Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott

Loch Leven Castle

Grange, or, as he is sometimes called Kircaldy, his title in full being Grange of Kircaldy, was a man of integrity and honor, and he, having been the negotiator through whose intervention Mary gave herself up, felt himself bound to see that the stipulations on the part of the nobles should be honorably fulfilled. He did all in his power to protect Mary from insult on the journey, and he struck with his sword and drove away some of the populace who were addressing her with taunts and reproaches. When he found that the nobles were confining her and treating her so much more like a captive than like a queen, he remonstrated with them. They silenced him by showing him a letter, which they said they had intercepted on its way from Mary to Bothwell. It was written, they said on the night of Mary's arrival at Edinburgh. It assured Bothwell that she retained an unaltered affection for him; that her consenting to be separated from him at Carberry Hill was a matter of mere necessity, and that she should rejoin him as soon as it was in her power to do so. This letter showed, they said, that, after all, Mary was not, as they had supposed, Bothwell's captive and victim, but that she was his accomplice and friend; and that, now that they had discovered their mistake, they must treat Mary, as well as Bothwell, as an enemy, and take effectual means to protect themselves from the one as well as from the other. Mary's friends maintain that this letter was a forgery.

They accordingly took Mary, as has been already stated, from the provost's house in Edinburgh down to Holyrood House, which was just without the city. This, however, was only a temporary change. That night they came into the palace, and directed Mary to rise and put on a traveling dress which they brought her. They did not tell her where she was to go, but simply ordered her to follow them. It was midnight. They took her forth from the palace, mounted her upon a horse, and, with Ruthven and Lindsay, two of the murderers of Rizzio, for an escort, they rode away. They traveled all night, crossed the River Forth and arrived in the morning at the Castle of Loch Leven.

The Castle of Loch Leven is on a small island in the middle of the loch. It is nearly north from Edinburgh. The castle buildings covered at that time about one half of the island, the water coming up to the walls on three sides. On the other side was a little land, which was cultivated as a garden. The buildings inclosed a considerable area. There was a great square tower, marked on the plan below, which was the residence of the family. It consisted of four or five rooms, one over the other. The cellar, or rather, what would be the cellar in other cases, was a dungeon for such prisoners as were to be kept in close confinement. The only entrance to this building was through a window in the second story, by means of a ladder which was raised and let down by a chain. This was over the point marked e  on the plan. The chain was worked at a window in the story above. There were various other apartments and structures about the square, and among them there was a small octagonal tower in the corner at m  which consisted within of one room over another for three stories, and a flat roof with battlements above. In the second story there was a window, w, looking upon the water. This was the only window having an external aspect in the whole fortress, all the other openings in the exterior walls being mere loopholes and embrasures.

The following is a general plan of Loch Leven Castle:

[Illustration] from Mary Queen of Scots by Jacob Abbott

This castle was in possession of a certain personage styled the Lady Douglas. She was the mother of the Lord James, afterward the Earl of Murray, who has figured so conspicuously in this history as Mary's half brother, and at first her friend and counselor, though afterward her foe. Lady Douglas was commonly called the Lady of Loch Leven. She maintained that she had been lawfully married to James V., Mary's father, and that consequently her son, and not Mary, was the rightful heir to the crown. Of course she was Mary's natural enemy. They selected her castle as the place of Mary's confinement partly on this account, and partly on account of its inaccessible position in the midst of the waters of the lake. They delivered the captive queen, accordingly, to the Lady Douglas and her husband, charging them to keep her safely. The Lady Douglas received her, and locked her up in the octagonal tower with the window looking out upon the water.

In the mean time, all Scotland took sides for or against the queen. The strongest party were against her; and the Church was against her, on account of their hostility to the Catholic religion. A sort of provisional government was instituted, which assumed the management of public affairs. Mary had, however, some friends, and they soon began to assemble in order to see what could be done for her cause. Their rendezvous was at the Palace of Hamilton. This palace was situated on a plain in the midst of a beautiful park, near the River Clyde, a few miles from Glasgow. The Duke of Hamilton was prominent among the supporters of the queen, and made his house their head-quarters. They were often called, from this circumstance, the Hamilton lords.

On the other hand, the party opposed to Mary made the castle of Stirling their head-quarters, because the young prince was there, in whose name they were proposing soon to assume the government. Their plan was to depose Mary, or induce her to abdicate the throne, and then to make Murray regent, to govern the country in the name of the prince until the prince should become of age. During all this time Murray had been absent in France, but they now sent urgent messages to him to return. He obeyed the summons, and turned his face toward Scotland.

