MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
Join Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood, and a team of enthusiastic historians, for Alison Weir Tours’ most luxurious tour yet, staying in beautiful historic hotels full of character, eating in historic settings such as the great chamber at Bolton Castle and the Great Hall of St Mary's Guildhall, Coventry, dining aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, and touring through some of the most spectacular and scenic countryside that Britain has to offer, as we retrace the footsteps of one of the most romanticised queens in history, the enchanting Mary Stuart. We will visit a host of sites connected with Mary, starting with her birthplace at Linlithgow Palace, and ending with the site of her execution at Fotheringhay and her final burial in Westminster Abbey. On the way we will tour castles, palaces and historic houses, and there will be a full enrichment programme of talks and specialist guided tours, with the privileged access for which Alison Weir Tours have become known.
DAY 1, 12th June/9th October
6.30 pm: We gather at Prestonfield House Hotel, Edinburgh for a welcome drinks reception.
Built in 1687 as the grand baroque home of Edinburgh's Lord Provost, Prestonfield is now Edinburgh's most luxurious 5-star hotel, with 23 stylishly opulent rooms and suites. Opulence, theatre and luxury are combined in James Thomson's quirky and stylish reworking of this A-listed historic mansion where minimalism is banished and maximalism rules! In addition to the dramatic bedrooms and sumptuous suites, there is his destination restaurant - Rhubarb - alongside a collection of stunning private dining rooms, opulent salons and historic public rooms. Described by Time Out as "Edinburgh's star restaurateur", Thomson's vision was to create a colourful and compelling alternative to today's plethora of bland and unexceptional hotels in Edinburgh and Scotland. Prestonfield is a very personal creation, a fusion of historic architecture, an extensive collection of art and antiques, and décor every bit as rich and colourful as the history of the house itself. Prestonfield has been at the heart of Scotland's artistic, social, business and political life for over four centuries and, as a uniquely splendid 5-star hotel, it remains so today. Prestonfield is situated only five minutes from Edinburgh's finest shopping streets and the historic attractions of the Royal Mile, yet, surrounded by twenty acres of gardens and parkland, it provides the privacy and seclusion of a country estate.
In the evening we gather for a sumptuous welcome dinner in the acclaimed Rhubarb Restaurant (below, of which we have exclusive use) at Prestonfield House.
Overnight: Prestonfield House, Edinburgh.
DAY 2, 13th June/10th October
After breakfast we depart for Linlithgow Palace.
The magnificent ruins of Linlithgow Palace are set in a lovely park beside a loch. Most of the Stewart kings lived in the palace, and Mary, Queen of Scots was born here in 1542. Numerous renovations to its grand facades and chambers were carried out as each monarch sought to create the ideal royal residence. Linlithgow is majestically situated beside 15th-century St Michael’s Kirk, overlooking the peel (park) and loch. The loch has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to its wildfowl population. We will see the castle’s magnificent great hall; the elegant projecting oriel windows of the king’s and queen’s bedchambers; the fountain – a beautiful three-tiered ‘wedding-cake’ structure in the centre of the courtyard; and the sculptures: all around the palace are sumptuous stone-carved figures, including beguiling angel musicians in the royal chapel. Here one of the expert Historic Scotland guides will give us a guided tour.
We then drive north to Stirling, ‘the gateway to the Highlands’ and one of Scotland’s most historic cities, arriving in time for an independent lunch. Suggested options are the Unicorn Café in the castle, or the Portcullis Hotel in Castle Wynd, a few minutes walk from the castle.
After lunch we visit Stirling Castle.
Stirling Castle is a great symbol of Scottish independence and a source of national pride. Knights, nobles and foreign ambassadors once flocked to the royal court at Stirling to revel in the castle's grandeur. It is a place of power, beauty and history, and was a favoured residence of Scotland's kings and queens. The castle's long, turbulent history is associated with great figures from Scotland’s past such as William Wallace & Mary, Queen of Scots. Again, one of the expert Historic Scotland guides will give us a guided tour.
Stirling is the grandest of Scotland's castles and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country. Built 250 feet above the plain on an extinct volcano, Stirling became the strategic military key to the kingdom during the 13th and 14th century Wars of Independence, fought against the English. Many important events from Scotland's past took place there, and it played an important role in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. She spent her childhood in the castle and her coronation took place in the Chapel Royal in 1543.
There are excellent historical displays, a recreation of the 16th-century kitchens with sensory and interactive exhibits, and the Regimental Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which details their eventful history from 1794 to the present. The vast Great Hall, which dates from the end of the Middle Ages, has been restored to its medieval glory, and was formally opened by the Queen in 1999. Built by James IV in 1503, it has been restored with a new oak hammerbeam roof, refurbished wall walks, lead-light windows and interior galleries. This is how the original building would have looked, and why it has long been widely admired for its magnificence on the Stirling skyline.
