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The Story of Edinburgh Castle
Chapter VI. The Power of the Douglas


JAMES hearing the news on his death-bed that his Queen had given birth to a Princess at Linlithgow Palace, exclaimed : u It cam wi’ a lass, and it will gang wi’ a lass.” The infant was seven days old when her father died, and one can but pity the little Queen thus commencing her life amidst well-nigh hopeless turbulence and disorder. Despite the great difficulties of the situation, the Queen-Mother, who took up her residence in the Castle with the royal babe, handled the reins of the regency with skill and judgment. Although herself an ardent Catholic, by her liberal concessions she was able at once to secure the full approbation of the Protestant party.

Henry the Eighth in the hour of his death, embittered with disappointment by the refusal of Scotland to fulfil a treaty of marriage with the infant Queen and young Edward, urged the councillors of the little Prince to lose no time in waging war with Scotland. In the beginning of September 1544 the Earl of Hertford landed at Wardie at the head of an immense army, and the Fiery Cross was instantly sent through Scotland summoning all men spiritual or temporal between the ages of sixty and sixteen to repair to the city of Edinburgh.

The English earl demanded, as the condition of peace, the hand of the little Queen for Edward, subject to the stipulation that she should remain within Scotland until she was of a fit age for marriage. This, however, the Scottish nobles peremptorily refused. Lord Huntly made the Earl an offer to decide the quarrel by single combat, but this challenge was declined, and the Earl immediately advanced toward Edinburgh, where the English set fire to the town, but were met with defeat when attempting to take the Castle, which had been thoroughly repaired by the Earl of Arran. For four days the English thundered with their cannon before the fortress, not only suffering heavy loss from the defenders, but the Scots under Lord Stanehouse made a sortie from the Castle and recaptured some of the guns lost at Flodden. The English then retired, leaving behind them the smouldering, blackened ruins of Edinburgh and seven miles of country round the city.

Three years later there was still another invasion } the Scots and English fought a decisive battle at Pinkie on September 10, 1547, and the Scots were defeated—a day known long after as c Black Saturday.’ So far from bringing about a union of the two countries, this had unfortunately the opposite result and strengthened the old ties with France, toward which the Queen-Regent turned her eyes for a marriage between the young Queen and the Dauphin. It was suggested that Mary should be sent across the channel to be educated, and also for security against the many dangers which threatened in her native country, and this proposal received the full sanction of the Scottish Parliament.

The death of Edward VI of England, which took place in 1553, removed the possibility of further troubles on account of an English matrimonial alliance. The little Queen Mary was scarcely six years old when, in the height of winter, she crossed the Channel in 1548. The voyage was made in a sailing-boat not much larger than a fishing-smack, and as she sailed down the Clyde from Dumbarton she just escaped the English fleet, which had already reached the Forth on its mission to intercept her.

Mary of Guise continued her difficult task of ruling Scotland amidst all the difficulties created by the quarrelsome nobles on the one hand, and the reformers on the other. She managed to steer more or less a neutral course between the parties until her death, which, after a long illness, took place on June 10, 1560, in an apartment of the royal lodging, close to the present half-moon battery. She had summoned to her death-bed a number of her opponents with whom she spoke in terms of kindness, urged them to be loyal and true to the young Queen, and asked touchingly the forgiveness of any past disputes in which she might have been in error. The rites of burial were refused her, being a Catholic, and the body lay in the Castle encased in lead for about four months, when it was conveyed to Rheims, where it was received by her sister, who was prioress of a convent.

Mary Stuart was now ruler of Scotland, but in her absence the Protestant faith was established by Act of Parliament, and on the news being intimated to her she refused to recognize the procedure. She had married Francis II, who died in the same year as her mother, and she was now induced to return to her native kingdom, after thirteen years’ absence, to ascend a throne and undertake the government of a people who were hostile to her religion, which to her was everything. Thus commenced a reign in which we shall find much to pity, whether we deplore her actions or blame others for their wily self-seeking. Destiny had brought her forth into a world where she was involved, young and inexperienced, in all the turmoil of a reformation, in the intrigues of plotting traitors who persuaded her with flatteries and unwise counsels j and in the end, on a preposterous charge of conspiring to seize the English Crown, she was to be dastardly put to death by the English Queen.

There was every chance that if this unfortunate monarch, with her refinement of education, her kindly disposition, and her great personal charm, had lived in more peaceful and happier times she would have left behind her a successful record.

