Thursday, 8 December 2011

Happy Birthday Mary

Today is Mary’s birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mary - 469 year old today.

That said it is possible she may have been born not on the 8th. but on the 7th. of December (her close advisor and associate Leslie thought so) and it has been argued that perhaps the date of birth was the 7th. but the announcement held over until the 8th. to coincide with the Feast day of the Virgin Mary after whom she was named,

Mary though always however maintained her birthday to be the  8th.

She was of course born in a second floor chamber at Linlithgow Palace which still exists although now roofless. Her mother was Mary of Guise, the birth was probably premature and initially reports were of a weak and sickly child. .

Her father James V had suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss on the 24th. November. After the defeat James spent a few days with his heavily pregnant wife at Linlithgow but then, for whatever reason  moved on to his palace at Falkland.

There only five days later, no doubt disappointed at the news his wife had given birth to a daughter rather than he a son, he “turned his face to the wall and died” uttering  the words “Adieu farewell it cam wi a lass and it will gang wi’ a lass”. The reference is to the Stuart dynasty which had began with the marriage of Walter Stuart to Marjorie Bruce and which was in course to end with the death of Queen Anne in 1714. James must have seen the dynasty as doomed particularly following the death of two earlier sons James and Robert in infancy.

The birth is commemorated by the Society every year with a short  ceremony at  Mary’s tomb at Westminster Abbey (above) when flowers are laid. The ceremony was again held last Saturday.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

National Portrait Gallery Re-opening

Was very interested to note from today’s ‘Scotsman’ that the National Portrait Gallery in
Queen Street
will be reopening after extensive refurbishment on the 1st. of December next. The refurbishment work has been extensive and many portraits not previously in the public domain will now be on show.

Members will of course recall our guided tour of the gallery shortly before it shut  - it hardly seems three years ago now and a return visit must now be very high on the agenda.

According to the ‘Scotsman’ article the oldest item in the gallery is a portrait of Lord Darnley of 1755 by Hans Ewart.

Also on show is of course is what is known as ‘The Sheffield Portrait’ of Mary (above) probably by Rowland Lockey. The portrait was previously thought to have been based on  one currently in Hardwick Hall painted during Mary’s lifetime and this may or may not be the case. The date 1578 appears  and as Helen Smailes puts it in her book “The Queen’s Image” “the significance of the date is not clear but may represent an aspect of James’ policy of rehabilitating his mother’s reputation”.

Also in the exhibition is a rare woodcut which is believed to be the only image made of John Knox during his lifetime.

I think I am also correct in saying that on the façade of the building, remains a range of statues including the only one in Scotland of Mary. As a Society we presently have in hand a project for the erection of a full size statue to Mary, we hope very much at or in the precinct of Holyrood House.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Forthcoming Events

Just received the latest edition of the Historic Scotland Magazine and notice two events which might be of interest.

On Sunday 11th. December at Stirling Castle from 12.30 to 3.30 pm. there is an event entitled;

“Stewart Christmas

Historic Scotland Members and others are invited to come along and enjoy a very light-hearted and slightly irreverent return to the period of Mary, Queen of Scots and find out what Christmas would have been like in the Stewart Royal Court of the 16th. century.

Further information telephone 0131 668 8885.

Earlier on Sunday 27th November there is an event at Craigmillar Castle entitled;

"Darnley must Die"

This is led by historian Allan Burnett and as advertised “he recreates the atmosphere of intrigue and skullduggery leading up to the Craigmillar Bond, a pact to dispose of Mary’s husband Henry Stuart –judge for yourself whether or not Mary was in on the plot”

This seems to be being repeated at 12 noon, 1 p.m. 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

The above image is used in the Magazine to promote the event.

Why is Darnley dressed up as Harry Lauder and what is Mary proposing with her tickling stick?


Bolton Castle

Just back from a week-end break in North Yorkshire. A revisit to Bolton Castle was very much on the agenda but as rather feared closed for the winter until 11th. February next year.

Bolton Castle absolutely dominates the landscape in this part of Wensleydale and above photograph of the Castle  This was taken at approximately 3.30 on a foggy November afternoon and already darkness is beginning to fall and the arc lights which illuminate the Castle so brilliantly and probably light sensitive are on.

