Dear readers, tonight with me is the ghost of the trusted lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots. She is here to tell us of royal life in in sixteenth century Scotland.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
Ah, Scotland. We were a mobile household, but that’s what life was like in sixteenth century Scotland. I was one of seven, so they were lively times. That’s the thing about a good castle; what’s designed to protect and defend in times of siege and attack is great fun for children, left unsupervised by busy and worried parents. We ran riot. You ask about a favourite toy, but really, I wasn’t that keen on playing with toys; I preferred to lose myself in my thoughts, or play with my brothers and sisters. We practiced our courtly behaviour, making sure we were ready to take our places in society. You grew up fast in those days, especially when your brother was stepfather to the King of Scotland; we were practically royalty.
What do you do now?
It’s ironic, really, now, to be the trusted lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots, after what happened between her father and I. Happily, she believes that I never truly tried to kill him, and I was certainly never a witch. Queen Mary, she understands how times were, and is glad to have somebody by her side who can truly support her, with an empathy as to what she went through herself.
My days are largely my own, especially when the Queen is not in town. I don’t accompany her out of town, although I hope if she ever goes on a progress, that I would be able to attend her. When she is in town, I greet her each morning, we agree her itinerary for the day, and whether she needs any support from myself or Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, her right-hand-man these days. He’s such a good man; we make quite the team.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Her Grace Queen Mary’s latest visit. She comes every year, at least once, usually during August, so she can enjoy what the festival has to offer. This year has been, interesting. She cares about her court, truly, but this year, the problems have been closer to home, what with her father’s mood lowering so badly, and then, well, other matters. We have all had to pull together, the ghosts of the Royal Mile. But then, that’s what we are good at. Whether it’s consoling the poor lad down in the tunnels, or keeping Greyfriar’s Bobby out of trouble, we know our roles, and we carry them out. Even the Covenanters know their place, once they are reminded of it.
And don’t forget the haunting. There’s nothing like a good haunting to lift the mood around here. They make it easy for us, with all the ghost tours; we can have our pick of victims, either the guides or the guided, depending on how we feel.
What did you first think when you heard of King James’ melancholy?
It’s terrible really. We all know Queen Mary cares so much for her father, but, well, when I heard his sadness had become deeper than usual, I wasn’t particularly concerned. This is the man who had me burned at the stake, remember, why should I be worried if he’s not as chipper as he used to be? But then, Her Grace can be persuasive, and I do like my place at her side. My task was easy enough anyway, just stay out of his way. Not too difficult when we live at opposite ends of the Royal Mile, him rarely leaving Holyrood Palace, and me preferring the way of life at Edinburgh Castle. But things do so often get out of hand. The arrival of Lord Darnley did not help matters. But then, when did it ever?
What is the worst thing about being a ghost?
Now that is easy. No food. Don’t get me wrong, going without food seems to be the goal of so many women I overhear these days, especially when being tempted by the delicious home-baking which we’re surrounded by along the Mile, but personally, I would give anything to taste roast meat, or, indeed, some of that home-baking.
We have so many advantages, being able to slip in and out of visibility, whether we are tangible or not, and of course, floating around has significant advantages in a city like Edinburgh, which is just so full, but you see everyone tucking into this beautiful food, and you realise you haven’t eaten for almost five hundred years!
What is the best thing about it?
Not having any limitations. Queen Mary has been on one of these new-fangled planes, and drifting through doors, walls and even the ground itself; it makes beating the crowds a piece of cake. Rats, we’re back to cake – see, I told you I missed food.
Tell us a little about your friends.
I mentioned Sir William. He and I work together most frequently, ensuring things are as Queen Mary expects, but when she isn’t around, we tend to try and keep the peace as best we can along the Mile. Their Graces, Queens Madeleine de Valois and Marie de Guise are often to be found in the Castle, or visiting their husband James the Fifth at Holyrood Palace, so we are used to keeping house for royalty. But I do tend to keep myself to myself. Being burned as a witch can give you a bad reputation, even when it’s not deserved, and it’s hard sometimes to get people to see past that. Clara and a few of the other ladies are fine, but it’s easier solo at times.
Any romantic involvement?
How rude! No. Of course not. Why? What have you heard? Queen Mary is always teasing me about Boots, the wretch who haunts the arches, but honestly, the man is a monster. Why would I ever be interested in him?
Neither of my husbands have ever shown up mind, so I suppose there’s always the possibility. There are one or two knights, men, sorry, who are not unpleasant company.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
Darnley. That man has never caused anything but trouble. Giving Queen Mary a son was the only thing he ever did which wasn’t a waste of time. Not that I would ever wish anyone ill-will, you understand, but some people just deserve everything they get. Or got, I suppose, with Darnley. Whenever he’s in town, poor Mary never seems at ease, always watching over her shoulder, even if she won’t admit it. Even when he is supposed to be elsewhere, there’s always that worry that he’ll show up.
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
I still enjoy a good party. We’re lucky in Edinburgh, with the various festivals, theatres and concert halls; there’s always so much going on. And of course, sell-out shows are no barrier to we spirits! I loved to dance when I was alive, all those gorgeous courtly balls, the candlelight flickering, bouncing off the cloth-of-gold of our great king, and the jewels. I do miss my jewels. I had stunning pearls, rubies, everything. I get to borrow the odd piece of Queen Mary’s collection now, for our finer trips out, but it’s never quite the same.
What does the future hold for you?
I always hold out hope for a Royal Progress. I should so love to get out of the city, en masse with the others, and see more of the country I loved so much in life. Queen Mary often jokes about the number of castles and grand stately homes she stayed in, or those who claim she did, and apparently, her ghost is a frequent visitor to many. Well, we know she cannot be everywhere at once, so it would be interesting to go and meet these poor women who have been named as the Queen, find out who they really are.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
Ha! Secrets are a rare, rare thing at court, always were. You’re practically living on top of each other, such close circumstances. It’s nice to have a bit more space these days, but that’s the thing with invisibility, people can sneak up on you, you never know whether you’re going to be seen, overheard, or caught somewhere you shouldn’t be.
I will say one thing though, maybe there is a gentleman on the horizon after all, if events of New Year are anything to go by…
Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.
You can find Janet Douglas on the pages of the Kindred Spirits series (starting with Kindred Spirits: Tower of London).
Join us next week to meet an android from the 22nd century. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.
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