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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016886

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


St Andrews Castle is a dramatically-sited ruin of a courtyard castle apparently utilising the cliffs to the north and east as part of the defences. Originally the building was sited at some distance from the cliff edge but over the years erosion has increased the dramatic effect. The castle has strong ecclesiastical connections, having been the residence of the bishops and, later, archbishops of St Andrews, who used it as a palace, fortress and prison. It has a long history of demolition and rebuilding since its first erection around 1200.

The existing ruin dates mainly from the last rebuilding undertaken by Archbishop John Hamilton between 1549 and 1571. Hamilton's work has a strong Renaissance character more in keeping with the building's function as a palace than with a military fortress. The building declined in importance after the Reformation and in 1654 the St Andrews Town Council ordered part of the building fabric to be used for the repair of the harbour walls.

One of the most interesting features of the castle is a very rare survival of a medieval siege technique. This comprises a mine and counter-mine dating from the siege of1546-7. The Earl of Arran's forces established the mine with the intention of undermining the walls to the castle courtyard. A gallery, 1.8m wide and 2.1m high, was cut through the solid rock from the side of the ditch, south-east of the Fore Tower, to a minehead 8.2m from the tower from which branches could run to breach the wall foundations at a number of places. This gallery had to slope down to pass under the ditch. The attempt was foiled by the defenders who drove a counter-mine from the east of the Fore Tower to intercept the mine and broke through into the minehead from a higher level. The counter mine follows an uncertain route possibly resulting from trying to estimate the course being taken by the enemy sappers in the mine by calculation and sound. Visitors can traverse both the mine and counter-mine in safety as these are now lit by electricity.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

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