Mary was of course a prisoner at Bolton Castle from 16th. July  1568  until 26th of January of the following year.

Mary arrived at Bolton with little but the attire in which she had escaped from Scotland and Bolton Castle was ill fitted and ill furnished to house a regal visitor.

All sorts of furnishings were apparently hurriedly borrowed from neighbouring gentry and Elizabeth  would seem to have ordered provision to be made ‘for pewter vessels, brasspots and pans, racks and spits and a copper kettle  for the boiling of beef as well as garden sauces and other necessities incident to dinners” It is also recorded that Sir George Bowes sent her tapestries and turkey rugs to make her stay more comfortable and that the Earl of Northumberland sent venison

Possibly Mary would be more pleased to receive five cart loads of her personal luggage which the castle owner Lord Scrope had persuaded the Earl of Moray to send from Scotland. These included the Cloth of State which Mary set up in the Great Hall.

With Mary at Bolton were Leslie, Herries, the Livingstons, the Flemings, Gavin Hamilton, John Beaton, Bastian Pages and his wife, Mary Seton and Willy Douglas as well as a corps of loyal supporters.

Initially Mary would seem to have been granted a certain degree of freedom and certainly visited Nappa Hall about five miles away the home of the Metcalfes. A few years back we had the hapchance of spending a night at Nappa Hall which at that time did bed and breakfast – not sure if it now does.

It was perhaps at Bolton that Mary’s religious conviction may just have wavered although she later denied it vehemently. Her gaoler Sir Francis Knollys who was the husband of Elizabeth’s first husband Catherine Gray tried hard to convert Mary to Protestantism and boasted of some success claiming that “Mary was growing to a liking of English Common prayer”. If there was indeed any such waiver on Mary’s part it may of course not been not religiously driven but was rather an attempt by Mary to seek the better to ingratiate herself to Elizabeth’s eyes.

Mary was an accomplished horsewomen and there was one report that when out riding she galloped so far ahead of the party as to raise fears of an escape attempt. There was also a report of a suggested escape organized (as at Lochleven) by Willy Douglas whereby Mary was lowered from a window but the attempt was discovered it might appear by Lord Scrope himself.

Whatever. whether because of the above escape attempts Bolton was judged just too close to the Scottish Borders and the following January in the depth of winter Mary and her train were forcibly moved to Tutbury. It would appear that at the time of the journey both Mary and Lady Livingston were ill and had to be placed on a litter for the journey.

We enjoy breaks in North Yorkshire and hopefully can visit again next year.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Threat to Hermitage

I was very disturbed to read a press report of proposals for the building of yet more wind turbines, this time in close proximity to Hermitage Castle. We already have far to many of these in the Borders. The proposal is for 20 turbines on a farm near the Castle each over 400 feet high no less (approximately twice the height of the Scott Monument).

Hermitage Castle in Mary’s time was of course in the ownership of Lord Bothwell and it was here that he got involved in an affray with Little Jock Elliot of the Side coming off very much second best, being badly wounded even having to bargain for readmittance to his own Castle.The event of course remembered in the well know Border Ballad "Little Jock Elliot"

"I have vanquished the Queen’s Lieutenant
And garred her trooper’s flee
My name is Little Jock Elliot
O wha daur meddle wi’ me?

Fully a week later Mary, set out from Jedburgh where she was dispensing justice accompanied by among others, Murray Huntly and Maitland. She returned the same day and it has been calculated that at most she could have spent maybe two hours at Hermitage. So much for Buchanan’s assertion;-

"being impatient of delay and not able to forbear, notwithstanding the severity of the season, the difficulty of the way, and the danger of robbers she hastened her journey accompanied by such such a company of men as no honest man even of a mean condition would have adventured his life and his goods"

It was of course on her return from Hermitage that Mary became gravely ill and nearly died.

Hermitage Castle has a stark striking beauty on a bleak landscape made beautiful by the very forcefulness of its impact and the splendour of its isolation .