The first fortification on the site dates to the 11th century. Much of the castle that exists today, including the Palace and the Chapel Royal, is magnificent Renaissance architecture with a strong French influence. In fact Stirling Castle is widely regarded as having the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Europe. The Chapel Royal, built by James VI for the baptism of Prince Henry in 1594, has been refurbished and features a 17th-century fresco of elaborate scrolls and patterns. The Royal Palace at Stirling Castle (1540-42) is the finest Renaissance building in Scotland. A three-storey structure, it boasts an ornate facade of tall windows and niches containing a selection of grotesque carved figures and Renaissance sculptures. The King's Presence Chamber originally had an ornate ceiling decorated with over 100 carved oak heads (the Stirling Heads, above). Many of the heads have been lost or destroyed, but some survive to enable us to imagine how the original ceiling would have looked. Restoration work on the rich Renaissance decoration of the King’s and Queen’s apartments was completed in 2011. Enter the Royal Palace and step into the astonishing richness of royal life in the 1500s, seeing the King’s and Queen’s Lodgings as they might have appeared in the mid-16th century. You can also see a recreation of a gown worn by Mary, Queen of Scots (above right).
Late in the afternoon we return to Edinburgh.
In the evening we have an included private 3-course dinner at the historic Sheep Heid Inn, the oldest pub in Edinburgh, and perhaps in Scotland.
There is said to have been an inn on the site since 1360. The origin of the pub's name is a matter of some debate. From the medieval period to early modern times, sheep were reared in Holyrood Park, a royal park beside Duddingston, and were slaughtered in Duddingston before being taken to the Fleshmarket in Edinburgh’s Old Town. There being no great demand for the heads (Scots: heids), the residents of Duddingston village became renowned for their culinary genius with this less than savoury item. Two dishes in particular were widely remarked upon, sheep heid broth and singed sheep heid. The local fame of the latter was even mentioned by Mrs Beeton in her famous Victorian cookery book. Indeed until the late 19th century the use of these heads was so commonplace that the locals used the skulls as cobbles for their pathways. Alternatively, and far more plausibly, the name probably came about following the royal gift in 1580 of an ornate ram’s head snuff box, given by King James VI. Duddingston village is exactly half way between the royal residences of Craigmillar Castle and Holyrood Palace, and James, like his mother Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have stopped here many times, and even played skittles in the courtyard behind the pub. There is still a skittles alley in the pub, dating from the nineteenth century, and we have reserved it for guests'enjoyment this evening. Ninepins was a favourite game of the Stewart kings.
Overnight: Prestonfield House, Edinburgh.
DAY 3, 14th June/11th October
At 8.30am we arrive at the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile for a private tour before the Palace opens to the public.
Founded as a monastery in 1128, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh is The Queen's official residence in Scotland. Situated at the bottom end of the historic Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is closely associated with Scotland's turbulent past. It has served as the principal residence of the kings and queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is still a setting for state occasions and official entertainment.
James IV constructed a new palace adjacent to the abbey in the early 16th century, and James V made additions to the palace, including the present north-west tower. The royal apartments in the north-west tower of the Palace were occupied by Mary, Queen of Scots, from her return to Scotland in 1561 to her forced abdication in 1567. The Queen had archery butts erected in her private gardens to allow her to practice, and hunted deer in Holyrood Park. It was at Holyrood that the series of famous interviews between the Queen and John Knox took place, and she married both of her Scottish husbands in the palace: Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, in 1565 in the chapel, and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, in 1567 in the great hall. It was in the Queen's private apartments (below) that she witnessed the murder of David Rizzio, her private secretary, on 9 March 1566. Darnley and several nobles entered the apartment via the private stair from Darnley's own apartments below. Bursting in on the Queen, Rizzio and four other courtiers, who were at supper, they dragged the Italian through the bedchamber into the outer chamber, where he was stabbed 56 times.
We hope to enjoy a very special private tour highlighting Holyrood’s dramatic past and the Palace’s important role today. In the company of an expert guide, we will visit the State Apartments before the Palace opens to visitors for the day, and see the room where Rizzio was murdered. Private tours offer a unique opportunity to go 'behind the ropes' in selected rooms, and the West Drawing Room, used by members of the Royal Family as a private sitting room and not normally open to the public, is included in the tour. It is among the most beautiful rooms in the palace and boasts one of the finest 17th-century plasterwork ceilings. Morning tours finish in the Café at the Palace and include tea, coffee and refreshments.
Afterwards we have allowed free time for some sightseeing in the scenic World Heritage City of Edinburgh and an independent lunch. In October, because of an earlier closing time, guests will visit Craigmillar Castle (see below) immediately after visiting Holyrood, then return to Edinburgh in time for an independent lunch and free time.
In the afternoon we visit Edinburgh Castle.
Edinburgh Castle dominates Scotland's capital city from its great rock. Its story has helped shape the nation's story. Battles and sieges were fought over it, royalty lived and died within its walls, and countless generations have been inspired by it. Fierce Iron-Age warriors defended a hill fort here, and Scotland's oldest poetry tells of a war band feasting here for a year before riding to their deaths in battle. During the 13th and 14th-century Wars of Independence, the Scots and English struggled for control of the castle. In 1314 it was recaptured from the English in a daring night raid led by Thomas Randolph, nephew of King Robert the Bruce.
The castle has sheltered many Scottish monarchs, including the sainted Queen Margaret (above, second from left) who died here in 1093, and whose chapel (above left) may still be seen; and Mary, Queen of Scots, who gave birth to James VI in the Royal Palace in 1566, in a room that you will visit (below left). Mary’s great-great-great grandson, Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, captured Edinburgh but was unable to take the castle during the 1745-6 Jacobite Rising. In 1996, the Stone of Destiny, on which kings were enthroned for centuries, was returned to Scotland. It is now displayed in the Crown Room with the Scottish regalia - the Honours of Scotland (below left).
