Here’s the low-down on Robert Bruce and Cardinal Beaton, and why they are so important to St Andrews.
Bruce (Robert, the): 1274-1329
King Robert I, or Robert the Bruce was a Scottish aristocrat in the 1200s, during a time in which Scotland was officially being ruled as a rebellious province of England. To cut a long story short, the Scots crowned him King at Scone in 1306, but the English weren’t too happy about this and he was soon forced to flee to Ireland. He mustered an army and in 1314 defeated the English forces at the Battle of Bannockburn. King Robert I lived long enough to see the English renounce all rights to superiority over Scotland (in 1327).
Robert the Bruce was a key player in the history of St Andrews in several ways. Firstly, it was after the Battle of Bannockburn that he declared St Andrews to be the patron Saint of Scotland. Both he and another famous warrior William Wallace had appealed to St Andrew for help during the struggles with the English.
Four years later, Bruce was present at the consecration of the breathtaking St Andrews’ Cathedral, with some sources even saying he rode his horse up the central aisle.
Beaton (Cardinal David): 1494-1546
Cardinal David Beaton became the Archbishop of St Andrews in 1539 and lived in St Andrews Castle around the beginning of the tumultuous Scottish Reformation. He was heavily involved in politics and in 1542 the Archbishop made an attempt to become one of the regents of Scotland when the infant Mary, Queen of Scots inherited the throne.
Politics and religion became even more intertwined as the Protestant England struggled against Catholic Scotland. Archbishop Beaton blocked several potential treaties between the two neighbouring countries, and in response the English attacked Scotland. Archbishop Beaton retaliated by arresting, trying, and burning Prostestant reformer George Wishart outside St Andrews Castle. You can still see the cobblestone initials in the road outside the Castle, near the stairs to Castle Sands.
In an ironic twist, George Wishart’s supporters vowed to avenge their leader and just two months later – in May 1546 – the conspirators snuck into St Andrews Castle murdering Archbishop Beaton. Even though many of Archbishop Beaton’s opponents believed that this was a step too far, the murder of Archbishop Beaton was a key triumph for the Reformers’ cause, and Scotland officially remains a Protestant country to this day.
So there you have it – both Robert the Bruce and Archbishop Beaton are central to St Andrews, and the repercussions of decisions they made over 500 years ago can still be felt in Scotland today.
Why not use the bank holiday weekend to visit St Andrews Castle, the Museum of the University of St Andrews, and the St Andrews Town Museum at Kinburn House to learn more about other people and events who helped create both St Andrews, and modern Scotland?
Written and contributed by Beth Craggs