Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange 1520-1573

Although Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange was executed 200 years before the Painting was painted, he deserves a brief mention because of his association with Regent Moray and St Giles Cathedral. He lived during the period of intense political and religious unrest in Scotland during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587).  Mary acceded to the throne of Scotland at the age of one on the death of her father James V. The Catholic Cardinal Beaton of St Andrews attempted to become her first regent and was murdered in 1546 by Protestant gentry which included William Kirkcaldy and his father, James Kirkcaldy, Lord High Treasurer of Scotland 1537-43.  William was arrested by the French forces based in St Andrews and taken to France where he escaped from prison in Normandy and joined the French Army.

Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise, assumed the regency of Scotland during the Queen’s minority.  Mary became betrothed to the Dauphin at the age of five in a political agreement between Scotland and France and spent her childhood in the French Court until her marriage in 1558 at the age of sixteen.  A year later the Dauphin became King Francis II and Mary was briefly Queen of France until the death of Francis a year later. Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 to assume her Scottish throne.  She was immediately confronted by John Knox, the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, but Mary held her ground and on the advice of her half-brother, the Earl of Moray, she agreed to accept Protestantism as the Scottish religion as long as she was allowed to practice Catholicism in private. 

Mary Queen of Scots and her tormentor John Knox engraved by John Kay. Unlike most of Kay’s work these engravings were copied from earlier portraits for both had died many years before Kay’s birth.

Mary enjoyed a brief period of happiness in Scotland until she made the unfortunate marriage with her Catholic cousin Lord Darnley in 1565.  They had a child who was born in Edinburgh Castle in 1566. In 1567 the unpopular Darnley was murdered in Edinburgh by a group of disaffected nobility which probably included the Earl of Bothwell although he was later acquitted.  Amazingly Mary married Bothwell a few weeks after Darnley’s death.  This was more than the Scottish people could tolerate.  Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year old son who was crowned King James VI in Stirling Castle on 29 July 1567. 

Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle but managed to escape a year later and raise an army of 6000 with the support of a number of the Scottish nobility who remained loyal.  Civil war commenced between the Queen’s Men (Marians) and the King’s Men loyal to the infant King (Loyalists).   After a number of inconclusive engagements, Mary was defeated at the Battle of Langside 13 May 1568 by the King’s Men under the leadership of the Earl of Moray, her half-brother and one-time advisor, aided by the battle-hardened William Kirkaldy of Grange.  Mary managed to escape to England putting herself at the mercy of her cousin Queen Elizabeth.  She spent the next eighteen years under house arrest in a variety of homes and castles accompanied by her ladies in waiting until her execution on 8 February 1587 for the alleged offence of plotting against Elizabeth.  

The defeat of Mary did not bring an end to the civil unrest.  As long as she remained alive her supporters looked forward to her return.  Kirkcaldy, who must have regretted his part in her defeat, changed sides to become the leader of the Marians. Edinburgh Castle, of which he was governor, became the headquarters from which he conducted his campaign against the King’s Men who were led by the King’s last regent, the Earl of Morton.  A bitter war was waged in the streets of Edinburgh and Leith. Even St Giles Cathedral was fortified by Kirkcaldy as described in that section.  The Castle was besieged by Morton with the help of troops and artillery sent by Queen Elizabeth and eventually its occupants were starved into submission and the civil war came to an end in May 1573 after six years of strife. 

Kirkcaldy was hanged at the Mercat Cross on 3 August 1573.  His oponent, the Earl of Morton, was executed at the Cross in June 1581 for his alleged part in the murder of Darnley.  Each suffered from being on the wrong side with a change of political power.

Sir William Kirkcaldy is commemorated by a Plaque in Edinburgh Castle.  It reads:

In memory of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange …held this Castle of Queen Mary from May 1568 to May 1573 and after its honourable surrender suffered death for devotion to her cause on 3 August 1573.

Illustration Kirkcaldy’s Plaque