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Castilians in St Andrews (act. 1546–1547), armed political faction, is the collective name given to the men who murdered Cardinal David Beaton in St Andrews Castle and then held it for fourteen months against government forces. Plots to assassinate Beaton had been current as early as 1544, but the grievance that brought many of the murderers together was the execution of the protestant reformer George Wishart on 1 March 1546. The principal driving force behind the murder was , eldest son of George Leslie, fourth earl of Rothes, sheriff of Fife. Leslie claimed that Beaton had failed to honour his obligations under a bond of manrent they held. The Leslies had suffered from the expansion of Beaton's interest in Fife.

Among the other Fife gentry who joined Norman Leslie was his uncle John Leslie of Parkhill (d. 1585), second son of William Leslie, third earl of Rothes (d. 1513), and Janet (fl. c.1490–c.1520), daughter of Sir Michael Balfour of Montquhannie. His presence illustrates the high rank of many of the castilians. He had served in the household of James V from about 1534 until 1541, about which time he married Euphemia Moncrieff; they had two daughters. After being captured at the battle of Solway Moss on 24 November 1542, Leslie was released by the English under assurance. His presence among the conspirators owed little or nothing to English pressure; although characterized as ‘rough and ready’ (Sanderson, 223), he was committed to church reform and was one of the Fife lairds outraged by the execution of Wishart. Another Fife laird of protestant sympathies was James Melville of Carnbee (d. in or before 1550), who ‘mourned Wishart as a friend’ (ibid.). Other participants, like the Leslies and Melville, shared a dislike of Beaton's person and power: they were ‘no artificial group merely thrown together by their grievances’ but a ‘closely-related and allied circle’ (ibid., 224). held protestant convictions; his father, , who joined the castilians after the murder of Beaton, was also a protestant and had been removed as treasurer of the realm in 1543 by Beaton's influence. Peter Carmichael of Balmedie, another conspirator, was from a family with a history of dependence on Beaton, while David Monypenny of Pitmilly was Beaton's cousin. The exact number of conspirators is unknown, but there were probably between twelve and eighteen.

The murderers gained entrance to St Andrews Castle at about six o'clock in the morning of 29 May 1546, hiding among the 100 or so members of the garrison, masons, and members of the workforce engaged in rebuilding the castle as they walked across the lowered drawbridge. They seized the entrance, expelled the labourers, stole the keys from the gatekeeper, Ambrose Stirling, whom they then killed, and raised the drawbridge. The four principal assassins, Norman Leslie, William Kirkcaldy, James Melville, and John Leslie of Parkhill, made their way to Beaton's private chambers and with burning coals intimidated him into opening the door. According to John Knox, Beaton was stabbed twice by John Leslie and Peter Carmichael before James Melville declared that ‘This work and judgment of God (although it be secret) ought to be done with greater gravity’ (Knox's History, 1.77) and at swordpoint urged Beaton:
Repent thee of thy former wicked life, but especially of the shedding of the blood of that notable instrument of God, Master George Wishart, which albeit the flame of fire consumed before men, yet cries it a vengeance upon thee, and we from God are sent to revenge it: For here, before my god, I protest, that neither the hetterent [hatred] of thy person, the love of thy riches, nor the fear of any trouble thou could have done to me in particular, moved, nor moves me to strike thee; but only because thou hast been and remains an obstinate enemy against Christ Jesus and his holy Evangel. (ibid., 1.78)
Melville then dealt the fatal blows by running Beaton through two or three times with his sword. The murderers dragged Beaton's body to the parapet to display to the townsfolk. One ‘knaif’ (Historie and Cronicles, 2.84), possibly Beaton's page Amand Guthrie, then urinated into the corpse's mouth.

The government of the regent, James Hamilton, second earl of Arran, was heavily entangled by a siege and negotiation at Dumbarton, but the conspirators chose not to escape the castle. Beaton had enough friends to make it unwise for Norman Leslie and his friends to hazard public exposure, and the castle was their protection and their safeguard. While the government was distracted the castilians were joined by other supporters including Norman Leslie's brothers William and Robert, and the diplomat . A further advantage was the presence of James Hamilton, master of Arran, the regent's son, in the castle; this encouraged Arran to compromise with the castilians but they rejected his proposal that he arrange a papal pardon. The conspirators were forfeited by parliament on 16 August and that month a siege of St Andrews began.

