Mary's Escape From Lochleven And The Battle Of Langside

With few comforts and no enjoyments, Mary remained closely confined in the

Castle of Loch-Leven. Her only resources were in herself, and in the

religion whose precepts she was ever anxious not only to profess, but to

practise. Though deprived of liberty and the delights of a court, she was

able to console herself with the reflection, that there is no prison for a

soul that puts its trust in its God, and that all the world belongs t

who knows how to despise its vanities. Yet the misfortunes which had

overtaken her were enough to appal the stoutest heart. Her husband had

been murdered, she herself forced into an unwilling marriage, her kingdom

taken from her, her child raised up against her, her honour defamed, and

her person insulted,--all within the short space of four months. History

records few reverses so sudden and so complete. Many a masculine spirit

would have felt its energies give way under so dreadful a change of

fortune; and if Mary was able to put in practice the Roman maxim, Ne

cedere malis, sed contra audentior ire, it would be to exalt vice and

libel virtue to suppose, that she could have been inspired with strength

for so arduous a task by aught but her own integrity.

It was not these more serious calamities alone whose load she was doomed

to bear; there were many petty annoyances to which she was daily and

hourly subject. Margaret Erskine, the Lady of Loch-Leven, and widow of Sir

Robert Douglas, who fell at the battle of Pinkie one-and-twenty years

before, was a woman of a proud temper and austere disposition. Soured by

early disappointment, for, previous to her marriage with Sir Robert, she

had been one of the rejected mistresses of James V., she chose to indulge

her more malignant nature in continually exalting her illegitimate

offspring the Earl of Murray above his lawful Queen, now her prisoner. Her

servants, of course, took their tone from their mistress; and there was

one in particular, named James Drysdale, who held a place of some

authority in her household, and who, having had some concern in the murder

of Rizzio, and being a bigoted and unprincipled fanatic, entertained the

most deadly hatred against Mary, and had been heard to declare, that it

would give him pleasure to plunge a dagger into her heart's blood. This

savage probably succeeded in spreading similar sentiments among the other

domestics; and thus the Queen's very life seemed to hang upon the

prejudices and caprices of menials.

