January saw the opening of a new film about Mary Queen of Scots, and although I have yet still to go to the Playhouse in Perth to watch the film,  I thought I would write about a famous event involving Mary that took place in Perth and Kinross – the imprisonment of the queen at Loch Leven Castle.

Mary Queen of Scots is perhaps one of Scotland’s most tragic monarchs,  she was born in Linlithgow Palace on the 8th of December 1542.  Her father James V was not exactly over the moon when he was told of the birth of his daughter.  He was lying in his sick bed in Falkland Palace and upon receiving the news exclaimed rather sadly “it came wi a lass and it will gang wi a lass” he was referring to the Stewart or Stuart dynasty.   Mary’s father James died six days later on the 14th of December. 

The infant was crowned queen on the 9th of September 1543 she was less than a year old.  The King of England Henry VIII tried to persuade the Scottish nobility that the young queen should marry his son and when this was rejected he sent his armies into Scotland to force the issue.  This is referred to as the Rough Wooing, with Scotland being subjected to these English raids the queen was sent to France where she married the heir to the French throne in 1558.  The following year Mary’s husband was crowned Francois II of France.  The time in France was to be the happiest of her life, but it was not to last, for in 1560 the young French king died,  Mary was sent back to Scotland arriving in Leith in 1561.

Things were extremely difficult for her, she was a Catholic while most of her subjects including her nobility were Protestant.  Mary married her cousin Henry Stewart Lord Darnley in 1565, despite having a child together it was not a happy union.  Darnley was spoilt, immature and a womaniser.  He was manipulated into being involved in murdering Mary’s secretary David Rizzio, this crime was carried out in the queen’s chambers in Holyrood Palace.  Mary who was pregnant at the time never forgave her husband for his part in the murder.  Lord Darnley himself was to die in suspicious circumstances, while sick he was convalescing in a building called Kirk o Field in Edinburgh. 

One night while Mary was out celebrating a wedding Kirk o Field was blown up.  Darnley’s body was found outside in the grounds, he had been murdered.  The chief suspect in this assassination was Lord Bothwell, many people at the time also thought Mary herself had a hand in the killing of her husband.  Mary Queen of Scots then committed political suicide by marrying Lord Bothwell, this prompted a rebellion by her lords.  Mary was overthrown, she was taken into custody and them imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle.

Loch Leven castle sits on the biggest island on Loch Leven, it is owned by Historic Scotland and open to the public.  It is well worth a visit, especially on a nice day.  The castle was to be Mary’s prison for just over ten months arriving on the 17th of June 1567 and leaving on the morning of the 3rd of May 1568.  Imprisonment here was to be the low point of Mary’s time in Scotland, while held Mary miscarried twins that had been conceived with Lord Bothwell. Her jailers were The Douglases, a powerful family who had played a prominent role in Scotland’s history since the days of Robert the Bruce. 

Lady Douglas had been the mistress of the queen’s father King James V , she was the mother of James Stewart the Earl of Moray, Mary’s half brother, Moray was to become regent while Mary was locked up, running the country on behalf of the queen’s young son James VI.  The queen was confined to two rooms on the third floor of the tower.  Lady Douglas was to share a bedroom with the queen, so Mary had very little privacy.  She spent her long days walking in the garden or doing needlework. 

Her supporters on the outside were desperate to secure her freedom, they knew Mary’s life was in danger, her jailers had been told to kill Mary if an escape attempt was made by her followers.  Mary did make an effort to escape on one occasion a laundress had been brought to the castle and Mary who was up early swapped clothing with this woman. Covering her face, Mary made it down to the boat,  she was being rowed across the loch when one of the boatmen foiled the plan, he noticed how white, soft and smooth the ladies hands looked. 

A second attempt was to be successful, Mary was helped by one of her jailers he was Willie Douglas an eighteen-year-old youth who was captivated by the charismatic queen.  On the night of the 2nd of May, he managed to obtain the master key to the tower.  When the rest of the household were celebrating May Day with a masked ball, Willie made his way to the queen’s room.  Releasing the queen, they made their way to a boat and rowed across the loch to freedom.

Once free Mary gathered her support and raised an army, it was defeated at the Battle of Langside near Glasgow.  Mary Queen of Scots then fled to England where she sought the protection of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England.  Mary was implicated in a plot to kill the English queen and executed in 1587.

Article by Gary Knight