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Sir William Kirkcaldy 1570

Sir William Kirkcaldy (c.1520-1570) was the member of a landed Fife family and spent years as a soldier in France before returning to Scotland in 1559. In 1567 a faction of the nobles led by James Stewart earl of Moray led an uprising against his half-sister Queen Mary. Mary surrendered and later was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James VI, then a child of one year old. Lord James was appointed regent of the kingdom but had a struggle with Mary’s supporters. Sir William Kirkcaldy was granted the keeping of Edinburgh castle by Lord James and when James was killed it was Kirkcaldy who led the funeral procession on 4 February 1570. But Kirkcaldy did not agree with the deposition of Mary and so took her part.

Kirkcaldy wrote in Middle Scots (1550-1700), the language of literate people, but his style is plain and business-like. His intended reader was Agnes Keith countess of Moray (d.1588), the widow of Lord James. In his letter (see PDF below), Kirkcaldy mentions the gossip whispered about him, and how the English have been brought into Scotland. A few, Kirkcaldy tells her, claim that they brought the English in to maintain the child king and revenge the murderers of Lord James, but Kirkcaldy dismisses this. Instead he argues that the English attack and burn without restraint. In addition to Scotland’s troubles there had been an uprising in the north of England, in November 1569, and some had fled to Scotland. In April 1570 the earl of Sussex came through Scotland to capture these people and punish those who sheltered them. In his letter, Kirkcaldy reveals to the countess his fear that the country will be destroyed and conquered by the invaders. Kirkcaldy held Edinburgh castle on behalf of Queen Mary’s men but, at the end of the day, a new governor, the earl of Morton, imported English soldiers and guns, and besieged and captured the castle. In 1573 Sir William Kirckaldy was tried and put to death.