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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Just after the middle of August, 1561, as we learn from contemporary records, there was a haar of unusual intensity and continuance over Edinburgh and all the vicinity. It began on Sunday the 17th, and it lasted with slight intermissions, till Thursday the 21St. "Besides the surfett weat and corruptioun of the air," writes Knox, then living in Edinburgh, " the myst was so thick and dark that skairse mycht any man espy ane other the length of two pair of butts." It was the more unfortunate because it was precisely in those days of miserable fog and drizzle that Mary, Queen of Scots, on her return to Scotland after her thirteen years of residence and education in France, had to form her first real acquaintance with her native shores and the capital of her realm.
She had left Calais for the homeward voyage on Thursday the 14th of August, with a retinue of about one hundred and twenty persons, French and Scottish, embarked in two French state galleys, attended by several transports. They were a goodly company, with rich and splendid baggage. The Queen's two most important uncles, indeed, - the great Francis de Lorraine, Duke of Guise, and his brother, Charles de Lorraine, the Cardinal,- were not on board. They, with the Duchess of Guise and other senior lords and ladies of the French Court, had bidden Mary fare. well at Calais, after having accompanied her thither from Paris, and after the Cardinal had in vain tried to persuade her not to take her costly collection of pearls and other jewels with her, but to leave them in his keeping till it should be seen how she might fare among her Scottish subjects. But on board the Queen's own galley were three others of her Guise or Lorraine uncles,-the Duc d'Aumale, the Grand Prior, and the Marquis d'Elbeuf,-with M. Damville, son of the Constable of France, and a number of French gentlemen of lower rank, among whom one notes especially young Pierre de Bourdeilles, better known afterwards in literary history as Sieur de Brantome, and a sprightly and poetic youth from Dauphine, named Chaste lard, one of the attendants of M. Damville. With these were mixed the Scottish contingent of the Queen's train, her four famous " Marys"included, -Mary Fleming, Mary Livingstone, Mary Seton,and Mary Beaton. They had been her playfellows and little maids of honour long ago in her Scottish childhood; they had accompanied her when she went abroad, and had lived with her ever since in France; and they were now returning with her, Scoto-Frenchwomen like herself, and all of about her own age, to share her new fortunes.
It is to Brantome that we owe what account we have of the voyage from Calais. He tells us how the Queen could hardly tear herself away from her beloved France, but kept gazing at the French coast hour after hour so long as it was in sight, shedding tears with every look, and exclaiming again and again, " Adieu, ma chere France! Je ne vous verray jamais plus! "
It was in the afternoon of Wednesday, the 20th of August, that there was a procession on horseback of the Queen, her French retinue, and the gathered Scottish lords and councillors, through the two miles of road which led from Leith to Holyrood. On the way the Queen was met by a deputation of the Edinburgh craftsmen and their apprentices, craving her royal pardon for the ringleaders in a recent riot, in which the Tolbooth had been broken open and the Magistrates insulted and defied. This act of grace accorded as a matter of course, the Queen was that evening in her hall of Holyrood, the most popular of sovereigns for the moment, her uncles and other chiefs of her escort with her, and the rest dispersed throughout the apartments, while outside, in spite of the fog, there were bonfires of joy in the streets and up the slopes of Arthur's Seat, and a crowd of cheering loiterers moved about in the space between the palace-gate and the foot of the Canongate. Imparting some regulation to the proceedings of this crowd, for a while at least, was a special company of the most " honest " of the townsmen, " with instruments of musick and with musicians," admitted within the gate, and tendering the Queen their salutations, instrumental and vocal, under her chamber window. "The melody, as she alledged, lyked her weill, and she willed the same to be continewed some nightis after." This is Knox's account; but Brantome tells a different story. After noting the wretchedness of the hackneys provided for the procession from Leith to Holyrood, and the poorness of their harnessings and trappings, the sight of which, he says, made the Queen weep, he goes on to mention the evening serenade under the windows of Holyrood, as the very completion of the day's disagreeables. The Abbey itself, he admits, was a fine enough building; but, just as the Queen had supped and wanted to go to sleep, " there came under her window five or six hundred rascals of the town to serenade her with vile fiddles and rebecks, such as they do not lack in that country, setting themselves to sing psalms, and singing so ill and in such bad accord that there could be nothing worse. Ah! what music, and what a lullaby for the night! "Whether Knox's account of the Queen's impressions of the serenade or Brantome's is to be accepted, there can be no doubt that the matter and intention of the performance were religious. Our authentic picture, therefore, of Queen Mary's first night in Holyrood after her return from France is that of the Palace lit up from within, the dreary fog still persistent outside, the bonfires on Arthur's Seat and other vantagegrounds flickering through the fog, and the portion of the wet crowd nearest the Palace singing Protestant psalms for the Queen's delectation to an accompaniment of violins.