So little has changed since this grim edifice was built in the thirteenth century by William de Soulis whose descendant suffered death by being rolled up in sheet of lead and placed in a boiling pot and many have shivered on entering its portals or even viewing from a far. There can be few castles anywhere more imposing or forbidding.

All of this could be lost if these proposals are to go through - shibboleths to cheap energy, monstrous obtrusions on the landscape, highly subsidised, forcing on all of us increased fuel bills and of course grossly inefficient, not operating when the winds fails to blow, usually the coldest days of the year or even when the wind blows too strongly.

Historic Scotland has said "Hermitage is of national importance, one of the great mediaeval fortresses of Scotland and the building of the turbines would have a significant impact on its setting".

Clan Armstrong Trut is urging members and supporters to lodge their objections and I personally will be doing so. I hope others will do likewise. See- . Http://

Ronald Morrison


Friday, 7 October 2011

Visit to Scone Place

Scone Palace

 Earlier this week visited Scone Palace - I think my first ever visit to the Palace itself.

A veritable treasure trove of fine furnishings, porcelain, ivories and objects d'art and as ever on visiting these fine houses with their wonderful collections came away feeling I had viewed but a small part and appreciated even less.

Of the furnishings perhaps the finest piece is a writing desk used by Marie Antoinette.

Mary never visited which is understandable granted that the original palace had been destroyed or at least badly damaged by the mob in 1559 and in any event was owned by the Ruthvens in many ways arch-enemies of the Queen.

However in the last room visited there are bed hangings and a tapestry said to have been worked by Mary during her time as a prisoner in Lochleven No indication of provenance was given. Mary seems to have spent a lot of time weaving even for a prisoner.

Below some images of the hangings.

During the tour it was mentioned that the last Protestant coronation indeed last coronation to be held in Scotland that of Charles 11 in 1651 was at Scone. Had an interesting discussion as to how it might have compared with that of James V1.

Ronald Morrison

Friday, 30 September 2011

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Scottish Branch of the Society will be on Monday 24th. October in the Quaker Meeting House Victoria Terrace Edinburgh - aim to be there for 7.00 p.m.

For full details of the Quaker Meeting House and how to get there see their website

On the evening we are very pleased to welcome Dr. Michael Turnbull who will speak on

The meeting is open to all - no charge.

Earlier a number of members will be meeting to enjoy a bite to eat in the The Royal McGregor 154 High Street.

In the aftrenoon at 2.30 p.m. some members will be meeting to view the Singing the Reformation exhibition in the University Library on George Square.If we can justify sufficient numbers we are hoping to be given a specialized guided tour. Quoting from the University's website re. the exhibition;

  • Step into the world of Reformation Scotland to see and hear how singing touched everyone.
  • Listen to the early music that was sung and played in early modern Scotland whilst viewing the original musical manuscripts and musical instruments.
  • Investigate how music was found within church and chamber and was part of life in ordinary households as well as in the royal court.
  • See how contemporary visual images of the natural world found in wall panels and paintings, minatures and needlework complement the songs and all ‘sing’ together with a 'chereful voyce'.
  • Examine the most important surviving source for Scotland’s early music found within Thomas Wode’s partbooks.
  • View all eight Partbooks brought together from across the world for the very first time.
  • Follow the careers of Thomas Wode, the man who preserved the music and of his patron Lord James Stewart, Regent Moray.
  • With the help of contemporary books, manuscripts, paintings and maps enter into the soundscape surrounding a Scot during the reign of King James VI.
  • Understand the role of psalm singing before and after the Protestant Reformation and how it continues to this day.
All enquiries contact Ronald Morrison

Looks like a most interesting day in prospect,

Friday, 23 September 2011

Mary,Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped off

Mary, Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off.

Have just learned that Liz Lockhead's highly acclaimed but historically very inaccurate play "Mary, Queen of Scots got her Head chopped off "will be running at the The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh until 15th. October.

So far as I can see the production would seem to be receiving very favourable reviews.

For full details of of cast, performance times and admission charges see


Saturday, 17 September 2011

Seige of Haddington Walk

Reconstruction by Andrew Spratt of English Earth and Timber Fortress at Haddington
during the Siege of 1548.

