When Queen Mary came to call

Queen Mary's skills with a needle is shown in this embroidered panel which fetched only �13 when it was sold at auction
Queen Mary's skills with a needle is shown in this embroidered panel which fetched only �13 when it was sold at auction

Of the famous visitors to Callendar House over the centuries, the tragic Mary Queen of Scots must rank as the most celebrated.

A week after she was born in Linlithgow Palace in December 1542 her father King James V died and the infant Queen was placed in the care of two men, one of whom was Lord Alexander Livingston of Callendar. It was the start of a lifelong bond between the Queen and the Livingston family which ended with her death on the scaffold at Fotheringay Castle 45 years later.

When the powers-that-be in Scotland decided to send the young Queen to her mother’s country of France to save her from the clutches of King Henry VIII, Lord Alexander went with her. She was also accompanied by the famous ‘four Maries’, little girls of important families who were about the same age as Mary herself. One of them was Mary Livingston, daughter of Lord Alexander, but unfortunately she doesn’t get a mention in the famous song.

The other three were Mary Beaton, Mary Seaton and Mary Fleming and nobody knows who the Mary Carmichael and me (Mary Hamilton) were. Of course ballad writers were never very fussy about accuracy!

Lord Alexander died in France and his son, Lord William was one of the nobles who travelled to France to invite Mary to come back to Scotland and take up her duties as Queen which she did in 1561. Thereafter she was a regular visitor to Callendar House and the Livingstons were among her closest and most loyal supporters. This was despite the fact that Lord William had embraced the new reformed religion and the Queen remained strong in her Catholic faith. He was by her side at some of the most dramatic moments of her reign including her disastrous marriages to Darnley and Bothwell and the murder of her Italian Secretary David Rizzio. Lord William fought by her side at Langside with men from Falkirk and he and his wife Lady Agnes followed her to England where she remained under ‘house arrest’ for the next 19 years. During this time both Lord and Lady Livingston served as ambassadors, messengers and house companions and this continued until her execution in February 1587. One visitor to the Queen said “the greatest personadge in house abowte hir is the Lord of Levenston and the lady his wife, which is a fayre gentilwoman.”

Today you will find little in Callendar House to remind you of this most turbulent period in Scotland’s history. But it was not always like this. Until the house passed out of the hands of the Forbes family in 1963 visitors could see the rooms the Queen was said to have used which were decorated with a series of engravings of people and places associated with Mary all set in heavy gilt frames surmounted by crowns and bearing legends like ‘John Knox, who preached to the Queen in this house’. When these were sold at auction one item which fetched only £13 was an embroidered panel with the monogram MS in the centre. This is now in private hands and experts have suggested that it might be from the hands of the Queen herself. She was certainly a very skilled needlewoman and often gave gifts of her work to her friends.

What a pity it is no longer in Falkirk and that Mary’s connection with the district has been largely forgotten.