Scotlands History

Mary returns to Scotland

With her beloved husband King Francis II of France dead, Mary set sail for Scotland in 1561. She sailed in a white ship wearing black mourning clothes.

She arrived in Leith on 19 August 1561. Her ship had made good time and arrived early so there was no welcoming party at the quay. She was accompanied by the Four Marys and three uncles of the House of Guise.

After dining in Leith, Mary and her entourage made their way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Her route was lined with throngs of cheering and curious people, all trying to catch a glimpse of their Queen. That night bonfires were lit in Edinburgh and musicians played tunes beneath the Queen’s window.

Mary’s official entry to Edinburgh was celebrated with cannon fire at Edinburgh Castle. As crowds filled the streets she rode down the Royal Mile where she was met by costumed performers, play carts and theatrical scenes.

On a wooden archway, ‘coloured with fine colours’, Mary Queen of Scots was serenaded by a choir – ‘singand certain bairns in the maist heavenly wise’. Upon a scenery cloud, under the arch, was ‘ane bonnie bairn’.

When the queen’s hieness was coming through the said port, the cloud openit, and the bairn descended down as it had been ane angel, and deliverit to her hieness the keys of the town, together with ane Bible and ane Psalm-buik coverit with fine purpour velvet.

Domestic Annals of Scotland, Robert Chambers quoting John Knox

At the Nether Bow (where the Scottish Storytelling Centre is today) there was another scaffold on which was ‘ane dragon’. After some speeches the giant puppet dragon was burned.

For all the pageantry that marked Mary's return to Scotland, she faced a volatile and treacherous political situation. Her devotion to the Catholic faith meant that she was regarded with suspicion and hostility. When Mary first celebrated the Catholic Mass in Holyroodhouse the crowds that appeared came to protest.

  • An old letter showing a red seal and the signatures 'Mary R' and 'W Maitland'

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