When Callendar House played host to a queen

Queen Mary's room at Callendar House was behind the small window on the gable right of the tower.
Queen Mary's room at Callendar House was behind the small window on the gable right of the tower.

Back in 1587, not long before her execution, Mary Queen of Scots famously declared “In my end is my beginning”.

She was not wrong because, from the moment her head hit the basket on February 8 (432 years ago tomorrow), the legend has grown and grown and hardly a year passes without another book, play, song or 
film about her turbulent life.

The latest blockbuster is attracting a good deal of publicity but I wonder how many of the Falkirk folk who flock to the cinema will be aware of the big local connection?

Her close friends – the Livingston family of Callendar House – played a part in her story from birth to death and she was a regular visitor to the town before her imprisonment in England.

The family connection dates to the time when Alexander, the fifth Lord of Callendar, was a close associate of Mary’s father King James V.

When she was born in Linlithgow Palace in 1542 he was appointed as one of the baby’s guardians.

His daughter, Mary (one of the famous four Maries), was maid of honour to the queen and Mary went with her to France for a long sojourn in the sun before her return to Scotland in 1561.

During the next seven years she was a regular visitor to Callendar House where the new lord was William, brother of Mary.

He was married to the Queen’s cousin, Agnes Fleming.

On one occasion she witnessed the marriage of Mary Livingston to whom she gave many presents including Auchtermuchty and Millport!

On that day, too, she had to listen to a fiery sermon from her old adversary John Knox.

After her marriage to Lord Darnley, attended by Lord William, things went downhill for the Queen with her enemies growing in number.

Despite the fact that Lord Livingston had adopted the new reformed Protestant religion while Mary remained a staunch Catholic, the family stayed loyal and she continued to show them great favour.

The last night she spent with Darnley was in Callendar House just days before his murder in Edinburgh for which Mary was blamed.

As things began to unravel, Lord William and men from Falkirk fought by her side at Carberry and later Langside where her cause finally came to an end and her exile began.

During the 19 years she spent under house arrest in England, Lord Livingston and his wife were among her closest companions. One visitor said “The greatest personadge in the house abowte her was the Lord of Levengston and the lady his wife, which is a fayre gentilwoman”.

Both undertook special missions on her behalf and suffered a great deal as a result.

When the Forbes family lived in the house the rooms occupied by Mary were given over to a collection of memorabilia including engravings, paintings and sculptures telling the tragic Queen’s story.

All of these were sold at an auction in 1963 before 
the council took possession of the house and 
grounds.

The most interesting item was a lovely embroidered panel with an M S mono-gram (for Marie Stuart?) which sold for £13!

Today some experts think it might have been a gift to the Livingstons created by the Queen herself because she was certainly a fine needlewoman.

Today it is in private hands in Bridge of Weir where I was able to photograph it over 30 years ago.

In the house today there is a room recently named ‘‘The Queen’s Room’’ but nothing much else to remind us of the historic connection which is a pity given the current enthusiasm for Mary’s story generated by the film.