David Rizzio – his Murder and Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh

Paula was interested in finding out more about David Rizzio who was murdered in front of Mary, Queen of Scots in her private chambers at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Click the interesting link above. David Rizzio was Mary’s private secretary and also a musician, and Mary’s husband was jealous of his relationship with the queen. You can see the rooms here.

You can see an image of Sir William Allan’s painting of the scene here.

But on to something more pleasant. Here are a couple of photos I took of the gardens at the palace.

Palace of Holyroodhouse Gardens, EdinburghGardens Holyrood 2

Looking at these photos it is hard to believe that you’re in the middle of a city, albeit a small one. Below you can see what is left of some of the old abbey buildings dating from 1128 when King David I founded the abbey.These ruins are right next to the palace.

Gardens Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

Although there are more substantial ruins as you can see from the photo below. You can read about the abbey here.

Holyrood Abbey, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Scotland

Escape from Loch Leven by Mollie Hunter

Mary Stuart

Escape from Loch Leven by Mollie Hunter was first published in 1987 and it’s about one of the many escapes attempted by Mary, Queen of Scots after she was imprisoned by her own Scottish lords who had turned against her for many reasons, including that they believed she had had her first husband Darnley murdered, and then married his murderer Bothwell.

But she was still popular with the ordinary people and always managed to charm some of the people who were tasked with guarding and serving her – mainly the men!

Will Douglas is the young illegitimate son of Sir William Douglas who is a supporter of the rebellion against Mary. Sir William owns Lochleven Castle which seems like the ideal place to imprison the queen as it’s in the middle of the loch. Will is a page in the household and he’s thrilled when Mary recognizes him as a youngster she had encountered a few years earlier and calls him by a pet name she had given him. In no time Will is determined to help his Queen escape to link up with her supporters. It’s easier said than done.

The book seems to be very faithful to what is known about this particular escape attempt which you can read about here. Lochleven Castle is now owned by the Scottish National Trust and isn’t far from where I live. If you’re interested you can see the photos I took when I visited a few years ago here. The island is actually smaller than it was back when Mary was a prisoner as the water level of the loch has been raised over the years, but even so it was still a very small island with very little opportunity for anyone to stretch their legs.

This was an enjoyable read and if you’re interested in Scottish history it’s a painless way of learning a bit about Mary Stuart and the book has some helpful family trees at the front for anyone who is confused.

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

 A Traveller in Time cover

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley was first published in 1939. My copy is a lovely Folio edition which is illustrated by Omar Rayyan. It’s yet another children’s classic that I’ve only just got around to reading thanks to Constance who mentioned it on my blogpost about Uttley’s books for very small children. Th eauthor was very much influenced to write this book by her own childhood. She grew up in a house very close to the Babington manor house in the book and her father told her stories of those Elizabethan days as if he had lived them himself, and Alison Uttley visited them in her dreams.

A Traveller in Time is told by Penelope Taberner Cameron as she looks back to her childhood which began in London’s Chelsea where she was the youngest of three children and was regarded as being a bit ‘fey’. Possibly she has the second sight, or maybe she’s just a dreamer, her older siblings are happy to listen to her tales of the past. She’s prone to soar throats and her mother decides that Penelope needs to get out of the atmosphere of London to some fresh air. Aunt Tissie and Uncle Barnabas are contacted and they’re very happy to have all three children for the holidays at their manor house and farm called Thackers.

It isn’t long before Penelope finds herself slipping back in time when least expected and she becomes a much-loved member of the Babington household who are puzzled by her intermitent appearances but always happy to see her. Penelope knows her history so she realises that Anthony Babington, the eldest son of the house is on a path to a terrible end which she is powerless to change. Mary, Queen of Scots has been captive in England for years on the orders of her cousin Queen Elizabeth. Anthony is determined to rescue her and get her to safety in France.

This is a beautifully written book and it is such a shame that she didn’t write more books for older children. There are so many characters to like too so it was a treat to be in their company.

Apparently in 1978 the BBC dramatised the book, I don’t recall ever seeing it though. Do any of you remember it?

If you know the history of Mary, Queen of Scots you’ll be aware that she was moved around a lot over the twenty years that she was imprisoned, and several times she did manage to escape, in fact I’ve lost count of the amount of places I’ve been to that she has also walked around in. She was imprisoned in what was my childhood local castle Dumbarton Castle, and I believe escaped from there. More famously she escaped from Loch Leven Castle which is close to where I live now, you can see my blogpost about that here. Even closer is the hunting palace of the Stuarts Falkland Palace, which is a place that she loved in her younger years.