But numerous and violent as Mary's enemies may have been, few could

remain near her person, without becoming ardently attached to her. Hence,

throughout all her misfortunes, her own immediate attendants continued

more than faithful. At Loch-Leven, it is true, although her rebellious

nobles had been willing to allow her a suitable train, the absence of

accommodation would have rendered their residence there impossible. One or

two female, and three or four male servants, were all, over whom Mary, the

Queen of Scotland, and Dowager of France, could now exercise the slightest

control. Of these, John Beaton was the individual upon whose assiduity she

placed most reliance. But the influence which the fascination of her

manners, and the beauty of her person, obtained for her, over two of the

younger branches of the House of Loch-Leven, made up for the want of many

of her former attendants. The persons alluded to were George Douglas, the

youngest son of Lady Douglas, about five-and-twenty years of age, and

William Douglas, an orphan youth of sixteen or seventeen, a relative of

the family, and resident in the Castle. So forcibly was George Douglas, in

particular, impressed with the injustice of Mary's treatment, that he

resolved on sparing no pains till he accomplished her escape; and his

friend William, though too young to be of equal service, was not less

ardent in the cause. George commenced operations, by informing Mary's

friends in the adjoining districts of Scotland, of the design he had in

view, and establishing a communication with them. At his suggestion, Lord

Seaton, with a considerable party, arrived secretly in the neighbourhood

of Loch-Leven, and held themselves in readiness to receive the Queen as

soon as she should be able to find her way across the lake. Nor was it

long before Mary made an attempt to join her friends. On the 25th of March

1568, she had a glimpse of liberty so enlivening, that nothing could

exceed the bitterness of her disappointment. Suffering as she did, both in

health and spirits, she had contracted a habit of spending a considerable

part of the morning in bed. On the day referred to, her laundress came

into her room before she was up, when Mary, according to a scheme which

Douglas had contrived, immediately rose, and resigning her bed to the

washer-woman, dressed herself in the habiliments of the latter. With a

bundle of clothes in her hand, and a muffler over her face, she went out,

and passed down unsuspected to the boat which was waiting to take the

laundress across the lake. The men in it belonged to the Castle; but did

not imagine any thing was wrong, for some time. At length one of them

observing, that Mary was very anxious to keep her face concealed, said in

jest,--"Let us see what kind of a looking damsel this is;" and attempted

to pull away her muffler. The Queen put up her hands to prevent him, which

were immediately observed to be particularly soft and white, and a

discovery took place in consequence. Mary, finding it no longer of any

use, threw aside her disguise, and, assuming an air of dignity, told the

men that she was their Queen, and charged them upon their lives to row

her over to the shore. Though surprised and overawed, they resolutely

refused to obey, promising, however, that if she would return quietly to

the castle, they would not inform Sir William Douglas or his mother that

she had ever left it. But they promised more than they were able to

perform, for the whole affair was soon known, and George Douglas, together

with Beaton and Sempil, two of Mary's servants, were ordered to leave the

island, and took up their residence in the neighbouring village of


But neither the Queen nor her friends gave up hope. George Douglas

continued indefatigable, though separated from her; and William supplied

his place within the Castle, and acted with a degree of cautious and

silent enterprise beyond his years. It was probably in reference to what

might be done by him, that a small picture was secretly conveyed to Mary,

representing the deliverance of the lion by the mouse. Little more

than a month elapsed from the failure of the first attempt, before another

was adventured, and with better success. On Sunday, the second of May,

about seven in the evening, William Douglas, when sitting at supper with

the rest of the family, managed to get into his possession the keys of the

Castle, which his relation, Sir William, had put down beside his plate on

the table. The young man immediately left the room with the prize, and,

locking the door of the apartment from without, proceeded to the Queen's

chamber, whom he conducted with all speed, through a little postern gate,

to a boat which had been prepared for her reception. One of her maids, of

the name of Jane Kennedy, lingered a few moments behind, and as Douglas

had locked the postern gate in the interval, she leapt from a window, and

rejoined her mistress without injury. Lord Seaton, James Hamilton of

Rochbank, and others who were in the neighbourhood, had been informed by a

few words which Mary traced with charcoal on one of her handkerchiefs, and

contrived to send to them, that she was about to make another effort to

escape, and were anxiously watching the arrival of the boat. Nor did they

watch in vain. Sir William Douglas and his retainers, were locked up in

their own castle; and the Queen, her maid, and young escort, had already

put off across the lake. It is said that Douglas, not being accustomed to

handle the oar, was making little or no progress, until Mary herself,

taking one into her own hands, lent him all the aid in her power. It was

not long before they arrived safely at the opposite shore, where Lord

Seaton, Hamilton, Douglas, Beaton, and the rest, received the Queen with

every demonstration of joyful loyalty. Little time was allowed, however,

for congratulations; they mounted her immediately upon horseback, and

surrounding her with a strong party, they galloped all night, and having

rested only an hour or two at Lord Seaton's house of Niddry, in West

Lothian, they arrived early next forenoon at Hamilton. Mary's first

tumultuous feelings of happiness, on being thus delivered from captivity,

can hardly be imagined by those who have never been deprived of the

blessing of liberty. It is fair, however, to state, that her happiness was

neither selfish nor exclusive; and it deserves to be recorded to her

honour, that till the very latest day of her life, she never forgot the

services of those who so essentially befriended her on this occasion. She

bestowed pensions upon both the Douglases,--the elder of whom, became

afterwards a favourite with her son James VI., and the younger is

particularly mentioned in Mary's last will and testament. Nor was the

faithful Beaton allowed to go unrewarded.

