Promoting the life and times of Mary, Queen of Scots

Conflicts and Abdication


On 19th. June in a small room in Edinburgh Castle Mary gave birth to the future King James VI.

The marital situation deteriorated and in October of the following year Mary set out on a progress to the Scottish Borders and held ‘justice ayres’ in Jedburgh. While there she heard Lord Bothwell had been most seriously wounded in an affray with Jock of the Side near his Castle of Hermitage in Liddesdale. She did not make her way there immediately but once judicial affairs had been completed she with a number of the Lords road to Hermitage where state business was conducted. On the return journey Mary fell from her horse and at Jedburgh became gravely ill so much so that her life was feared for.

View from Craigmillar Castle

Edinburgh from the ramparts of Craigmillar Castle

She did however recover and made her way back to Craigmillar Castle where followed at the very least discussions with her nobles as to how to resolve the marital problems which were becoming more and more strained. A number of nobles seemed to have signed a document known as the Craigmillar Bondeffectively committing themselves to the murder of the King although it is very doubtful if Mary was a party to or had knowledge of this bond.

Shortly afterwards on 12th. December the baptism of the future James VI took place at Stirling Castle for which Queen Elizabeth donated a golden baptismal font. Darnley was in Stirling at the time of the Coronation but did not attend the event, instead taking himself off to Glasgow and the protection of his father, the Earl of Lennox.

Early in the New Year for whatever reason Mary travelled to Glasgow to persuade Darnley to return to Holyrood. By this time it was known Darnley had been plotting against her and also there was a report he “was fully resolved to take ship and pass beyond the sea”.

On his return from Stirling to Glasgow Darnley had taken severely ill, perhaps it was reported from syphilis, and there were fears for his life. He did though recover to an extent that Mary was able to persuade him to return to Edinburgh and on his recovery promised to resume marital relationships.

Callendar House, Falkirk

Callendar House, Falkirk

On the return journey from Glasgow while staying at Callendar House at Falkirk, Darnley decided that he did not wish to return to Holyrood but instead opted to stay at the Old Provost’s House at Kirk o’ Field, situated where the University of Edinburgh, Old Quad now stands. There for the following week Mary nursed Darnley in his illness.

In the early hours of 9th. February there was a tremendous explosion at Kirk o’ Field, completely destroying the building. There is some evidence that Darnley managed to escape but having done so was strangled in the nearby orchard. Mary had intended to spend the night at Kirk o’ Field but had made a change of plan at the last minute to attend a wedding celebration.

The Earl of Bothwell was generally regarded as having been behind the plot and placards began to appear associating both Mary and Bothwell. Elizabeth urged Mary to institute a full enquiry into the event but Mary failed to do so although there was a subsequent trial at Bothwell’s insistence at which he was proved innocent. It is strongly suspected though that the trial was rigged.

On 19th. April Bothwell convened the Lords in the Ainslie Tavern and persuaded them that they should agree to his marriage to the Queen. Two days later as Mary was returning from Stirling (where she had left her son in the care of his guardians) she was intercepted by Bothwell at Almondbridge and escorted back to his Castle at Dunbar. There is debate as to whether she was abducted or went voluntarily.

There is also some suggestion that at Dunbar Bothwell’s actions were not entirely honourable (Mary later recalled “we found his actings rude”). At this point Bothwell was still married to Lady Jane Gordon but a divorce was quickly arranged and Mary and Bothwell married by Protestant rites on 15th. May.

These actings caused many even of her former supporters to take up arms against her, and the armies of Mary and Bothwell on the one part and the Confederate Lords as they were known on the other, faced each other at Carberry near Musselburgh.

Lochleven Castle

Lochleven Castle

Battle was not engaged but after an all day stand off Mary surrendered to the Lords on condition that Bothwell was allowed to go free. After a night in Edinburgh Mary was taken as prisoner to Lochleven Castle where, after the miscarriage of twins on 24th. July, she signed abdication papers.

On 2nd. May of the following year Mary managed to escape from Lochleven Castle, rallied some support, and met the Confederate forces at Langside near Glasgow, where however her forces were defeated. Mary fled to England, spending her last night in Scotland at Dundrennan Abbey and crossing the Solway on 16th. May.

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