23 May 2014
Follow Mary Queen of Scots on a journey through Scotland with our pick of ten castles which played key roles in the life of the Stewart queen.
Dozens of Scottish castles can claim to have been visited by Mary Queen of Scots, either during her childhood or during one of the royal progresses when she was queen. The following ten castles played key roles in the life of Mary Queen of Scots:
1. LINLITHGOW PALACE
The birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, who was born on 8 December 1542, Linlithgow Palace is famed as a home of the Royal Stewarts. King James I began work on the palace in 1424 and it became a favourite with Scottish royals, including King James V and Princess Elizabeth, the 'winter queen'.
The palace is magnificently situated beside the fifteenth-century St Michaels Kirk, and Linlithgow Loch. A three-tiered 'wedding cake' fountain can be seen in full flow on Sundays during July and August.
Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow EH49 7AL; tel: 01506 842896.
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2. STIRLING CASTLE
Mary was crowned queen at nine months old at Stirling Castle (pictured) and spent some of her early years here. Mary later chose Stirling Castle as a place of protection for her young son James who was baptised here and later crowned king in 1567.
Today, visitors can explore the castle and palace, now restored to show how it would have looked during the days when the Royal Stewarts held court here.
Stirling Castle, Stirling FK8 1EJ; tel: 01786 450000.
3. DUMBARTON CASTLE
This fortress stands in what was once the capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde (from the fifth century until 1018). The castle has a strategic and imposing position overlooking the Firth of Clyde and it was here that the infant Mary Queen of Scots was moved for protection before she was taken to France.
Today’s visitors can admire the views across the Clyde, explore the Governor’s Residence and see the Georgian artillery fortifications.
Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton G82 1JJ; tel: 01389 732167.
4. PALACE OF HOLYROODHOUSE
The ancient palace of Holyroodhouse, set alongside Holyrood Abbey, was the setting for the brutal murder of Mary's servant David Rizzio by a group of lords led by Lord Ruthven. Mary moved into Holyrood soon after her arrival in Scotland in 1561 and married Henry Lord Darnley here in 1565.
Visitors can tour the palace and see the rooms that Mary used including her bedchamber, oratory and the Outer Chamber, the scene of Rizzio’s murder.
Palace of Holyroodhouse, Holyrood, Edinburgh; tel: 0131 556 5100.
5. EDINBURGH CASTLE
Edinburgh Castle (pictured) was Mary's refuge at several points during her turbulent life. Her son James was born here in 1566, after she fled to the castle from the Palace of Holyrood following the murder of David Rizzio. The young Mary Queen of Scots was also presented to her people from the castle after the death of her mother.
The castle is one of Scotland's most popular visitor attractions and offers superb views of the city and surroundings.
Edinburgh Castle, Castle Hill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG; tel: 0131 225 9846.
6. LOCHLEVEN CASTLE
A medieval tower on the island of Loch Leven which is famous for its association with Mary Queen of Scots - it was here in 1567 that Mary was imprisoned and forced to sign an abdication document passing the throne to her son.
Mary escaped from the castle in 1568, with the help of George Douglas, son of the castle's keeper. From here, she escaped to England, never to return to Scotland.
Loch Leven Castle, Perthshire KY13 8UF. Visitors can reach the island by ferry, for details tel: 01577 862670.
7. CRAIGMILLAR CASTLE
A medieval tower house linked with Mary, with a 'Queen Mary's room' in which the queen is believed to have slept during her stay with the Preston family. The building is one of Scotland's most well preserved castles and includes a fifteenth-century courtyard wall with gunholes.
Craigmillar Castle, Craigmillar EH16 4SY; tel: 0131 661 4445.
8. DUNBAR CASTLE
Dunbar Castle (pictured) overlooks the town's harbour and although now in a ruined state, it played an important part in Mary's story as the location to which she was taken after she was kidnapped by her future third husband Lord Bothwell in April 1567. The pair returned to the castle a month later after their marriage. Following Mary's abdication, parliament ordered the demolition of the castle.
Although public access to the castle is not permitted for safety reasons, good views of the building are possible from the harbour.
Dunbar Castle, Dunbar Harbour, Dunbar, East Lothian.
9. SANQUHAR CASTLE
The home of the Crichtons of Sanquhar in the medieval age, Sanquhar Castle can boast visits from several key figures in history including William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and King Edward I of England. The castle's connection with Mary Queen of Scots dates to May 1568 when the queen fled here following a terrible defeat at the Battle of Langside. It was one of the last places she stayed before making the fateful decision to flee south to England.
This thirteenth-century castle is now in ruins but can be seen from the village's main road, and on the Southern Upland Way.
Sanquhar Castle, Sanquhar, Dumfries & Galloway DG4.
10. CRICHTON CASTLE
A ruined medieval castle in Midlothian which was once home to the earls of Bothwell. Mary stayed at Crichton for the marriage of her half brother, and the castle was again connected with her when her third husband, James Hepburn, third earl of Bothwell’s title and estates (including Crichton Castle) were forfeited by Act of Parliament after the Battle of Carberry Hill in 1567.
The castle has one of the oldest tower houses in Scotland, which dates to the fourteenth century and a unique façade of diamond-shaped stones, built in 1580.
Crichton Castle, Pathhead, Midlothian EH37 5XA; tel: 01875 320017.
Mary Queen of Scots by John Guy
Download our new digital guide to explore Mary's relationships with key figures in her life. Details here.
Images: Stirling Castle © David Monniaux; Edinburgh Castle © British Library; Dunbar Castle © Hulda Dunbar Warren