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Issue 13 - Mary's Royal Progress

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 13
March 2004

 

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Mary's Royal Progress

Mary Queen of Scots got around a bit, so John Hannavy decided to take another look at sme of her residences

In the second feature in this series (in Issue 10 of Scotland Magazine), we looked at some of the Scottish castles associated with Mary Queen of Scots, and as there are so many of them, visiting a second selection seems appropriate.

We start at the spectacular Castle Campbell, perched high on the hills above Dollar. Here, in January 1563, Mary attended the wedding of the Earl of Argyll’s daughter to James Stewart, the Lord of Doune.

She stayed in the castle for three nights, but the turbulence of Scottish life at the time meant that within a couple of years – after Mary married Lord Darnley – the Earl and the Queen found themselves on opposite sides of the political divide.

The central tower house of the castle was built in the 15th century and its austere design and isolated position earned it the nickname of ‘Castle Gloom.’

The celebrations of the wedding, however, reportedly brought much colour and glamour to the place, with masked balls – a riot of colour and music.

Three months later, the Queen made one of her earliest visits to Loch Leven Castle – she had probably first visited in 1562 – but by 1567, shortly after her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, and the subsequent defeat of her armies at Carberry Hill, Mary was back in the island castle, but this time as a prisoner.

During the year she spent in the bleak fortress, she miscarried Bothwell’s child and suffered ill-health, before escaping in May 1568, eventually making her way to England and into the hands of her cousin Elizabeth.

The remote Hermitage Castle in the Scottish borders was the home of the Earl of Bothwell – it had been the family seat of the Hepburns since the end of the 15th century.

Mary visited the castle only once, in late 1566, visiting the wounded Bothwell, whom she would marry in the following year – an event which helped precipitate her downfall. Bothwell, implicated in the death of Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, was already unpopular and widely distrusted within the Scottish nobility before his power was enhanced by his association with the Queen.

The Earls, and later Dukes of Atholl have lived at Blair Castle, north west of Pitlochry, for centuries, and the hills and forests surrounding the great white-harled castle were renowned for their fine hunting.

Mary visited Blair once, for a spectacular hunt and banquet in August 1564, during which a reported 360 deer were slaughtered! The castle today contains some fine portraits and miniatures of the Queen.

Huntingtower Castle was known as the House of Ruthven or Ruthven Castle in Mary’s day, and Patrick, Earl of Ruthven was a great friend of Lord Darnley and the Queen, and entertained them at his castle during their honeymoon in the autumn of 1565.

The Earl would shortly thereafter become implicated in the murder of David Riccio.

In another of those familiar twists in Scottish political allegiances, Patrick’s son William would become a central figure in Mary’s imprisonment at Loch Leven.

Ruthven Castle would be the setting for another pivotal episode in Scottish history when Mary’s son, James VI, was briefly imprisoned in the castle during the notorious ‘Ruthven Raid’ of 1582 – a plot to persuade the young King to distance himself from his Catholic advisors.

Two years later he was back as a guest, but although he appeared to have forgiven the family for their treachery, he had not.

In a series of violent episodes over the following 20 years, the family suffered a number of violent deaths, culminating in a charge of treason being brought in 1600 against the Earl – or more accurately against his body as he was already dead.

Despite that, he was found guilty and hanged in Edinburgh. The family was disgraced, their lands and houses forfeited and the castle’s present-day name of Huntingtower came into use.