EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
On 19 August 1561, Mary, Queen of Scots, stepped ashore from the boat that had brought her from France. She was arriving into the port of Leith, on Scotland's eastern coast, today one of the suburbs of Edinburgh. It was nine months since the death of her husband, King Francis II of France, and Mary was still just 18 years old.
Mary had been in France since the age of five, and was now returning to Scotland as its queen for the first time as an adult. During her childhood the country had been governed by a succession of men who had ruled as regents in her place, but now she was of an age to take responsibility for her country, and she was returning home under a veil of grief for both her dead husband and her mother who had died the previous summer.
Arriving back in Edinburgh as a virtual stranger - there are still many who believe she didn't even have a grasp of the language, having been raised speaking French at court in France - Mary must have been acutely aware of the challenges she faced as a young woman governing a country that was in the midst of social and religious upheaval. Mary was a devout Catholic, but in 1560 Scotland had undergone its religious Reformation, shifting to a Protestant church and making the practice of Catholic mass as criminal offence.
Mary had brought with her a substantial retinue of court staff, including four ladies-in-waiting who had been raised with her as girls from childhood. These women, Mary Seaton, Mary Beaton, Mary Carmichael and Mary Hamilton - the Four Marys, as they are known - were probably the closest link the queen had to her own country, and remained an important part of her throughout her reign. Mary had also brought a significant number of servants, courtiers, cooks, musicians, dressmakers, and other figures who had populated her life in France, and she established them in the settlement just outside Craigmillar Castle, near the modern Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. There were so many of them that the are became known - as it still is today - as Little France.
Mary's journey to Leith had taken less time than she had anticipated, and she was not as prepared for this momentous arrival as she would have liked to have been. Moreover, the coast was shrouded in haar, the thick see mist that Edinburghers are familiar with, and so Mary's first glimpse of her homeland would have been murky and obscured.
In the first week of September 1561, a grand homecoming parade was held to celebrate Mary's return, and as she processed along the length of the Royal Mile - travelling down from the castle to the palace - Mary was greeted by thousands of people who had turned out to see their queen for the first time in thirteen years.
The procession was led by the lords and nobles of Scotland, followed by 50 young men in yellow costumes and masks. Triumphal arches and ornate decorations were strung almost the length of the city, with choirs and small groups of performers creating a magnificent pageant spectacle.
Outside St Giles' Cathedral, wine was poured down the spouts of the mercat cross, a free fountain of celebratory alcohol for the people to drink, and the only small act of rebellion was the burning of a papier maché dragon outside the Netherbow Port, considered by some to be symbolic of the Pope, a mortal enemy now to the Protestant Scots.
Whilst the celebrations of that period masked deeper instability across Scotland, it's fair to say that Mary was given a truly spectacular welcoming back to her homeland. What she couldn't have foreseen, perhaps, were the many years of turbulence, bloodshed and unhappiness which would come to be the hallmark of the later years of reign.
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Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...