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Mary's escape from Lochleven











In every successful escape there has been a strong element of luck, favouring the daring and ingenuity of the fugitive.

A romantic flight planned by two young lads, George and Willie Douglas, was that of the unfortunate, fatally fascinating, and beautiful Mary, Queen of Scots from Lochleven. This very ancient partly Pictish castle, now a desolate ruin, where Mary was doomed to pass so many weary hours, after her dethronement and imprisonment by her hypocritical illegitimate half-brother, the "Regent' Moray, lolen Xnox (@John Knox?), and the "Reformed' party, is situated on a small island then the haunt of game and moor fowl in a wide expanse of stormy water surrounded by the Lomond Hills, and was at that, time a Royal desmesne, reserved for hunting and fishing. Here Mary had often stayed in the Royal Apartments in happier day, when a fearless rider and a tíreless huntress, she pursued her quarry with hawk and hound.


Moray had given Mary into the hands of two of her bitterest enemies, his mother, the Countess of Douglas, formerly the Mistress of King James IV., and his half brother, Sir William Douglas, governor of the castle. The Countess had a large family and ber youngest son, George, was only two years older than Willie Douglas, a boy of 16, a natural son of Sir William, but brought up as a gentleman and acknowledged as a member of the family. The lads became infatuated with the beauty and grace of the imprisoned Queen, and began to make plans for her liberation. George had nearly succeeded in affecting Mary's escape, disguised as the castle laundress, but half way across the Loch the rowers, noticing her white, ringed hands, turned the boat back to the castle. For this offence, George was driven from his home by the angry governor and forbidden to return. The Queen was not permitted to occupy the Royal Apartments, but was lodged in a turret in the south-east corner of thc castle, the sole approach to which was through a guarded quadrangle, enclosed hy lofty stone walls.

The Queen's bedroom in the turret was approached by passing through that of her maidens, the "Queen's Maries," and the rooms apportioned io them, including a small "Presence Chamber." were carefully locked up every evening at supper time, the keys given into the custody of the governor with all the other keys of the castle. Willie decided on a bold plan, which was to steal the keys and liberate Mary.


 Communication was established between him and George on the mainland, and a message taken lo the Earl of Seton (one of the Queen's most faithful friend), who gathered a body of picked horsemen in a quiet glen in the Lomonds to await events. They had to wait some time before Willie could arrange for this fateful day. According to some authorities he had to make a set of faise keys to replace the governor's.

Finally, on Sunday evening, May 2. 1568, the attempt was made. At 7.30 the guards who watched the gates left their posts to sup with the family - and every gate and door was locked, and the keys placed beside the governor on the high table where he and his mother sat in state, on the dais.


Willie Douglas, white waiting on the Countess, in the character of a knightly page, contrived to drop a napkin over the keys. and. to substitute the false ones, adroitly rolling the real keys in the napkin, to keep them from jingling. With incredible audacity he hastened from the hall, locking the door, and hurried up to Mary's rooms, and unlocked the doors. She had changed clothes with the tallest and stoutest of her ladies. Mary Seton, who was left behind, with the dangerous task of impersonating the Queen.


Away they rushed, relocking all the gates and doors behind them to a little postern-gate, where Willie's own little skiff was moored. Willie had previously taken ike precaution to knock hole in the bottoms of the other boats.


Mary, impetuous as over, seized an oar to help the boat along. In their haste, queen and page, bad forgotten Jane Kennedy, one of the Queen's attendants, who was to have accompanied her, carrying some jewels and other valuables. Jane found the doors locked before her, but nothing daunted, the brave lass leapt from the window of the Queen's chamber into the Loch and swam stoutly till she overtook thc boat, and was dragged into it, in her dripping garments. Half-way across Queen Mary rose and waved her veil, thc preconceived signal to her followers, and Willie threw the keys into tho Loch, whence by chance they were fished up over 200 years later (in 1805). On reaching the mainland, Mary found Seton and his gallant band awaiting her.

A comic feature of the proceedings is that the enraged inhabitants of the castle were spectators of the Queen's flight across the Loch and her safe arrival on the shore which, they were powerless to prevent. It is sad to recall that the efforts of this brave boy were quite in vain, for May 13 saw Marv's followers beaten and dispersed in ail directions, and the unhappy Queen starting on her fatal journey over the border, with the intention of throwing herself on the mercy of Elizabeth of England a resolution which led lo her weary imprisonment of 19 years, and ultimately to her death on the block at Fotheringay Castle.




See also:

  • Mary, Queen of Scots biography
  • Lochleven castle

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    Last modified: Tuesday, 01 February 2022