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Issue 10 - Mary Queen of Scots was here

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 10
September 2003


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Mary Queen of Scots was here


The history of some of Scotland’s most spectacular castles is inexorably linked with that of Scotland’s most famous queen – Mary Queen of Scots.

The romantic ruins and the tragic queen are what makes exploring Scotland’s history special, and what keeps drawing us back again and again to the remote outposts of the country’s mediaeval power-brokers.

This is the first of three visits we will make in this series to the castles and palaces made famous – or more famous – by virtue of their associations with Mary Queen of Scots. Legally, Mary was Queen of Scotland for most of her life – becoming Queen of Scots at the age of only one week, on the death of her father, King James V.

She was born at Linlithgow Palace in December 1542, betrothed to the infant Edward, heir to Henry VIII of England, at the age of six months and, when that fell through, whisked off to France in 1548 and betrothed to the Dauphin Francis.

By 1561, aged 19 and widowed, she returned to Scotland to reclaim her throne and to impress upon her earls and barons that she was in charge.

She undertook several Royal Progresses over the ensuing six years – as was normal practice for the monarch at the time, travelling extensively throughout Scotland and staying at many of the great castles, palaces and stately homes – and a few abbeys – along the way.

She obviously had closer relationships with the owners of some of the great castles than others, and visited them more often. One such was the bleak 14th century Dunnottar Castle, seat of the Earl Marischal on the east coast south of Aberdeen, which she visited twice in 1562 and again in 1564. Mary made a single visit to Tantallon Castle, with its magnificent views across the Firth of Forth and the Bass Rock, staying there on 19th November 1566.

Edinburgh’s ‘other castle’, the giant fortress at Craigmillar, had been recently repaired after an English attack 20 years earlier, at the time of Mary’s first visit for a week in early September 1563.

She spent another period in residence in late 1566. The castle, home to Sir Simon Preston, a member of her Privy Council was, in those days, a few miles from Edinburgh, but today is surrounded by the city.

Crichton Castle, one of the strongholds of the Hepburns, played host to the Queen for three days in January 1562, while she attended the wedding of her half brother Lord James Stewart to Lady Janet Hepburn.

The ornate Italianate stonework of the inner courtyard, however, was completed long after Mary’s imprisonment.

The first monarch to see it was Mary’s son, King James VI when he visited Crichton in 1685, two years before his mother’s execution at Fotheringay Castle.

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