In the mean time, Mary continued in confinement in her little tower. She was not treated like a common prisoner, but had, in some degree, the attentions due to her rank. There were five or six female, and about as many male attendants; though, if the rooms which are exhibited to visitors at the present day as the apartments which she occupied are really such, her quarters were very contracted. They consist of small apartments of an octagonal form, one over the other, with tortuous and narrow stair-cases in the solid wall to ascend from one to the other. The roof and the floors of the tower are now gone, but the stairways, the capacious fire-places, the loop-holes, and the one window remain, enabling the visitor to reconstruct the dwelling in imagination, and even to fancy Mary herself there again, seated on the stone seat by the window, looking over the water at the distant hills, and sighing to be free.

The Hamilton lords were not strong enough to attempt her rescue. The weight of influence and power throughout the country went gradually and irresistibly into the other scale. There were great debates among the authorities of government as to what should be done. The Hamilton lords made proposals in behalf of Mary which the government could not accede to. Other proposals were made by different parties in the councils of the insurgent nobles, some more and some less hard for the captive queen. The conclusion, however, finally was, to urge Mary to resign her crown in favor of her son, and to appoint Murray, when he should return, to act as regent till the prince should be of age.

They accordingly sent commissioners to Loch Leven to propose these measures to the queen. There were three instruments of abdication prepared for her to sign. By one she resigned the crown in favor of her son. By the second she appointed Murray to be regent as soon as he should return from France. By the third she appointed commissioners to govern the country until Murray should return., They knew that Mary would be extremely unwilling to sign these papers, and yet that they must contrive, in some way, to obtain her signature without any open violence; for the signature, to be of legal force, must be, in some sense, her voluntary act.

The two commissioners whom they sent to her were Melville and Lindsay. Melville was a thoughtful and a reasonable man, who had long been in Mary's service, and who possessed a great share of her confidence and good will. Lindsay was, on the other hand, of an overbearing and violent temper, of very rude speech and demeanor, and was known to be unfriendly to the queen. They hoped that Mary would be induced to sign the papers by Melville's gentle persuasions; if not, Lindsay was to see what he could do by denunciations and threats.

When the two commissioners arrived at the castle, Melville alone went first into the presence of the queen. He opened the subject to her in a gentle and respectful manner. He laid before her the distracted state of Scotland, the uncertain and vague suspicions floating in the public mind on the subject of Darnley's murder, and the irretrievable shade which had been thrown over her position by the unhappy marriage with Bothwell; and he urged her to consent to the proposed measures, as the only way now left to restore peace to the land. Mary heard him patiently, but replied that she could not consent to his proposal. By doing so she should not only sacrifice her own rights, and degrade herself from the position she was entitled to occupy, but she should, in some sense, acknowledge herself guilty of the charges brought against her, and justify her enemies.

Melville, finding that his efforts were vain, called Lindsay in. He entered with a fierce and determined air. Mary was reminded of the terrible night when he and Ruthven broke into her little supper-room at Holyrood in quest of Rizzio. She was agitated and alarmed. Lindsay assailed her with denunciations and threats of the most violent character. There ensued a scene of the most rough and ferocious passion on the one side, and of anguish, terror, and despair on the other, which is said to have made this day the most wretched of all the wretched days of Mary's life. Sometimes she sat pale, motionless, and almost stupefied. At others, she was overwhelmed with sorrow and tears. She finally yielded; and, taking the pen, she signed the papers. Lindsay and Melville took them, left the castle gate, entered their boat, and were rowed away to the shore.

This was on the 25th of July, 1567, and four days afterward the young prince was crowned at Stirling. His title was James VI. Lindsay made oath at the coronation that he was a witness of Mary's abdication of the crown in favor of her son, and that it was her own free and voluntary act. James was about one year old. The coronation took place in the chapel where Mary had been crowned in her infancy, about twenty-five years before. Mary herself, though unconscious of her own coronation, mourned bitterly over that of her son. Unhappy mother! how little was she aware, when her heart was filled with joy and gladness at his birth, that in one short year his mere existence would furnish to her enemies the means of consummating and sealing her ruin.

On returning from the chapel to the state apartments of the castle, after the coronation, the noblemen by whom the infant had been crowned walked in solemn procession, bearing the badges and insignia of the newly-invested royalty. One carried the crown. Morton, who was to exercise the government until Murray should return, followed with the scepter, and a third bore the infant king, who gazed about unconsciously upon the scene, regardless alike of his mother's lonely wretchedness and of his own new scepter and crown.

In the mean time, Murray was drawing near toward the confines of Scotland. He was somewhat uncertain how to act. Having been absent for some time in France and on the Continent, he was not certain how far the people of Scotland were really and cordially in favor of the revolution which had been effected. Mary's friends might claim that her acts of abdication, having been obtained while she was under duress, were null and void, and if they were strong enough they might attempt to reinstate her upon the throne. In this case, it would be better for him not to have acted with the insurgent government at all. To gain information on these points, Murray sent to Melville to come and meet him on the border. Melville came. The result of their conferences was, that Murray resolved to visit Mary in her tower before he adopted any decisive course.

