Mary, Queen of Scots had been imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle since 17th June 1567 following her surrender to her noblemen at the Battle of Carberry Hill on 15th June. Her noblemen opposed her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell and she was sent to be imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle in the middle of Loch Leven.
At Loch Leven, Mary was in the custody of Sir William Douglas of Loch Leven where she spent most of her captivity living in the early 16th Century Glassin Tower on the south-east corner of the castle. Mary’s household included Lady Margaret Douglas, the mother of her half-brother, the Earl of Moray, and his brother George Douglas as well as an orphaned relative, Willie Douglas.
During her time at the castle, Mary miscarried twins she had conceived with Bothwell and they were buried within the grounds. It was shortly after this miscarriage that Mary was forced to abdicate as Queen of Scotland and pass the crown to her infant son, James.
It is said that during her time at the castle, Mary gradually won over William Douglas to her own cause and it was even reported that he had fallen in love with the Scottish Queen. Mary made an attempt at escape by pretending to be a laundress while one of her ladies took her place inside the castle. While she was being escorted across the loch, the boatman recognised her and took her straight back to the castle.
On 2nd May 1568, Mary made another attempt at an escape from Loch Levan. Willie Douglas stole the keys and let Mary out of the castle dressed as a servant in full view of May Day activities that had been organised at the castle. George and Willie Douglas followed Mary as she escaped the fortress. She rowed across the loch to where George awaited her along with 200 horsemen and they fled to Niddry Castle in Lothian.
Mary managed to raise an army of 6000 men and met Moray’s smaller force at the Battle of Langside on the 13th May. Mary was defeated at the battle and fled south where she crossed the Solway Firth into England. Landing at Workington on 16th May, Mary spent the night at Workington Hall before local officials took her into protective custody at Carlisle Castle.
It is often said that Mary fled to England because she hoped her cousin, Elizabeth I, would help her regain her Scottish throne. Queen Elizabeth was cautious of helping her cousin and even ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the confederate lords and the question of whether Mary was guilty of Lord Darnley’s murder.
In July 1568, Mary was moved to Bolton Castle and the rest, as they say, is for another day.