Mary’s Queen of Scots in Scotland

Mary Queen of Scots must rival Robert the Bruce as the most famous Scottish monarch, and the period in which she lived was one of the most exciting and turbulent in Scotland’s history. And since much of Scotland’s history is turbulent, that is quite an accolade.

This weekend sees the release of a major film on Mary in the USA. When writing this I don’t know how historically accurate the film will be – often films diverge from the historical facts.  I have been fascinated by Mary and her time since I was a teenager, and have just published a book about her.  I haven’t seen the film yet, as it will not be released in the U.K. until 18 January, but based on the trailer there are some inaccuracies in the film.  I have just published a book which is the true story of here Scottish years – details at the end of this post.DSC_0360

Linlithgow Palace, where Mary was born.

Mary was Scotland’s queen from a few days after her birth at Linlithgow Palace, as her father James V died before she was a week old. When she was an infant England’s King Henry VIII wanted her to be contracted to marry his son Edward.  This in practice would have given Henry control of Scotland. Initially the Protestant faction in the Scottish court agreed to this, but this arrangement was rejected when the Catholic faction in Scotland regained ascendancy. Henry’s response was to send armies to devastate much of the Scottish borders and lowlands, in an attempt to terrorise Scotland into agreeing to the marriage. These terror tactics were to become known as the “rough wooing”.

The English raids and military incursions continued for several years.  So at five years seven months Mary was sent to the sophisticated court of France for her safety, and in preparation for her marriage to the Dauphin, the heir to the French throne. At fifteen she married the fourteen year old Dauphin, who when his father died in a jousting accident shortly afterwards, became King of France.  Mary was for a short time the Queen of France, but had to return to Scotland at eighteen following the death of her young husband from an infection.

Mary attempted to rule Scotland at one of the most tempestuous times in its history, only one year after the country had officially become Protestant, and when a very substantial minority of the population were still Catholic. Mary was a Catholic when many, although not all, of the Scottish nobles were Protestant, a recipe for conflict at a time of religious strife.

Scotland had adopted an austere version of the Protestant religion. Although the Scottish church eventually matured into the tolerant and compassionate church it is today, the 16thcentury was a time of religious extremism. Catholics and Protestants struggled for supremacy, and many people in both churches were bigoted and intolerant, seeing adherents of the other religion as heretics rather than fellow Christians.

In some ways Scotland then was like Afghanistan is today, a country with a weak central government, where much of the real power lay with warlords. Again like Afghanistan the county had been racked by war and the intervention of foreign powers for decades.  In Scotland’s case England and France, in Afghanistan’s first Russia and then the West. Mary’s task of ruling the country was almost impossible.

Mary’s rule when she returned to Scotland started well.  She was an attractive and charming young queen, and initially her subjects took to her.  Her policy was one of religious tolerance.  She insisted on practicing her Catholic faith, but did nothing to threaten the official Protestant faith of her country, although the Protestant church undoubtedly felt threatened.

But she made several significant errors of judgement. She married Lord Darnley, a superficially attractive young aristocrat, but as mentioned earlier in reality egotistical, stupid, sexually promiscuous and possibly bisexual, and a drunkard.  She also had too many close French and continental Catholics in her entourage, including her personal secretary David Rizzio.  Rizzio infuriated Mary’s nobles by his haughty attitude and tendency to require a bribe before allowing any favours or access to Mary.

To cut a long story short, a group of nobles, including Mary’s husband Darnley murdered Rizzio when he was dining with Mary.  This shows how weak her position really was.

Three months later Mary gave birth to the future James VI of Scotland in the security of Edinburgh castle. Thirty-seven years later, following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, James was to become James I of England as well.

Mary’s marriage to Darnley had irrevocably broken down.  However obtaining a divorce would have been difficult, and would have resulted in her son being considered illegitimate, and therefore under the legal code that existed at that time, unable to inherit the throne.  Divorce therefore wasn’t an option.

Rather conveniently Mary’s husband Lord Darnley was murdered a year after Rizzio. The person responsible was almost certainly Lord Bothwell, one of Mary’s key supporters and possibly by then lover. Historians argue to this day whether Mary was involved.  But Bothwell was too powerful to be convicted.

Bothwell pressured Mary to marry him, and possibly raped her.  Mary then made a disastrous mistake. Three months after the murder of her husband she married Bothwell. Because she had married the man who was generally accepted to be her husband’s murderer, many people thought Mary little better than a prostitute, and said so. Scotland was seething with insurrection. Also many nobles detested Bothwell, and were frightened that he would use his position as the Queen’s husband to threaten their positions.  They therefore rose in revolt.