In the 1600s, the castle became a military base. Some buildings were rebuilt and new ones were raised to house a huge garrison - and provide a secure jail for prisoners of war. The military presence remains unbroken, but over the last 200 years the castle has become a national icon. It is now Scotland's leading tourist attraction, and a key element of the Edinburgh World Heritage Site.
There will be a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle.
Today we will drive past the location of Kirk O’Field, where Queen Mary’s second husband, Henry, Lord Darnley, was murdered in 1567.
Tonight we have arranged a very special evening on board the Royal Yacht Britannia, once the floating residence of the Queen, and now moored at Leith, Edinburgh. You are invited to enjoy The Britannia Experience. A Scots piper will greet us as we ascend the red carpet on the Queen’s stairs, the original royal entrance, then we will enjoy a drinks reception in the Salon, with a pianist playing in the background. The piano has notably been played by Princess Diana, Princess Margaret and Sir Noel Coward. There follows a private tour of Britannia, and a 4-course dinner in the magnificent candlelit State Dining Room. Britannia’s outstanding Executive Chef has created a sumptuous menu meticulously prepared in the original Royal Galley, and adhering to its traditional high standards.
The Royal Yacht Britannia is - appropriately - moored at Leith, the port of Edinburgh, where Mary, Queen of Scots disembarked on her return to her kingdom from France in August 1561. Britannia was home to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, sailing over 1,000,000 miles around the world. Now you can follow in the footsteps of royalty and world leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Rajiv Gandhi, and discover the heart and soul of this most special of Royal residences. The private tour gives guests a fascinating insight into how the Royal Family lived on board Britannia, and how the crew manned it. The Royal Yacht is now a five-star visitor attraction in Edinburgh.
Overnight: Prestonfield House, Edinburgh.
DAY 4, 15th June/12th October
In the morning we will be crossing the spectacular Forth Bridge to the historic kingdom of Fife to visit the ancient Royal Burgh of Culross, where we will enjoy private guided tours (outside normal opening hours) of the historic town and Culross Palace. The Royal Burgh of Culross is a unique survival, a town that time has passed by. It is the most complete example in Scotland today of a Burgh of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Here one can relive the domestic life of the period, and gain some idea of what life was like in Scotland in the reigns of Queen Mary and her son, James VI. The old buildings and cobbled streets create a fascinating time warp for visitors. Close your eyes and you can almost hear the calls of medieval street vendors selling their wares and the clang of hammers on metal as the Hammermen of Culross fashioned the famous girdles.
We will explore the beautiful refurbished Palace which dates from 1597 and has splendid interiors featuring painted woodwork, and 17th- and 18th-century furniture. We will also see the reconstructed early 17th-century palace garden.
During the day we will pass Loch Leven to view Lochleven Castle, which stands on an island in the loch.
This late 14th or early-15th-century tower was the setting for the most traumatic year in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was here in 1567 that she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate. This quiet island setting evokes images of the hapless Mary languishing in her prison, from which she made a dramatic escape in 1568. The 14th-century tower house is still largely complete.
We stop at the historic royal burgh of Falkland in Fife (above) for an independent lunch. There are various options in the town, near the palace.
After lunch we visit Falkland Palace, the country residence of the Stewart monarchs for 200 years, and a favourite place of Mary, Queen of Scots. Set in the heart of Falkland conservation village, and surrounded by extensive gardens, this partly restored Renaissance palace is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. Some of the castle has crumbled, but there is still plenty to discover inside the surviving parts. The original and reconstructed rooms are packed with 17th-century Flemish tapestries, elaborate painted ceilings and antique furnishings. The beautiful, tranquil grounds alone are worth a visit. They are home to the oldest real (or royal) tennis court in Britain, built for King James V.
We will be welcomed by a guide, who will give us an overview of the Palace, then Alison and the other historians will accompany guests around it.
Later in the afternoon we return to Edinburgh and visit Craigmillar Castle. (In October this visit will take place on 11th October - see above.)
The castle of Craigmillar is one of the most perfectly preserved castles in Scotland. Even today it retains the character of a medieval stronghold. Building began in the early 15th century, and over the next 250 years the castle became a comfortable residence surrounded by fine gardens and pastureland. Its history is closely linked to that of the nearby city of Edinburgh, and it played an important part in the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, who fled to Craigmillar following the murder of David Rizzio in 1566. It was here, in December that year, that the plot was hatched to murder Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley.
Built round an L-plan tower house of the early 15th century, Craigmillar was much expanded in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is a handsome ruin, including a range of private rooms linked to the hall of the old tower.
On our return to Prestonfield House, there will be a one-hour presentation by Dr Alison Rosie, Registrar of the National Records of Scotland: ‘Fit for a Queen; a peek inside Mary's Closet’. This fascinating insight will be based primarily on the inventories of Mary's clothing and jewellery, surviving household accounts and other related material held in the National Records of Scotland, and illustrated by images of some of the documents and some portraits.
