Foreign Queens in Scottish Heritage Sites

By Amy Saunders

View of Stirling Castle from the castle’s ‘Ladies Lookout’, demonstrating both its defensible position and its geographical importance as the ‘Gateway’ between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. ©Amy Saunders.

Stirling Castle, Scotland’s best rated castle on TripAdvisor, attracted over 600,000 visitors in 2018-2019 and has, over time, housed and hosted numerous Scottish monarchs including James V (1512-1542), Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), and James VI (1566-1625).[1] However, through marriage it is also a site influenced and shaped by the lives and reigns of foreign queen consorts, including Marie de Guise (1515-1560) and Anna of Demark (1574-1619). Anna’s great-granddaughter – Queen Anne (1665-1714) – also placed her own mark, quite literally, on Stirling Castle. Born in England, Anne never visited Scotland during her reign despite the Acts of Union in 1707. In this way she, too, could be perceived in Scotland as a foreign queen who influenced the physical site of Stirling Castle and continues to be part of its narrative today.

This blog explores how these foreign queens interacted with Stirling Castle, and how the castle’s interpretation text represents those interactions. Interpretation text at heritage sites can embody a wide range of different formats that presents a site, display, or exhibition; this includes labels that accompany specific objects and panels that introduce the theme of a display, a room or a building. Although there are many other types of interpretation text, and lots of other types of interpretation beyond that which is written, it is largely interpretation text panels describing people, rooms and events, that are analysed within this blog.

Marie de Guise was born in 1515 in the Duchy of Lorraine (now part of modern-day France) and married James V in 1538. Although Stirling Castle has ancient origins, the marriage of James and Marie led to a substantial building project at the castle, with James creating a new royal palace within the walls. This project included the construction of a new set of buildings, as well as the creation of the famous Stirling Heads (oak carved roundels which decorated one of the ceilings), and a scheme of sculptures that decorate the outside of the palace.

At the site, Marie de Guise, is represented as a foreign queen who “introduced the most fashionable French music and dances to the Scottish Court”.[2] Her French origin is also highlighted elsewhere at the castle, with another piece of interpretation stating that she was “a distinguished French noblewoman” and explaining that in much anglicised scholarship she is referred to as Mary.[3] The importance of music is emphasised through an interactive section where visitors can test replicas of different instruments used at the royal court, including a harp, a drum, and a clavichord, as seen in the image below. Through the avenue of music, the interpretation highlights that James and Marie had shared interests, and therefore implies that they had a successful personal relationship. The interpretation states that “Singing and dancing were part of everyday life” and that “King James V enjoyed singing and playing his lute.”[4]

‘The Sound of the Stewart Court’, Interpretation at Stirling Castle. ©Amy Saunders.

In contrast to Marie, Anna of Denmark is rarely mentioned at Stirling Castle. Anna married James VI in 1589 and both fulfilled her maternal duty through multiple pregnancies, which resulted in three children surviving to adulthood, and was an important cultural patron with a vast network of familial links across Europe. Despite James VI commissioning a new chapel to celebrate the birth of their first son, Henry, Anna is not present within the Stirling Castle interpretation. One panel extensively discusses the elaborate rebuilding of the Chapel Royal and the celebrations James planned for Henry’s birth, but Anna is missing. She is not even credited in this space as Henry’s mother. Here, Henry is described as James’s son and the baptism an event that was “stage-managed to proclaim the Stuart dynasty worthy of both [England and Scotland’s] thrones.”[5] This ignores Anna’s pregnancy and does not discuss how important the birth was beyond Scotland and England.

Anna and James’ marriage aimed to strengthen ties between Denmark and Scotland, and the birth of an heir was not only a success for James and his desire to rule England, but for Anna’s family as well. In another section of the castle, a timeline mentions Anna, but not by name, and implies that the event of Prince Henry’s birth and baptism were internationally important and noted. This text quotes, but does not deconstruct, William Fowler’s sixteenth century account of the celebrations, stating that, “On the king’s left hand, next to the queene’s majestie, sat the ambassadour of Denmark, and ambassadours from the states of Holland and Zealand”.[6] Whilst Henry is mentioned in several pieces of interpretation text throughout the castle, Anna is not, and when referred to it is only vaguely, and her cultural importance is not noted.

Finally, it is in the garden next to the palace that another foreign queen, though this time a reigning one rather than a consort, is discussed: Queen Anne. The garden, which from the fifteenth century was a place where “the royal family could enjoy this formal garden close to their chambers”, was renamed the Queen Anne garden “in the early 1700s”.[7] Close to the garden, the castle’s inner gate is also marked with her cipher, with interpretation text stating that “Anne had the Outer Defences, including this gate, built in 1708 after her half-brother James Stuart contested her right to the crown”.[8] Despite these enduring marks of Anne’s queenship, Anne never actually visited Stirling Castle, a contrast to Anna of Denmark, who was frequently resident and who is barely remembered in the interpretation.[9]

Queen Anne’s monogram above the gate at Stirling Castle. ©Amy Saunders.