Queen Mary arrived at Leith in August 1561, and was indebted for her safe passage partly to a favourable wind and partly to a dense fog, under cover of which she was able to avoid the English fleet. She landed in circumstances which did not divert her from the melancholy consequent upon her departure from her beloved France, for the day was dull and gloomy. Knox says that “in the memory of man, that day of the year, was never seen a more dolorous face of the heaven, than was at her arrival, which two days after did so continue \ for besides the surface wet, and corruption of the air, the mist was so thick and so dark, that scarce might any man espy another the length of two pair of buttis—the sun was not seen to shine two days before nor two days after.”

Her arrival was at least ten days earlier than had been anticipated, and few preparations had been made for the reception; but all classes hastened to express their joy and to demonstrate their loyalty, “At the sound of the cannons which the galleys shot, the multitude being advertised, happy was he and she that first might have the presence of the Queen.” Accustomed to the splendour of the French court, Mary was greatly affected by the miserable arrangements which had been made for her conveyance to the palace. As there were no carriages in Scotland she was obliged to proceed on a shaggy pony, the royal stud having been captured by the English. Her eyes filled with tears as she observed to her attendants: "These are not like the appointments to which I have been accustomed } but it behoves me to arm myself with patience.” But her reception, though rude, was sincere and cordial} her youth and beauty at once engaged the affections of a warm-hearted, generous people, and her feelings of vexation gave way to livelier emotions.

A few days later, Mary made her state progress through Edinburgh to the Castle with great pomp, as is chronicled in the Diurnal of Occurrents. “Nothing was neglected which could express the duty and affection of the citizens towards their sovereign. Her Highness,” continues the ancient record, “ departed from Holyrood with her train, and rode by the long street on the north side of the burgh, till she came to the foot of the Castle Hill, where a gate [more than likely a triumphal arch] had been erected for her to pass under, accompanied by the most part of the nobles of Scotland. She then rode up the bank to the Castle, where she sat down to the State banquet at noon. On her return after the function, the artillery boomed a royal salute from the batteries, and descending the Castle Hill she was met by sixteen of the most honourable men of the town, clad in velvet gowns and bonnets, who carried aloft a canopy of fine velvet lined with red taffeta, fringed with gold and silk, under which the Queen rode back to Holyrood.”

The next important event in the life of the Queen, which however did not concern Edinburgh Castle, was the marriage to her cousin, Lord Darnley, on July 29, 1565, at Stirling Castle, an alliance which unfortunately was to terminate so unhappily. We next find her at the Castle after the return from Haddington, whither she had fled with her friendly nobles to escape the hand of the assassin at Holyrood, and where, in the midst of her anxieties and griefs, she had sought the security of the ancient fortress for the safe delivery of the expected heir to the Crown. Here she received a messenger who was sent by the King and Queen-Mother of France with a congratulatory message on her escape from the recent peril. In the train of the French ambassador came Joseph Rizzio, whom Mary appointed her secretary, an office left vacant by the murder of his brother David at Holyrood. This was an imprudent step, but was perhaps to be excused on account of the difficulty in finding one amongst her courtiers in whom she could truly confide.

Her resentment toward Darnley, who had played her false in many things and, beyond all, in conniving at the murder of Rizzio, considerably abated as the time of her confinement drew near \ she also pacified her nobles, who had long been at deadly feud with one another, and prevailed upon them to meet amicably at a banquet which she gave in the old Banqueting Hall to celebrate their reconciliation. But poor Mary seems to have been suffering from the apprehension of another attempt upon her life, and in consequence made out her will, of which one copy was sent to France, a second was given into the keeping of her Privy Council, and a third she kept herself. The day before the birth of her son she wrote a letter to Elizabeth in her own handwriting announcing the event, but leaving a blank to be filled in either with “son” or “daughter,” as it might please God to grant unto her. The birth of James VI took place on Wednesday, June 19, 1566. It was a happy birth for the whole island, but proved unfortunate for the Queen. The welcome tidings were announced by the firing of the Castle guns from the batteries in close proximity to the royal apartments. The same afternoon Darnley paid a visit to the Queen, and expressed a desire to see the young Prince. “My lord,” said Mary, “God has given you and me a son whose paternity is of none but you,” whereupon Darnley coloured as he stooped and kissed the child. Mary, taking the child in her arms, went on, “My lord, here I protest to God as I shall answer to Him at the great day of judgment, this is our son and no other man’s son; he is indeed so much your son that I only fear I will be the worse for him hereafter ”; then turning to Sir William Stanley, Darnley’s principal attendant, added, “This is the son who I hope will first unite the two kingdoms of Scotland and England.” “Why, Madam,” said Sir William, “shall he succeed before your Majesty and his father?” “Alas!” replied Mary, “his father has broken to me.” Upon these words Darnley, who had stood near, said, “Sweet Madam, is this your promise that you made, to forget and forgive all?” “I have