Dinner is independent tonight, to give you the opportunity of eating at one of the vast choice of good restaurants in Edinburgh - or perhaps joining one of the many ghost tours in the underground city, or visiting atmospheric Mary King's Close.
Overnight: Prestonfield House, Edinburgh.
DAY 5, 16th June/13th October
After breakfast we check out of Prestonfield House and drive south into the scenic Scottish Borders and the pretty market town of Jedburgh. Here we visit Mary, Queen of Scots’ House and Visitor Centre.
A short walk away from 12th-century Jedburgh Abbey, and situated in a garden of pear trees, is a house visited by Queen Mary in October 1566. She had come to the Scottish Borders via Traquair House to preside at local courts and stayed for four weeks. She spent most of the time recovering from her arduous ride to visit the Earl of Bothwell at Hermitage Castle, and was so exhausted that she caught a fever and nearly died of it. Later on, when held in captivity by Elizabeth I of England, she reflected, "Would that I had died in Jedburgh."
The house is one of Scotland’s top visitor attractions. Its rooms contain tapestries, paintings, furniture, armour and some of Mary's possessions, arranged in narrative sections covering her birth and her carefree childhood in France, her return to Scotland as queen, her stormy reign, the plots, her downfall, and her captivity and eventual execution at Fotheringay Castle in 1587. The death mask above was found in Peterborough, where Mary was first buried, and is perhaps one of four said to have been cast from her severed head.
We then drive west through the Borders to Traquair for an included light lunch in the 1745 Cottage Restaurant (below), which is situated in the old walled garden and has won a superb reputation for its delicious home-made soups and lunches. You can also sample Traquair's own famous ales.
After lunch we visit Traquair House.
27 Scottish kings and queens have visited Traquair. Dating back to 1107, the house was originally a royal hunting lodge. Later it became a refuge for Catholic priests. The Stuarts of Traquair supported Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Jacobite cause, without counting the cost. In the 1500s the lairds of Traquair played important roles in public life. John Stuart, 4th Laird of Traquair became Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard to Mary, Queen of Scots, and was host to the Queen when she visited Traquair with her husband, Lord Darnley, and her infant son James in 1566. The cradle where she rocked her baby, her bed and other possessions can still be seen in the house. Today Traquair is a unique piece of living history welcoming visitors from all over the world to its magical and romantic setting. You are invited to enjoy the house, the extensive grounds, the maze, the craft workshops and the famous Traquair House Brewery, housed in the eighteenth-century wing and producing the world famous Traquair House Ales.
We will attend a private welcome reception hosted by the house’s owner, Catherine Maxwell Stuart, 21st Lady of Traquair, in the beautiful 18th-century Dining Room (above centre). Cuvée Catherine, Traquair's own French sparkling wine, and soft drinks will be served. All guests will be provided with a complimentary guide book, and a private guided tour led by the Lady of Traquair will follow.
We then continue our journey south, crossing into England and entering Northumberland via scenic Carter Bar.
We stay the night at Langley Castle Hotel.
Langley Castle Hotel is a 14th-century fortified castle nestling in the Northumbrian valley of the South Tyne, and is known for its romantic atmosphere and exceptional dining. Built in 1350, during the reign of Edward III, the castle has retained its architectural integrity and is one of the few medieval fortified castle hotels in England. Set in its own ten-acre woodland estate, the castle's seven-foot-thick walls provide a peaceful and tranquil refuge in which to escape from today's hustle and bustle to a bygone age. The guest rooms are individual and unique, all with private facilities, and many with four-poster beds and feature bathrooms. Langley Castle is no ordinary castle hotel - it is an experience and an inspiration.
In the evening we gather for drinks and a 6-course dinner in the Stuart Suite (above, left) at Langley Castle, which runs one of the best restaurants in Northumberland, and has been awarded two AA Rosettes for its fine cuisine. Dining in this romantic castle is an experience to savour. The menu offers a variety of dishes to please every palate, with a modern English twist. Local produce, seasonal fish and local game are all specialities, and fine wines compliment the innovative cuisine.
Our after-dinner speaker tonight is the acclaimed historian Linda Porter, whose subject will be Crown of Thistles: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Overnight: Langley Castle Hotel.
DAY 6, 17th June/14th October
After checking out of Langley Castle, we drive south-west to Carlisle in Cumbria on the next stage of our journey south through England, where Elizabeth I kept Mary, Queen of Scots imprisoned for nineteen years.
In the morning we visit Carlisle Castle; they are opening early for us.
Carlisle Castle has played an important role in the history of Carlisle for centuries. First built by King William Rufus (son of William the Conqueror), it is strategically located on the border between England and Scotland and has witnessed many attacks over its 900 years of history. In 1306 a parliament was held here by Edward I during his Scottish campaign. Carlisle later regained fame by providing a prison for the fugitive Mary, Queen of Scots from 18 May to 13 July 1568. Francis Knollys was her reluctant custodian. He came to like and respect his prisoner, who, lacking the comforts to which she was accustomed, continued to beg Elizabeth I for help against the Scottish lords who had deposed her. Mary was allowed certain privileges under guard: riding, watching her retinue play football on the green, and walking with her women outside the castle walls. The stretch between the south-east postern to the great gatehouse on the south came to be called ‘The Lady's Walk’. Queen Mary's Tower, in which Mary was imprisoned, is one of the oldest parts of the castle (below left). Records show that it was the original Norman entrance, blocked when the outer gatehouse and Captain's Tower were built.
