1567-1568: Imprisonment and abdication

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  • Looking across to Craignethan Castle in South Lanarkshire © Historic Scotland
    Craignethan Castle in South Lanarkshire © Historic Scotland
  • Dundrennan Abbey in Dumfries & Galloway, where Mary, Queen of Scots, would spend her last hours in Scotland.
    Dundrennan Abbey, near Kirkcudbright © Historic Scotland
  • Lochleven Castle where Mary, Queen of Scots, was confined for almost a year.
    Lochleven Castle in Perth and Kinross © Historic Scotland

Take a journey through Mary’s final period as queen following her imprisonment in Lochleven Castle where she was forced to abdicate. Read about her famous escape by rowing boat, her subsequent revocation of her abdication, and her eventual flight to England.

Imprisonment and miscarriage: 17 June 1567 - 2 May 1568

Aged 24

Mary was to spend almost a year confined to Lochleven Castle, situated on an island in the eponymous loch. Within a few days of her arrival she fell ill, and in late July miscarried twins fathered by Bothwell. Her loss must have been compounded by the disappearance of Bothwell, who was driven into exile in Denmark, where he was imprisoned, became insane and died in 1578.The Lochleven Hanging is made of wool, velvet appliqué and silk embroidery © National Museums Scotland

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National Museum of Scotland You can see the Lochleven Hanging, of wool, velvet appliqué and silk embroidery, which was long thought to have been worked by Mary during her captivity. However, research has proved it is of early 17th century origin.

Abdication: 24 July 1567

Aged 24

Just a few days after the traumatic loss of her twins, Mary received a visit from two Lords of the Congregation – the alliance of noblemen who had risen against Mary. They brought with them an ultimatum: abdicate or die. They threatened to cut her throat if she refused to sign a Deed of Abdication. Mary had no alternative but to relinquish the throne in favour of her infant son, James, with her Protestant half-brother, Lord Moray, acting as regent.

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Lochleven Castle At this lochside castle in Perth and Kinross, the room where Mary was probably held can be visited today.

Escape to defeat: 2 May - 13 May 1568

Aged 25

With the aid of castle insiders, Mary managed to evade notice during the festivities of a May Day masque and was smuggled away by rowing boat. She was met on the far bank and taken first to Niddry Castle, and then to Cadzow Castle. She immediately revoked her abdication, and succeeded in raising a force of about 6,000 men. Intending to take an impregnable position in Dumbarton Castle, her army was intercepted by that of her half-brother Moray, who defeated her at the Battle of Langside south of Glasgow on 13 May 1568. Mary and her escort took flight; unable to reach Dumbarton Castle, and later writing ‘I have had to sleep upon the ground and drink sour milk’ she sought refuge in Dundrennan Abbey, where she would spend her last hours in Scotland.

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Niddry Castle Situated in West Lothian, this private towerhouse is one of many in Scotland said to be haunted by Mary’s spirit. 

Cadzow Castle Cadzow is today known as Hamilton, and the castle ruins sit above the Avon Gorge in Chatelherault Country Park. The castle was largely destroyed in the late 16th century as retaliation for support of Mary. 

Dundrennan Abbey You can still visit this peaceful ruin today, set in wooded Kirkudbrightshire.

Craignethan Castle Mary is believed to have rested here overnight before the Battle of Langside.

Exile and confinement: 16 May 1568

Aged 25

Against the advice of her supporters, Mary decided to seek help from Queen Elizabeth I. On the morning of 16 May 1568, disguised as an ordinary woman, she escaped by fishing boat across the Solway. She was taken into protective custody, initially at Carlisle Castle. Some three weeks later a royal envoy arrived to inform her that Elizabeth would not receive her in London until she had been cleared of all accusations against her. So began Mary’s period of house arrest in England. Almost seven years after her homecoming, she would never see her child, her husband, or her native country again.