Jean Fairbairn has brought to my attention an Archaeological Walk organised by East Lothian Archaeological Service of the site of the Siege of Haddington in 1548 which is taking place on 29th. October.

This would form a very natural follow-up to the tour of  the Battlefield of Pinkie Cleugh recently enjoyed by several of our members - see report

The walk which will be led by Stephanie Leith will last from 10.00 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and there will be a charge of £3. Stout foot wear and wet weather gear are essential To book contact Stephanie on 01620 827408 or e-mail

Ronald Morrison

Monday, 5 September 2011

A Busy Week-end

A busy week-end for members of the Society.

Saturday saw the Society outing to Dunfermline and Rosyth Castle very ably organized by Society members, Lilian Cameron and Lindsay Fowell while on Sunday nine members enjoyed a mini-bus tour of Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield arranged by the Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Group.

Full reports of these outings on the website shortly.

Meantime though some images from Rosyth - unfortunately because of camera problems none from Sunday


Friday, 26 August 2011

Lord James by Catherine Hermany-Vielle

I have just been reading an article in this week’s ‘Southern Reporter’ regarding a  book launch in Melrose.

This is Catherine Hermany-Vielle’s  book “Lord James”, a best seller in France now translated into English. The English version was actually launched at several venues last autumn but the Scottish Borders launch which was to have taken place at Abbotsford House had to be postponed because of bad weather.

The author who is French was the winner of the Prix Femina in 1981 for her book’ Le Grand Vizir de la nuit’ and is a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. She now resides in Virginia, United States.

The novelised history which was launched by Burt’s Hotel in Melrose in association with Mason’s Bookshop Melrose deals with life of James Hepburn the 1V Earl of Bothwell, Mary’s third husband.

It is fair to say the book takes a much more favourable view of Bothwell and his motives than most accredited histories stressing how he alone of the nobles  remained completely loyal to the Queen at all times.
It is unfortunate though to see history twisted in the newspaper report which states “When a month after their marriage Mary was imprisoned by Elizabeth 1, Bothwell fled to Bergen now in  Norway, then part of Denmark before being arrested as a pirate and jailed”

This is course to completely overlook Mary’s period of imprisonment in Lochleven  and while it is true that Bothwell was originally arrested as a suspected pirate his continued detention had perhaps, more to do with Anna Thronsden his common law wife and his value to the Danish King, Frederick 11 in negotiations both with Moray and his successors as Regents of Scotland as well as with Elizabeth.

Below a photograph from the ‘Southern Reporter’ of the launch. This shows Tracy Mason of Mason’s Bookshop, Catherine Hermary-Veille and Society members Sir Alistair Buchan-Hepburn a direct descendent of the 4th. Earl.

Sir Alistair has been campaigning for six years now to have his ancestors remains currently in Farevejle Kirk  in Denmark returned to Scotland for appropriate and proper burial.

In the article Sir Alistair states, all his efforts notwithstanding, that the Danish authorities claim they have had no representations at all from Holyrood for return of the remains and that there can be no progress without such a request. However Sir Alistair also states that he is meeting with the new Chief Executive of Historic Scotland in October to discuss the matter. We can only await further developments.

Ronald Morrison.

Hardcover: 416 pages
Luath Press Ltd
ISBN-10: 1906817545
ISBN-13: 978-1906817541
Size: 23.6 x 15.2 x 4.6 cm

Monday, 22 August 2011

Marian Concert Linlithgow

Society member Gabrielle Khun has brought to our attention a concert in Linlithgow in which she will be taking part.

This will  be given by "Quern" and will be based on Mary's life interwoven with music of her time and will take place on Friday 28th. October next in Queen Margaret Hall Blackness Road Linlithgow.

For further information on Quern and fuller details on the concert see

Gabrielle is front row right.

Ronald Morrison

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Visit to Pinkiecleuch Battlefield

Memorial to the Battle of Pinkie on the A6094 between A1 junction and Wallyford

On the day after our visit to Dunfermline (see below) Sunday 4th. October a number of us will joining a mini-bus tour of the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh which was fought  on 10th. September 1547.