We have arranged a tour of the castle that focuses on Queen Mary’s six-week captivity here, following her flight from Scotland.
We then drive south through the beautiful Lake District to Bolton Castle in Yorkshire.
Bolton is one of England’s best preserved medieval castles, situated in the heart of Wensleydale with stunning views over the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Completed in 1399 by Richard le Scrope, Chancellor of England to Richard II, its scars bear testament to over 600 years of fascinating history, including its involvement in the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536-7, Mary, Queen of Scots’ imprisonment in 1568, and a six-month siege during the Civil War.
Bolton Castle was a luxurious family home as well as a defensive fortress and, despite being partially 'slighted' by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers during the Civil War, it is preserved in outstanding condition with many interesting rooms and features to discover, including the Old Kitchens, Dungeon, Solar, Nursery, Armoury, Great Chamber and Mary, Queen of Scots’ bedroom. About one third of the rooms are fully intact and the rest of the castle is almost completely accessible, giving visitors vivid insights into its turbulent past.
Our visit will start with an exclusive three-course lunch in the magnificent Great Chamber, followed by a presentation by historian Richard Almond on Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment at Bolton and her sporting interests. Guests will then be taken on a private guided tour of the castle, focusing on Queen Mary’s imprisonment.
Later that afternoon we drive into South Yorkshire and check into 16th-century Whitley Hall Hotel.
Whitley Hall was built in the reign of Elizabeth I, and its Tudor architecture marries perfectly with contemporary design, allowing guests to revel in 16th-century splendour and twenty-first-century luxury. The house is steeped in history, and Mary Queen of Scots is said to have spent a night in the West Wing. There is a lovely view of the lake from the beautiful gardens, and the luxurious bedrooms are all individually decorated to reflect the unique character of the building. Comfort is a priority, and service is welcoming and accommodating.
It has been said that the jewel in the crown of a stay at Whitley Hall is the quality of the cuisine. Whether a simple bar menu, or the fine dining in the 2-AA rosette restaurant, the food has a reputation for being superbly cooked and exquisitely presented. Tradition at Whitley Hall dictates that mouth-watering aromas and delicate flavours be accompanied by the generous portions you would expect from Yorkshire hospitality. Whatever your tastes, be they exotic, vegetarian or traditional, the restaurant is renowned for a variety of menus designed to appeal to all. Internationally stocked wine cellars provide a beautiful accompaniment to all palates and budgets.
Dinner is independent tonight. Guests may wish to dine in the restaurant, or more informally in the bar, and room service is available.
Overnight: Whitley Hall Hotel.
DAY 7, 18th June/15th October
After breakfast we visit Sheffield Manor Lodge; they are opening today especially for us.
Sheffield Manor is a lodge built about 1516 in what then was a large deer park east of Sheffield, Yorkshire. The remains of Sheffield Manor include parts of the kitchens, the long gallery and the Grade II-listed Turret House - Queen Mary's Tower - which contains fine 17th-century ceilings. Some evidence points to the Turret House having been built by 1574. It has three storeys, each with two rooms, and is comparable with the Hunting Tower at Chatsworth House.
Mary, Queen of Scots was held prisoner by George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury at both Sheffield Manor and Sheffield Castle (her ghost is said by some to haunt the Turret House building). A drawing of the room in which she was confined can be seen top right. She was handed over to the custody of Shrewsbury in 1569. In November 1570 she was taken to his castle at Tutbury, where, apart from a few breaks at Chatsworth and Buxton, and more regular visits to Sheffield and the Manor House, she remained for 14 years. In August 1584 Elizabeth I finally agreed to Shrewsbury’s petition to be released from his charge of Mary - a task that had broken his marriage, his health and his chances of further political advancement. After leaving Sheffield, Mary was taken to Wingfield Manor in Derbyshire by her new gaoler, Sir Ralph Sadler, and then to Tutbury. From there she went to Chartley Manor, Staffordshire, where she became involved in the Babington Plot.
At Sheffield Manor Lodge we will enjoy a guided tour of the Tudor Turret House.
We then depart for Chatsworth, arriving in time for an independent lunch. Various eating options are available at the house.
After lunch, we visit magnificent Chatsworth House.
Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and has been passed down through sixteen generations of the Cavendish family. The house's architecture and collections have been evolving for five centuries. The Earl of Shrewsbury brought his prisoner, Mary, Queen of Scots, to Chatsworth five times between 1570 and 1581. She lodged in the apartment now known as the Queen of Scots’ rooms (see above, two images on left), on the top floor above the great hall, which faces onto the inner courtyard. Queen Mary's Bower, a moated Elizabethan structure that survives in the gardens (top right), is where she is said to have been permitted to relax in the open air.
The house has over 30 rooms to explore, including the magnificent Painted Hall, the regal State Rooms, the newly restored Sketch Galleries and the beautiful Sculpture Gallery. Chatsworth has one of Europe's most significant art collections, which has grown with each generation to live here. The Devonshire Collection encompasses Old Masters, contemporary ceramics, artefacts from ancient Egypt, modern sculpture and computer portraits. The Old Master Drawings Cabinet opened in 2012 to showcase selections from over 2000 pieces within the collection, many of which have not been publicly displayed within living memory.