The news that Mary was arrived at Hamilton, and that noblemen and troops

were flocking to her from all quarters, was so astounding, that the

Regent, who was not many miles off, holding courts of justice at Glasgow,

refused at first to credit the report. He would soon, however, (without

other evidence) have discovered its truth, from the very visible change

which took place even among those whom he had previously considered his

best friends. "A strange alteration," says Keith, "might be discovered in

the minds and faces of a great many; some slipped privately away, others

sent quietly to beg the Queen's pardon, and not a few went publicly over

to her Majesty." In this state of matters, Murray was earnestly advised to

retire to Stirling, where the young King resided; but he was afraid that

his departure from Glasgow might be considered a flight, which would at

once have animated his enemies and discouraged his friends. He, therefore,

resolved to continue where he was, making every exertion to collect a

sufficient force with as little delay as possible. He was not allowed to

remain long in suspense regarding Mary's intentions, for she sent him a

message in a day or two, requiring him to surrender his Regency and

replace her in her just government; and before the Earls, Bishops, Lords,

and others, who had now gathered round her, she solemnly protested, that

the instruments she had subscribed at Loch-Leven were all extorted from

her by fear. Sir Robert Melville, one of those who, in this new turn of

affairs, left Murray's party for the Queen's, gave his testimony to the

truth of this protest, as he had been a witness of the whole proceeding.

The abdication, therefore, was pronounced ipso facto null and void; and

Murray having issued a proclamation, in which he refused to surrender the

Regency, both parties prepared for immediate hostilities. The principal

Lords who had joined the Queen, were Argyle, Huntly, Cassils, Rothes,

Montrose, Fleming, Livingston, Seaton, Boyd, Herries, Ross, Maxwell,

Ogilvy, and Oliphant. There were, in all, nine Earls, nine Bishops,

eighteen Lords, and many Barons and Gentlemen. In a single week, she

found herself at the head of an army of 6000 men. Hamilton, not being a

place of strength, they determined to march to Dumbarton, and to keep her

Majesty there peaceably, until she assembled a Parliament, which should

determine on the measures best suited for the safety of the common


On Thursday the 13th of May 1568, Murray was informed that the Queen with

her troops was on her way from Hamilton to Dumbarton, and would pass near

Glasgow. He instantly determined to intercept her on the road; for should

she reach Dumbarton, which was then, and had long been in the possession

of the Hamiltons, she would be comparatively beyond his reach, and would

have time to collect so great a strength, that she might once more chase

him out of Scotland. Besides, the loss of a battle, where the army on

either side consisted of only a few thousand men, though it might in all

probability be fatal to Mary, was not of so much consequence to the

Regent. He therefore assembled his troops, which mustered about 4000

strong, on the Green of Glasgow; and being informed that the Queen was

marching upon the south side of the Clyde, he crossed that river, and met

her at a small village called Langside, on the Water of Cart, about two

miles to the south of Glasgow. Mary was anxious to avoid a battle, for she

knew that Murray himself possessed no inconsiderable military talent, and

that Kircaldy of Grange, the best soldier in Scotland, was with him. But

party spirit ran so high, and the Hamiltons and the Lennoxes, in

particular, were so much exasperated against each other, that as soon as

they came within sight, it was evident that nothing but blows would

satisfy them. The main body of the Queen's army was under the command of

the Earl of Argyle; the van was led by Claud Hamilton, second son of the

Duke of Chatelherault; and the cavalry was under the conduct of Lord

Herries. The Earl of Huntly would have held a conspicuous place in the

battle, but he had set off from Hamilton a few days before to collect his

followers, and did not return till it was too late. Murray himself

commanded his main body, and the Earl of Morton the van; whilst to Grange

was intrusted the special charge of riding about over the whole field, and

making such alterations in the position of the battle as he deemed


Nothing now intervened between the two armies but a hill, of which both

were anxious to gain possession, the one marching from the east, and the

other from the west. It happened, however, that the ascent on the side

next Mary's troops was the steepest, and a stratagem suggested by Grange

secured the vantage-ground to the Regent. He ordered every man who was

mounted to take up a foot soldier behind him, and ride with all speed to

the top of the hill, where they were set down, and instantly formed into

line. Argyle was therefore obliged to take his position on a lesser hill,

over against that occupied by Murray. A cannonading commenced upon both

sides, and continued for about half an hour but without much effect. At

length, Argyle led his forces forward, and determined if possible to carry

the heights sword in hand. The engagement soon became general, and

advantages were obtained upon both sides. The Earl of Morton, who came

down the hill to meet Argyle, succeeded in driving back the Queen's

cannoneers and part of her infantry; whilst on the other hand, Lord

Herries, making a vigorous charge on Murray's cavalry, put them to rout.