Murray accordingly journeyed northward to Loch Leven, and, embarking in the boat which plied between the castle and the shore, he crossed the sheet of water, and was admitted into the fortress. He had a long interview with Mary alone. At the sight of her long-absent brother, who had been her friend and guide in her early days of prosperity and happiness, and who had accompanied her through so many changing scenes, and who now returned, after his long separation from her, to find her a lonely and wretched captive involved in irretrievable ruin, if not in acknowledged guilt, she was entirely overcome by her emotions. She burst into tears and could not speak. What further passed at this interview was never precisely known. They parted tolerably good friends, however, and yet Murray immediately assumed the government, by which it is supposed that he succeeded in persuading Mary that such a step was now best for her sake as well as for that of all others concerned.

Murray, however, did not fail to warn her, as he himself states, in a very serious manner, against any attempt to change her situation. "Madam," said he, "I will plainly declare to you what the sources of danger are from which I think you have most to apprehend. First, any attempt, of whatever kind, that you may make to create disturbance in the country, through friends that may still adhere to your cause, and to interfere with the government of your son; secondly, devising or attempting any plan of escape from this island; thirdly, taking any measures for inducing the Queen of England or the French king to come to your aid; and, lastly, persisting in your attachment to Earl Bothwell." He warned Mary solemnly against any and all of these, and then took his leave. He was soon after proclaimed regent. A Parliament was assembled to sanction all their proceedings, and the new government was established, apparently upon a firm foundation.

Mary remained, during the winter, in captivity, earnestly desiring, however, notwithstanding Murray's warning, to find some way of escape. She knew that there must be many who had remained friends to her cause. She thought that if she could once make her escape from her prison, these friends would rally around her, and that she could thus, perhaps, regain her throne again. But strictly watched as she was, and in a prison which was surrounded by the waters of a lake, all hope of escape seemed to be taken away.

Now there were, in the family of the Lord Douglas at the castle, two young men, George and William Douglas. The oldest, George, was about twenty-five years of age, and the youngest was seventeen. George was the son of Lord and Lady Douglas who kept the castle. William was an orphan boy, a relative, who, having no home, had been received into the family. These young men soon began to feel, a strong interest in the beautiful captive confined in their father's castle, and, before many months, this interest became so strong that they began to feel willing to incur the dangers and responsibilities of aiding her in effecting her escape. They had secret conferences with Mary on the subject. They went to the shore on various pretexts, and contrived to make their plans known to Mary's friends, that they might be ready to receive her in case they should succeed.

The plan at length was ripe for execution. It was arranged thus. The castle not being large, there was not space within its walls for all the accommodations required for its inmates; much was done on the shore, where there was quite a little village of attendants and dependents pertaining to the castle. This little village has since grown into a flourishing manufacturing town, where a great variety of plaids, and tartans, and other Scotch fabrics are made. Its name is Kinross. Communication with this part of the shore was then, as now, kept up by boats, which generally then belonged to the castle, though now to the town.

On the day when Mary was to attempt her escape, a servant woman was brought by one of the castle boats from the shore with a bundle of clothes for Mary. Mary, whose health and strength had been impaired by her confinement and sufferings, was often in her bed. She was so at this time, though perhaps she was feigning now more feebleness than she really felt. The servant woman came into her apartment and undressed herself, while Mary rose, took the dress which she laid aside, and put it on as a disguise. The woman took Mary's place in bed. Mary covered her face with a muffler, and, taking another bundle in her hand to assist in her disguise, she passed across the court, issued from the castle gate, went to the landing stairs, and stepped into the boat for the men to row her to the shore.

The oarsmen, who belonged to the castle, supposing that all was right, pushed off, and began to row toward the land. As they were crossing the water, however, they observed that their passenger was very particular to keep her face covered, and attempted to pull away the muffler, saying, "Let us see what kind of a looking damsel this is." Mary, in alarm, put up her hands to her face to hold the muffler there. The smooth, white, and delicate fingers revealed to the men at once that they were carrying away a lady in disguise. Mary, finding that concealment was no longer possible, dropped her muffler, looked upon the men with composure and dignity, told them that she was their queen, that they were bound by their allegiance to her to obey her commands, and she commanded them to go on and row her to the shore.

