Scotlands History

Imprisonment at Loch Leven

On 15 June 1567, Mary Queen of Scots was led away from Carberry Hill by the Lords of the Congregation. Her forces disbanded as Bothwell rode to Dunbar. The Lords had promised Mary safe passage to Edinburgh - in reality she was allowed to briefly gather some belongings from the Palace of Holyroodhouse before facing imprisonment.

Mary spent a last night in Edinburgh, under guard, in a house on the High Street. An armed escort took her to Holyrood the next morning to gather some possessions. Mary left the Palace and was taken north to Lochleven Castle.

The castle lay on a small island in the middle of Loch Leven. A boatman rowed Mary out to the island. She was imprisoned on the third floor of the tower house. A few weeks later she suffered a miscarriage, losing twins. Mary spent her days walking the courtyard, doing embroidery and praying in her rooms.

On 24 July two of the Lords of the Congregation arrived at Lochleven. Lord Ruthven and Lord Lindsey brought an ultimatum - abdicate the throne or die. They threatened to cut her throat if she refused to sign a Deed of Abdication. Mary signed. Her baby son would become king - with Mary’s half brother, the Earl of Moray, acting as regent.

Mary’s 13-month-old son was crowned king five days later in a Protestant ceremony at Stirling. John Knox preached the sermon. In Edinburgh, the Lords called a Parliament and declared that Bothwell had murdered Darnley and that Mary had been his willing accomplice.

On 2 May 1568 a small boat rowed away from Lochleven Island. Willie Douglas, a supporter of Mary, had arranged a May Day masque at the castle and stolen the keys to the Postern Gate. Amid the drinking and dancing Mary was quietly smuggled out of the tower. She was taken to a waiting boat and escaped with the aid of George Douglas and Lord Seton.

Mary immediately revoked her abdication and started to gather an army. Her freedom would be short lived.

  • Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots wearing a grey bonnet and high lace collar
  • Aerial view of Loch Leven Castle

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