As Mary Queen of Scots is given the Hollywood treatment in a new film released this week, we need to look at her time in Sheffield as it forms a very important part of not just local history, but English and European as well.
Mary arrived in a cloak of secrecy at Sheffield Castle on November 28, 1570. Little did she know (or did any of the others connected to her) that she would spend almost 14 years (a third of her life) in Sheffield between the Castle and Manor Lodge.
By this time, Mary had been in England since May 1568 and under the Shrewsbury custodianship at Tutbury, Wingfield Manor and Chatsworth from February 1569. It was deemed to be more secure to have Mary ensconced in the formidable Sheffield Castle with its swirling river moat, six feet thick walls, built on solid bedrock and only one entrance to guard.
Mary’s custodians were George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and his formidable wife, Bess of Hardwick. They were chosen primarily by Queen Elizabeth I as they were loyal to their Queen and the Protestant faith, had position as leading courtiers (plenty of money to go with it) and their estate went across the midlands-well away from Scotland and London.
After the Ridolfi plot had been discovered and dealt with (1571), Mary now had to suffer its ramifications in that her imprisonment was strictly imposed. From a working court of 40-50 attendants, it was to be reduced to 16 and she would have no say as to who would leave. Her apartments were also reduced and would now have bars to the windows. She would have to give one hours notice to leave her apartments just for basic exercise.
The Sheffield custodianship was hard for Mary as she could not receive exercise and fresh air in sufficient quantity. The cold, damp, dingy and dismal Sheffield Castle (being 300 years old) eventually contributed to arthritis and rheumatism-“her wretched prison” as she called it.
Things did improve when Mary was allowed to go to Manor Lodge in April 1573 and during the rest of her time in Sheffield, she spent some time up there of each year (apart from 1575) until she left in Sheffield in 1584. Manor Lodge was greatly extended to take Mary and her entourage to be kept in royal status. Manor Lodge was situated in the middle of the Great Sheffield Deer Park.
Mary, although seriously confined, indulged in writing, reading and her favourite pastime of embroidery. Being kept in the manner of a queen, she indulged in bathing in and washing in the best white wine much to Shrewsbury’s annoyance (he was picking the bills up).
During her time in Sheffield, Mary did go on summer sojourns to Buxton and Chatsworth for weeks at a time (a major logistical exercise).
By 1584, Mary had become a premature middle aged to elderly lady, yet she was only 42 years old. She could hardly walk (classed as infirm/lame). She had become overweight and her hair had turned grey at 36. She wore different wigs to hide her short, wispy grey hair. Shrewsbury’s health, wealth and marriage had been seriously damaged. Bess, had moved back to Chatsworth, estranged from her husband.
Within two years of leaving Sheffield, Mary became embroiled in the Babington plot and was tried and executed at Fotheringhay castle (Feb 1587) for high treason. Sheffield should always be remembered as having the captive Queen for the majority of her time in England.
Written by David Templeman, author of “Mary, Queen of Scots, the Captive Queen in England” now on sale at Sheffield Manor Lodge and at Sheffield Scene, Surrey Street S1 2LG price £9.99.