Mary Queen of Scots and Dumbarton Castle
Mary Queen of Scots acceded to the Scottish throne when she was six days old. Almost immediately, the subject of her future marriage became of vital importance, not just for Scotland. Given the position of women in the sixteenth century, her future husband was likely to become the de facto King of Scots.
Both Henry VIII of England and Henri II of France wished her to marry their son. Originally, Mary’s hand was promised to Edward, the heir to the English throne in the Treaty of Greenwich, signed in July 1543, but five months later the Scots rejected this treaty. Henry VIII sent an army into Scotland in the wars known as ‘The Rough Wooing’. Eventually, the Scottish parliament decided on a French match, always the preferred option of Mary’s mother, the French Marie de Guise.
Five-year-old Mary was brought to Dumbarton Castle in February 1548 and stayed there until the French king’s own royal galley, escorted by three other ships and under the command of Admiral Villegaignon, arrived in July to take her to France.
During her stay at the castle Mary became ill, most likely with measles and a rumour spread that she had died. In July of that year a treaty was signed between France and Scotland. Mary was to marry the Dauphin of France.
These were dangerous times. Henry VIII had died, but Somerset, the English Protector, had sent out ships under the command of Admiral Clinton to intercept the French vessels and prevent Mary from reaching France. The French ships set out from Leith, as if heading for France, but then turned north and sailed round the top of the Scottish mainland, braving the dangerous waters of the Pentland Firth, then down the west coast of Scotland to Dumbarton.
Mary boarded on July 29th, accompanied by a large entourage, including at least two of her half-brothers and the ‘four Maries’, her childhood companions. Bad weather delayed the departure until August 7th. French accounts of her departure mention that already, as a child of five, she had a notable presence and bore herself like a queen. Eight days later Mary landed in France, at Saint-Pol-de-Leon, near Roscoff.
Mary grew up at the French court and eventually became Queen of France but her husband died shortly afterwards and she returned to Scotland in 1561 to begin her short, tumultuous and ultimately disastrous personal reign.
She returned, once, to Dumbarton Castle and was said to be heading there when she was intercepted and forced to fight at Langside in 1568. Just days after her defeat, she fled to England, never to return.
Dumbarton Castle continued to be held by her supporters for another three years, until a daring raid by Crawford of Jordanhill, who, with a small group of men, scaled the castle in 1571 and captured it for the infant James VI, Mary’s son.