The Story of Mary Queen of Scots

One of the most infamous figures to arise out of Scottish history is Mary Queen of Scots. 

Also known as Mary Stuart, Mary became Queen of Scotland at just six days old, following the death of her father, King James V. Raised in France, she returned to Scotland upon the death of her first husband, King Francis II, starting what would go down as one of the most tumultuous and tragic reigns in history. 

If you’re soon to be renting a motorhome in Scotland, there are numerous locations and attractions that are associated with this reign, many of which we’ll go through below. Before we do that, however, let’s take a look at the story of Mary Queen of Scots and why it has become so famous.

The Story of Mary Queen of Scots

As mentioned previously, Mary’s reign began in earnest in 1561, at the age of just eighteen-years-old. Because she was a devout Catholic, however, her return wasn’t as celebrated as she hoped it would be. On the contrary, she was regarded with suspicion by most of her subjects, including the Queen of England. 

During the first few years of ruling Scotland, she met her cousin, Lord Darnley, whom she married in 1565 at Holyroodhouse. Due to Darnley’s English royal connections, in the eyes of Queen Elizabeth I, this was a definitive attempt to strengthen Mary’s claim on her throne – and indeed, numerous historians have postured that the first few years of Mary’s reign were less about Scotland and more about making a case as heir presumptive to the English throne. 

When Lord Darnley was murdered in 1567, Mary quickly married James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, which shocked the Protestant nobles. They united against Mary, capturing and killing Bothwell in the Danish fortress of Drasholm, while Mary herself was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle and forced to abdicate. After one unsuccessful attempt to escape, the second attempt was successful, and Mary managed to raise an army in retaliation. 

During the Battle of Langside, that army was defeated, and in desperation, she fled to England and appealed to Queen Elizabeth I for help. Instead of receiving help, however, Queen Elizabeth held an inquiry into Darnley’s murder, and Mary was imprisoned. 

She remained in England for nineteen years, closely guarded, but was sentenced to execution after letters were found plotting the Queen’s assassination. On February 8th, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle. Despite imprisoning her for so long and ordering her execution, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots never actually met.

The Castles and Palaces of Mary Queen of Scots

The story of Mary Queen of Scots could fill up an entire book – and, indeed, it has. What we’ve just talked about is just a fraction of the incredible, tragic events that occurred during her reign, but if you want a more first-hand account, we’d recommend visiting some of the historic Scottish attractions while you’re on your motorhome trip. 

One of the most famous attractions, for instance, is Edinburgh Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, James VI of Scotland. It is here where Mary lived and held court, and many of the events that shaped her reign took place within those very walls. 

Other attractions to visit include Holyrood Palace, also in Edinburgh, which served as one of Mary’s principal residences, Linlithgow Palace, where she was born, and also Melrose Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey, and Abbotsford House. If you would like to explore more castles, specifically, there are many dotted around the country that can be connected back to her reign, including Craigmillar Castle, Glamis Castle, and Stirling Castle – which is even said to be haunted by Mary Queen of Scots

Other Historical Attractions in Scotland

For those who want to go off the beaten track, there are also several battlefields that were instrumental in shaping the events of Mary’s reign, including the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, near Musselburgh, the Battle of Langside, near Langside, and the Battle of Carberry Hill, southeast of Edinburgh. All of these battlefields are accessible to the public, with various walking trails and signage that can guide you around the sites.

Lastly, if you would like a destination that tells you all about Mary’s reign, the Renaissance period, and what happened after, we couldn’t recommend anything better than the Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre in Jedburgh.

Located in a 16th-century tower house known as ‘Queen Mary’s House’, this is an excellent centre that has numerous interactive exhibits, displays, and audiovisual presentations that bring her story to life. If you travel here in your motorhome, you can even turn your visit into a historical extravaganza, visiting other nearby sites including Jedburgh Abbey, Canongate Bridge, and the beautiful Ferniehirst Castle.


As we mentioned previously, there are numerous books that cover the history of Mary Queen of Scots. What we’ve described above is a very brief runthrough of her story, so if you’d like to learn more before you visit any attractions, here is a link to the best books covering Mary’s story: