The History of Leith

February 11, 2012

The residence of Mary of Lorraine and Guise

An ancient pile of buildings, now swept away, but which were accessible by Blyth’s, Tod’s, and Nairne’s Closes, formed once the residence of Mary of Lorraine and Guise, widow of James V., and Regent of Scotland from 1554 to 1560. It is conjectured that this palace and oratory were erected immediately after the burning of Holyrood and the city by the English in 1544, when the widowed queen would naturally seek a more secure habitation within the walls of the city, and close to the Castle guns. In this edifice it is supposed that Mary, her daughter, after succeeding in detaching
the imbecile Darnley from his party, took up her residence for a few days after the murder of Rizzio, as she feared to trust herself within the blood-stained precincts of the palace. Over its main doorway there was cut in old Gothic letters the legend Laus honor Deo, with I, R., the initials of King James V., and at each end were shields having the monograms of the Saviour and the Virgin. The mansion, though it had been sorely changed and misused, still exhibited some large and handsome fireplaces, with beautifully clustered pillars, and seven elaborately sculptured stone recesses, with much fine oak carving in the doors and panels that are still preserved. Over one of the former are the heads of King James V., with his usual slouched bonnet, and of his queen, whose well-known beauty certainly cannot be traced in this instance. A portion of this building, accessible by a stair near the head of the close, contained a hall, with other apartments, all remarkable for the great height and beauty of their ceilings, on all of which were coats armorial in fine stucco. In the decorated chimney of the former were the remains of one of those chains to which, in Scotland, the poker and tongs were usually attached, to prevent their being used as weapons in case of any sudden quarrel. One chamber was long known as the queen’s Deid-room, where the individuals of the royal establishment were kept between their death and burial. In 1828 there was found walled up in the oratory an infantine head and hand in wax, being all that remained of a bambino, or figure of the child Jesus, and now preserved by the Society of Antiquaries. The edifice had many windows on the northern side, and from these a fine view must have been commanded of the gardens in the immediate foreground, sloping downward to the loch, the opposite bank, with its farm-houses, the Firth of Forth, and Fifeshire. ” It was interesting,” says the author of ” Traditions of Edinburgh,” “to wander through the dusky mazes of this ancient building, and reflect that they had been occupied three centuries ago by a sovereign princess, and of the most illustrious lineage. Here was a substantial monument of the connection between Scotland and France. She, whose ancestors owned Lorraine as a sovereignty, who had spent her youth in the proud halls of the Guises in Picardy, and had been the spouse of a Longueville, was here content to liveā€”in a close in Edinburgh! In these obscurities, too, was a government conducted, which had to struggle with Knox, Glencairn, James Stewart, Morton, and many other powerful men, backed by a popular sentiment which never fails to triumph. It was the misfortune of Mary (of Guise) to be placed in
a position to resist the Reformation. Her own character deserved that she should have stood in a more agreeable relation to what Scotland now venerates, for she was mild and just, and sincerely
anxious for the welfare of her adopted country. It is also proper to remember on the present occasion, that in her Court she maintained a decent gravity, nor would she tolerate any licentious practices therein. Her maids of honour were always busied in commendable exercises, she herself being an example to them in virtue, piety, and modesty.

When all is considered, and we further know that the building was strong enough to have lasted many more ages, one cannot but regret that the palace of Mary de Guise, reduced as it was to vileness,
should not now be in existence. The site having been purchased by individuals connected with the Free Church, the buildings were removed in 1846 to make room for the erection of an academical
institution, or college, for that body.” The demolition of this mansion brought to light a concealed chamber on the first floor, lighted by a narrow loophole opening into Nairne’s Close. The
entrance had been by a movable panel, affording access to a narrow flight of steps wound round in the
wall of the turnpike stair. The existence of this mysterious chamber was totally unknown to the various inhabitants, and all tradition has been lost of those to whom it may have afforded escape or refuge.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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