Patty Vengeance is actually into Mary, Queen of Scots: “She’s seen as this feminist icon. For me, although, it’s extra that she’s relatable – as a robust lady and a survivor.”
The 29-year-old author and musician, who fronts the riot grrrl band Fistymuffs, is standing by the sting of the water in Leith, the place, in keeping with a plaque set into the quayside, Mary arrived from France within the haar-veiled early morning of 19 August 1561. The widowed teenager – tall, red-haired, an unearthly magnificence – was the anointed ruler of Scotland, and she or he had come residence.
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“She was a tragic determine,” says Patty, who lives on this more and more hipsterish district of Edinburgh. “However she was decided and resilient. I love her very a lot.”
How extraordinary that the life and dying of this 16th-century queen continues to talk to us, maybe to ladies specifically, within the 21st century.
A forthcoming movie, Mary Queen of Scots, stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth, who in 1587 ordered the execution of her cousin and rival for the English throne. The movie is more likely to reignite curiosity within the many castles and different areas related along with her dramatic reign, and has prompted Historic Surroundings Scotland to revamp its Mary, Queen of Scots path. A high-quality alternative, then, to comply with in her footsteps, retracing her extraordinary journey via Scotland.

Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots within the Scottish Nationwide Portrait Gallery.
Edinburgh is the place to begin. Mary feels very current in Scotland’s capital. On show within the Scottish Nationwide Portrait Gallery is maybe her most well-known portrait – ravenishly regal in a black robe, proper hand pale on a blood-red material – in addition to oils of the various highly effective males who labored towards her pursuits to advance their very own.
The Nationwide Museum of Scotland (Saoirse Ronan visited in preparation for the function) has numerous objects related to Mary, together with a silver and ebony crucifix which may, simply may, have been hers. Most of the queen’s possessions have been destroyed or dispersed following her dying, lest they change into relics – and the main focus of Catholic riot; those who stay throb with haunted glamour.
The presence of Mary could be felt most palpably on the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The official residence of the current queen sits on the foot of the Royal Mile; the personal residences as soon as inhabited by Mary are open to guests. They’re furnished as they’d have been within the 16th century, and a stroll inside these rooms brings to vivid life a infamous episode: the homicide of her personal secretary and favorite, David Rizzio, on 9 March 1566.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, the place Mary’s residences are open to guests. {Photograph}: John Freeman/PA
In a small room off her bed room, Mary and supper visitors have been disturbed by her second husband, Lord Darnley, and numerous armed nobles. They demanded Rizzio, accusing him of getting an affair with the queen. Clutching at Mary’s skirts, he was dragged away and stabbed 56 occasions.
The supper room is tiny: stretch out your arms and you may nearly contact each partitions. It’s simple to think about the chaos and horror of the scene, the stink of blood and sweat, candlewax and spilt wine. Mary, six months pregnant, is alleged to have had a pistol aimed toward her stomach. A brass plaque within the outer chamber marks the spot the place Rizzio’s physique was dumped. His portrait, hung maybe as a type of restitution, friends out from the supper-room wall.

The Supper Room in Holyroodhouse. {Photograph}: Peter Smith/Royal Assortment Belief
Scotland’s historical past usually strains to change into one thing deeper and stranger – delusion, and Mary exemplifies this. For kids of my technology, and maybe nonetheless, she was extra like a determine from a fairytale than an actual individual you may find out about in school. We instructed her dying with dandelions: holding tight to the highest of the stem, you’ll chant, “Mary Queen of Scots acquired her head chopped off like … this!” On the ultimate phrase you’d flick ahead your thumb and decapitate the golden flower.
That little recreation gave a title to the poet and dramatist Liz Lochhead, whose 1987 play Mary Queen of Scots Acquired Her Head Chopped Off is a Scottish basic. I meet her in Glasgow, the scene of the Battle of Langside, which Mary fought and misplaced towards her half-brother, the Earl of Moray. The positioning is marked by a grand memorial column subsequent to Queen’s Park, one of many Expensive Inexperienced Place’s dearest inexperienced areas; from this vantage level Mary is alleged to have watched the defeat.
“She wished to do an unimaginable factor,” Lochhead says. “To stay the lifetime of a girl, with love and youngsters, in addition to being an individual of nice energy. The drama, for me, is about these two queens in a single inexperienced island – that accident of historical past the place you’ve acquired two ladies in energy, Mary and Elizabeth, coping with it very otherwise.”