forgiven all,” answered Mary, "but will never forget. What F'audenside’s [he was one of the murderers] pistol had shot? What would have become of him and me both, and what estate would you have been in? God only knows, but we may suspect.” “Madam,” replied Darnley, “these things are all past.” "Then,” said the Queen, "let them go.” There were great rejoicings throughout Scotland on the birth of the heir to the Crown. The General Assembly of the Church at the same time met and arranged to send Spotswood, the Superintendent of Lothian, to congratulate the Queen, and to request her to permit her son to be baptized and brought up in the Protestant faith. Mary received the representatives very graciously, but was silent and only smiled at the expression of his brethren’s desire. The child was brought into the room to be shown to the divine, who took it in his arms and fell upon his knees and uttered a prayer on its behalf; at its conclusion he playfully asked the babe to say u Amen,” and some little cooing murmur, it is said, escaped the lips of the infant. Mary was very pleased, and “ever after called the superintendent her ‘Amen.’ The young Prince did the same when he was old enough to understand the story, and whilst he lived did respect and reverence him as his spiritual father.” The bedchamber in which tradition says the interesting and important event took place is the small inner room of two in the south-east corner of the ground floor of the royal palace, but there is much evidence that runs counter to this tradition. The upper part of the panelling and the ceiling are as old as the time of James V. On the panels of the ceiling are the letters I.R. and M.R. surmounted by a crown, and on the wall at the end opposite the window are the royal arms of Scotland and the inscription :

Lord Jesu Chrtst, that Crounit was with thornse Preserve the Birth, quhais Badgie1 heir is borne, And send Hir Sonee2 succefsione to ^'eigne still Lang in this T^ealme, if that it be Thy will, AIs Grant, O Lord, quhat ever of Hir pro seed, Be to Thy Qlorie, Honer and Prais, sobied.

There are records of the tapestries with which the room was hung, and these show the taste which Queen Mary displayed in all her residences. The tapestries, which were of gilded leather, portrayed the Judgment of Paris and 'The Triumph of Virtuey but there were others of various devices on green velvet, cloth-of-gold, and brocaded taffeta, and four recording the hunting of the unicorn. The chairs—of which one was rescued from a sale of canteen furniture and still remains—had hio-h backs and were carved with the crown and cipher. The date of the birth, "19 June. 1566,’ is painted on the panelling of the north and south walls of the room. An old but untrustworthy story has it that the young Prince was lowered secretly from the window in a basket to the Queen’s adherents, to be taken away and baptized in their faith.

Below Queen Mary’s room there are vaulted dungeons which are said till lately to have retained the staple of an iron chain to which many a prisoner was secured in olden times ; but no date or even history of these massive foundations can be authenticated, though they certainly belong to a very remote period. There are other dungeons below the Banqueting Hall, in two tiers, lighted through small loopholes secured by iron bars, where the French prisoners were secured during the Peninsular War ; forty slept in one vault and, until recently, one could still see the wooden framework from which they slung their hammocks.

A curious and somewhat remarkable discovery was made in a wall on the west front of the royal rooms in the year 1830. The wall on being struck was found to be hollow; to satisfy curiosity it was opened, when a cavity was found to exist and in it a small wooden box containing the remains of an infant. The box was of great antiquity and much decayed ; the remains of the child were wrapped in a thickly woven cloth resembling leather, besides a richly embroidered silk covering with two initials worked upon it, one of which clearly was marked "I.’ Most of the remains were restored to the curious little cavity, and the wall was built up again. Daniel Wilson in his Memorials of Edinburgh says : “It were vain now to attempt a solution of this mysterious discovery, though it may furnish the novelist with material on which to found a thrilling romance.”