This was the last pitched battle fought between Scottish and English troops. Accounts of numbers taking part vary but at least by one account the Scots led by the Second Earl of Aran numbered 36,000 whereas the English led by the Earl of Hertford numbered perhaps 22000. Nevertheless it resulted in an overwhelming victory for the English and it  is estimated that 15,000 Scots were killed, and 1500 were captured, whereas English fatalities amounted to only 500.

For a full account of the Battle see

The Battle had been part of the Wars of the Rough Wooing  to enforce the marriage of Mary to the eldest son of Henry V111 the future Edward V1. Notwithstanding victory however Hertford effectively withdrew after the Battle and the result from the English point of view was counter productive the Scots as a consequence negotiating a marriage not with Edward but with Francis, the dauphin of France.

Should be a most interesting tour of a not inconsequential battle but one, Scotland's greatest ever defeat, virtually unknown today.

The tour starts at 1.30. Booking is required - telephone 01620 827408 - price £7 per person

Ronald Morrison

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Visit to Dunfermline

Abbot House
Following our tour of the recently restored Royal Apartments in Stirling Castle, the next outing of the Scottish Branch of the Society will take place on Saturday 3 September 2011 to the Royal Burgh of Dunfermline and surrounding area where Queen Mary visited several times.

We will meet for coffee in the War Room of Abbot House (above) in the Maygate, a “treasure house of Scottish History”, once the administrative headquarters of the first and richest Benedictine Abbey in Scotland and now an award winning heritage centre within a 14th-16th Century historic house.  There will be a morning tour of the “new” Abbey Church dating from 1821 and built on the site of the much earlier Medieval eastern limb of the old Abbey.  During construction the human remains considered to be those of Robert the Bruce (minus the heart and viscera!) were found and re-interred below the pulpit.  We will then have time to explore the ruins of the great Benedictine Abbey complex dating back to the time of St. Margaret, including the 12th century nave erected by David l (adjoining the new Abbey Church) and the Palace remains.  The former Abbey guest house, visited by Mary, was extensively remodelled by James Vl to provide accommodation for Queen Anne of Denmark and was the birthplace of the future Charles l and hus sister the future Elizabeth of Bohemia.  Following lunch at Abbot House there should be a short time to explore some of the galleries and displays in the House before we head off to Rosyth Castle for a guided tour of the ruins. We will end the day with afternoon tea at the Queensferry Hotel in North Queensferry with fine views over the river and Forth Bridges.

The programme timings are as follow:
9.45 am          Meet for coffee in the War Room (1st floor) Abbot House
                       (Please note the early and prompt start).  Centre opens 9.30am.
10.45-11.15      Abbey Church tour.
11.30-12.15        Medieval Abbey Nave and Palace visit (Historic Scotland. For non-members our Treasurer will collect monies during coffee, £4/3.20 conc. Members to bring cards)
12.30-1.30            Soup + sandwich lunch at Abbot House in the War Room.
1.30-2.15                Individual visits to galleries/displays in Abbot House. Entry: £4/3 conc. Payable at shop
2.15-300         Return to cars and travel to Rosyth Castle.
3.00-400                  Tour of Rosyth Castle. Limited parking so full car use appreciated. 
4.15-5.30                Afternoon tea at Queensferry Hotel, North Queensferry.  Easy bus/rail links.

As you will note the day is quite structured, so if you plan to join us we would appreciate your co-operation with regard to timings.  Cost for the day is £15.00 per person and includes coffee and lunch
at Abbot House and tea at Queensferry Hotel.  We propose to subsidise car parking cost (if applicable) from Branch funds.  Travel maps and parking suggestions are included with this letter.

Please contact the Treasurer, Mr Ian Lumsdaine, address and telephone number above (e-mail, with your payment by Friday 26 August 2011 latest if you plan to come.

Lilian Cameron and Lindsey Fowell  

Friday, 12 August 2011

Visit to Sheffield

Gabrielle Kuhn has forwarded a number of images from the Society's Annual Conference at Sheffield Manor in April. Above is a small selection;