This resulted in a standoff rather than a battle between Mary’s forces and her enemies – no one really wanted a civil war.  Mary surrendered to the nobles seeing that her position was weak, and believing she would be treated with honour.  However they had different ideas.  They imprisoned Mary in Loch Leven Castle on an island in the middle of the loch.  She was threatened with death and forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son.

aff lochleven castle-copy

Loch Leven Castle, a castle on an island.  Mary was forced to abdicate as Queen of Scots here.

But Mary wasn’t finished yet.  After almost a year in captivity she managed to charm George Douglas, the young brother of the castle’s owner, and he helped her make a daring escape.  Her supporters rallied behind her, and she soon had an army of 6,000.  But at the battle of Langside Mary’s forces were beaten by the nobles.  Mary decided to escape from Scotland and seek support from her cousin Elizabeth I of England, a disastrous mistake.

Elizabeth, a Protestant queen, saw Mary as a threat, a possible rallying point for the large Catholic minority in England. Therefore rather than support Mary, Elizabeth kept her under house arrest.  After 19 years Mary became desperate, and became involved in a plot to depose Elizabeth. As a result, Mary was tried and executed.

Mary only spent just over twelve years of her life in Scotland, five years and seven months before being sent to France, and six year nine months when she returned, speaking with a French accent and strongly influenced by her French education. But Mary is the most famous Scotswoman ever. Many books have been written and films made about her life, including the new “Mary Queen of Scots”, released this month.

The book is available as a printed book on Amazon now, and should be available in late December as a Kindle book as well.  There are three ways to get to the book. Please click on the link, or paste it into your browser, or search on Amazon for “Exploring Mary’s Scotland – Mary Queen of Scots’ Life in Scotland”

U.K.     https://amzn.to/2OJMSN2

U.S.A.      https://amzn.to/2RRcuJQ

 

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Mary Queen of Scots’ Life in Scotland

 

MQOS front cover border big

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book – “Exploring Mary’s Scotland – Mary Queen of Scots’ Life in Scotland” which is available from Amazon.  The book is in two parts.  The first is an outline of the tragic queen’s life, and the second part is a guide to the most significant Scottish sites closely associated with her.

On 8 December in the USA and 18 January in Britain, a major new film “Mary Queen of Scots” staring Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbins and David Tennant will be released. I can only base my comments on the trailer, since I can’t see the film until 18 January.  The trailer has two error. Firstly Mary and her cousin and rival Queen Elizabeth never actually met.  Secondly it is unlikely Mary spoke with a Scottish accent, she is more likely to have spoken with a French/Scottish accent, having left Scotland at five and not returned until she was eighteen. However, together with “Outlaw King” about Robert the Bruce, it is to be commended if it increases interest in Scottish history.

Long before I knew that the film was being produced I started to research Mary’s fascinating life and times for the book.  There are many books in print about Mary and her struggle to rule Scotland at a tumultuous time in its history.  How does “Exploring Mary’s Scotland” differ from the rest?

As well as providing an overview of Mary’s life, and particularly her life in Scotland, it takes the reader on a tour of the Scottish sites closely associated with her. I believe this helps to bring her life and times alive.  And of course if you want to visit the sites, either in person or from an armchair, the book can be your guide.  It is a substantial expansion of my previous book, “Mary Queen of Scots – a Brief History,” as it is more than 2.5 times the size.

And if you read the book you will be able to judge the film, and point out to your friends and family all the historical inaccuracies!

The book is available as a printed book on Amazon now, and should be available in December as a Kindle book as well.  Links for the print book on Amazon are:

U.K.     https://amzn.to/2OJMSN2

U.S.A.      https://amzn.to/2RRcuJQ

 

 

 

 

Mary Queen of Scots Visit to the Scottish Borders

Earlier this year I visited Jedburgh, and the house Mary Queen of Scots is believed to have stayed in during a visit to Jedburgh in October 1566.  The house is now a museum, dedicated to Mary.

Mary Queen of Scots House

Mary Queen of Scots House

I attach photos of what is now called Mary Queen of Scots House, and of the ruins of Jedburgh abbey.  Jedburgh Abbey was burnt down by Henry VIII’s forces in 1523, and when partially rebuilt destroyed again in 1544 and 1545 during the “rough wooing”.  The rough wooing was an attempt by Henry VIII to terrorise the Scots into agreeing to their infant queen Mary being married to Henry’s son Edward when she was of age (often in the 16th century 12 years old would be considered to be old enough for the bride).

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

Mary visited Jedburgh just 6 months after she had given birth to the future James VI/I, to preside over the 16th century equivalent of a circuit court.  During her visit she learned that James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, had been hurt.  Mary had been romantically linked with Bothwell.  He had been involved in a skirmish with border reivers, and the injured Bothwell was taken to Hermitage Castle (see photo).  When she heard of Bothwell’s injury, Mary made the 25 mile journey to Hermitage with a small party to see him.

