MO4807 Class Trip to St Andrews Castle

MO4807 class trip 2[1]Fourth-Level Special Subject MO4807 The Marian Moment: Politics and Ideology in Mary Stewart’s Britain visited St Andrews Castle on 23 October. Student Emma Thompson reports below.

St Andrews in 1546-7 was the scene of some of the most important events in 16th century British history. The martyrdom of the Protestant preacher George Wishart and the murder of Cardinal David Beaton were part of a wider conflict between Catholic France and Protestant England for control of Scotland through the marriage of the young Mary Queen of Scots to either a Tudor or a Valois heir. St Andrews Castle, the archbishop’s highly fortified ‘palace’, was held by Beaton’s assassins, and resulted in a prolonged siege that was only brought to an end when it was pounded into submission by French artillery and its occupants, including John Knox, taken prisoner.

The students of MO4807 and their tutor Prof. Roger Mason examined these events in detail before taking the short walk from St Katharine’s Lodge to the Castle to see the site for themselves. Although now in ruins (much of its eastern range fell into the sea centuries ago), enough remains to fire the imagination and, with the help of Historic Scotland’s creative illustrations, to see how it would have appeared five hundred years ago. We looked around the various remains, including the bottle dungeon where Wishart may have been imprisoned and where Beaton’s corpse was dumped, and went down the mine and counter-mine (despite a superstitious warning from a certain St Andrews resident!) which were dug out of solid rock during the siege. It was fascinating to see how the attackers’ mine shaft was broad and high enough to fit pack animals whilst the counter-mine was narrow and cramped, obviously dug in much more of a hurry! The fact that we could still see the pick axe marks really brought home the reality of the siege and the events we had been studying.

MO4807 in the siege tunnels of St Andrews Castle

Students of the Marian Moment in the siege tunnels of St Andrews Castle

Some historians have argued that the failure of the English to relieve the siege and make St Andrews their stronghold lost them the opportunity to form a British union through the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to Edward VI. Even though the students of MO4807 do not necessarily agree with this interpretation, it demonstrates just how important a part St Andrews played on the international stage in the sixteenth century. The visit to St Andrews Castle was fascinating in the context of our studies and reinforced how lucky we are to live and study in a town where history is at our fingertips.