Her end was just the beginning; the tale of Mary, Queen of Scots lives on and still ignites the imagination.
Sadly, we’ll never fully understand the story of this fascinating woman. But we can get an insight into her life when we follow in her footsteps.
We’ve prepared a guide to the seven most important historical places connected to the iconic Queen.
So, embark on her trail and explore the places which mark the turning points in Mary Stuart's life in Scotland.
These spectacular ruins of what used to be a grand palace for Scottish royalty was the birthplace of Mary Stuart. Born on 7th December 1542, the daughter of King James V and his French wife, Mary was the sole surviving heir to the Scottish throne.
Her care-free ‘childhood’ lasted only six days. When her father James died, Mary became queen. The infant ruler was also the great-niece of Henry VIII of England. This gave her a claim to the English throne and inevitably put her on a political roller-coaster.
You can visit this peaceful palace on our one-day tour. And when
you come here, make sure to pop into St Michael’s Parish Church where Mary was
A palace as much as a fortress, Stirling Castle was one of the most used Scottish royal residences.
Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland in the Chapel Royal, aged only nine months. It’s said that she howled non-stop throughout the ceremony.
The little Queen and her mother spent almost five peaceful years in the safety of the Royal Palace. But things quickly changed.
Mary’s guardians opposed the previously arranged agreement of betrothing her to Henry VIII’s son. Edward, Prince of Wales was raised as a Protestant, Mary was a Catholic. This just wouldn’t work out for Catholic Scotland.
So, a new marriage was arranged for her, and Mary sailed to France to marry the Dauphin François.
Explore the splendidly decorated and furnished Stirling
Castle on our
After Mary lost François and became a widow at the age of 18, she decided to take her rightful place on the throne of Scotland. The charismatic ruler chose the Palace of Holyrood for her home and enjoyed its lavish interiors and remarkable gardens.
But her life in this residence wasn’t like a fairy tale.
The Queen of Scots got married to her cousin Lord Darnley in the palace’s private chapel. Darnley was a drunk, and an unfaithful gambler.
He became jealous of Mary’s Italian secretary, Rizzio, and along with some Protestant conspirators, Darnley murdered the Italian. And it happened in front of the Queen, who was six months pregnant at the time.
You can still see Mary’ chambers in the Palace of Holyrood.
And if you look closely, you can spot the marks on the floor which are said to
be Rizzio’s blood.
The Palace in Edinburgh wasn’t the only royal residence of the Stuarts.
At the beginning of her reign, Mary would often escape to her beloved Falkland Palace. It embodied the grandeur of the medieval Scottish court and gave her access to the beautiful countryside. Close to the nature and far from politics, the young Queen could let her hair down and show a bit of her lively spirit.
In Falkland, Mary would indulge in her passion for the outdoors, falconry and hunting. And she would scandalise her courtiers while playing tennis in men’s breeches. Shocking!
You can step into a bygone world of splendour of Falkland
Palace on our
Scottish Castles Experience tour.
For a couple of months after Rizzio’s death, Mary was afraid of a coup against her. That’s why she chose the mighty Edinburgh Castle as a safe place to await the arrival of her child.
The Queen gave birth to a healthy boy she called James. They say the city celebrated this news by setting 500 bonfires.
Mary secured her succession and strengthened the Stuart dynasty. Things were looking up. Most importantly, little James VI would achieve what his mother never could – unite the Scottish and English crowns.
Make sure to visit the tiny room where James VI was born when
Located just three miles outside of Edinburgh’s city centre, the beautiful ruins of Craigmillar Castle provide a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city.
It was also a happy retreat for Mary. She stayed in the castle to recover from the birth of her son and to get a break from Darnley. Their marriage was on the rocks at this stage. Probably not in the least because he stabbed her friend to death.
Supposedly, it was here the lords suggested to get rid of the troublesome husband. The scheming began, and they say the lords signed a pact called the ‘Craigmillar Bond’ with a plan to kill Darnley.
The whole plot is still a bit of a mystery. There’s no surviving copy of this document and we don’t know if Mary secretly knew about it. But we know it showed Mary in a really bad light when Darnley was found smothered in his garden and the Queen re-married only three months later.
Craigmillar Castle is famous not only for the connections to Mary Queen of Scots. The castle has become a bit of a star, appearing in the Outlaw King and Outlander.
There’s something very peaceful about this castle on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. But its seclusion wasn’t used as a retreat for Mary, it was used as her prison.
After the Queen of Scots married the Earl of Bothwell, things got out of hand. She had to face a rebellion which ended up with her imprisonment.
Mary was held captive for almost a year in the castle. And it was one of the most traumatic periods in her life. She suffered a miscarriage, lost her husband, and was forced to abdicate in favour of her son, whom she was never to see again.
She eventually escaped and sought help from her cousin Elizabeth I in England.
And the rest is history.
Take the boat to the island and explore the imposing castle on our tour.
So there you have it. A trail which will help you discover more about one of our favourite icons; Mary, Queen of Scots.
And if you want to find out more about this charismatic monarch, read our other blog.