Mary Queen of Scots – in St Andrews

Thursday 4 March 2004

An expert on the life of Mary Queen of Scots will give a lecture on ‘the unluckiest ruler in British history’ in St Andrews today – concentrating solely on her time spent in the Fife town.

The distinguished historian, Professor John Guy, an Honorary Professor of the University of St Andrews will deliver a public talk on Mary’s love for St Andrews and will feature several interesting stories about Mary’s lifestyle when she lived there.

The public talk is part of a tour for Professor Guy’s recent and acclaimed book ‘Mary Queen of Scots’.

He said “Mary’s first visit to St Andrews came shortly after her return home from France to take up her throne. She wanted to see more of her country and people, and to show herself to them. She travelled from Edinburgh to Stirling via Linlithgow, and on to Perth, Dundee and across the Tay on the ferry to Fife. When she arrived at St Andrews, she liked the place so much, she stayed there for a week.”

He will talk about the fun-loving Mary, who had a love of jokes, frolics and high jinks, who kept a female jester and went to St Andrews to relax and get away from Edinburgh now and again.

Within a year of first setting foot on the town, Mary had acquired a house near the Abbey, where she whiled away the hours shopping, cooking and housekeeping with her friends. It brought back memories of the ‘normal’ days she spent in France as a child making marmalade.

“This was a side of Mary that people would have remembered in St Andrews. She liked to roam incognito through the streets with her maids of honour, her former childhood playmates known as the ‘four Maries’. Her ‘Maries’ assisted her, and a special ‘kitchen’ was created in their apartments so that they could play at cooking and housekeeping,” said Professor Guy.

In addition to the more homely life, Mary often spent days riding across the fields between St Andrews and Pitlessie, hawking and hunting.

But there were two occasions of crucial importance to Mary which occurred when she was staying in St Andrews – she learned of the assassination of her favourite uncle, Francis Duke of Guise, in 1563. According to legend, it was in that year that she planted a hawthorn tree (now known as Queen Mary’s Hawthorn) in the Quadrangle at St Mary’s College, perhaps in memory of her late uncle. Secondly, she took the decision to marry for the second time when in St Andrews. In 1565 she sat in her house by the Abbey discussing who she should marry with the English ambassador. It was then that she set her sights upon Henry, Lord Darnley, a decision which would ultimately lead to her untimely downfall.

It was when Mary was in childbirth with her son Prince James that she wrote her will, in which she wrote that her deluxe collection of Greek and Latin books were to be given to the University of St Andrews ‘to found a library’. Many of Mary’s books were ransacked after her forced abdication; however, the University finally obtained some books when her son, James VI, by then James I of England, donated them almost half a century later.

The final stage of Mary’s life which St Andrews was centre stage to was after Darnley’s sensational murder – the dossier against her claiming that she had foreknowledge of the murder was compiled by Calvinist and republican George Buchanan, the Principal of St Leonard’s College. Her servant, Nicholas Hubert, nicknamed ‘French Paris’ was accused of carrying letters which proved Mary knew of the murder plot and it was in St Andrews that he was secretly interrogated.

Professor Guy’s biography of Mary has received great praise, with one reviewer commenting: ‘His account is sympathetic but realistic, and his Mary is believable: a real queen, conscious of her dignity; facing real problems in a faction-ridden realm; and responding as any real person might – usually sensibly and sometimes unwisely … He has written by far the best life of Mary.’

The lecture will take place at 5.15 pm on Thursday 4 March, in School III, St Salvator’s Quadrangle, North Street.

John Guy’s book, “My Heart is My Own” – The Life of Mary Queen of Scots is published by Fourth Estate, 2004 and costs £20.00


Professor Guy was Professor of Modern History at St Andrews for a decade from the early 1990s and is currently a St Andrews’ Honorary Professor and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge.

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected] Ref: Mary in St Andrews pr 040304 View the latest University news at

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