Peterborough Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England

Last week I scheduled a couple of blogposts prior to going down to England for four days. It was a delayed trip that we had planned to take way back at Easter but of course we were in strict lockdown then and only allowed to travel to get food. We swithered about leaving our area of Scotland which had had very low Coronavirus rates, journeying south seemed chancy. On the other hand the Peterborough area that we were travelling to also had fairly low infection rates so we decided to go, armed with masks and plenty of sanitiser.

We went to the big (mainly outdoor) antiques fair at Peterborough, but it was a bit of a disappointment as so many of the stallholders weren’t there, actually I was surprised that it hadn’t been cancelled. On the plus side I did manage to get some Christmas/birthday presents for Jack that I couldn’t have got elsewhere. My Christmas shopping is mainly finished!

This time around we made sure that we had plenty of time to visit Peterborough Cathedral. I wanted to visit where Katharine of Aragon was buried and the spot where Mary Queen of Scots had been buried, before her son the Scottish King James VI or James I (England) had her disinterred and reburied at Westminster Abbey in the Lady Chapel.

Peterborough Cathedral is interesting, has some wonderful ceilings and floors and has quite a warm and friendly atmosphere which you can’t say for all of these places. As ever I compared it with my favourite Saint Magnus Cathedral on Orkney – it’s still my favourite.

When Katharine of Aragon died she was at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire. King Henry VIII had her buried at Peterborough Cathedral because it was closest and presumably the cheapest way of doing it, he was obviously glad to be rid of his first wife and was only interested in marrying Anne Boleyn as fast as possible.

Katharine's Tomb

Katharine’s personal emblem was a pomegranate which signified fertility, sadly she didn’t have much luck with her pregnancies, but I’m sure the fault lay with her husband. It’s quite touching that someone has laid a couple of pomegranates on her tomb.

Katharine of Aragon's Tomb

Mary, Queen of Scots was originally buried not far from Katharine but now there is just a stone memorial where she lay.

Above Mary's Former Tomb

Mary's Former Tomb

There’s also a much more modern memorial to the World War 1 nurse Edith Cavell who was executed by the Germans, they claimed she was a spy.

Edith Cavell, Peterborough Cathedral

The cathedral has lovely mosaic marble floors.

Patterned mosaic floor, Peterborough Cathedral

Below is the stained glass in a side chapel.

Stained Glass , side chapel, Peterborough Cathedral

Beautiful ceilings.

Stone Vaulting, Peterborough Cathedral

The main ceiling is painted wood which is very unusual I think.

Wood vaulting, Peterborough Cathedral

Stone altar, Peterborough Cathedral

Stone altar,Peterborough Cathedral

The photo below was taken two years ago when we first visited Peterborough, but that time we didn’t manage to see inside the cathedral as it was shut, as you can see though – it was a golden evening.

Peterborough Cathedral

Prior to going Peterborough we visted Bletchley Park, the WW2 codebreaking establishment which was strictly ‘hush hush’ until the 1970s when someone published a book on it which horrified so many who had worked there during the war as they were sworn to secrecy. But that’ll be another post – soonish.

Mary Queen of Scots – the film

In recent years we’ve been lucky if there is one film on at the flicks within the whole year but this year already we’ve been to see two films – two weeks ago we went to see The Favourite and last week we saw Mary Queen of Scots and I enjoyed it although it is a bit cavalier with the historic details. The Irish actress Saoirse Ronan plays Mary Stuart and she did a good job of it although she must have put a lot of effort into learning a Scots accent, for no good reason as Mary had lived at the French court since the age of five and her mother was French so she would have had a French accent as she lived in France for well over ten years waiting to marry the Dauphin. It was never expected she would return to Scotland but after her husband died the French wanted rid of her.

The film is beautifully shot and I’m glad to say that all the locations are in Scotland. I was puzzled as to why the Scottish castles looked so grim, I swear that at the beginning one of them looked like a cave on the inside with really rough walls that looked like you could have climbed up them. I’ve never seen anything but smooth stone walls inside and outside of castles and of course the walls would have been covered with tapestries.

The murder of Rizzio was much more dramatic than I had ever imagined it to be. Darnley is portrayed as being gay, I’m a bit cynical and so assume that that’s a bid for the pink pound/dollar. And of course Mary and Elizabeth meet despite all of the historians agreeing that they never did meet. Elizabeth’s skin is skillfully made up to show how badly her skin was damaged by pockmarks. I doubt if she ever let anyone see those, hence the thick and poisonous lead based make-up that she wore.

