Mary Queen of Scotland and The Isles

Behind the Book

Adventures in Research

Most of my adventures seem to center around either trying to do something forbidden (either by people or by the weather), or meeting strange characters at the site.

Gray loch, louring skies.

I’ve never sought help in gaining entry to a site by writing ahead or trying to contact some professional guardian. Maybe it just seems too packaged that way, and that’s why I stubbornly avoid doing it. The advantage to this is that you can see the site incognito. The down side, of course, is that you might not be able to see it at all!

At one time no photography was allowed inside Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, where so many tumultuous things happened to Mary Queen of Scots. In Mary’s bedroom, the place where her secretary Riccio was stabbed, it was vital to know the exact dimensions and how the supper-alcove related to the rest of the room, since so many details of the murder hinge on the logistics. I was able to hide a spy-type camera in my coat pocket and fall behind the tour group in the key rooms and take the necessary photographs, coughing to cover up the telltale sound of the camera shutter.

In the category of interesting people, when I visited Bolton Castle in northern England, one of the first castles where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned, the young man overseeing the place turned out to be a descendant of the Queen’s last jailer, Sir Amyas Paulet. The events involving Mary and his ancestor may have been over four hundred years old, but not to him. He was incensed that his ancestor had been besmirched by sympathizers for the Scots queen, been made to seem cruel, when he was absolutely no such thing! I tried to assure him that I would be open-minded about the man, and that after all his ancestor had proved his character once and for all when he refused Queen Elizabeth’s ‘hints’ to murder the Scots Queen, but he was still disgruntled. I promised to send him a copy of the book and not to trash his ancestor. I sent him a copy but never heard from him, so I don’t know if he still felt his ancestor had been insulted.

Due to the (in)famous Scottish weather, it can be difficult to get out to sites if you must cross open water. Mary Queen of Scots had two important island sojourns in her life, both involving escapes and chases. One of those was Inchmahome, a tiny island in a loch that was storm-tossed the day I tried to go there. As a National Heritage site it was supposed to be open, but the Scots boatmen were leery of setting out—until I told them of my project about Mary Queen of Scots. Then they were willing to risk it! She still has that effect on people.