Mary, Queen of Scots was one of the most fascinating and controversial monarchs in history. 

Following the release of the brand new blockbuster, Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie - parts of which were filmed in the Peak District and Derbyshire - we explore Derbyshire’s links to the ill-fated Queen, and the 15 years she spent in captivity here...

Mary Stuart was just six days old when she became Queen of Scots in 1542.

As a child she was engaged to the the Dauphin Francis - heir to the French throne - and was sent to be brought up at the French Court. But in 1561, whilst still a teenager, Mary’s husband died and she returned to Scotland as a widow.

Mary was a Catholic and her return to rule over Scotland – which was now officially Protestant – was regarded with suspicion.

In 1565, Mary married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, but their union was unhappy and the following year, Darnley was found dead, presumed murdered.

Mary soon married James Hepburn, who was believed to be Darnley's murderer.

Following an uprising against the couple, Mary was forced to abdicate and she fled to England seeking the protection of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth's throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics. Perceiving her as a threat, Elizabeth had her arrested and imprisoned.

Arrival in Derbyshire

Derbyshire and the Peak District was considered a safe, central location to hold the captive queen and on 4th February 1569, Mary Queen of Scots arrived at Tutbury Castle near Derby.

Mary was handed over to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his Derbyshire-born wife Elizabeth, known as Bess of Hardwick. They became her ‘jailers’ for the next 15 years.

George Talbot was chosen as the keeper of Mary due to his immense wealth - few would have been able to afford the cost of keeping a Queen for the 15 years of Mary’s 19 year imprisonment.

Mary, Queen of Scots was held at various locations in and around the Peak District and Derbyshire, including Chatsworth, Wingfield Manor and the Old Hall Hotel in Buxton.

Wingfield Manor

During her captivity, Mary was continually linked to escape plots and in June 1569, she was moved to Wingfield Manor near Alfreton to avoid suspected rescue attempts.

Over the next 15 years, Mary was imprisoned at Wingfield Manor three times. Now owned by English Heritage (with restricted public tours), Wingfield was a grand mansion but Mary still complained of her 'dank and dark' accommodation.

Much worse for the unfortunate Queen was the smell of conspiracy unearthed by Queen Elizabeth’s ‘spymaster’ Francis Walsingham, which eventually cost the Queen of Scots her head.

One of the chief conspirators was young Anthony Babington of the nearby Derbyshire hamlet of Dethick, a page to the Earl of Shrewsbury, who became infatuated with Mary.

Local legend claims that a walnut tree in the ground of Wingfield Manor sprouted from a seed left after Babington smeared walnut juice over his face to disguise himself as a gypsy when making his clandestine visits to Mary!

#uniquedistrict #sunset #buxton

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The Old Hall Hotel, Buxton

George Talbot and Bess of Hardwick built the Old Hall Hotel (then called the New Hall) in Buxton in 1572, and Mary petitioned Queen Elizabeth I for permission to be taken there.

Mary suffered from a mystery illness – possibly rheumatism – and Buxton's thermal spa waters were believed to have healing properties.

In 1573, her request was granted and Mary Queen of Scots visited the Old Hall Hotel at Buxton most summers.

Although Mary had to give one hour’s notice if she wished to leave her apartment and was allowed no visitors after 9pm, evidence suggests she enjoyed her time there.

George Talbot hosted lavish banquets and gave gifts to Mary from his estates; all to the apparent annoyance of Queen Elizabeth I.

The hotel became the regular venue for the highest nobility of the land and the centre for alleged traitorous planning against the crown of England. It was said that the future of England was determined more at the Old Hall Hotel in Buxton than in London! 

Whilst staying at the Old Hall Hotel, Mary etched writing onto the bedroom window panes - using a diamond ring! Copies of the writing can still be seen today, the most famous of which is called 'Farewell to Buxton':

‘Buxton, whose warm waters have made thy name famous, perchance i shall visit thee no more-Farewell’

Today, visitors to the Old Hall Hotel can even stay in ‘Mary’s Bower'!

Chatsworth House, Bakewell

George Talbot's wife, Elizabeth, better known as Bess of Hardwick, was the second most powerful woman in England during her time, and also one of the richest. 

Bess built the first house on the Chatsworth estate, later constructed Hardwick Hall, ‘more glass than wall’ and also designed her own memorial in Derby Cathedral, where she was buried.

The couple deemed Chatsworth a suitable place to imprison the ill-fated queen and Mary Queen of Scots was held at Chatsworth at various times throughout the 1570s.

Her lodgings were on the east side of the house where the rooms, although changed beyond recognition, are still called the Queen of Scots Apartments. The Hunting Tower, now luxury accommodation, is one of just two buildings that remain from this time.

Another building that remains from this time is Queen Mary’s Bower, which was allegedly constructed to provide a raised exercise ground for the captive queen. 

After 19 years in custody – and 15 years captive in Derbyshire and the Peak District – Mary was executed for treason at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire in 1587, for her alleged involvement in three plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I.

The Film: Mary Queen of Scots (2019)

Mary’s tragic story has been brought to life on the big screen in the blockbuster Mary Queen of Scots (2019), starring Saoirse Ronan as the eponymous monarch and Margot Robbie as her rival Queen Elizabeth I.

Parts of the film were shot at Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield and Haddon Hall near Bakewell – offering visitors to Derbyshire the chance to follow in the footsteps of movie stars.

Haddon Hall and the National Trust’s Hardwick Hall were used in scenes representing Hampton Court Palace – with Haddon’s beautiful medieval Long Gallery used in shots with actress Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth I).

Filming Mary Queen of Scots (2019) at Haddon Hall © Focus Features LLC. All rights reserved

Private rooms at Haddon, including the Boot Room, were also used as the interior of Lord Darnley’s Chamber at Holyrood; the anteroom to the State bedroom was used as a servant prep room; and the entrance and lower courtyard were used as a makeshift camp.

At Hardwick, the hall and grounds were used as external shots of Hampton Court Palace, including a scene where actress Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth I) is standing on the roof of Hardwick Hall.

Why not celebrate the launch of the film by following in the footsteps of the real Mary Stuart and her Derbyshire guardian, Bess of Hardwick?

The area is one of the UK’s most interesting places to visit for film-inspired breaks.

For other famous film locations in the area, click here to see 14 top film locations in Derbyshire and the Peak District.




  1. Gary
    Really good piece to read thank you. But Fotheringhay castle is in Northamptonshire not Nottinghamshire.
  2. Kath
    Thanks for these beautiful photos and interesting brief descriptions.

    We have visited Derbyshire several times during holidays from Sydney, Australia, and cant wait to return after restrictions are lifted.
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