History of Leith, Edinburgh

December 29, 2006

The Landing of Mary, Queen of Scots at Leith in 1561

On the 20th August 1561, Queen Mary landed at the Town to take possession of the throne of her ancestors. The time was about eight in the morning and Leith must have presented a different aspect from the proceeding year when the canon of the besiegers thundered against the walls.

No vestige now remains of the pier which received her though it must have been constructed subsequent of the older one destroyed by the Earl of Hertford. This was the pier where Madaleine landed in 1537, she was the first wife of James V, however she died a few weeks later.

The Keys of St Anthony Port were delivered to Mary who was accompanied by her three Uncles, Claude of Lorraine, Duc d’Aumale who was to be killed thirteen years later at the siege Rochelle, Francis Grand Prior of Malta, general of the galleys of France and who later died at the Battle of Dreux, and Marquis d’Elboeuff who succeeded Francis as general of the galleys. She was attended also by her “four Mary’s” whose names are given by Bishop Leslie as Fleming, Livingston, Beaton and Seaton who had been with her in France. According to Buchanan in 1565 there were five and the treasures account mentions six including two whose names were Simparten and Wardlaw.

The cheer of the people mingled with the boom of canon and says Buchanan “the danger she had undergone, the excellence of her mien, the delicacy of her beauty. The vigour of her blooming years and the elegance of her wit, all joined in her recommendation”.

As the genial Ettick Shepherd wrote;

“After a youth of woes o’ercast
After a thousand sorrows past
The lovely Mary once again
Set foot upon her native plain
Kneeled on the pier with modest grace
And turned to heaven her beauteous face
There rode the lords of France and Spain
Of England, Flanders and Lorraine
While serried thousands round them stood
From Shore of Leith to Holyrood”

But not everyone welcomed her arrival John Knox glowered “the very face of heaven did manifest speak what comfort was brought to this country with hir-to wit, sorrow, dolour, darkness, and all impiety; for in the memory of man never was seen a more dolorous face of the heaven than was at her arrival….the mist was so thick..the sun was not seen to shine for two days.”

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