We have arranged a guided tour of the house, during which we will receive an introduction to some of the key people and objects connected with the history of Chatsworth. The tour lasts about 90 minutes.
In June, we will be joined at Chatsworth by historian Jessie Childs, who will be speaking about 'Mary, Queen of Scots and the English Catholics'.
In the evening, if the weather is fine, we will gather for drinks in the gardens of Whitley Hall (see above), then go inside for an included dinner.
Our guest speaker this evening will be historian David Baldwin, whose talks on previous tours have been very well received. His subject will be 'The Queen of Conspiracy'.
Overnight: Whitley Hall Hotel.
DAY 8, 19th June/16th October
In the morning we visit Tutbury Castle.
Tutbury Castle lies on the site of a Norman settlement, and was begun in 1270. It is situated in the picturesque town of Tutbury on the banks of the river Dove. Only the outer part remains of what used to consist of a south tower with a winding staircase and two chambers, and the high tower in which Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned. Mary first arrived at Tutbury in February 1569 with sixty attendants including her gaoler, Francis Knollys. Soon afterwards she was transferred to the custody of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury who remained her gaoler for most of the next fifteen years.
Of all her prisons, Tutbury was the one Mary hated the most. She always maintained that she had begun her true imprisonment there. Not only was much of Tutbury ruined, but it was also extremely damp, cold and draughty. It had beneath it a large marsh from which malevolent fumes arose, especially unpleasant for a woman of Mary Stuart's delicate health. Mary spent much time on her needlework here. In 1569 she was moved to Wingfield Manor to avoid a rescue attempt, but in 1570, after Elizabeth discovered a plot to marry her to the Duke of Norfolk, Mary was promptly returned to Tutbury. Because of her ill health she was moved to other houses, but in January 1585 she was sent to Tutbury for the third time. She was then guarded by Sir. Ralph Sadler, a kind man who allowed her to go hawking and riding in the park, and take walks within the castle fortifications. Elizabeth objected to this freedom, and in April 1585 Sir Amyas Paulet was appointed Mary’s gaoler. He kept her in strict confinement. On Christmas Eve 1585 Mary was moved to Chartley Castle and thence to Fotheringhay.
The ruined fortifications of the castle are still in place and the shell of the North Tower is still intact. Mary was kept in a single-storey building adjacent to the North Tower, and in recent years the site has been excavated to reveal part of the stone structure. The work was so promising that a four-year project was undertaken by students from Birmingham University as part of their course work. The dig was terminated because of lack of further funding, but some of the items discovered are to be seen in the Hall of Tutbury Castle. Queen Mary's ghost reputedly haunts the castle.
The curator, Lesley Smith (above), is famous for her re-enactments, and, in role as Mary, Queen of Scots, will be giving a talk for us on Mary and her imprisonment at Tutbury. This will be followed by questions.
Afterwards there will be free time for an independent lunch, either in the cafe at Tutbury Castle, which serves light refreshments, or in Tutbury itself, where there is a fourteenth-century pub, the Dog and Partridge, and the Chatterbox Ceramic Cafe.
After lunch we visit Hardwick Hall. Joining us in October will be the acclaimed historian Mary S. Lovell, who will speak about 'Bess of Hardwick vs. Mary Queen of Scots ('the Other Woman')'
Hardwick Hall is one of Britain's finest Elizabethan houses. It was built for Elizabeth Cavendish, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury (below left), who moved in to her new home in October 1597
'Bess of Hardwick', as history recalls her, rose from humble origins to become one of the most powerful people in England in the reign of Elizabeth I. She married four times, each union gaining her more wealth and her fourth husband was George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the richest and most powerful of the English nobles of the age. For many years the Shrewsburys were responsible for the guardianship of Mary, Queen of Scots (whose statue, above right, is at Hardwick). The dynasty created by Bess included many powerful descendants including the dukes of Devonshire, Newcastle, Portland and Kingston.
With its massive windows and fine proportions, Hardwick Hall is an impressive statement of the power and wealth of its creator, who made sure the statement was made quite clear by having her initials ES carved on stone letters on the heads of the towers. The hall was notable for the size of its windows and the amount of costly glass used. Hardwick contains a remarkable collection of 16th-century furniture and paintings. Notable items on view are the large collection of huge tapestries and needlework that covers many of the walls of the rooms and staircases. Some of Queen Mary's own embroidery survives at Hardwick (above right). The house stands within a country park containing rare breeds of cattle and sheep, and the walled and enclosed gardens around the house include a herb garden, orchard and decorative gardens. There is a cafe and National Trust gift shop.
We will be welcomed by Dr Nigel Wright, House and Collections Manager, who will give us an introductory talk about Hardwick Hall and its perceived links to Mary, Queen of Scots.
Afterwards Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood will accompany guests around Hardwick Hall, and there will be free time afterwards, during which you might like to have tea in the new Great Barn Restaurant, and perhaps accompany Alison and Sarah to adjacent Hardwick Old Hall.