Lochleven Fort, the place Mary was imprisoned in 1567-8. {Photograph}: Mike Rex/Alamy
Mary had fought at Langside after escaping imprisonment in Lochleven Fort, a brutish medieval tower on a small island close to Kinross (the quick crossing is included within the worth of your ticket the citadel). On a misty day, Loch Leven is leaden, and Benarty Hill – often called The Sleeping Big – a darkish ogreish hump. This feels an appropriately melancholy time during which to go to. Mary spent one autumn right here, throughout nearly a yr of captivity. She would have seen the leaves flip and fall. The summer season had been a season of withering loss. Pregnant with twins, she miscarried; a number of days later, exhausted and heartsick, she was pressured – on ache of dying – to abdicate in favour of her toddler son James.
Maybe Mary’s religion saved her going. Her jail is a destroy, however it’s nonetheless potential to get a way of day by day ritual. Excessive within the tower home is the world the place she had her personal chapel; there’s a window, a stone basin for the cleaning of the altar vessels after mass, and a cabinet for his or her storage.
Did Mary really feel near God right here? One wouldn’t blame her if she felt forsaken. Her being pregnant had been the results of abduction and rape by the Earl of Bothwell, a sexual assault carried out in an effort to power her to marry him, argues the historian Kate Williams in her new ebook, Rival Queens. Mary is, for her, a #MeToo monarch: “She might be disadvantaged of her energy simply by taking her physique. She was handled in a approach that they’d by no means deal with a king.”

What stays … ruined Dundrennan Abbey, from which Mary set out for England. {Photograph}: Getty Photos
My final cease within the queen’s footsteps is Dundrennan Abbey, a phenomenal destroy in a peaceable valley in Galloway, its gothic arches vibrant with early solar. Mary fled right here from Langside. On this hallowed place, it’s mentioned, she spent her final hours on Scottish soil – and made the fateful resolution to throw herself on the mercy of Queen Elizabeth, anticipating the English ruler would assist restore her to the Scottish throne. Elizabeth’s betrayal, as it’s typically seen, can provoke robust emotions among the many admirers of Mary – pilgrims, actually – who make the journey to Dundrennan. The abbey’s steward remembers one candy little outdated woman provoked by the mere point out of Elizabeth’s title to watch, “Bastard by start, bitch by nature!”
I’m visiting with somebody who takes a extra temperate view. Liz Manson is president of the Marie Stuart Society, an organisation devoted to selling understanding of the lifetime of Mary. They laid the plaque in Leith and organized for a statue to be erected at Linlithgow Palace, the queen’s birthplace. Liz suggests we transfer on from Dundrennan, as she has a particular place she’d like me to see.
We drive a few miles down a single monitor (ask on the abbey for instructions). A part of a navy firing vary, this route is usually closed; look out for a roadside signal telling you whether or not or to not proceed. The trail ends at a rocky seaside, a stream flowing into the water. That is Abbey Burnfoot. From this shore – at round 3pm on 16 Might 1568 – Mary set sail for England. The Solway Firth, on the morning I go to, is the color of tarnished silver and chilly as vanished goals. The Marie Stuart Society carried out a ceremony of remembrance earlier this yr, marking the 450th anniversary of her departure, laying a pink rose within the water for Mary, and 16 white roses for individuals who went along with her.
Liz used to really feel this was a sorrowful spot, however takes consolation that Mary was leaving in full expectation of a triumphant return. It could be good to assume, she says, that the solar shone on her departure: “It may need made her really feel that bit extra hopeful.”
The queen didn’t know what lay forward, couldn’t have imagined laying her lengthy white neck on the axeman’s block 18½ years later. That was each a mercy and a deadly lack of foresight. Mary left Scotland in pleasure and – given all she had suffered – a wierd kind of innocence. She held her head excessive.
• Mary Queen of Scots opens within the UK on 18 January