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.

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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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V&A Dundee

A few images from the V&A in Dundee, which I visited today.

This peculiarly shaped building on Dundee’s waterfront consists of a vast common space, with two galleries off it. The vast common space was full today, but it was a Saturday and only three weeks since it opened. I wonder if in time it will be seen as a waste of space.

One gallery is a permanent exhibition of Scottish design, which has a wide range of exhibits from an Adam fireplace, part reconstruction of a Macintosh tearoom, to Paisley pattern clothes and an Endura cycling bodysuit used to break the hour cycling record. The second gallery is for special exhibitions and at the moment has an interesting exhibition on ocean liners – certainly worth seeing. The Scottish design gallery if free to enter, the special exhibition has a charge (£12 for adults).

I am in two minds about the architecture of the museum. To my mind the height of Scottish architecture was around 1800, with developments such as Edinburgh’s New Town. I am a traditionalist. I would have preferred a modern interpretation and development on from that type of architecture, rather than this concrete clad steel building. However I have to admit that it is striking, and that it and the other developments along the waterfront such as the Discovery museum have certainly vastly improved what was for a time Scotland’s most down-at-heel city.

But the absence of any form of barrier between the walkway outside the museum and the water it bound to result in children, and indeed adults who aren’t concentrating, falling in!

Visiting Two of Berlin’s Museums

On Wednesday 18 July I visited Berlin’s Museum Island, a complex of five international standard museums on an island in the centre of Berlin.

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Pergamon Museum is the most famous, and even arriving at 10 a.m. when it opened, and on a Wednesday rather than at the weekend, we had to queue for over half an hour to get in.  Pergamon has some really impressive exhibits, including the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon. This was built on the instructions of KingNebuchadnezzar II around 575 BC.  Amazingly, in Babylon there had been an even bigger gate of similar construction immediately behind it, but there was not enough room in the museum to rebuild it.

The second museum we visited was the Neues Museum (New Museum), which is full of very old exhibits. The museum includes many exhibits from Troy and Egypt, including the famous bust of Nefertiti.  While photography is allowed in the rest of the museum without flash, photography isn’t allowed in the room with Nefertiti’s bust, perhaps because the museum wants to retain all image rights to Nefertiti. However photography is allowed outside the room, so you can photograph the bust from just outside the door to the room.  Germans and their rules! There were a number of people with smartphones, but I had a telephoto lens so managed to get a reasonable shot, albeit there is glare from the case.

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Another major exhibit is the Golden Hat.  This was spectacular – amazing that something as sophisticated as this was manufactured in the late Bronze Age, probably about 1000 to 800BC. I had not heard of Golden Hats before, but apparently four exist, this one plus two found in southern Germany and one in France.  The provenance of the Berlin Golden Hat is unknown. It was bought by the museum in 1996 from a dealer acting for a “Swiss collector”.  It is made from very thin gold (0.6mm thick), and would have been worn over a frame of organic material, which has now disappeared. Wikipedia has a good article about it.

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This hat has a complex motif showing the 19 year cycle of the sun and moon. Carving showing hats indicate that they may have been worn by priests in religious rituals.  Amazing.  Too little time to do justice to the exhibits.

Political Spin in 1815

 

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Above is a photo of St John’s Church, near Farley Mount in Hampshire.  It is a beautiful isolated church that I visited yesterday, which includes a piece of political spin relating to Scotland.

So what does the church have to do with Scotland?

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The second photo is a memorial plaque in the church to the interestingly named Thrift Smith from Fifeshire “North Britain”, who sadly died aged only 27.  The reference to North Britain provides an insight into England’s view of the Union with Scotland at that time. Political spin was alive even then!

Thrift’s family address is a reminder of the attempt in the 18thand 19thcentury to downplay Scotland as a country, and turn it into a British region.  The best known example of this is the former North British hotel near Waverley Station in Edinburgh, which was renamed the Balmoral Hotel about 20 years ago when this practice was seen as outmoded and insulting.

Strangely enough I have not seen places in England referred to as being in South Britain.

PoWs in World War II

Tomorrow, 21 June, is the anniversary of one of Britain’s greatest defeats in WW2, when after a brief battle Tobruk surrendered and 30,000 Allied prisoners were taken. Bert Martin was one of them, and spent the rest of the war in PoW camps in Italy and Germany. Bert kept detailed diaries, which are now held by the Second World War Experience Centre, https://war-experience.org/, a charity dedicated to recording and conserving the experiences of people in WW2. Bert’s diaries are now published on Amazon and iBooks, and a review is attached. for FB

Dundrennan and Kirkcudbright

I haven’t posted for some time, because I have been working on a book on Mary Queen of Scots. Being a man, I can only focus on one project at a time. The book will be published in May, so I can now put some energy into my blog.

