Nine month old Mary Stuart was crowned queen of Scotland on September 9, 1543. She had actually become queen on December 14, 1542, when she was only six days old. This was the day that her father had died, making her the youngest female to become queen.
A Strong Advocate
Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise, had schemed and plotted for months, in an effort to avoid Henry VIII’s offers of marriage to her daughter. He wanted the little queen for his son, the future Edward VI. However, Mary of Guise, being a French Catholic, wanted nothing to do with the Protestant Englishmen. Although James Hamilton, the Earl of Arran, had been appointed as regent to the young queen, her mother was very much in control of the young child’s comings and goings. Her wit and political savviness enabled her to remove the young Mary from Linlithgow Palace, where she was born, and where Arran felt he had more control over her. By July, the baby had been moved to Stirling Castle, Mary Guise’s castle of choice. This removed the infant queen out from under Arran’s control and allowed her mother more time and freedom to plot how to free Mary from the reach of the English.
On the ninth of September, Mary was carried to the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle and crowned Queen of Scotland. It was a very solemn affair, having conferred not only civil legitimacy on the young queen, but it also validated her religious rights as queen as well.
According to biographer, John Guy, three items of significance were used during the ceremony. The Earl of Arran carried the crown, the Earl of Lennox held the scepter, and the Earl of Argyll carried the sword of state. The scepter was given to James IV in the 1490s by Pope Alexander VI, and the sword was obtained from Pope Julius II in 1507. The crown had been worn by Mary’s father, James V, at her mother’s coronation in 1540. These three items are known collectively as the honors of Scotland and are still on display at Edinburgh Castle today. However, they were not used together until the coronation of Mary.
The crown was, of course, too big for a baby to wear. Instead, Cardinal David Beaton held the crown over Mary’s head. He also anointed her with holy oil and said a blessing over her during the ceremony.
Traditionally, heralds would read aloud the royal genealogy, a list of titles and honors that could take up to a half an hour to recite. However, the infant queen had a different plan. She squawked and wailed throughout the ceremony, causing the typical proceedings to be cut short.
The coronation may have been a solemn affair, but it was followed by banqueting, masques, and dancing afterward.
John Guy, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart
On the northern banks of Loch Crinan, in the western part of Scotland stands a picturesque little
castle named Duntrune. Built in the 12th century, it has withstood
the tumultuous history of Scotland to remain one of the best and longest
preserved castles that is still occupied in all of Scotland today.
Though Duntrune is a lovely
castle in a beautiful setting, it was an event that took place there in the mid
1600’s that first drew my attention to it.
A Nasty Civil War
The backdrop of our little ghost story
is the English civil war that took place between King Charles I and his
disagreeing Parliament. Charles eventually dissolved Parliament and decided to
rule without them. This threw the country into a civil war that wasn’t
satisfied until Charles was dethroned and beheaded in 1649.
This is a very simplistic explanation
of events, for there were underlying causes that put the two ruling forces at
odds with each other. One of those causes was deeply rooted in religious disagreements.
At first, Scotland made an attempt to steer clear of the problems in England,
but it soon became apparent that they would eventually be dragged into the
Two Sides of the
The English Civil
War was one component of a bigger war known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
This not only involved the people of England, but Scotland and Ireland were
also thrust into the disputes between Charles and his Parliament.
At the heart of
the Scottish involvement in this war were the Covenanters and the Royalists.
The Covenanters had their roots in Presbyterianism, a movement that had shaken
Scotland over a hundred years earlier and had caused dissent between the
Catholic Scots and those who fought for reformation. The Covenanters were also known
as Parliamentarians, due to their support of Parliament over King Charles. The
other faction was the Royalists. They were also known as the King’s Scottish
army. They were loyal to the king and supported King Charles’ policies of
governance in England.
clans of the Highlands were of differing opinions on Charles and his policies. This was due in part to the
many cultural and religious beliefs held by the disparate clans. When it came
time to choose sides, some clans followed King Charles (the Royalists), and
others joined the Covenanters who sided with Parliament.
Amongst these divided Highlanders were two clans that knew hundreds of years of quarreling. These were the infamous Campbells and the MacDonalds. The bad feelings between these two clans make the American Hatfield’s and McCoy’s feud look like a playground scuffle. Even to this day, you can still find places in Scotland that refuse to serve patrons who are in possession of a certain clan name of Campbell.
seem to think that a lot of the riff between the two clans has been blown out
of proportion. However, the fact still remains that in the mid-17th
century, when there were sides to be chosen, the Campbells and the MacDonalds
happened to find themselves on opposing sides of King Charles’ war. And this
was the heart of the problem concerning Duntrune Castle.
The Stuff of
versions this tale can be found. Here I will give the account that I first
heard. Readers may wish to do further reading and research and come across
another tale that you find more believable or fascinating.
MacDonald clan was led by a hulk of a man that came to be known by the name
Colkitto. He was a master at warfare and not only fought for his own clan but
was also known to have assisted Clan MacIntyre of Glen Coe. In thanks for his
assistance, the MacIntyre chief gave Colkitto his favorite piper. He was to
accompany Colkitto and the MacDonald warriors on their campaign.
And so it
was that when the MacDonald clan came upon Duntrune Castle in the middle of the
night, the MacIntyre piper was also there to take part in the action. The
control of the castle was wrestled from the Campbells and left in the capable
hands of a few of Colkitto’s men along with his prized piper. Colkitto himself boarded
a boat and set sail across the Sound of Jura to continue on his campaign,
leaving his men to hold down the fort until his return.
Campbells launched a counter-attack to regain control of Duntrune, all of the warriors
of the MacDonald clan were killed, except for the piper. He alone was left,
with the intent that he would play his pipes and entertain the Campbell clan.
And that he
did, until one day Colkitto’s boat was spotted on the Sound. With permission, the
MacIntyre piper played a song that he had prepared in honor of his leader’s
return, “Piobaireachd-dhum- Naomhaid” or in English, “The Piper’s Warning
to His Master”. Soon the haunting notes drifted out across the water, reaching
Colkitto’s ears. But it didn’t take long for the great chieftain to notice
something odd about the melody. The piper had intentionally misplayed some of
the notes in an effort to send a warning message to Colkitto.
understanding the piper’s intent, turned his boat around and never completed
his destination to Duntrune. When the Campbell clan realized what the piper had
done, they called for the piper’s punishment.
And what greater
punishment could there be, than to disable the man, preventing him from ever
being able to play the pipes again? The MacIntyre piper’s hands were cut off,
and he eventually bled to death from his injuries.
The “Ghost” Part
of This Little Story
so ghostly about this sad story? For hundreds of years there have been stories
of banging noises and flying objects heard and sighted at Duntrune Castle.
There have even been reports of a mysterious sound of bagpipes playing on
occasion. For many years people actually thought the story of the mutilated
piper was just that—a story. But while a renovation project was underway at
Duntrune in the late 1800’s, an Episcopalian bishop reported that workers found
the skeletal remains of a man. They unearthed the bones: skull, arms, legs, torso—everything
was there—except for his hands. The remains were reburied outside of the castle
walls in an unmarked grave. Later, another excavation uncovered the bones of
two hands, without a body to go with it, buried under one of the rooms of the
If you are ever
in Argyll, perhaps you can venture to see Duntrune Castle. See if you can spot
a lonely specter dutifully piping out his warning across the salty waters of Loch
Crinan. Oh, and let
me know how he does it without his hands.
The celebrated poet, T.S. Eliot may have penned these famous words in his poem, “East Coker”, however, he was not the first person to use them. Mary, Queen of Scots took this phrase as a motto sometime during her long captivity in England. Embroidering the words on her canopy of state, they served as a sort of prophetic epitaph of her life, that ended so tragically at the hands of the Queen of England, Elizabeth I.
Some scholars speculate that she
may have been referring to her late grandfather-in-law, Francis I’s symbol of
the salamander with these words. In medieval times the salamander had an
allegorical element that symbolized a righteous person’s ability to withstand
fire, just as the three Hebrew children in the Biblical story, emerged unharmed
from the fiery furnace.
Mary was an unrepentant Catholic.
She never swayed from her religious beliefs, even though it caused heartache
for her for most of her life. It is no secret that she considered herself a
martyr for her Catholic faith (even going so far as to wearing a red petticoat,
the martyr’s color, at her execution). She is known to have told her
cousin, the Duke of Guise:
“For myself, I am resolute to die for my religion. . . With God’s
help, I shall die in the Catholic faith and to maintain it
constantly. . .without doing dishonor to the race of
Lorraine, who are accustomed to die the sustenance of the faith.”
In her Essay on Adversity, written in 1580, Mary wrote of the
lives of rulers:
“Tribulation has been to them as a furnace to fine gold—a means
of proving their virtue, of opening their so-long blinded eyes, and
of teaching them to know themselves and their own failings.”
Perhaps Mary saw herself emerging victorious on the other side of this mortal life with that everlasting life promised to believers that can only come after death.
words can also be a bit predictive. They are a sort of foretelling of the
immortal, romanticized life that she has taken on since her death. She is,
beyond a doubt, one of the most controversial figures in Scottish history.
Whether you believe she was complicit in her second husband’s death, and guilty
of plotting a treasonous over-taking of the English throne, one cannot deny
that she has had more than her fair share of 15 minutes of fame, and she
remains one of those characters in history that we non-participants either love
to love, or love to hate.
A little back history
After her disastrous second
marriage to Lord Henry Darnley ended in his death by strangulation, Mary was
kidnapped, raped and accepted a marriage proposal by another man accused in the
death of her husband (we’ll save that story for another day.) When Mary followed through with the marriage barely
two months after Darnley’s death, suspicions were heightened concerning Mary’s
involvement with Darnley’s murder.
Soon Scottish lords were seeking
to implicate Mary in Darnley’s murder as well, and she was forced to abdicate
her throne to her one-year old son, James. When attempts to raise an army to
take back her throne failed, she ended up imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle where
she eventually miscarried Bothwell’s twins. She finally escaped ten months
later with the help of one of her sympathizes.
Mary attempted a second time
to raise an army, trying in vain to defeat her leading opponent, her half-brother
James Stewart, Earl of Moray. When she was not successful, she fled to England,
hoping to obtain help from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.
Any indications of sympathy
that Mary may have received from Elizabeth were short lived. She was quickly
taken into custody and remained so, moving from residence to residence under
house arrest for the next 19 years. Although records indicate that she led a
somewhat pampered life while in England (after all—she was a queen), the fact
remained that Mary was still a captive of Elizabeth’s. With her health
declining, she made it no secret that she would use any means necessary to
escape her situation. This was not a confession to treason, but merely an
admission that she had tried on more than one occasion to escape.
A victim of one scheming nobleman after
another, she continued to be a political pawn, having no control of her own
life. When her private letters were produced for Elizabeth to read, the
contents were condemning. Through plots originating at the hands of her
supporters in an attempt to rescue her, and plots formed at the hands of her
enemies in an effort to entrap her, Mary endured some of the most farcical
examples of court intrigue that have ever existed and rivals anything even
Hollywood could come up with.
The day finally came
On August 11, 1586, Mary was arrested for her part in another
murder plot to kill Elizabeth that would eventually come to be called the
Babington Plot. Mary’s long-time English
foe, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, William Cecil, and another of Elizabeth’s
secretaries, Sir Francis Walsingham, had finally succeeded in scrounging up
something to pin on the Scottish queen.
By this time, Mary was suffering from arthritis, making
movement in her arms and legs very painful. She could not walk without
assistance and was confined to a bed most of the time. She testified in court
that due to her illness, she had no desire to take the reins of government again.
She also complained that her letters and papers had all been taken from her,
and that she had not been given any counsel as to how to proceed in her trial. The
most adamant of her complaints, however, was the fact that since she was not an English subject, they had no
right whatsoever, to try her under English law.
Her pleas and complaints went unheard, and after Elizabeth’s attempts to end her Scottish problem with other means had failed, she finally signed the death warrant to execute Mary on February 1 the following year. She was executed seven days later. Mary was 44 years of age when she laid down her life in typical martyr fashion, her red petticoat announcing to the world the glorious death to which she had been called.
The following pictures were taken at the Mary Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh, Scotland when I was there in 2017. They depict examples of the high demand for relics pertaining to Mary and her fascinating story. There are many more relics at Jedburgh, but here I have posted only the ones that pertain to this post.
One final note of interest…
If you are interested in seeing some of the places that Mary stayed after her initial arrest in Scotland in 1567, or if you want to start at the beginning of her life in 1542, this is an excellent book. The author is Andrew Burnet.