Next day, Thursday the 2lst, this memorable Edinburgh haar of August 1561 came to an end. Arthur's Seat and the other heights and ranges of the park round Holyrood wore, we may suppose, their freshest verdure; and Edinburgh, dripping no longer, shone forth, we may hope, in her sun niest beauty. The Queen could then become more particularly acquainted with the Palace in which she had come to reside, and with the nearer aspects of the town to which the Palace was attached, and into which she had yet to make her formal entry.
Then, as now, the buildings that went by the general name of Hotyrood were distinguishable into two portions. There was the Abbey, now represented only by the beautiful and spacious fragment of ruin, called the Royal Chapel, but then, despite the spoliations to which it had been subjected by recent English invasions, still tolerably preserved in its integrity as the famous edifice, in Early Norman style, which had been founded in the Twelfth Century by David I., and had been enlarged in the Fifteenth by additions in the later and more florid Gothic. Close by this was Holyrood House, or the Palace proper, built in the earlier part of the Sixteenth Century, and chiefly by James IV., to form a distinct royal dwelling, and so supersede that occasional accommodation in the Abbey itself which had sufficed for Scottish sovereigns before Edinburgh was their habitual or capital residence. One block of this original Holyrood House still remains in the two-turreted projection of the present Holyrood which adjoins the ruined relic of the Abbey, and which contains the rooms now specially shown as " Queen Mary's Apartments. "But the present Holyrood, as a whole, is a construction of the reign of Charles IL, and gives little idea of the Palace in which Mary took up her abode in 1561. The two-turreted projection on the left was not balanced then, as now, by a similar two-turreted projection on the right, with a facade of less height between, but was flanked on the right by a continued chateau-like frontage, of about the same height as the turreted projection, and at a uniform depth of recess from it, but independently garnished with towers and pinnacles. The main entrance into the Palace from the great outer courtyard was through this chateau-like flank, just about the spot where there is the entrance through the present middle facade; and this entrance led, like the present, into an inner court or quadrangle, built round on all the four sides. That quadrangle of chateau, touching the Abbey to the back from its north-eastern corner, and with the two-turreted projection to its front from its north-western corner, constituted, indeed, the main bulk of the Palace. There were, however, extensive appurtenances of other buildings at the back or at the side farthest from the Abbey, forming minor inner courts, while part of that side of the great outer courtyard which faced the entrance was occupied by offices belonging to the Palace, and separating the courtyard from the adjacent purlieus of the town. For the grounds of both Palace and Abbey were encompassed by a wall, having gates at various points of its circuit, the principal and most strongly guarded of which was the Gothic porch admitting from the foot of the Canongate into the front courtyard. The grounds so enclosed were ample enough to contain gardens and spaces of plantation, besides the buildings and their courts. Altogether, what with the buildings themselves, what with the courts and gardens, and what with the natural grandeur of the site, -a level of deep and wooded park, between the Calton heights and crags on the one hand and the towering shoulders of Arthur Seat and precipitous escarpment of Salisbury Crags on the other, - Holyrood in 1561 must have seemed, even to an eye the most satiated with palatial splendours abroad, a sufficiently impressive dwelling-place to be the metropolitan home of Scottish royalty.