Last day castle-hopping—Callendar House, Linlithgow Palace and Lennoxlove


View of the Forth from Burntisland

I made a last minute itinerary change and instead of heading into Banffshire to Portsoy to see the old castle where Mary Beaton and Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne would have lived, I decided to stay in the lowlands see Callendar House and Linlithgow Palace in Falkirk; and drive down the Lothian coast of the Forth to Lennoxlove House. I was blessed with the most glorious day for a road trip across the Firth of Forth.  The photograph at the left was taking on the A921 between Burntisland and Aberdour.  It was a spectacular drive.

My first stop was Callendar House in Falkirk, which was the home of Mary Livingston’s family.  Mary Livingston, nicknamed “Lusty” by Queen Mary and her fellow Maries—but steady on, this was about a zest for life, dancing, riding and not lusty as we know the term in the 21st Century! She was the daughter of Alexander, Lord Livingston—one of Queen Mary’s guardians.  Queen Mary visited Callendar many times, including just a few days before she married Darnley in July 1565, and a few days before he was killed at Kirk O’Field in February 1567.

Callendar House, Home of Mary Livingston

The land surrounding Callendar House has been owned by the Thanes of Callander as far back as the mid-12th century.  Today, it is a beautiful park and on the day I was there, it was mobbed by racers on a cancer walk-run.   I could see how Queen Mary and the Maries would have enjoyed a good hunt on a visit here.

The house today looks more 17th-19th century, but there are remains of a 14th century castle inside – a small four-story stone tower built in 1438.  Unfortunately for me, I was at Callendar House for 11 o’clock – the first stop on my day out but the house did not open until 2 pm—they swear this is on their website, but I didn’t see it.  I didn’t stay, because I’d have then missed the other two sites I really wanted to see, particularly Linlithgow Palace.  But, according to “Stravaiging Around Scotland” (a title that could accurately describe my own meandering adventures), “the tower had walls some 2.4 metres thick, and consisted of a single room on each level, spread over four floors.

The ground floor was a vaulted storeroom, accessed internally from the first floor. The first floor itself was entered via an external wooden staircase, and would have contained the main hall.  On the second floor was the laird’s chamber, and above that a garret level. This early castle is thought to have been surrounded by a courtyard wall and a moat…Probably in the late 15th century or early 16th century a new wing was added to the east of the tower, extending 16 metres and joined at the south gable, turning the tower into an L-plan building. The new extension included a scale-and-platt staircase, and the entrance was moved to the ground floor.”  This is how the house would have been in Queen Mary’s day.

Mary Livingston was exceptionally loyal to Queen Mary, as was the rest of her family.  Livingston stood by the Queen at the Battle of Carberry Hill, even though her father-in-law supported the other side.  Livingston’s husband John Sempill was equally loyal.  Though his father, Lord Sempill, was one of the Lords who signed the warrant for her imprisonment at Loch Leven, his son was active in early attempts to rescue the Queen from there.

Mary’s brother William, the 6th Lord Livingston tried to negotiate the Queen’s release from Loch Leven, fought with her at the Battle of Langside and joined her in captivity with his wife Agnes (sister of Mary Fleming) in 1568.  Four years later Agnes returned to Scotland and was an active part of a network passing message to and from Queen Mary, she was even imprisoned for it at Dalkeith Castle.[1]

View of Loch at Linlithgow

Linlithgow Palace, original East entrance.

My next stop was Linlithgow Palace, one of the favorite Stewart palaces.  When she first visited Linlithgow, Mary of Guise declared it a “very fair place” and said it could compare with any chateau in France and indeed, Linlithgow Palace must have been a showstopper in its hey-day.

Although the Palace was built originally in the 11th Century by David I but the building that exists today was really the work of a series of Stewart Kings beginning with James I and in particular Queen Mary’s grandfather James IV and father James V.  It was a favorite residence of James IV’s wife and Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor, as well as Mary of Guise, Queen Mary’s mother—not surprising then that their children, James V and Queen Mary respectively were born here.

One of the most beautiful features of the castle is the fountain commissioned by James V that sits in the middle of the courtyard. It is a beautiful, intricately carved piece of Renaissance sculpture.

James V’s Renaissance Fountain

Queen Mary lived at the Palace while she was an infant, but was moved to Stirling where she could be kept in greater safety.   When she returned to Scotland after 1561, she stayed here several times.  The day after her last visit on 23 April 1567 en route to Edinburgh she was intercepted by Bothwell, who she then married.   Two months later she was imprisoned in Loch Leven.

James I section of Linlithgow Palace

My last stop was at Haddington to see Lennoxlove House, once called Lethington.  I got there very late–10 minutes after the last tour, but was still shown the 16th Century portion of the house, which was the home of William Maitland of Lethington, Queen Mary’s Secretary of State often called the “Scottish Cecil.”  Maitland was the husband of Mary Fleming, Queen Mary’s cousin and one of the Four Maries.  Remember I mentioned Maitland held Edinburgh Castle along with Kirkcaldy of Grange for Queen Mary until 1573 – five years after she left for England.

The old tower at Lennoxlove, formerly Lethington and home of William Maitland Mary Fleming’s husband and Queen Mary’s Secretary of State

The Great Hall is really all that remains of the 16th Century tower, and I did not get to linger very long.  Two items of interest at Lennoxlove:  Queen Mary’s death mask and the silver casket said to have contained the famous “Casket Letters” said to have been written by Queen Mary (if you believe this and I don’t).

[1] Queen Mary’s Women—Female Relatives, Servants, Friends and Enemies of Mary, Queen of Scots, Rosalind K Marshall, 2006

3 comments on “Last day castle-hopping—Callendar House, Linlithgow Palace and Lennoxlove

  1. We’re a gaggle of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
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  2. Head for Scotland! I am sure you will find plenty of grist for the Civil War mill in Scotland. In fact, I was just reading that a battle of Cromwell’s was fought near Burntisland–where I visited Rossend Castle — that means there was likely fighting in Kinghorn too. Mind you, the English pillaged up and down the Firth of Forth from before Longshanks through to near-modern day (or modern days depending upon your view, right?)

  3. Rachel Kesterton says:

    Hi Geri
    You sound like you’ve had a fantastic trip and gathered plenty of information for the book. You’ve made me want to head for Scotland rather than trudging around English Civil War sights – although of course plenty went on in Scotland during the Civil War.

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