Judiciously abstaining from a long pursuit, he returned to attack some of

the enemy's battalions of foot, but as he was obliged to advance directly

up hill, he was unable to make much impression on them. In the meantime,

with the view of obtaining more equal ground, Argyle endeavoured to lead

his troops round towards the west, and it was to counteract this movement

that the most desperate part of the engagement took place. All the forces

of both parties were gradually drawn off from their previous positions,

and the whole strength of the battle on either side was concentrated upon

this new ground. For half an hour the fortune of the day continued

doubtful; but at length the Queen's troops began to waver, and a

re-inforcement of two hundred Highlanders, which arrived just at the

fortunate moment for Murray, and broke in upon Argyle's flank, decided the

victory. The flight soon afterwards became general; and though the loss of

lives on the Queen's side did not exceed three hundred, a great number of

her best officers and soldiers were made prisoners.

Mary had taken her station upon a neighbouring eminence to watch the

progress of the fight. Her heart beat high with a thousand hopes and

fears, for she was either to regain the crown of her forefathers, or to

become a fugitive and a wanderer she knew not where. It must have been

with emotions of no common kind, that her eye glanced from one part of the

field to another;--it must have been with throbbing brow and palpitating

heart, that she saw her troops either advance or retreat; and when at

length she beheld the goodly array she had led forth in the morning,

scattered over the country, and all the Lords who had attended her with

pride and loyalty, seeking safety in flight, no wonder if she burst into a

passion of tears, and lamented that she had ever been born. But the

necessity of the moment fortunately put a check to this overwhelming

ebullition of her feelings. With a very small retinue of trusty friends,

among whom was the Lord Herries, she was quickly hurried away from the

scene of her disasters. She rode off at full speed, taking a southerly

direction towards Galloway, because from thence she could secure a passage

either by sea or land into England or France. She never stopped or closed

her eyes till she reached Dundrennan, an abbey about two miles from

Kirkcudbright, and at least sixty from the village of Langside.

She remained two days at Dundrennan, and there held several anxious

consultations with the few friends, who had either accompanied her in her

flight, or who joined her afterwards. Lord Herries, her principal adviser,

gave it as his decided opinion, that she ought to sail immediately for

France, where she had relations on whose affection she could depend, even

though they should not be able to secure her restoration to the throne of

Scotland. But Mary could not brook the idea of returning as a fugitive to

a country she had left as a Queen; and besides, had she placed herself

under the protection of Catholics, she might have exasperated her own

subjects, and would certainly have displeased Elizabeth and the people of

England. She was disposed also to place some reliance on the assurances of

friendship she had lately received from the English Queen. She was well

aware of the hollowness of most of Elizabeth's promises; but in her

present extremity, she thought that to cross the sea would be to resign

her crown forever. After much hesitation, she finally determined on going

into England, and desired Herries to write to Elizabeth's Warden at

Carlisle, to know whether she might proceed thither. Without waiting for

an answer, she rode to the coast on Sunday the 16th of May, and with

eighteen or twenty persons in her train, embarked in a fishing-boat, and

sailed eighteen miles along the shore, till she came to the small harbour

of Workington, in Cumberland. Thence she proceeded to the town of

Cockermouth, about twenty-six miles from Carlisle. Lord Scroope, the

Warden on these frontiers, was at this time in London; but his deputy, a

gentleman of the name of Lowther, having sent off an express to the Court,

to intimate the arrival of the Queen of Scots, assembled, on his own

responsibility, the men of rank and influence in the neighbourhood, and

having come out to meet the Queen, conducted her honourably to the Castle

of Carlisle, with the assurance, that, until Elizabeth's pleasure was

known, he would protect her from all her enemies.

As soon as the important news reached Elizabeth, that Mary was now within

her dominions, and consequently at her disposal, she perceived that the

great end of all her intrigues was at length achieved. It was necessary,

however, to proceed with caution, for she did not yet know either the

precise strength of Mary's party in Scotland, or the degree of interest

which might be taken by France in her future fate. She, therefore,

immediately despatched Lord Scroope, and Sir Francis Knollys her

Vice-Chamberlain, to Carlisle, with messages of comfort and condolence.

Mary, who anxiously waited their arrival, anticipated that they would

bring consolatory assurances. Her spirits began to revive, and she was

willing to believe that Elizabeth would prove her friendship by deeds, as

well as by words. But this delusion was destined to be of only momentary