While Mary Stuart, best known as Mary, Queen of Scots, is Scotland’s most renowned queen, she only spent twelve years in her home country. Homecoming: The Scottish Years of Mary, Queen of Scots by Rosemary Goring explores these tumultuous years, mostly through the lens of the important locations that impacted her life. From St Andrews to Jedburgh, read on to discover which historical locations to include in your Mary-Queen-of-Scots themed tour of Scotland!
As the birthplace of Mary Stuart, Linlithgow Palace is one of the most important sites on this list. In December of 1542, Mary was born here, likely in a small room just above the Queen’s Bedchamber. Now a historical site in ruins, visitors can walk around what remains of Linlithgow Palace and imagine its former grandeur in the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary did not spend long here, as after a mere seven months, her mother began to worry that the palace was not secure enough to protect her child from being kidnapped and taken away to England, so they left the comforts of Linlithgow Palace and journeyed northwards.
In the summer of 1543, an incredible entourage of horses, servants, and carriages arrived from Linlithgow Palace to Stirling Castle. Rosemary Goring writes that the infant queen and her mother were ‘accompanied by 2,500 cavalry and 1,000 infantry’ on their way to Stirling Castle, where they would remain for several years of Mary’s youth. This incredible fortress would have been much better equipped to resist invasion or attack. Stirling Castle is one of the most important castles in Scotland’s history. During the Wars of Independence, it changed hands eight times in only 50 years! Today, the castle is one of the most popular tourist sites in Scotland.
Situated on the Firth of Clyde, Mary, Queen of Scots arrived in Dumbarton Castle in 1548, in advance of her journey to France. Marie de Guise, her mother, had arranged for her to marry the King of France’s son, Francis, when she was old enough. This would create an even stronger alliance between Scotland and England’s rival, France, making Mary’s residence in Great Britain even more dangerous than it already was. Dumbarton Castle is a particularly interesting place to visit and is known to have the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland.
Now considered to be one of Edinburgh’s liveliest neighbourhoods, Mary, Queen of Scots first returned to her home country in 1561 after the death of her first husband via the port in Leith. She arrived on a foggy day, the haar settling over the city in thick clouds. Rosemary explains that the port of Leith would’ve been one of the country’s largest ports at the time, hosting a ‘a roaring trade exporting hides, grain, timber, fish and coal, and importing delicacies such as wine, fruit and spices.’ Sitting at an outdoor pub on The Shore today, it’s hard to imagine how Leith would have looked to Scotland’s most iconic queen in the 16th century.
Homecoming includes a variety of fun facts about Mary Stuart, exploring her hobbies, interests, and personality quirks. One of her apparent favourite sporting activities included golf. Rosemary shares that she supposedly played all across Scotland, including ‘the most famous of them all, the Old Course at St Andrews, in the construction of which she was allegedly involved.’ Mary seemed to have a particular affinity for the seaside town, because by 1563, she owned a house in South Street by the Cathedral in St Andrews. Walking around St Andrews today, you can easily see the preserved medieval character of the cobbled streets and stone buildings.
Undoubtedly, Scotland’s most famous queen spent time at the country’s best-known castle. When she was seven months pregnant, after the shocking murder of her private secretary David Rizzio, Mary took refuge in Edinburgh Castle. She was hoping to shelter there until she had given birth, trusting in the enormous castle’s imposing height upon Castle Rock and fortified stone walls to keep her safe. Currently, Rosemary notes that ‘Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most visited heritage location, and before the pandemic was attracting well over two million visitors a year.’ On your visit to the castle, you can learn more about Mary, Queen of Scots and how she spent her time in this incredible fortress.
Jedburgh, Mary Queen of Scots House
Jedburgh, a charming town in the Scottish Borders, is where Mary spent a formative month of her life. In the autumn of 1566, Mary stayed in Jedburgh to oversee the ayres, or provincial courts, in this region. Yet, after falling from her horse upon returning to Jedburgh, Mary fell deathly ill and her courtiers were all preparing for the worst. With the help of a physician, she made a miraculous recovery in just a few weeks. Now, you can visit the site of where she stayed. The modern ‘Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre’ in Jedburgh also includes The Last Letter Room, where you can read her final thoughts before execution.
Mary, Queen of Scots is a complex figure who lived a dramatic, extraordinary life. Homecoming by Rosemary Goring provides a strong sense of place and setting to these pivotal events, connecting them to major historical sites and villages in Scotland. While travelling around the country, you can visit many of the places where Mary spent her Scottish years. Don’t forget to get a copy of Homecoming to bring along with you!