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The Phantom of Cardinal Beaton

With St Andrews Cathedral being the largest and one of the finest buildings in the country, Bishop Roger (1189-1202) instructed that a castle should be constructed nearby to provide a protective and palatial residence for himself, as well as successive bishops and later archbishops.


The building was extensively damaged during the Wars of Independence with England, which were fought from 1296 to 1328, and 1332, remaining in a poor condition until 1385, when Bishop Walter Trail ordered its restoration, with additional defences being added.

A particularly brutal and destructive incident during the start of the Protestant Reformation left the castle effectively a ruin, and with the cathedral destroyed, there was little need for the Archbishop's Palace.


In 1801, the great hall was lost to the sea, and cliff erosion continued until a sea wall was constructed to protect the ruins in 1886.



With such a long history, and several of the castle's residents being divisive figures, it is not surprising to learn that there are several tales of ghostly goings-on within and around its walls, with the incident mentioned earlier, which resulted in the destruction of the building, being the most notorious.


Cardinal David Beaton was the Archbishop of St Andrews from 1539 to 1546, having already won the trust of King James V through his assistance in the arrangements for the marriage between the king and Madeleine (the daughter of King François I of France) in 1537.


Sadly, Madeleine died shortly after and Beaton swiftly assisted with the King’s marriage to his second wife, Marie de Guise, in 1538. When King James died in 1542, leaving his six-day-old daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, as the heir to the throne, Beaton wasted no time in trying to gain the role of regent to the infant queen, allowing him significant influence over the country. Scotland at this time was thrown into turmoil. Religious unsettlement had already started, and both King Henry VIII of England and King Henri II of France sought to gain control of the Scottish Crown through marriage.


If Henry’s son, Edward (also still an infant), was to marry Queen Mary, this would give Protestant England control over the mainly Catholic Scotland, whereas if Henri’s son, Francis, was to marry the queen, this would reinforce the connection between Scotland and France, which was also a Catholic country, and would form a formidable threat to England, both in military and religious terms.


A period known as ‘the rough wooing’ started when King Henry of England commenced offensive raids into Scotland, in an attempt to force the Scottish people to agree to the marriage of Edward and Mary as a result of the Scottish authorities' refusal to honour a previously made agreement. It was ultimately unsuccessful and, in 1548, the five-year-old Mary sailed to France to be raised in the French Court, alongside Francis.


During this time, Cardinal Beaton had started a brutal personal battle against the Protestants and, declaring them as heretics, he began rounding them up to be executed. His actions were not supported by many of the people of Scotland and he became a deeply unpopular character. In 1546 he made his final error, when he had a popular Protestant preacher named George Wishart arrested. After a sham trial, Wishart was burned at the stake outside St Andrews Castle on 1st March 1546. Beaton is reported to have watched the entire burning from the luxury of his castle, an action that did not go unnoticed by his enemies.



On 29th May, 1546, a group of ten men silently joined the workmen (who ironically had been appointed to strengthen the castle’s defences) as they entered the castle in the morning. Once inside, they were able to secure the castle and found themselves alone inside with Cardinal Beaton, who locked himself inside his private chambers. After his assailants threatened to burn down the door, Beaton unlocked it and begged for his life, but he was stabbed multiple times, with legend saying his body was hung by an arm and a leg, forming the cross of St Andrew, from the window where he had watched George Wishart burn.



The reformers held the castle for around a year and during this time an unusual siege tunnel network known as the mine and counter mine was created. The Reformers hoped that the Protestant English forces would reach the town and free them; however, it was the Catholic French Navy which arrived first, bombarding the castle from both sea and land with cannon fire until those inside surrendered.


The ghost of Beaton has been sighted multiple times and in various locations. The bulk of the reports are that he is seen standing looking out of the window where he had been hung. His spirit has also been seen walking within the grounds of the castle and in the sea tower, gazing out across the bay towards Dundee. Interestingly, Claypotts Castle, which sits in an elevated position on the outskirts of Dundee, is said to be haunted by Marion Ogilvy, who was the mistress of Cardinal Beaton. It is said that Marion’s ghost is reported to stand in one of the windows looking out towards St Andrews, with a sad expression and waving a handkerchief. The date she appears is 29th May, the day Cardinal Beaton was murdered. Could it be that the two lovers still gaze across to each other on the anniversary of Beaton’s death?

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