There’s also no sense of all the years that Mary was kept in captivity by Elizabeth – or of her many escape attempts.

Thankfully the film stops short of her actual execution as that was famously very nasty, who knows whether the axeman was deliberately incompetent when he hacked at her neck or if it was just nerves or bad luck.

David Tennant being cast as John Knox was a great touch, I thought he was brilliant in the role.

If ever anyone was in need of good advisors it was Mary Stuart, but either she didn’t have anyone to advise her or she chose to ignore them. She would have been better emulating her royal cousin Elizabeth and eschewing men and marriage, but then we would never have had King James V of Scotland / I of England. I wonder what would have happened if he had never been born.

Dundrennan Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

We visited Dundrennan Abbey last week. It’s a ruin now unsurprisingly as building here began in 1162, it was a Cistercian Abbey. If you visit the abbey keep your fingers crossed that you get Glyn as your guide as his knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject are something to witness.
Dundrennan Abbey
The abbey is of course a ruin now as it was abandoned as a church centuries ago. This is where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last hours on Scottish soil before she was taken to Workington, probably by the tide, where she was made prisoner by the English to begin what turned out to be 18 years of incarceration before her execution and martyrdom (if you are of the Roman Catholic faith).
Dundrennan Abbey

She rode here from Langside in Glasgow where the last battle was fought and lost by her troops. Almost certainly she didn’t go straight to the Abbey as that would have been too obvious a destination for her pursuers. It’s thought that she went to a house in the forests nearby (according to local history) but after a few days she left that place and spent the night in the Abbey’s commendator’s house. Was she waiting for a ship to take her to France and safety? Ships sailed almost right up to the abbey from the Solway Firth in those days. She was probably trying to make up her mind where to go, she would have realised that her presence in France wouldn’t have been welcome. They wanted rid of her immediately after her husband the Dauphin died. Perhaps Spain would welcome her. We’ll never know as spies had tracked her movements and the rest is history.

Below is a photo of storage areas, housing mainly bits of stone carving now but the site of the building where she stayed.
Dundrennan Abbey

I was interested to read that one of the gravestones here refers to a knight called Livingstone of Culter. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles are set around the Scottish Borderlands and of course she used the place name Culter although she didn’t base the Lymonds/Crawfords on any particular people apparently.
Dundrennan Abbey Carved Stone info board

Dundrennan Abbey ,Carved Figure

Dundrennan Abbey

Battlefield/Langside in Glasgow

One day last month we decided to travel to my beloved west of Scotland, all of seventy or so miles away from where we now live, but a miss is as good as a mile – as THEY say. We were aiming to visit Holmwood House, an Arts and Crafts house which is now owned by the National Trust. I’ll blog about that house sometime in the future.

On the way back from that part of Glasgow I mentioned to Jack that an ancestor of mine (great great uncle?) had designed a church and monument in Battlefield, which happened to be the area we were in, just as I said that we passed the monument which is now situated on a traffic roundabout! The Wiki link is wrong, I think that must have been his son who went to Australia.

Battlefield Monument

It’s much bigger than I had imagined. The monument commemorates the Battle of Langside in 1568 which ended with the defeat of Mary, Queen of Scots’s army on that site, or certainly nearby. Alexander Skirving designed the monument in 1887 which was the 320th anniversary of her defeat.

As ever, we in Scotland are always in a bit of a quandary, would we have supported her or been on the other side? I suppose it depends which religious leader you favour – the Pope or John Knox. What a choice!

The church is now a bar and eatery, as so many of them are nowadays, if they haven’t been turned into flats or demolished. We had already had our lunch at Holmwood, we’ll try that restaurant out another time though.

Church

Battlefield/Langside Church

After that the only thing I wanted to seek out was the street that I knew must be fairly nearby, named after the architect and also of course my own maiden name. With a bit of help from a passerby we found it, as you can see it’s typical Victorian tenements, it’s actually quite a long street the photo below is about half of it.

Skirving Street

There are shops further up, including a bookshop which very annoyingly was closed for the day. It was a bit surreal to see my surname above a Chinese take away. They’re usually called Lucky Date, Golden Moon or some such thing, but I suppose it means that people won’t forget where it is! It’s something that Alexander Skirving could never have foretold when he designed buildings for this area.