William Kirkcaldy of Grange travelled to England in August to request support from Henry VIII. Kirkcaldy was gratefully received by the English king, who sent north essential supplies such as powder, food, and cannon. Despite English assistance, by December the castilians were severely weakened by disease and the lack of food. However, government forces had failed to overcome them. An impressive mine, hewn through solid rock, perhaps by Ayrshire miners, left a permanent monument to the siege but had not made an impact on the castilians' defences. The besiegers were also afflicted by plague. In December it was agreed that the government would seek a papal pardon for the castilians as long as they did not deliver the castle and the master of Arran to England. The castilians hoped that, while Arran negotiated with the pope and with France to secure the pardon, better weather would arrive and with it new supplies from England. For the next six months the castilians enjoyed relative freedom of access to the town of St Andrews and the surrounding country. They moved as an armed band for their own protection, but also as a gang of oppression. Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie recalled their riding wherever they pleased ‘burnand and raissand fyre’ (Historie and Cronicles, 2.86). He particularly highlighted how they ‘wssit thair bodyis in leichorie witht fair wemen, servand thair appietyte as they thocht goode’ (ibid., 2.86–7).

The death of Henry VIII of England in January 1547 seemed at first to confirm the castilians' hopes. In March the new English lord protector, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, formally made the principal castilians English pensioners and provided food and wages for their soldiers. The castilians agreed to hand over the castle to an English force and send the master of Arran into Somerset's custody in England, as part of the English plan to force the marriage of Mary, queen of Scots, to the new English king, Edward VI. The agreement may have encouraged the castilians to reject the papal pardon obtained by Arran in March or April, on the grounds that the clause remittibus irremissibile described the remitted crime as one that could not be remitted and thus suggested that the murderers of Beaton were not completely absolved. Several castilians, including Leslie of Parkhill and Balnaves, visited England in early 1547. In April, Balnaves supposedly delivered the signatures of twenty-three Scottish nobles who had pledged themselves to England. The castilians received in return the services of an Italian surveyor, Guillaume di Rossetti, as well as armaments and construction materials for the castle. Meanwhile, arrived in St Andrews in April, accompanied by three pupils. With Knox in St Andrews the castle became something of an evangelical city on a hill, Knox first engaging Catholics at the university in debate, and then preaching in the town itself.

The castilians' new concordat with England was immediately compromised by political changes in France following the death of François I in March 1547. The new king, Henri II, was politically aligned with the family of the Scottish queen dowager, Mary of Guise, and by May had agreed to send a French force to end the siege. This was unknown to the castilians and their English allies. A French fleet probably arrived off St Andrews on 16 July, and began a siege, led by an Italian mercenary, Leon Strozzi, which ended with the surrender of the castilians on 30 July. The castilians were first imprisoned in the castle, and then transferred to the holds of the French vessels.

The castilians became protestant martyrs, and Knox a galley slave. However, few of the castilians suffered excessively. Only James Melville of Carnbee died in captivity, in Brest Castle, Brittany, before Mary of Guise and the French agreed to the release of the last of the castilians in July 1550. Norman Leslie translated his imprisonment in France into service to Henri II. Knox was freed within nineteen months, thanks to English diplomatic pressure, and became a royal chaplain to Edward VI. Most of the castilians made their way home and were eventually restored to their property: Leslie of Parkhill was restored in 1563 and was formally discharged from his part in the murder of Beaton in 1575, before he died on 6 September 1585. William Kirkcaldy of Grange found preferment of France before returning to Scotland where he eventually became one of the in Edinburgh (act. 1570–1573).

Marcus Merriman


M. Merriman, The rough wooings: Mary queen of Scots, 1542–1551 (2000) · The historie and cronicles of Scotland … by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie, ed. A. J. G. Mackay, 1–2, STS, 42 (1899) · John Knox's History of the Reformation in Scotland, ed. W. C. Dickinson, 2 vols. (1949) · M. H. B. Sanderson, Cardinal of Scotland: David Beaton, c.1494–1546 (1986) · Scots peerage, 7.279–81