The re-modelled 14th-century family home of Shrewsbury’s wife, Bess of Hardwick, one of the richest and most remarkable women of Elizabethan England, stands beside Hardwick New Hall, which she built later in the 1590s. Though the Old Hall is now roofless, visitors can still ascend four floors to view surviving decorative plasterwork, as well as the kitchen and service rooms; an audio tour is available. An exhibition in the West Lodge describes Bess’s adventures in architecture, and how she transformed her birthplace from a medieval manor house into a luxurious Elizabethan mansion.
In June, on our return to the hotel, Dr John Cooper, the acclaimed Tudor historian, will be giving a talk in the Whitley Suite: 'Mary Queen of Scots and the Babington Plot: A Tudor Conspiracy Story'. In October our guest historian will be Jessie Childs (see above), speaking on "Mary, Queen of Scots and the English Catholics".
Dinner is independent tonight.
Overnight: Whitley Hall Hotel.
DAY 9, 20th June/17th October
After checking out of Whitley Hall, we drive south to Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, where we will visit the site of Fotheringhay Castle.
Fotheringhay Castle was an imposing Norman stone motte-and-bailey fortress. The large mound is partly encased by a wide wet ditch and supports the foundations of a polygonal donjon. Inside the inner bailey rampart and ditch are the covered foundations of a great hall and domestic ranges. A large ditched outer bailey, once guarded by a gatehouse and a lake, curves northwards from the bridge to the mill stream. Sadly this once imposing castle, famous as the birthplace of Richard III in 1452 and the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587, has been completely demolished. Only fragments of masonry remain, but it will be on this, the site of her execution, that guests will hear about Mary Stuart’s final days. There will also be timne to visit historic Fotheringhay Church.
Our coach will then drop us off in the charming stone-built town of Oundle. In October guests can enjoy an included light lunch at the historic Talbot Hotel.
The Talbot Hotel is situated in the central conservation area, adjacent to Oundle Public School. It is one of the town's principal buildings and one of the first buildings in England to be classified as a Grade 1 heritage property. The hotel's origins date from the 7th century, although the oldest part is clearly medieval and boasts a modified 16th-century gallery with contemporary graffiti etched into its windows. The hotel is famous for its New Street and inner courtyard facades which were rebuilt with stone from Fotheringhay Castle in 1626-30. The stone mullion windows and timber staircase overlooking the inner courtyard are also from Fotheringhay Castle. The staircase is the one down which Queen Mary descended to her execution at the castle in 1587. Local history has it that an imprint on one of the staircase's newel posts is that of the Queen's ring. The Talbot has recently re-opened following an extensive refurbishment and restoration programme agreed with English Heritage.
The Eatery at the Talbot Hotel is fast gaining a reputation for its cuisine and delightful surroundings.
After lunch we visit Peterborough Cathedral
With one of the most dramatic west fronts in the country, Peterborough Cathedral is an extraordinary creation of medieval architecture. The dramatic Romanesque interior is little altered since its completion 800 years ago and the whole building has recently undergone cleaning and restoration following a dramatic fire in November 2001. With a heritage of over 1,350 years of Christian worship on the site, this is a treasure-house of religious and historic artefacts. Highlights of any visit include Saxon carvings from the earlier buildings on this site, the unique painted nave ceiling, amazing fan vaulting in the 'new' building, elaborately carved Victorian Choir stalls and the burial place of two queens, Katharine of Aragon and Mary Queen of Scots – although Mary’s tomb here is empty, as her son, James VI, removed her remains to Westminster Abbey in 1612. There is an excellent exhibition in the North Nave Aisle, telling of the history of the Abbey and Cathedral with details of its building and its functioning as a major medieval abbey. The abbey was closed in 1539 on the orders of Henry VIII, but instead of being demolished, as so many monasteries were, it was re-launched as the Cathedral of a brand new diocese in 1541.
We then drive west to Warwickshire, where we check into historic Coombe Abbey Hotel (above and below), near Coventry.
Coombe Abbey was founded as a monastery in the 12th century. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century it became royal property, and was the home of Sir John Harington, Elizabeth I’s godson and the inventor of the water closet. Elizabeth of Bohemia, the daughter of King James I, was educated at Coombe Abbey in the early 17th century. Had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded she was to have been abducted from there and proclaimed Queen Elizabeth II. In 1682 the West Wing was added by architect Captain William Winde, who also designed Buckingham House, which later became Buckingham Palace. In 1771 Lancelot 'Capability' Brown redesigned the stunning gardens, incorporating the Coombe Pool lake. For successive generations Coombe Abbey was owned by the Earls of Craven, in whose possession the estate remained until 1923. In November 1964 Coventry City Council bought Coombe Abbey with 150 acres of land. It became a luxury 4* hotel in 1992, and is a mixture of medieval monastery, Tudor moated manor house and Gothick fantasy.
In the evening we will gather for a special farewell dinner in the magnificent Great Hall of St Mary’s Guildhall in Coventry (above), by the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral. St. Mary's Guildhall is one of the finest surviving medieval guildhalls in England, an unexpected treasure in the narrow, winding lanes of Coventry's historic 'Cathedral Quarter', and an oasis of historic charm and tranquillity in the bustling city.