Today, the site celebrates Marie de Guise as a cultured queen consort, who brought her own tastes and interests with her and influenced the Scottish royal court. In comparison, Anna of Denmark is almost entirely absent from the narrative of queenship within the site. This may be due to the 2011 restoration project at Stirling Castle focusing on reconstructing the 1540s Royal Palace, which therefore highlights the lives and reigns of James V and Marie de Guise, rather than providing an in-depth look at the later sixteenth century life of the castle. However, Anna’s absence in the narrative concerning the birth of her son Henry and the absence of Anna in terms of discussions regarding cultural influence may be rooted both in gender bias and in the now-outdated historiographical narrative which presented Anna as a frivolous and politically unimportant queen consort. This view has since been significantly challenged by scholars including Clare McManus and Jemma Field.[10]

Anna’s absence also leads to questions regarding the tie between memory and physical spaces. With the physical remaining spaces of Stirling Castle representing the building programmes of James V and James VI, it is perhaps not surprising that Anna, and many others who lived on the site both before James V and after, are missing from the narrative presented. When interpreting any heritage site something will inevitably always be missed due to a whole range of economic, political, and practical factors, but Anna’s exclusion from Henry’s birth narrative is an oversight, especially when Anna’s family ties and her close relationship with Henry, were so influential on the young prince. The importance of the physical, tangible remains of heritage sites is further supported by the inclusion of Anne in the narrative at Stirling Castle. Anne placed a physical reminder of her queenship on the gateway and commissioned the building of additional defences. Thus, the very survival of these buildings act as a conduit for her inclusion at Stirling despite her never visiting the site.

Stirling Castle is now part of Historic Environment Scotland and open to the public daily.

Recommended Reading

Anon, ‘Restoring Magnificence: The restoration of the palace at Stirling Castle’, Stirling Castle Blog, accessed 4 July 2022, https://blog.stirlingcastle.scot/2021/12/15/restoration/

Brian Sinclair, ‘A Long Standing Garden’, Stirling Castle Blog, accessed 04 July 2022, https://blog.stirlingcastle.scot/2018/07/17/a-long-standing-garden/#:~:text=Faced%20with%20a%20possible%20Jacobite,herself%20never%20visited%20Stirling%20Castle

Clare McManus, Women on the Renaissance Stage, Anna of Denmark and Female Masquing in the Stuart Court, 1590-1619, (Manchester University Press, 2002).

Jemma Field, Anna of Denmark, The Material and Visual Culture of the Stuart Courts, 1589-1619, (Manchester University Press, 2020).

Sarah Fraser, The Princes Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, (Williams Collins, 2017)


[1] Anon, ‘Castles in Scotland’, TripAdvisor, accessed 02 August 2022, https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attractions-g186485-Activities-c47-t6-Scotland.html. Anon, ‘Another record-breaking year for Scottish heritage sites’, Historic Environment Scotland, accessed 02 August 2022, https://www.historicenvironment.scot/about-us/news/another-record-breaking-year-for-scottish-heritage-sites/.

[2] Wall Text, ‘The Sound of the Stewart Court’, Stirling Castle, accessed 19 April 2022.

[3] Wall Text, ‘1538’, Stirling Castle, accessed 19 April 2022.

[4] Wall Text, ‘The Sound of the Stewart Court’, Stirling Castle, accessed 19 April 2022.

[5] Label Text, ‘For the Son and Heir’, Stirling Castle, accessed 19 April 2022.

[6] Label Text, ‘A ‘delicate banquest of great abundance’, Stirling Castle, accessed 19 April 2022.

[7] Wall Text, ‘Queen Anne Garden’, Stirling Castle, accessed 19 April 2022. Brian Sinclair, ‘A Long Standing Garden’, Stirling Castle Blog, accessed 04 July 2022, https://blog.stirlingcastle.scot/2018/07/17/a-long-standing-garden/.

[8] Wall Text, ‘The Inner Gate’, Stirling Castle, accessed 19 April 2022.

[9] Sinclair, ‘A Long Standing Garden’.

[10] Clare McManus, Women on the Renaissance Stage, Anna of Denmark and Female Masquing in the Stuart Court, 1590-1619, (Manchester University Press, 2002). Jemma Field, Anna of Denmark, The Material and Visual Culture of the Stuart Courts, 1589-1619, (Manchester University Press, 2020).


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