1543 - 1561 Smuggled to France

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  • This medieval castle sheltered Mary, Queen of Scots, and provided a safe ‘gateway’ for her eventual flight to France.
    Dumbarton Castle in West Dunbartonshire
  • The Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Abbey were both looted in 1544  by Henry VIII’s forces.
    Holyrood Abbey at the Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh © Royal Collection Trust

Explore a fascinating period in Mary’s life where she was smuggled to France by King Henry II of France who proposed to unite Scotland and France through the marriage of Mary and his three-year-old son, François, the Dauphin (his eldest son and heir). 

The Rough Wooing: December 1543 - March 1550

On 11 December 1543 the Scottish Parliament rejected the Treaty of Greenwich. Henry VIII resolved to force the marriage between Mary and Prince Edward, and in May 1544 his troops raided Edinburgh. This so-called ‘Rough Wooing’ culminated in a catastrophic Scots defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, near Musselburgh, in September 1547. Mary’s guardians moved her, then aged four years and nine months, to Inchmahome Priory, 15 miles west of Stirling Castle.

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The Palace of Holyroodhouse and its adjacent Abbey which were both looted in 1544, when Edinburgh was systematically sacked and burned by Henry VIII’s forces.

The Abbey adjacent to the Palace of Holyroodhouse © Royal Collection Trust


Inchmahome Priory This peaceful sanctuary lies in the Lake of Menteith, where you'll find Mary’s name is still attached to the little box bower that grows in the centre of the island.

Auld alliance renewed: Early 1548

Aged 5

In return for military aid against the English, King Henry II of France proposed to unite Scotland and France through the marriage of Mary and his three-year-old son, the Dauphin François. On 7 July 1548, the Scottish Parliament approved the marriage treaty, and Mary was moved again for her safety, on this occasion to the heavily fortified Dumbarton Castle.

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Dumbarton Castle Guarded by sheer volcanic cliffs, and overlooking the Firth of Clyde, this formidable medieval castle sheltered Mary Queen of Scots, and provided a safe ‘gateway’ for her eventual flight to France. 

Smuggled to France: 7 August 1548

Aged 5 years and 9 months

The fleet sent by King Henry II of France sailed from Dumbarton, and arrived in Brittany around a week later. Mary was accompanied by her own court, including two half-brothers (King James V fathered nine known illegitimate children), the ‘four Marys’ – girls of her own age from noble Scottish families, all named Mary – and Janet, Lady Fleming, her appointed governess and half-sister of Mary’s father.

Mary’s earliest known letter©  National Records of ScotlandDiscover more

National Records of Scotland In 1550, aged just seven, Mary wrote to her mother, Marie de Guise, who had remained in Scotland. Mary’s earliest known letter, it was written in French, and explained that her French envoy de Brezé had ‘instructions from the King to tell you all the latest news, which prevents me from writing you a longer letter.’

Precocious beauty: August 1548 - August 1561

Aged 5 - 18, living in France

Mary’s childhood in France was a happy one, growing up amidst a circle of some 40 royal children. She learned to play lute and virginals (small version of the harpsichord); she loved dancing, and became competent in prose, poetry, horsemanship, falconry and needlework. She was taught French, Italian, Latin, Spanish and Greek, in addition to speaking her native Scots. She grew to 5’11” – and according to contemporary accounts was a striking auburn-haired beauty.