To come back to the story of Mary and her associations with the Castle: the birth of a Prince had little effect on the debauched life of Darnley, who continued his licentious ways to the great grief of his Queen. In the meantime the infant James had been christened at Stirling Castle with unusual magnificence. Elizabeth, who had consented to stand godmother to her young heir, appointed the Countess of Argyle as her representative and dispatched the Earl of Bedford, her ambassador, with a font of gold, valued at upward of one thousand pounds, to be used at the ceremony. In her instructions to Bedford, she desired him to express jocularly her fear that as the font had been made as soon as she heard of the Prince’s birth, he might now have outgrown it. “ If you find it so,” said she, “you may observe that our good sister has only to keep it for the next child, provided it be christened before it outo-row the font.”

It may be mentioned, to show the abominable character of Darnley, that to give offence to his consort he absented himself from the baptism of his son, although living in the Castle at the time, thus proclaiming to all assembled the Queen’s domestic unhappiness. Darnley was stricken down with smallpox and when convalescent was taken to Kirk-o-Fields, a house which was within view of the Castle windows, and now is the site of the University. Early one February morning the house was blown up, and Lord Henry Darnley and his page were found dead in the garden. It is believed that they were first murdered and the house then blown up by Bothwell and his fellow conspirators whilst Mary was at a masque ball at Holyrood.

Darnley’s body was taken to Holyrood and buried in the Chapel. The Queen had her little room at the Castle hung with black, and remained in privacy until after the funeral. Elizabeth sent a letter of condolence by her cousin Killegrew, and on his reception he found “the Queen’s Majesty in a dark chamber, so that he could not see her face, but by her words she seemed very doleful.”

Mary’s unhappy marriage to Bothwell, of whom Kirkcaldy of Grange says she had become “shamefully enamoured”—for Bothwell was nothing more or less than a freebooter—was the crowning error of the unfortunate Queen’s reign, and took place on May 15, 1567, at four o’clock in the morning. On the very evening of the wedding Bothwell behaved toward her with coldness and indifference, and she was heard to ask for a knife to stab herself, “or else,” said she, "I shall drown myself.”

The confederate nobles having themselves signed the bond not only sanctioning the Queen’s marriage with Bothwell but declaring it to be for the interests of Scotland, found it impossible suddenly and at once to disclaim their own act. Nevertheless Morton, Argyle, Lethington, and Huntly now protested against the marriage and the conduct of Bothwell, and we find the confederates now resolved on taking the decided step of attempting to seize the persons of Mary and her husband. Apprised of their schemes and unprepared for resistance, Mary had recourse to flight, and Bothwell fled with her to the Castle of Borthwick, about ten miles from Edinburgh, and thence to Dunbar Castle. From here they went to meet the nobles who were confederated against Bothwell. The meeting took place at Carberry, and when Bothwell perceived that his case was hopeless, and that his followers were deserting him, he mounted his horse and fled with a few attendants back to Dunbar, and quitted the kingdom for ever. Mary placed herself in the hands of the confederates, led by Kirkcaldy of Grange, to whom she offered her hand, which he kissed, and taking hold of her horse’s bridle he conducted her to the camp of his associates, where she was received with grim respect by the leaders and outspoken insult by the soldiers. At seven o’clock on the same evening of this eventful day the unhappy Queen made her reentrance into Edinburgh, riding between Earl Morton and the Earl of Atholl, and in the most deplorable condition, her hair dishevelled, her dress soiled with travel, her face disfigured with dust and tears, and so fatigued that she could hardly sit on her saddle, been brought by a route which compelled her to gaze upon the ruin of Kirk-o-Field House, the scene of Darnley’s murder, which must have been most harrowing. The crowd greeted her with yells and jeers; and at the Lord Provost’s house, she rested for the night. Next morning after a council at Holyrood she was taken to Lochleven Castle, were she was kept in close confinement until her romantic escape. Mary had already signed the necessary papers abdicating the Crown in favour of her infant son, who was proclaimed at the Cross of Edinburgh on July 27, 1567, and preparations were now made for the immediate coronation of the young Prince at Stirling Castle.

The Coronation procession of the infant King moved from the sister castle to the High Church, known later as the West Kirk. The Earl of Athol bore the crown, the Earl of Morton the sceptre, and the Earl of Glencairn the sword. The infant, only fourteen months old, was carried in the arms of the Earl of Mar. The ceremony lasted from two till five in the afternoon; John Knox preached the sermon; the Bishop of Orkney performed the anointing ; the crown was held over the little King’s head by the Earl of Mar; and the infant hands were made to touch the sword and sceptre. At the conclusion of what must have been to the poor child a very tedious ceremony, the newly crowned King was carried back to the old fortress by the Earl of Mar amid great rejoicing. At night bonfires were lighted all over the country.

