Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Mary Queen of Scots - the Castles of her Escape

Lochleven Castle in Fife was the scene of the dramatic escape of Mary Queen of Scots in 1568. But she visited many more in Scotland before crossing the border to meet her fate.

Lochleven Castle and Niddry Castle
LEFT: Lochleven Castle where Mary's escape began
RIGHT: Niddry Castle in West Lothian

There was an earlier castle on the island but the present Lochleven tower dates from the 14th century and its barmekin followed a century later. Entry was at first floor level and the rooms are small due to the thickness of the walls.

Mary Stuart Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots

Queen Mary would have found the island, as well as the castle, constricted as, at that time, the water level reached the castle walls. Mary was imprisoned in a round tower in the courtyard.

She made her escape by boat, was met on the mainland and conveyed to Niddry Castle in West Lothian where she spent her first night of freedom. Niddry, after centuries of ruin, is undergoing a splendid restoration into a family home by a member of the Scottish Castles Association - a real 'tour de force'.

Not so fortunate are Cadzow Castle in Hamilton, Lanarkshire and Glasgow's Cathcart Castle which also feature in Mary's escape. Taken from Niddry to Hamilton she was made safe in the 'Castle of the Woods' now known by the less romantic name of Cadzow. This was destroyed by the Earl of Moray and the ruins transformed into a 'folly' in the 18th century to grace the parklands of the Duke of Hamilton. It is now the responsibility of Historic Environment Scotland who seem to have fallen asleep on the job as it is covered with scaffolding years after taken into care.

Cadzow Castle and Moray Memorial
LEFT: Cadzow Castle
RIGHT: Earl of Moray's (Mary's half brother) memorial marking the spot he was shot in Linlithgow

From Cadzow the royal army marched towards Dumbarton Castle but were intercepted at Langside (outside Glasgow) by the Earl of Moray, Mary's half brother. For her safety Mary was secured at Cathcart Castle while the battle took place. Cathcart, a strong 14th century tower, stood, albeit in a ruinous state, until demolished by Glasgow City Council in the 1970s into whose safe hands it had been conveyed! Now only fragments mark the site.

Cathcart Castle and Dumbarton Castle
LEFT: Cathcart Castle
RIGHT: Dumbarton Castle

Mary never reached Dumbarton for her army was defeated at the Battle of Langside and she turned her horse's head south towards England to endure captivity and eventual execution.

Moray became Regent but did not enjoy his success for long. After the battle he had taken cruel revenge on Mary's supporters. One of them, James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, decided to even the score.

On the 23rd of January 1570 Bothwellhaugh hid in a house in Linlithgow with his 'long gun' and waited. As Moray rode past the window he fired – the bullet passing clean though the Regent's body below the navel and exited to kill the horse being ridden by his illegitimate brother at his side – the first recorded assassination by a firearm. Moray managed to dismount and stagger to his lodgings but to no avail – he succumbed to his injuries and died.

His guard rushed the house but found their way blocked by a cart and timber baulks – Hamilton had wisely planned his escape. As they struggled to reach the front Bothwellhaugh had jumped on his horse at the back and rode post haste to France and safety.

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle. Mary Queen of Scots image: After François Clouet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Added: 30 Oct 2018 Updated: 21 Nov 2018
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