After his final declaration Kirkcaldy began to fortify the approaches to the castle from the city, mounting for this purpose cannon on the steeple of St. Giles and within the body of the church. He also appointed his son-in-law, Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst [q. v.] provost of the city, which, as well as the castle, was now held for the queen. So satisfied was Kirkcaldy with his preparations for resistance that he celebrated their completion in what Calderwood disparagingly terms a ‘rowstie rhyme,’ but which was really a very clever political squib (printed in full in Sir J. Graham Dalyell's Scottish Poems of the Sixteenth Century; and in Satirical Poems of the time of the Reformation, Scottish Text Soc., i. 174–9). In September he despatched from the castle a force which made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the leaders of the king's party at Stirling. In the fray the regent Lennox was shot, but the murder was done solely at the instance of the Hamiltons, and was deeply regretted by Kirkcaldy, who declared that if he knew who had committed the foul deed or even directed it to be done he would avenge it with his own right hand (Sir James Melville, Memoirs, p. 242). Through the interposition both of the English and French representatives a truce was entered into on 1 Aug. 1572, which lasted to the following January. Knox on his deathbed sent word to Kirkcaldy that unless he ‘was brought to repentance’ he should be ‘disgracefully dragged from his nest to punishment and hung on a gallows in the face of the sun’ (Works, ii. 157). Morton, who succeeded Mar in the regency on the day of Knox's death, employed Sir James Melville to negotiate an agreement with Kirkcaldy. The negotiations promised to be successful, but on Kirkcaldy learning that Morton did not intend to include in them ‘the rest of the queen's faction,’ especially the Hamiltons, he, in the words of Melville, ‘stood stiff upon his honesty and reputation,’ and declined conditions which implied the ruin of his friends. While the negotiations were thus in suspense Morton received final pledges of assistance from England to enable him to capture the castle. Thereupon he came to terms with the Hamiltons, and refused to the defenders of the castle any conditions except the safety of their lives. The task of capturing it was entrusted to the English commander, Sir William Drury, who had brought with him English cannon and a force of fifteen hundred men, the besieging force being completed by about five hundred Scottish soldiers. From 17 May to the 20th they kept up a continuous cannonade day and night and the spur was captured by assault. The position of the defenders, from lack of water and provisions, was now hopeless. Kirkcaldy, therefore, on the 28th sent privately to Hume and Crawford, who commanded the Scottish contingent, and delivered the castle into their hands, thus avoiding the surrender of it to the English. Next morning he gave up his sword to Sir William Drury, by whom he was treated with every courtesy. On 3 June he and Maitland wrote to Elizabeth that they had surrendered themselves to her, and hoped that she would not put them ‘out of her hands to make any others, especially our mortal enemy, our masters;’ but on the 18th they were delivered up to Morton. Every effort was made by Kirkcaldy's friends to save his life, and Morton candidly admitted the strength of the temptation which the offered bribes exerted on him. But he saw that the ‘denunciations of the preachers’ rendered the sacrifice of Kirkcaldy, which Knox had foretold, essential to his own continuance in power. Kirkcaldy was executed on the afternoon of 3 Aug. 1573, on the gibbet at the cross. After the accession of James VI his remains were removed to the ancestral burying-place at Kinghorn.
Sir James Melville describes Kirkcaldy as ‘humble, gentle, and meek, like a lamb in the house and like a lion in the field, a lusty, stark, and well-proportioned personage, hardy, and of magnanimous courage’ (Memoirs, p. 257). He also states that he refused ‘even the office of regent’ (ib. p. 258). Although his political career is chargeable almost throughout with inconsistency, he was not directly involved in the baser intrigues of his time, and was less influenced than most of his contemporaries by ulterior and selfish motives. His defence of the castle for the queen was not merely quixotic, but incompatible with the clear obligations into which he had entered. Nevertheless his chivalrous resolve and the constancy of his courage have secured him a place of honour in Scottish history.
[Knox's Works; Sir James Melville's Memoirs; Calderwood's Hist. of the Kirk of Scotland; Lindsay of Pitscottie's Chronicle; Buchanan's Hist. of Scotland; Spotiswood's Hist. of Scotland; James Melville's Diary; Richard Bannatyne's Memorials; Diurnal of Occurrents; Reg. Privy Council of Scotl. vols. i. and ii.; Cal. State Papers, Scott. Ser.; Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1549–73; Biographical Sketch of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange in Sir J. Graham Dalyell's Scottish Poems of the Sixteenth Century, 1801; Grant's Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, 1849.]