The Great Hall was first built in the 1340s for the merchant guild of St Mary; it was enlarged between 1394 and 1414 and extensively embellished at the end of the fifteenth century. The building still occupies a central role in the civic calendar, being the venue of choice for high-profile conferences, civic banquets and other ceremonies, as well as a regular filming location and highly regarded venue for weddings and prestigious receptions. Inside the Guildhall historic rooms offer an insight into Coventry's past, with collections of early arms and armour, furniture and artworks. The main attraction is the magnificent Great Hall, with its medieval stained glass, a ceiling of carved angels and, dominating an entire wall, one of the rarest and most important late-medieval tapestries in the country.
It is almost certain that Mary, Queen of Scots was detained at the Guildhall in 1569-70. The Tower Room (also known as Mary, Queen of Scots’ Room), with its strong walls and cell-like appearance, has been traditionally identified as the location of her confinement, but she may actually have been held in the Old Mayoress's Parlour (now known as the Drapers' Room), which would have been far more befitting of her status. The room traditionally known as the 'Mary Queen of Scots Room' forms the upper floor of a three-storey structure known as 'Caesar's Tower', which predates the Guildhall. It is thought that the tower may be a surviving part of Coventry Castle, which was already a ruin when the Guildhall was built, and may have formed part of the castle's gatehouse.
In June our guest after-dinner speaker at St Mary's Guildhall will be Lisa Hilton, who will be giving a historical perspective on Mary in her talk 'Mary’s Wicked Uncles- the Queen of Scots and the Anglo-French Empire'.
Overnight: Coombe Abbey Hotel, Warwickshire.
DAY 10, 21st June/18th October
After breakfast, we depart for Westminster Abbey, arriving around noon in time for an included lunch in the Cellarium restaurant.
On the June tour, after lunch, we have arranged private Verger Tours of Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is steeped in more than a thousand years of history. It is famous as the burial place of kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, priests, heroes, villains and some of the most significant people in Britain's history are buried or commemorated - a living pageant of British history. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. In more recent times it has witnessed several royal weddings. The present church, begun by Henry III in 1245, is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, with the medieval shrine of St Edward the Confessor, an Anglo-Saxon royal saint, still at its heart. It is a treasure house of paintings, stained glass, pavements, textiles and other artefacts. The tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom. Here you will see the magnificent tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots – a fitting end to the tour.
On the October tour, we regret that we will be unable to visit Westminster Abbey because a pilgrimage will be taking place on that day. Instead, as a splendid and appropriate, ending to the tour, we will be visiting the Banqueting House, the only substantial remaining part of Whitehall Palace. The first major classical building in England, it was designed for Mary, Queen of Scots’ son, James VI and I, by Inigo Jones for the performance of plays and masques. The magnificent ceiling paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens were commissioned by his son, Charles I, to glorify the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the apotheosis of King James. This iconic building became symbolic of the ill-fated Stuart dynasty and famous as the scene of the execution of King Charles I, grandson of Mary, Queen of Scots. Here Siobhan Clarke and Nicola Tallis will lecture on Mary's legacy, the history of the building, and the Rubens paintings with particular reference to the Union of the Crowns and James I's belief in the divine right of kings.
Alison Weir Tours are thrilled to announce an addition to the programme for the final day of our October tour. We have been able to arrange an afternoon visit to the Charterhouse, one of the most evocative sights in London - and one that few Londoners have ever seen! Hidden behind walls on the edge of the old City, it is a rambling sixteenth-century mansion of the kind which once crowded London, though few survive today - and a house that boasts a particular connection with Queen Mary.
Originally a Carthusian monastery, after the Dissolution the Charterhouse became a private mansion, used by Queen Elizabeth on her way to her coronation and subsequently purchased by her kinsman, the Duke of Norfolk, who renamed it Howard House. It was there that Norfolk was confined under house arrest, after it had come to light he was plotting to marry Mary. (He occupied his time in making improvements which can still be seen today.) It was there too that his involvement in the Ridolfi plot, to place Mary on England's throne, was confirmed when government agents found an incriminating letter 'hidden' - or planted? - under a mat. More than thirty years later, it was at Charterhouse that Mary's son James spent four days on his arrival in London, creating 133 knights in the Great Chamber. Since then Charterhouse has been a school, and an almshouse - which it still is. One of the Brothers will be showing us around the sprawling buildings, rarely open to the public until very recently.
The Charterhouse is situated hard by Smithfield - famously London's meat market, but being redeveloped as vibrant restaurant scene today. Anyone who loves Tudor history, however, will know of Smithfield as a place of execution, famous for the burning of Mary Tudor's Catholic martyrs. The coach will take us on to Smithfield right after our morning visit to the Banqueting House, and there is a good hour before our tour of the Charterhouse begins. So if anyone prefers looking to lunching, we'll be happy to help them explore an area so rich in history.
After the tours finish our coach will be waiting to take us to the Bloomsbury Hotel (below) in London's West End, where the tour ends with a very English treat: afternoon tea (sandwiches, scones, jam and cream, cakes and tea or coffee). Your luggage will be unloaded from the coach ready for your onward journey.
PLEASE NOTE: Hotels, restaurants and most site visits have been booked, but AWT reserve the right to make changes in the interests of improving the experience for our guests, or where circumstances are beyond our control.