Hermitage Castle 2 – Legends and History

Hermitage Castle

After two hours with Bothwell, Mary rode back to Jedburgh.  Perhaps she had pressing business in Jedburgh, or considered it inappropriate to spend the night in the castle.  Having cycled between Jedburgh and Hermitage, I can confirm that this would have been a difficult and exposed journey across high and bleak moorland.  On her return journey, although Mary was an expert horsewoman, her horse threw her. When back in Jedburgh she was ill with a fever that nearly killed her.  During her long imprisonment in England, Mary is reported to have said that she wished she had died in Jedburgh.

Mary Queen of Scots House is near the centre of Jedburgh and has excellent displays on the tragic queen’s life.

To learn more about the fascinating history of the Borders area, “Exploring History in the Scottish Borders” is available from Amazon.

 

Exploring History in the Scottish Borders

Exploring History book cover

The Scottish border area is steeped in history. This is the divide between the north and south of Britain, and the often fraught relationship between England and Scotland has left its mark.  Centuries of war and bloodshed didn’t produce Robin Hood characters, it produced a tough and often violent people, the border reivers.  In the 16th century the Scottish borderland made the American Wild West of the 19th century look like a kindergarten.

Illustrated by many full color photographs, “Exploring History in the Scottish Borders” provides an overview of the history of this turbulent area. The Borders’ past has left a legacy of splendid castles, beautiful ruined abbeys, and a depth of history few other areas can match. This book tells the story of the of the English/Scottish borderland from the time of the Romans, through the Scottish wars of independence, the turbulent 16th century and Henry VIII’s “rough wooing”, up until the reopening of part of the Waverley Line by Queen Elizabeth in 2015.

After centuries of conflict what was once the most violent part of the UK is now one of the most peaceful. It is a great place to visit – for many visitors it has more to offer than the nearby Lake District. Like the Lake District the Borders has beautiful countryside and strong literary connections, but the Borders also has a depth of history that the Lakes just cannot rival. It is also much less crowded and commercialized.

If your family comes from the Borders, or you are interested in Scottish history, this book should be of interest.  Armstrong, Bell, Douglas, Elliot, Gordon, Graham, Hepburn, Home, Irving, Jardine, Johnstone, Kerr, Little, Maxwell, Nixon, Pringle, Rutherford and Scott are all key Border families.  These families have shaped the modern world; their descendants include two U.S. Presidents, one British Prime Minister, the first man on the moon, and numerous major scientists.

Available from all Amazon sites in paperback and kindle format.  29,000 words and 33 original color photographs.

Hold down the control key and click on the following link for your Amazon site to get directly to the book.

USA:    www.amazon.com/dp/B0183U12R8

U.K.:  www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0183U12R8

Canada: www.amazon.ca/dp/B0183U12R8

And please just search for it on other Amazon sites.

Ian Douglas

Greenknowe Tower and the Snowdrops

Greenknowe Tower with Snowdrops

I was robbed!  Two weeks ago in England I paid £5 to see some snowdrops.  Today (1 March) in Scotland I saw a beautiful field of snowdrops in front of Greenknowe Tower for nothing.

Greenknowe Tower is an L-plan tower and is near the village of Gordon in the Borders.  It is as old tower of the Seton family, although since it doesn’t have a roof or windows I don’t think they live there anymore. It is looked after by Historic Scotland.

Greenknowe was built in about 1581.  It was built for defence by gun, and has many gun ports to provide the defenders with an excellent field of fire all round the tower.  It also like many Scottish tower-houses has an iron yett.  The yett is an iron grill like a portcullis, but while a portcullis is raised and lowered vertically, a yett opens like a door.

Greenknowe Tower yett

Greenknowe’s yett, with the Seton crest and build date on the lintel above it.

 

Sweetheart Abbey’s Lost Prayer Book

As someone who is fascinated by the history of the Scottish Borders, it was great to read yesterday that a small 700 year old treasure, a prayer book, of one of the great Scottish Abbeys, Sweetheart Abbey, had been returned to Scotland and was now being held in the National Library of Scotland. This had been lost for 300 years. Rather than just blog a summary, I have published the National Library of Scotland’s full press release below.   

Sweetheart Abbey's Prayer Book

                                                    National Library of Scotland Press Release

Sweetheart Abbey Breviary arrives at the Library

Historic monastic manuscript is major acquisition for National Library of Scotland

A monastic treasure written in Scotland 700 years ago has been acquired by the National Library of Scotland.

The early 14th century Breviary, from Sweetheart Abbey near Dumfries, is the Library’s most important medieval manuscript acquisition for 30 years. It is an extremely rare example of a medieval religious manuscript which was both written and used in Scotland.