A month later the Earl of Murray was proclaimed Regent with great solemnity. He ruled the countn with a strong hand and to some extent restored peace amongst its people, but his Regency did not last long, for he was cruelly assassinated at Linlithgow on January 23, 1570, by the Duke of Hamilton, whilst on his way to Edinburgh from Stirling. He was succeeded in the Regency by the Earl of Lennox, later by Mar, and then by the Earl of Morton.

Meantime the Castle was held by Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, who was still a staunch supporter of Queen Mary; during this unsettled period he seized the opportunity of strengthening his position, and laid in stores which he had seized at Leith, besides training soldiers.

Queen Elizabeth, bent on subduing Mary’s supporters, sent two skilful engineers to examine the defences of Edinburgh Castle—their last stronghold—and they reported that with a sufficient battering-train the place might be taken in twenty days. Elizabeth resolved that the attempt should be made ; Sir William Drury, the Marshal of Berwick, was chosen to conduct the enterprise, and his force, consisting of five hundred hagbutters1 and a hundred and forty pikemen, disembarked at Leith with a considerable train of artillery. The English were joined by the Regent’s troops, seven hundred strong, and so they marched to Edinburgh to commence preparations for the great siege. First, however, a summons to surrender in the name of the Regent and the English general was sent to Kirkcaldy; but although the supply of water and provisions was nearly exhausted he refused to submit, and declared that he would hold the Castle until he was buried beneath its ruins.

Trenches were dug, artillery was placed on advantageous ground commanding the walls, and on May 17, 1573, the guns of the besiegers opened fire, concentrating on the principal bastion—the great tower built by King David. The shrieks and cries of the women in the fortress could be heard distinctly in the English lines, and after a furious cannonade of six days the south wall of the great tower gave way and fell with its mass of men and guns, with a crash like thunder, over the rock below, choking with its ruins the passage to the outer gate. Next day the eastern , part of the tower, the portcullis tower, and another bastion called Wallace’s Tower, shared the same fate. The garrison now was in a state of desperation ; their ammunition was exhausted, their water-supply was rendered impossible by being choked with debris, and the greater part of the garrison were lying hors de combat from want of food. The only water-supply left was from St. Margaret’s Well, which however had already been poisoned by the Regent’s troops, and only about forty men were left to man the guns. Still Kirkcaldy did not lose heart, and it was not until the besiegers prepared for a general assault that the brave soldier, seeing that further resistance was useless, appeared on the ruins of the ramparts with a white wand in his hand and obtained an armistice of two days. He then gave up his sword to Drury on receiving his assurance that it was to the Queen of England and not to the Regent of Scotland that he surrendered; but he was treacherously delivered into the hands of his enemy the Regent Morton, and despite the strenuous efforts of his friends, who offered to purchase his pardon by becoming servants to the house of Morton in a perpetual u bond of man-rent,” and also to pay to the Regent the sum of two thousand pounds and an annuity of three thousand marks, but to this offer the Regent turned a deaf ear. On August 3, Sir William Kirkcaldy and his brother, and two others who were accused of coining base money within the Castle, were taken to the Cross of Edinburgh and there hanged and afterward decapitated, their heads being fixed on the Castle walls. The brave Kirkcaldy died full of penitence for his sins and professing unshaken attachment to the cause of Mary Stuart.

John Knox on his deathbed sent the following message to Kirkcaldy : uSay from me, that unless he forsake that wicked course wherein he is entered, neither shall that rock on which he confideth defend him, nor the carnal wisdom of that man whom he counteth a demigod Lethington) make him help, but shamefully shall he be pulled out of that nest, and his carcass hung before the sun. The soul of that man is dear unto me, and, if it be possible, I would fain have him to be saved.” These words of Knox, although they produced but little impression upon Kirkcaldy at the time, were afterwards remembered by him when he was compelled to surrender his stronghold; and it is recorded that at the time of his execution he acknowledged that Knox had spoken with something of prophetic truth, and also that he had derived some consolation from his good wishes and prayers.

On the wall of the Castle close to the inner portcullis o-ate there is a memorial tablet to the brave soldier who so nobly held the fortress in a last futile effort to re-establish the Queen on the Throne. The fall of the Castle and the death of Kirkcaldy of Grange was a death-blow to the unfortunate Queen’s party in Scotland.


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