Homecoming: The Scottish Years of Mary, Queen of Scots – A Talk by Rosemary Goring

The October talk was Homecoming: The Scottish Years of Mary, Queen of Scots and was given by Rosemary Goring, journalist and author. Rosemary Goring was brought up in Belhaven and went to school in Dunbar. She has kindly sent DDHS 3 slides from her talk, along with annotation. The talk was greatly enjoyed by an enthusiastic audience. Additional links by Jim Herring.

Huntly Castle (Photo below)

Early in her reign, in 1562, Mary set out to stamp her authority on the north-east of Scotland, which was the territory of her cousin George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, known as “the Cock o’ the North”. The most powerful Catholic magnate in the country, who had urged Mary to overturn the Reformation, Huntly was overweeningly ambitious and arrogant. The wealth and glamour of his renovated castle, influenced by Mary of Guise’s Renaissance chateaux, was intended to awe visitors.

During her progress through Aberdeenshire, Mary learned that Huntly’s hot-headed son was plotting to abduct and marry her (despite being already married). Wisely avoiding Huntly Castle – known in those times as Strathbogie –  she realised she had properly to “clip his wings” when she heard that the earl was also planning to kidnap her, and marry her off. Her army confronted Huntly’s troops at the Battle of Corrichie, near Aberdeen. He died without fighting, after falling dead off his horse in his suit of armour. Huntly was so corpulent his body had to be rolled off the battlefield on two creels. His son, the other would-be abductor, was bloodily executed, causing Mary to faint.

Huntly Castle in Aberdeenshire (click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Dunbar Castle (Photo below)

Scene of one of the most dramatic nights in Mary’s life, when she and her closest followers fled from Holyrood Palace after the murder of her secretary and confidant David Rizzio in March, 1566. With her was her treacherous husband Darnley, who had been part of the plot to kill her friend. To the end of her life Mary  believed that she too had been intended to die that night, along with her unborn child. What it must have been like to spend time in Dunbar with the man she now reviled – and no doubt also feared – is hard to imagine, but she appeared uncowed. Instead of fretting, she spent her time in the castle planning her revenge.

The following year, after her husband’s murder, Mary was again in Dunbar, having been “abducted” by James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, the prime suspect in Darnley’s death and widely – but probably incorrectly – rumoured to be the queen’s lover. It was said that at Dunbar Bothwell raped her, thereby obliging her to marry him. Some of her aides believed she was a consenting party to this as well as her abduction, but Mary’s misery during this time of confinement suggests otherwise. Marrying Bothwell signalled the beginning of the end of her reign, leading to an uprising against her, and her forcible – illegal – incarceration and abdication at Lochleven Castle.

Dunbar castle and harbour

Port Mary Cove (Photo below)

After escaping from Lochleven, and following her army’s rout at the Battle of Langside, Mary fled to Dundrennan Abbey, by the Solway Firth in Galloway, where she spent her last night in Scotland. Determined to throw herself on the mercy of her cousin Elizabeth I, she ignored her advisers’ impassioned attempts to make her rethink. On the afternoon of 16 May, 1568, she sailed from Port Mary Cove to Workington in Cumbria. Very quickly she realised that she was not a guest of the Queen of England but her prisoner, and remained so for the last 19 years of her life until her execution.

Port Mary Cove on the Solway Firth