Updated: Sep 23, 2022
A Royal History of St. Andrews University
Last week’s news from Buckingham Palace of the beloved Queen’s death at Balmoral on the 8th September has led us all to reflect on the life and achievements of Britain’s longest reigning monarch. Speaking to the Commons the following day, former Prime Minister Theresa May paid tribute to the Queen, touching on her time at Balmoral during her tenure, reminding us of the Queen’s long-standing love and affinity for Scotland. The Queen famously retreated from London to Balmoral each year for her summer holidays, where she reportedly passed the time surrounded by her beloved corgis and horses and welcoming a steady parade of guests, many of whom remarked how ‘normal’ her life at Balmoral was — Margaret Thatcher was famously taken aback to see the monarch doing the washing up.
It is not just Aberdeenshire, however, which is frequented by the Windsors. Over the years, St Andrews has become somewhat of a Royal favourite. The town has received various members of the Royal family in an official capacity, whilst the university notably counts William and Catherine, the Prince and Princess of Wales, among our alumni, as well as recently welcoming Lady Louise Windsor as a first year. So, we’ve rounded up the best of St Andrews’ encounters with the royals in recent times.
In 1929, the Queen Mother, then known as Elizabeth, Duchess of York opened Younger Hall. Designed by famed British architect Paul Waterhouse, the recently refurbished building on North Street is St Andrews’ main concert venue as well as the site of each year’s various graduation ceremonies. Just one year later, her husband Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) was invited to become the Captain of the R&A. He was the third Captain who would go on to become a British Monarch, following in the footsteps of his older brother King Edward VIII - who famously acceded and then abdicated the throne in 1936 in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
It is tradition for new captains to be welcomed in a ‘driving-in’ ceremony, a nod to the original custom in which the title was earned by winning a competition, rather than being elected. The Duke’s ceremony was notable for being the first occasion on which the Captain’s drive was made using a steel golf club - and yes, I know what you’re thinking, I am really fun at parties thank you very much.
Next up, is James Ogilvy, son of Princess Alexandra of Kent and the Queen’s godson. Born 13th in line to the throne (though he now sits at a modest 57th), he enrolled at St Andrews in the early 1980s, choosing to read Art History. Though little is known about his time here, he did meet Julia Rawlinson during their first year, and the two went on to get married in 1988 after five years together. If you ask me, they don’t get enough credit for paving the way for yet another Royal St Andrean couple…
Fast forward to 2001, and it was announced that Prince William, eldest son of King Charles III and his late wife Diana, Princess of Wales would be taking a gap year before studying Art History at St Andrews, having achieved an A, a B and a C in his A Levels at Eton (Geography, Biology and Art, just in case you were wondering). This was a marked departure from tradition, with other members of the royal family previously preferring to study at Oxford or Cambridge. By a happy coincidence, the as of yet unknown Kate Middleton would also be taking up her place to study Art History at St Andrews after a gap year, having changed her mind at the last minute and declining her original offer of a place at the University of Edinburgh. As fun as it is to imagine everyone’s favourite royal couple swanning around Angkor Wat in harem pants and taking questionable shots at a full moon party, I regret to inform this was not the case. Kate initially spent her time studying at the British Institute in Florence, before heading off to Chile to join the Raleigh International programme, where, as it happened William had taken part in the same programme just a few weeks early. After a year of discovering themselves, they both ended up in, surprise surprise, Sallies studying Art History.
It would later be reported by Royal historian Robert Lacey that William dubbed his life in St Andrews “boring”, and seriously considered leaving. After being persuaded by his father to “stick with it”, however, he changed his major to Geography (arguably a somewhat questionable decision) and stayed on.
By the sounds of it though, things got a lot more exciting in his second semester, when, following the fashion show at the Fairmont, he began to see Kate Middleton in a rather different light, making the reportedly £200 ticket decidedly worth it. Allegedly he saw her strutting her stuff in a see-through dress and turned to the boy on his right to say, “Wow, Fergus, Kate’s hot!”. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing how The Crown handles that one.
As we are all more than aware by now, the pair used to meet for coffee at Northpoint, and apparently were frequently seen at Ma Bells, a bar that used to be a part of what is now the Hotel du Vin. The two became firm friends, signing a lease together at 13 Hope Street, along with two other friends. Eventually, Will began trying to woo her in earnest - telling Tom Bradby in their engagement interview, by “trying to cook these amazing fancy dinners”, later admitting that “something would catch on fire” and Kate would have to swoop in and save the day. Romantic, right? The couple did admit that their other flatmates were at first, “a bit surprised” but eventually came round to the whole situation. Though his cooking may not have been too impressive, the two got together officially and moved to Balgove House for their third and fourth years, a property on the nearby Strathtyrum estate, where they reportedly enjoyed the peace and quiet that came with being a little further out of town.
I’ll keep the summary of their blossoming relationship at that — though for those avid Royal watchers who just can’t get enough, if you’ve not already had the pleasure of watching the 2011 Hallmark cinematic masterpiece which is William and Kate: The Movie I could not recommend sacrificing 87 minutes of your life more. A quick procrastinatory rewatch in The Saint office gave us an extremely thorough recap of the ups, downs and longing stares and meaningful silences that apparently made up their entire relationship. A personal favourite moment was when the two reminisced about the (as far as I am aware, entirely fictional) time they met at a Marlborough v Eton football match - from such different worlds, indeed.
I digress. In 2004, Prince Andrew, Duke of York became the sixth Royal Captain of the R&A, having been the first member of the royal family to serve on the committee having joined the club in 1992. His term coincided with the 250th anniversary of the club, and the portrait commissioned to commemorate the anniversary can be found in the R&A clubhouse, though he relinquished his membership when he stepped back from royal duties.
Prince William and Kate Middleton graduated in 2005, with the Queen in attendance and wouldn’t return until 2011. Their first official engagement as a couple in Scotland saw them launch the 600th-anniversary campaign at which Prince William dubbed our institution, “far and away the best university in the world”. The couple also unveiled a plaque, which is part of the heritage collection of the University’s museum.
Most recently, they returned in May 2021 as part of an extended tour in Scotland, where they took part in a land yachting demonstration on West Sands before speaking to St Andrews students about adapting to university life in the pandemic and planted a commemorative tree in Sallies quad. We can of course hope to continue to be able to welcome them, and other members of the Royal family back to St Andrews, soon.
Image: University of St Andrews Photographic Collection