Historic St. Andrews; Queen Mary’s Great Escape from Loch Leven


St. Andrews Castle

It was a beautiful day for a drive, so I took the Fife Coast Road up through Dysart, East Wemyss up to historic St. Andrews.  Bit ashamed to admit this was my fourth visit to St. Andrews—I am even photographed at the St. Andrews Cathedral ruins with my grandmother when I was 18—but I felt today like it was my first visit.  Maybe because I have some context for the history there and so the ruins are now, well, more than ruins.  And no, my golfing friends, I did not—this trip—go to the Old Course, there just was not enough time.

Mary, Queen of Scots visited St. Andrews on her first progress through Scotland after her return on 17 August 1561.  According to John Guy in Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart (must read for Queen Mary fans), by the third week of September, Mary and the Maries amused themselves by “playing house, banishing the symbols of royalty and doing their own shopping.”  It is a cute story.

More interesting is the history of the Scottish Reformation at St. Andrews, in particular the uprising participated in by, among others, Kirkcaldy of Grange in retaliation for the death of religious reformer, George Wishart.

Wishart traveled Scotland denouncing the errors of the Papacy and abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, until he was seized on the orders of Mary Beaton’s cousin, Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St. Andrews and burned at the stake on 1 March 1546.

Two months later, on 29 May 1546, the conspirators, including William Kirkcaldy of Grange, murdered the cardinal in his own castle of St Andrews, mutilating the corpse and hanging it from a window (nice).  The suggestion is that Henry VIII egged on the conspirators, because Cardinal Beaton was an obstacle to his Scottish policy—which was to marry Mary, Queen of Scots to his son, Prince Edward.

The murderers holed up in the castle at St. Andrews for nearly a year—until French troops sailed into the Forth and bombarded the castle.  John Knox, who had joined the defenders as a preacher, was among those arrested and sentenced to work on galleys.   As I stood on the wall facing the sea, I could imagine the French ships arriving and the sinking feeling of those inside the castle.

Cathedral of St Andrew, Fife

I spent more time today at the ruins of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, which in the day of Cardinal Beaton and Mary, Queen of Scots must have been magnificent.  Even in ruins, the sheer size is impressive.  I could understand how pilgrims looking to worship at the shrine of St. Andrews (supposedly holding relics/bones of St. Andrew) would be in awe.

Loch Leven Castle: Mary, Queen of Scots escaped in 1568 using Mary Seton as a body-double.

On to Loch Leven Castle in Kinross, down the North Fife Road through some spectacular scenery – the Lomond Hills and Bennarty Hill in the distance to the East.   I love driving through the countryside, which is so green and lush (from all that rain).  Every so often a field of bright yellow rapeseed or some deep golden gorse bushes break up the landscape.  Yes, it really is as picturesque as you see in the postcards.

Loch Leven Castle is the scene of a fantastic Mary, Queen of Scots story.  In June 1567, Mary was imprisoned there and forced to abdicate in favor of her son by several Protestant Lords, including her brother James, Earl of Moray.  The Castle was her prison, and pretty hard to escape from, being in the middle of a lake.   It is small castle, but then, they brought the big stones over the water so the building might have been slim for that reason.   Much of it is in ruin, but I did get the general sense of it.

Loch Leven Castle

Mary would have been imprisoned on the top floor.  It must have been the lowest point in her life—she lost her crown, her son James, had a miscarriage and was shut away from the world.  One of the few people with her in her prison was Mary Seton—and I love this story about Seton.  It is not clear who formed the escape plan, but at some stage Queen Mary formed a bond with Willie Douglas, one of the young men on the island.  Willie helped her escape by rowing her across Loch Leven, meanwhile Seton dressed up as Mary and walked around the upstairs window so people would think she was the Queen.   Mary escaped and met Seton’s brother on the other side…but no one says much about the hell Seton must have caught when they discovered she was not the Queen.

It was a great, great sightseeing day, though not without mishaps.  The Garmin GPS/SatNav Lady and I got on just fine, but my DSLR camera took it into its head to stop working (it is new, and really? now?) and I’m faced with finding a repair centre over in Edinburgh—or making do.  These photos were taken by my Lumix, which is a great camera—just not a DSLR.

I did buy some souvenirs — a contemporary thistle necklace by Aldona Juska in Artery Gallery, and a 16th Century map of Scotland at Loch Leven.

6 comments on “Historic St. Andrews; Queen Mary’s Great Escape from Loch Leven

  1. Chris says:

    The one and only time I have seen ghosts was among the castle ruins in St. Andrews.
    Chris

    • Chris – you must tell me more, when, what did you see?
      Thanks for stopping
      Geri

      • Chris says:

        When I saw your reply this morning I added up the years since I saw this phenomenon and I couldn’t believe thirty years have passed since then.

        I was newly matriculated at the university. I was recently turned twenty and studying ancient history for a year abroad. My newly met mates from the residence hall, all of dubious quality, and I were returning home from an evening gaudy, an impromptu pier walk, and for one of our party, a dip into the sea. He scurried back to the hall immediately claiming hypothermia since none of us would give the coat off our backs for him. Needless to say we were young and we were very merry. As you know the castle ruins are not far from the old pier, at least that is what I remember, and in passing them at midnightish we thought it a great idea to explore environs of our new college town. Back then the only hurdle separating us from our goal of viewing the castle green was a simple spiked iron fence. In true first year reasoning, if we were sober enough to climb over the fence we were qualified to view the grounds.

        I remember walking out onto the green space and seeing the ruined walls all around. One of my group initially spotted something and called our attention to it. What I saw were two figures suspended in space about a foot above the ruined walls and moving towards each other. They were wearing what I would now describe as clothes possibly from the Restoration. They met and embraced. At which time, my friends and I came to the end of our courage. We bolted from the grounds, raced back to the RH sobered and somewhat relieved to be there. We all knew and confirmed we had seen something, but being guys, we found it very hard to verbalize what we had seen.

        This is how and what I remember seeing, as silly as it sounds.
        Chris

      • Not at all silly! Thank you very much for sharing your story. In a land with so much deep history (as compared, let’s say, with the US) it makes a lot of sense to me that the spirits – or energy, whatever you want to call it – of the dead are still there. I’m a full believer.

        I wonder who they were and what made them appear!?

        Best,
        Geri

  2. James Parkhill says:

    Who were all the conspirators that was involved in the death of Cardinal Beaton.

    • Hi – I believe the main conspirators in Beaton’s murder were Norman Leslie, master of Rothes, and William Kirkcaldy of Grange, along with three unnamed others. After the murder, the occupation of the castle by “Castilians” was undertaken by a broader group. John Knox was part of that broader group.

      Hope this is helpful.

      Geri

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