Sir Andrew Wood lived from about 1455 to about 1515. He was an admiral in the Royal Scots Navy who has been described as "Scotland's Nelson". The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Andrew Wood was born in Leith. He first came to note as a sea captain and merchant based in in the town of his birth. In time he came to own two ships, the Flower and the Yellow Caravel. These he used to trade with ports in the Netherlands and the Baltic. For trading vessels they were unusually well equipped and armed, and it is clear Wood was also an active privateer, effectively a legalised pirate, preying on the shipping of Scotland's enemies: and England ships in particular. During the 1480s, Wood was appointed to become the personal sea captain to James III, and was obliged to ensure the Yellow Caravel was available for the use of the King and Queen. In return he was granted estates around Largo in Fife.
In 1488 he carried James III and his supporters up the Forth to Stirling in advance of the Battle of Sauchieburn, after which James was killed in mysterious circumstances. Wood quickly transferred his allegiances to the young James IV. Later in 1488 Wood really came to prominence when with his two ships he surprised and captured five English privateers which had been attacking Scottish ships off Dunbar. Wood was knighted by James IV as a result. Henry VII of England responded by offering £1,000 a year for life to any English captain who could capture Wood. The challenge was accepted by Sir Stephen Bull, who sailed into the Forth with three of the most powerful ships then available in England. In the battle that followed, Sir Andrew Wood and his two ships, despite being outgunned, won the day.
Sir Andrew was given the rank of admiral in the rapidly expanding Royal Scots Navy, a service which dated back for at least four centuries, but which only really flowered under James IV. Having seen off the English privateers, Wood supported James IV's ambitions to bring the clans of the Hebrides and western seaboard under control after the final demise of the Lord of the Isles in 1493.
After its launch at Newhaven in 1511, Sir Andrew took command of the Great Michael. The flagship of the Royal Scots Navy was said to be the largest ship in Europe and cost £30,000. She weighed 1,000 tons, was 240ft (73m) long, and had a crew of over 1,100. Sir Andrew Wood subsequently commanded the Scottish fleet that supported the French against the English in 1513. After the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513, in which the Scottish army was wiped out by the English, the Great Michael was sold to the French and Sir Andrew spent some time as Scotland's Ambassador to France.
On returning to Scotland Sir Andrew briefly served as Regent for the young James V before retiring to his estates in Fife. In 1488 he had married Elizabeth Lundie, and they had a number of sons. In 1491 he had built a family home in the form of a fortified tower house (or fortalice) a quarter of a mile to the west of Upper Largo, according to some sources on the site of a much older castle. He is said to have surrounded this by a moat. He then built what is believed to be Scotland's earliest canal to connect his home with the medieval church at Upper Largo. This can still in places be traced on the ground, though only a single tower of the fortalice he built still stands and the old church has since been replaced. Sir Andrew was said to have hated travelling by land, and had a barge on which he was rowed to church each Sunday. He made his final journey to be buried in this way after his death, probably in around 1515.