On 25 February, a bright but very cold, occasionally snowing day I drove down from Ayrshire, where I had been visiting my brother and his family, to the village of Dundrennan, to visit the abbey ruins and hopefully the small port where in May 1568 Mary Queen of Scots had left on her fateful journey to England, which resulted in 19 years of captivity and her eventual beheading.

 

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I visited the Abbey, which strictly speaking was shut for the winter, but I managed to get in. I have an annual pass for Historic Environment Scotland, so they didn’t loose any money. This was my fourth visit. But unfortunately wasn’t able to get to the abbey’s small port, about a mile and a half away from the Abbey. It is beyond an army firing range, and unfortunately on the day of my visit the range was in use and closed to the public. Next time I hope.

After visiting Dundrennan, I drove about 6 miles north west to the small town of Kirkcudbright. I really like Kirkcudbright, or the Artists’ Town, as it likes to be known. For several decades around 1900 some of Scotland’s best know artists based themselves in Kirkcudbright, including Edward Hornel, Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell. It is still an attractive place for creatives, with a number of galleries and attractive coffee shops etc. With its brightly coloured houses Kirkcudbright has a feeling of buoyancy and optimism that many small Scottish towns lack these days, suffering as they do from de-industrialisation as a result of globalisation.

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One of the problems with visiting in February is that many sites are shut. MacLellan Castle was, but I took a few more external photos in the snow and limited visibility  to add to my collection. There is substantial scaffolding, so it is obviously undergoing some remedial work.

 

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I visited the Stewartry Museum in the town, an impressive little museum for a town of only 3,400 people, with a very varied collection of exhibits, mostly gifted by local people over the last 150 years. Their collection of antique guns is the highlight in my view.

Then a trip to the Tolbooth, which along with the castle is one of the oldest buildings in the town. It was built in the 1600s. The Tolbooth is now an arts and culture centre, and when I was there there was an excellent exhibition of photographs from several of the local camera clubs.

I wandered round the town, and down to the harbour only 100 yards from MacLellan Castle. The harbour is both a working fishing harbour and a leisure harbour. As a condition of joining the EU four decades ago a disgraceful British government gave 60% of what was under international agreements UK fishing waters to other EU countries. There are arguments for and against Brexit, but one real positive is that after Brexit the UK will get back its full fishing territories. This will bring renewed prosperity to many of the Scottish fishing ports.

Tanpits Lane, presumably once a centre for leather tanning, is now an attractive lane bordered with attractive houses, It has a statue which includes a list of provosts (mayors) of Kirkcudbright from This is fascinating, because it is a good indication of the families that were the real powers in the town. The MacLellans clearly dominated for 150 years from 1466, but after that disappeared from the record. What happened I wonder?

 

I am sorry that some of the photos aren’t up to a high standard. But I am writing this on my ipad in a hotel in Dumfries, and don’t have the software available on my desktop at home.. My car broke down on the return journey to Hampshire, and I may be here for some time!  The UK is also experiencing its coldest March ever, so my journey south when my car is fixed could be interesting.

For more on Scottish hsistory, please see my book Exploring History is the Scottish Borders” available from Amazon.

Ian Douglas

 

 

Visit to Glasgow

I visited Glasgow on 15 June 2016, travelling by train from my holiday apartment in Edinburgh.  It was a busy day.  Firstly I visited Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis.  The cathedral title is historic.  Originally a Catholic cathedral, at the Reformation it became a Church of Scotland church, and the Church of Scotland doesn’t have cathedrals.   It is the only Scottish mainland cathedral which was not seriously damaged by Protestant zealots at the Reformation – perhaps a comment on how much the citizens of Glasgow appreciated it.

 

 Glasgow Cathedral

In the afternoon I visited the Hunterian Museum in the very attractive precincts of Glasgow University, and the Kelvingrove Museum, both excellent.  At the Hunterian I was particularly impressed by the Antonine Wall exhibition, and Kelvingrove is a great museum with an enormous amount to offer.

But the highlight of the day’s tour was stumbling across a range of murals, on walls and gable ends of buildings, on the cathedral side of the city.   Some are four stories high.  I enquired at tourist information, and some are “official”, commissioned by the council, others are unofficial.  Some are of the highest quality, but unfortunately because of the Glasgow weather, I suspect they won’t last many years.  I hope someone is documenting them properly.

I only scratched the surface of what there is to see.  Glasgow has certainly got its act together and improved since I was a boy and lived nearby.  Unfortunately the weather hasn’t improved, and the regular rain certainly limited my photography.

A very busy day.  I even managed to fit in lunch with my son Tim who is working in Glasgow at the moment.