The men decided, however, that their allegiance was due to the lord of the castle rather than to the helpless captive trying to escape from it. They told her that they must return. Mary was not only disappointed at the failure of her plans, but she was now anxious lest her friends, the young Douglases, should be implicated in the attempt, and should suffer in consequence of it. The men, however, solemnly promised her, that if she would quietly return, they would not make the circumstances known. The secret, however, was too great a secret to be kept. In a few days it all came to light. Lord and Lady Douglas were very angry with their son, and banished him, together with two of Mary's servants, from the castle. Whatever share young William Douglas had in the scheme was not found out, and he was suffered to remain. George Douglas went only to Kinross. He remained there watching for another opportunity to help Mary to her freedom.

Loch Leven Castle


In the mean time, the watch and ward held over Mary was more strict and rigorous than ever, her keepers being resolved to double their vigilance, while George and William, on the other hand, resolved to redouble their exertions to find some means to circumvent it. William, who was only a boy of seventeen, and who remained within the castle, acted his part in a very sagacious and admirable manner. He was silent, and assumed a thoughtless and unconcerned manner in his general deportment, which put every one off their guard in respect to him. George, who was at Kinross, held frequent communications with the Hamilton lords, encouraging them to hope for Mary's escape, and leading them to continue in combination, and to be ready to act at a moment's warning. They communicated with each other, too, by secret means, across the lake, and with Mary in her solitary tower. It is said that George, wishing to make Mary understand that their plans for rescuing her were not abandoned, and not having the opportunity to do so directly, sent her a picture of the mouse liberating the lion from his snares, hoping that she would draw from the picture the inference which he intended.

At length the time arrived for another attempt. It was about the first of May. There was a window in Mary's tower looking out over the water. George Douglas's plan was to bring a boat up to this window in the night, and take Mary down the wall into it. The place of egress by which Mary escaped is called in some of the accounts a postern gate, and yet tradition at the castle says that it was through this window. It is not improbable that this window might have been, intended to he used sometimes as a, postern gate, and that the iron grating with which it was guarded was made to open and shut, the key being kept with the other keys of the castle.

The time for the attempt was fixed upon for Sunday night, on the 2nd of May. George Douglas was ready with the boat early in the evening. When it was dark, he rowed cautiously across the water, and took his position under Mary's window. William Douglas was in the mean time at supper in the great square tower with his father and mother. The keys were lying upon the table. He contrived to get them into his possession, and then cautiously stole away. He locked the tower as he came out, went across the court to Mary's room, liberated her through the postern window, and descended with her into the boat. One of her maids, whose name was Jane Kennedy, was to have accompanied her, but, in their eagerness to make sure of Mary, they forgot or neglected her, and she had to leap down after them, which feat she accomplished without any serious injury. The boat pushed off immediately, and the Douglases began to pull hard for the shore. They threw the keys of the castle into the lake, as if the impossibility of recovering them, in that case, made the imprisonment of the family more secure. The whole party were, of course, in the highest state of excitement and agitation. Jane Kennedy helped to row, and it is said that even Mary applied her strength to one of the oars.

They landed safely on the south side of the loch, far from Kinross. Several of the Hamilton lords were ready there to receive the fugitive. They mounted her on horseback, and galloped away. There was a strong party to escort her. They rode hard all night, and the next morning they arrived safely at Hamilton. "Now," said Mary, "I am once more a queen."

It was true. She was again a queen. Popular feeling ebbs and flows with prodigious force, and the change from one state to the other depends, sometimes, on very accidental causes. The news of Mary's escape spread rapidly over the land. Her friends were encouraged and emboldened. Sympathies, long dormant and inert, were awakened in her favor. She issued a proclamation, declaring that her abdication had been forced upon her, and, as such, was null and void. She summoned Murray to surrender his powers as regent, and to come and receive orders from her. She called upon all her faithful subjects to take up arms and gather around her standard. Murray refused to obey, but large masses of the people gave in their adhesion to their liberated queen, and flocked to Hamilton to enter into her service. In a week Mary found herself at the head of an army of six thousand men.

Loch Leven Castle


The Castle of Loch Leven is now a solitary ruin. The waters of the loch have been lowered by means of an excavation of the outlet, and a portion of land has been. left bare around the walls, which the proprietor has planted with trees. Visitors are taken from Kinross in a boat to view the scene. The square tower, though roofless and desolate, still stands. The window in the second story, which served as the entrance, and the one above, where the chain was worked, with the deep furrows in the sill cut by its friction, are shown by the guide. The courtyard is overgrown with weeds, and encumbered with fallen stones and old foundations. The chapel is gone, though its outline may be still traced in the ruins of its walls. The octagonal tower which Mary occupied remains, and the visitors, climbing up by the narrow stone stairs in the wall, look out at the window over the waters of the loch and the distant hills, and try to recreate in imagination the scene which the apartment presented when the unhappy captive was there.