The Scots Queen Surrenders: An Overview of the Battle of Carberry Hill

by Heather R. Darsie

By 15 June 1567, twenty-four-year-old Mary Stuart had been Queen of Scotland for almost her entire life; never knew her father, James V, because he died when she was six days old; was Queen Consort, then Queen, of France for less than seventeen months; had lost her mother in July 1560; was about to celebrate her son and heir’s first birthday on 19 June, and was married to her third husband. Mary’s first husband, King Francis II of France, died three days before Mary’s eighteenth birthday in 1560. Mary’s mother was dead for roughly five months when her first husband died. She married her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, when she was twenty-two. Mary gave birth to her only surviving child, James VI, during her marriage to Darnley. Darnley died, likely murdered, less than two years after the marriage, and Mary married her third husband, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. Bothwell may have had a hand in the death of Mary’s second husband and there is speculation as to whether Mary indeed wanted to marry Bothwell or whether she was coerced into the marriage.

“Mary Queen of Scots in Captivity,” English School, c. 1575; via Wikimedia Commons.

Bothwell was charged with Darnley’s 10 February 1567 murder in April, and was to be prosecuted by Lord Lennox, the dead Darnley’s father. Lord Lennox never showed up despite being summoned, and Bothwell was acquitted. On 19 April, several Lords of Parliament and other notable men signed the Ainslie Tavern Bond. The Bond declared that the twice-widowed Mary should marry a Scottish subject; this document was then handed to Bothwell. Six days later, Bothwell and an escort of eight hundred armed men intercepted Mary on her way to Linlithgow Palace in Edinburgh. Mary, convinced by Bothwell that danger awaited her in Edinburgh, went with Bothwell to Dunbar. That night, he either sexually assaulted her or Mary consented willingly to Bothwell’s advances. Only Mary and Bothwell know what truly happened. Either way, Mary and Bothwell were quickly married, and Bothwell was expediently elevated to the position of Duke of Orkney.

Moving ahead to June 1567, the Lords previously loyal to Mary declared against Bothwell and the marriage. Similarly, the Lords of Parliament who signed the Bond and were previously against Mary, switched to her side. From this short description, it can be gleaned that Scottish politics at the time were complicated and quick to change! The rebellious Lords entered Edinburgh, fully armored and with a force on 11 June. By 15 June, Mary and Bothwell chose to leave the castle of Fa’side, about 3.2 km southeast of Musselburgh, and took position on Carberry Hill. Mary’s troops made use of a trench that was dug for a different battle that took place a couple years before. Mary’s army was equipped with around seven cannons, three hundred pike men, and about two hundred trained musket men, for a roughly two thousand-strong army. The opposing force had about two thousand soldiers, too, but were without cannons and had only a few volunteers from Edinburgh who could use a musket.

The battle began on a rather hot day, with Mary’s troops having little to nothing to drink. The parties taunted each other for hours, from late morning until evening. The French ambassador tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a peace, followed by Bothwell firing a cannon at some of the opposition who were trying to spur Mary into action. Eventually, Bothwell agreed to settle things via single combat. Bothwell then summarily dismissed each opposing person willing to take up the challenge, as they were beneath his noble status.

Slowly, members of Bothwell’s party began to ride off, some apologizing to the queen. Bothwell himself headed for Dunbar with his guard. Mary chose to surrender to the rebellious Lords after Bothwell left. Robert Birrel or Birrell, a citizen of Edinburgh, wrote an account of the event in his diary,

“The 15 day being sonneday, the armies came within view. The one stood upone Carberry Hills, with 4 regiments of shouldiours, and six field-pieces of brasse: the uther armey stoode over against it, messingers going betwixt them all day till neir night; dureing which parley the Duke [Bothwell] fled secretly to Dunbar, and the Queine [Mary] came and randred herself prisoner to ye Lordis, quho convoyed her to Edinburghe to the Provost’s Lodgeing for yat night; Sr. Symeon Prestone of Craigmillar being Provost for ye time.”**


Mary’s dress for the day was recorded by William Drury, Marshall of Berwick, who said of her clothing,

“The Queen’s apparel in the field was after the fashion of the women of Edinburgh, in a red petticoat, sleeves tied with points a “partlyte,” a velvet hat and muffler. She used great persuasions and encouragements to her people to have tried it by battle. For welcome the Lords showed her the banner with the dead body, which seeing they say that she wished she had never seen him. The banner was hanged out before her window at the Provost’s house, wherewith she seemed much offended.”


However, Mary surrendered in literally dramatic fashion, having changed out of her gorgeous, embroidered black dress with contrasting red cloak and coat, and leaving those items with her richly embroidered hat at Fa’side Castle, and choosing to wear what were effectively rags that showed an embarrassing amount of her calves. The Lords took Mary to the aptly named Lochleven Castle, which is on an island in the middle of Loch Leven, where they imprisoned her. Roughly a month later, by 23 July, Mary miscarried twins. The next day, the recovering Mary was forced to abdicate to her one-year-old son, James VI. Sadly, Mary would spend the next almost twenty years in some form of imprisonment or another, only to die by beheading.

Mary spent her last day of freedom in terrible heat, anxiously waiting with Bothwell, a man who may have killed Mary’s second husband and may have raped Mary so he could become king, only to be abandoned by him on the field. One can imagine the range of emotion and brutal thoughts the twenty-four-year-old Mary Stuart endured on her last day as the free Queen of Scots.



**Author’s note: I have found reading older styles of English out loud can help make sense of the spellings!

Love learning about the Queens of England? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anne of Cleves told from the German perspective!

 UK Hardcover

 UK Kindle

US Hardcover

US Kindle


You Might Also Like

  1. The Tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots
  2. Coronation of Mary of Guise
  3. Viewing 16th Century Women through a 21st Century Lens, an Opinion**: Margaret Tudor and Mary, Queen of Scots
  4. A Simplification of English Heraldry and Comment on the Arms of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex


Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth & Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York: Vintage Books, Inc. 2005.
  2. Chambers, William and Robert. Birrell’s Diary. Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, Fifth Series. Pgs. 81-83. Vol. IV, No. 162. 5 February 1887.
  3. Carberry Hill. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  4. Guy, John. Queen of Scots: the True Life of Mary Stuart. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
  1. Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth. No. 1313. Vol. 8: 1566-1568 (1871).
  2. Mary, Queen of Scots.   Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  3. Aikman, James, trans. History of Scotland by George Buchanan. Pg. 522. Vol. 2 (1827).
  1. Cameron, Annie I., ed.,Warrender Papers. Pg. 50. Vol. 1, SHS (1931).


7 thoughts on “The Scots Queen Surrenders: An Overview of the Battle of Carberry Hill

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment or drop me a line!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s