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Sir William Kirkcaldy

(c. 1520—1573) soldier and politician


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(c. 1520–73). Kirkcaldy had a tempestuous life in turbulent times. His father Sir James had been lord high treasurer to James V of Scotland, an opponent of Cardinal Beaton and privy to his murder. William was present and took an active part. He adhered first to the pro-English party, escaped from captivity in France in 1550, and served Edward VI. In Mary I's reign he transferred his allegiance to the king of France. Returning to Scotland in 1557, he resumed his English policy, taking up arms against the French troops there. But when Mary, queen of Scots, arrived back in her kingdom in 1561, Kirkcaldy entered her service until she married Darnley. He then changed sides again, leading the opposition at Carberry Hill. When she escaped from Lochleven, he led the forces against her at Langside. He then changed sides for the last time and attempted to hold Edinburgh castle for her in 1572–3 against the Regent Morton. When the castle was forced to surrender, Morton hanged him. Kirkcaldy was brave and capable but the verdict of DNB that he won for himself ‘a place of honour in Scottish history’ seems over-enthusiastic.

From The Oxford Companion to British History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.


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