestants, like Knox, who wished to abolish papal authority and reform the church received backing from powerful groups opposed to Scotland’s pro-French Regent, Mary of Guise, who had replaced the Earl of Arran in 1554.

Knox preached passionately in several towns and after a powerful sermon in St Andrews on the 11th of June 1559 altars, images, statues and tombs were destroyed in a burst of furious popular enthusiasm encouraged by the ‘Protestant Lords’. The cathedral itself remained standing but it was stripped of its furnishings, and was soon abandoned as a place of worship.

St Andrews Castle was left without a resident or a purpose when bishops were abolished in 1592, falling rapidly into ruin.

After a century of neglect, by the end of the 1600s, the cathedral had been reduced to much the same decayed condition as we see today. The main use of the precinct came to be as a burial ground containing many elaborately carved symbolic memorial stones.

In 1801, the Great Hall of St Andrews Castle collapsed and most of it plunged into the sea. The sea wall was built in 1886 to prevent further losses.


  • Information signs at St Andrews Castle
  • Official Souvenir Guide: St Andrews Castle, Cathedral and Historic Burgh

2 thoughts on “The Decline of St Andrews Castle and Cathedral

  • December 28, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    This is a sad reminder of man’s caprice. That all involved claimed to believe in Jesus the Christ, makes this destruction all the more ludicrous.


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The Decline of St Andrews Castle and Cathedral

by Uncover Travel time to read: 2 min
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