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Seizing the Castle

St Andrews Castle, the seat of bishops and archbishops in pre-Reformation Scotland, has suffered several damaging assaults since its first appearance in the 12th century, among them a destructive attack by a French fleet in 1547. At the time, in the midst of the Scottish Reformation, the castle was held by Protestant nobles under siege by the Catholic authorities led by the Regent for Mary Queen of Scots, the Earl of Arran.

A French naval force arrived to help dislodge the occupants but, initially, the gunfire from the vessels had little impact on the castle. The commander of the fleet, the Italian Leone Strozzi, then attacked from the land and, by the imaginative use of artillery, hoisting his cannon into position on nearby towers, breached the castle defences within a matter of hours.

St Andrews castle

The Protestant occupants of the castle were taken to France as prisoners. Amongst them was the religious reformer, John Knox, who spent over a year as a galley slave on French ships before his release and eventual return to Scotland.

Leone Strozzi

Leone Strozzi was a native of Venice, a Knight of the Order of Malta and Prior in Capua near Naples. After leaving Italy, he served at the court of Catherine de’ Medici, queen consort of France and, in effect, the adoptive mother and, briefly, also the mother-in-law of Mary Queen of Scots. As a commander, Strozzi achieved distinction in naval campaigns against both England and Spain.

(Access to the castle is via the visitor centre.) From the castle walk along North Castle Street turning left into North Street. On entering North Street, royalists will note with interest the Northpoint Cafe where “Kate met Wills”. It might also be remembered that the British royal family, known after 1917 as the House of Windsor, was originally the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with its roots in Germany. Continue along North Street towards the ruin of the cathedral, passing the St Andrews Heritage Museum and Garden (admission free – but closed for major redevelopment until 2025). St Andrews Cathedral was consecrated in 1318 and became a major focus of Christian pilgrimage in medieval Europe. At the cathedral grounds, turn left into Gregory Lane then right into Gregory Place and continue along the footpath to the harbour.


Castle image © Tom Parnell, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons 
Strozzi image © Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons