On this day in 1568 – Mary Queen of Scots escaped Lochleven Castle

Mary Queen of Scots has always had a controversial reign, she ruled Scotland from when she was six days old after the death of King James V of Scotland. She spent most of her childhood in France in preparation for her marriage to Francis II of France. Scotland was ruled through a regency until Mary returned to the country in 1561.

Mary remarried four years after her return to her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley with whom she had a son, the future King James VI of Scotland. Her husband was found murdered and suspicion fell on James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. Bothwell was acquitted of the charge and the following month married Mary.

The nobles of the country were unhappy with this alliance and they soon rose up. On 15th June 1556 Mary was escorted from Carberry Hill to the Palace of Holyroodhouse where she was allowed to gather her belongings before being taken to Lochleven Castle and placed under house arrest.

Lochleven was a castle that was situated on a small island, which was only reachable by boat. Mary was housed on the third floor in the Glassin Tower and placed under the custody of Sir William Douglas. However, despite being under arrest Mary was free to walk in the courtyard, pray in her room and have her servants with her.

On 24th July 1567 Lord Ruthven and Lord Lindsey arrived at the castle and approached Mary with an ultimatum to abdicate her throne or die. By abdicating she would place her son on the throne, despite the fact he was only just over a year old. Mary signed the Deed of Abdication and James was crowned King just five days later at Stirling.

Meanwhile Parliament declared that Mary’s second husband, Bothwell, had murdered her first husband, Lord Darnley, and that she was an accomplice to the murder.

There were still many Scots that were loyal to Mary who would see her back on the throne. Many plots were rumoured to free the former Queen. However, on 2nd May 1568 a rescue attempt was made and was successful. Willie Douglas, a young relative of her custodian, had arranged a May Day masque at the Castle for the Queen and had managed to steal the keys to the part of the castle that held the Queen. During the celebrations Mary was smuggled out of the castle, dressed as a servant. She was placed in a boat and rowed away from the castle where she was greeted by George Douglas and Lord Seton.

Mary escaping Lochleven

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