Mary Queen of Scots

Dunbarton Castle
Dunbarton Castle

The town of St Andrews is welcoming the Mary Queen on Scots exhibition on October 11th which will have fascinating manuscripts and letters detailing Mary’s final moments. In honour of the exhibition, we thought that a little bit of background history wouldn’t go amiss! Our blog today tells you all about Mary’s colourful life and her incredible stories, and we’ll also show you some of the most impressive castles around Scotland where she stayed. If you fancy creating your own own Mary Queen of Scots tour around her castles and palaces then why not have a look at Sleigh’s tailor-made tours by clicking here.

Mary was queen of Scotland from the 14th of December 1542 to the 24th July 1567. After the death of her father, King James V, Mary became Queen at just 6 days old, and went on to a tumultuous life of conspiracy, love and betrayal. She was born in Linlithgow Palace and lived both here and Dunbarton Castle before, at the age of 5, she was betrothed to the French Dolphin and shipped off to France where she stayed until she was eighteen.

When she returned to Scotland after the death of her husband she met a country that was being torn apart by religious factions. Mary was a devout Catholic and had many supporters, but Scotland was a predominantly Protestant country and so she faced opposition from many Scots, including her half-brother the Earl of Moray who lead the protestant faction. Mary, as a descendant of King Henry VIII, had a claim to the English throne, which also caused unceasing tension between her and her cousin Elizabeth I who became queen of England in 1558.

Holyrood Palace
Holyrood Palace

In 1565, Mary married her Catholic cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. The marriage infuriated Elizabeth and the Protestants for many reasons, not least because Darnley was English and also had a tenuous claim to the throne. As a result, the Scottish Protestants, lead by the Earl of Moray, engaged in open rebellion across the country. Once the rebellion had dissipated, life for the young queen remained a struggle. Her relationship with her husband became increasingly strained, so much so that he participated in a conspiracy to murder Mary’s private secretary with whom he suspected she was having an affair.

Loch Leven Castle
Loch Leven Castle, situated on a tiny island in the middle of the lake.

Many years later Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, was murdered and she was captured and forced to marry Lord Bothwell, who everyone suspected was behind the murder. After protests and rebellions as a result of the marriage, Mary fled to Leven castle, where she was eventually forced to abdicate the throne to her infant heir James. In May 1568, however, she escaped from the castle, raised an army and fled to England. She expected Elizabeth to help her to regain her throne, but instead she was once again held captive, this time in Bolton Castle. In the meantime, Scotland was on the brink of a civil war between her Catholic supporters and Protestant rivals.

For years Mary was caught in the midst of Catholic plots which sought to restore her to the throne, and Protestant plots which attempted to kill her. Moving around the country, being captured and released, travelling between Scotland and England, Mary’s life became one of constant stress and tragedy. Eventually, on the 1st of February 1587, Elizabeth I decided that Mary posed too great a threat to her throne and she conceded to sign her death warrant. Mary’s tragic and tumultuous life came to an end when she was executed at Fotheringay Castle of the 8th of February 1587. Her incredible life has left its mark everywhere she went, and the fascinated exhibition in St Andrews is sure to be a hit!

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