Unlike many remaining Scottish liturgical manuscripts, which exist as fragments only, the Sweetheart Breviary is an entire volume in a remarkably good condition. It consists of 200 vellum leaves, and contains the text for many of the monastic prayers used each year in medieval Scotland.

Sweetheart Abbey was the last Cistercian monastery to be established in Scotland. It was founded in 1273 by Dervorgilla de Balliol, mother of the Scottish king John Balliol, in memory of her husband John de Balliol. On her death in 1290, she was laid to rest next to her husband’s embalmed heart and the abbey was named in her memory. The Breviary was written between 1300 and 1350.

The first leaf of the manuscript bears a large inscription in a medieval hand: ‘Liber sanctae Mariae de dulci corde [a book of St. Mary of Sweetheart]’. Only four other manuscripts survive from the library of this abbey, bearing similar inscriptions, but none of these volumes was apparently written in Scotland.

The Breviary is remarkably compact and, although comparatively modest in decoration, is a very attractive volume. It includes a calendar, featuring a number of Scottish saints, which further confirms its strong Scottish connections. The Cistercian elements in the liturgy are also in keeping with its origins and use at Sweetheart Abbey.

Its whereabouts were unknown for some 300 years until it recently came on the open market in an auction in Vienna. Prior to that, the last known trace was in 1715, when it was described in the printed library catalogue of the English antiquarian Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725).

‘We are delighted to have made this significant addition to the national collection. It is a rare survival that will shed new light on our collective past,’ said National Librarian Dr John Scally.

The National Library of Scotland acknowledges the generous assistance of, and contributions from, The Friends of the National Libraries, The Soutar Trust, The National Library of Scotland Foundation, and the B H Breslauer Foundation in the purchase of this manuscript, and for their prompt decision-making in making these contributions.

 

Scottish Brochs

Dun Carloway Broch

The remains of Dun Carloway broch.

Brochs have always fascinated me. Brochs are tall (up to 15 meters/50 feet) round towers, with an outer double-skinned, dry-stone wall.  The double skinned walls are bonded together by rows of slabs, which often form stairs between the inner and outer walls, and provide access to upper floors.  The following photograph shows the inner stairs in the Dun Carloway broch.  These would have been dark and dingy.

Dun Carloway broch - between the walls

Between the dry-stone walls of Dun Carloway broch.

Brochs are unique to Scotland – 571 sites for these strange and quite sophisticated buildings have been identified in Scotland, although some people believe that the number of brochs is less than that, and some sites attributed to brochs are the remains of simpler buildings.   Archaeological research has shown that the main building period was from 100 BC to 100 AD.

In some of the surviving ruined brochs traces of timber has been found, supporting the idea that they had timber floors.  It is likely that the ground floor was used for key livestock, and the upper floors for residential accommodation.  Some brochs stand alone on the landscape, others are surrounded by the remains of settlements. Some are within defensive earthworks.

Brochs were common in the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Outer Hebrides, and in Caithness in the far north of the mainland.  There were a number in the south of Scotland, including a cluster in Galloway, and several in Lothian and the Borders, although only scant remains exist of these southern brochs today.

The reason for building brochs is much disputed by researchers.  It seems clear that defence was the driver to build many.  Another reason for building brochs would have been as high status homes for local magnates.

Tall buildings with a very small door and no windows would have been very difficult to attack. In fact in 1153, long after brochs had fallen into disuse by the local population, the Viking Orkney Sagas record that the Mousa broch was used for protection by a Viking party that had abducted the mother of Earl Harald of Orkney.  They managed to hold out for a winter against the Earl and his troops.

The fact that such complex building were being built contradicts the view that Scotland 2000 years ago was an unsophisticated place. It also shows that the economy was sophisticated enough to support teams of broch “architects” and “master builders” who travelled between sites and communities.  These structures are too complicated to be designed and built by local people without the involvement of specialists, although local communities would no doubt have provided the labor.

In the summer of 2014 I was lucky enough travel by boat to several of Scotland’s islands and the Faroes, a group of islands half way between Scotland and Iceland.  This should have allowed me to see two of the best preserved brochs in Scotland, and therefore the world, as brochs are unique to Scotland.

Dun Carloway broch is on Harris in the Outer Hebrides, and Mousa, the best preserved broch, is on a small island off the main Shetland island.  Unfortunately the weather was too bad for the ship to land in Shetland (Scottish summers!), but I did manage to spend some time at Dun Carloway.  Although much ruined now, with some of the stone robbed and used by local farmers, I couldn’t help but be impressed by this 2000 year old building facing the Atlantic on the west coast of the Outer Hebrides.  It must have been built by a sophisticated, organised people, not the uncivilised barbarians Roman writers lead us to believe lived north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Text and photographs copyright Ian Douglas 2016.