Chinese cuisine

There aren’t that many of us about with that Skirving surname, in fact I’ve never met any that I wasn’t related to. It appears in ancient Scottish surname books, but not in ordinary ones, and is of course originally Scandinavian/Viking. Some people like to think that in Britain our ancestors have been here forever and a day, but like everywhere else we’re just a bunch of mongrels when you get right down to it.

street sign

Earl’s Palace, Birsay, Orkney, Scotland

Earl's Palace , Birsay, Orkney

I’m casting my mind back to early June when we had a week’s holiday in Orkney, it was the first time either of us had been there. The Earl’s Palace at Birsay was one of the places on our list of places to visit.

Earl's Palace  Birsay

It’s a ruin, as you can see but that’s no surprise as it was built between 1569 and 1579. Earl Robert Stewart built it, he was an illegitimate son of King James V – so a half-brother to Mary, Queen of Scots and he obviously had high ambitions for himself. He was a bit of a swine by all accounts – but weren’t they all?!

Earl's Palace  at Birsay, Orkney

His son seems to have been even worse though. I always remind myself when I visit any stately homes or castles that the people who built them only managed to do so because they were the most violent bullies in an age when that was what was needed to get to the top of society. Thinking about it though – I’m not at all sure that things have changed much over the years!

Info Board

Birsay is a very small settlement, but I enjoyed a walk around the graveyard there, that was when I realised that the surnames on Orkney are so different from those in other parts of Scotland. They’re mostly of Viking descent, so no Macs or Mcs here – well very few if any.

Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett

Queens' Play cover

I actually read Queens’ Play a wee while ago, but I have such a backlog of book reviews to catch up with, mainly because of not blogging while we were on holiday. I use this blog to keep track and remind myself of books that I’ve read though, so here goes.

Queens’ Play which was first published in 1964 is the second in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and as I recall, I enjoyed it even more than the first one. These books aren’t really suitable for bedtime reading – well not for me anyway because they require more concentration than I can usually summon up by then.

In Queens’ Play Francis Crawford – more commonly known as Lymond is in France at the court of the seven year old Mary Queen of Scots. He has been invited there by her mother, Mary of Guise who thinks that her daughter is at risk of assassination, with good reason no doubt. The young Mary was sent from Scotland to France as a five year old, but that might have been a case of jumping from the frying pan to the fire.

As France and Scotland shared an enemy in England it was hoped that the young Mary and the young French Dauphin would eventually strengthen the alliance through a marriage. But those in power in England were obviously against that alliance. It was Lymond’s job to seek out intrigues and to protect Mary from them.

The New York Time Book Review said:

“(Her) hero is as polished and perceptive as Lord Peter Wimsey and as resourceful as James Bond.”

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Huntingtower Castle, Perth, Scotland

Huntingtower from north

It’s a couple of months since we went to visit Huntingtower Castle near Perth and I had forgotten that I hadn’t blogged about it until Joan of Planet Joan mentioned that she had just finished reading John Buchan’s book Huntingtower. I read it a while ago and you can read what I thought of it here. You can read Joan’s thoughts on Huntingtower here.

Actually I’m not at all sure now if it is the same Huntingtower as the book was set mainly in the south west of Scotland, but I imagined they moved the action here, I can’t see anything linking this place to the book though.

Huntingtower from south

Parts of the tower have windows and other bits are quite open to the elements. Below is a doorway which still has some of the original painted decoration around it, I think it’s quite modern looking.

Hall close; painted door lintel

aHall

And what do you think of the painted ceiling? A few of the rooms had designs like this painted on the roof beams. This ceiling dates from around 1540.

painted ceiling 1

Below is a vaulted ceiling on the top floor.

ceiling +

Can you see the rabbit painted on this wall? It has been covered with thick perspex to protect it from the weather.

painted rabbit

Below you can see the holes where the wooden beams of the floor/ceiling were originally.

upper windows

Most Scottish castles/tower houses seem to have these cute wee window seats, they must have been lovely to sit in in the summer anyway, a perfect spot for reading or sewing. You have to imagine the rooms would have been hung with tapestries and cushions or fur would have been on the seats.

window seat

There are loads of spiral staircases to investigate in Huntingtower and one of them leads up to this part of the roof.

a view from roof 3

Although there’s now a shopping centre very close to Huntingtower most of the surrounding countryside is still farmland, so not too different from how it would have been when John Buchan set part of his book Huntingtower here.

a view from Huntingtower roof in Perth, Scotland

a view from roof 2

The castle is now home to a large colony of pipistrelle bats, but we didn’t see any evidence of them, it was too early for them to be out and about.

Mary Queen of Scots lived here for a while with her husband Lord Darnley, she seems to have been in just about every castle in Scotland, often as a prisoner. She was a woman who should have copied her cousin Elizabeth of England’s style and stayed well away from marriage!