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Mary, Queen of Scots in Sheffield
Mary Queen of Scots in a BBC drama
Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk as depicted in a 1967 BBC drama

Sheffield's Manor Lodge is now a crumbling ruin in the middle of a housing estate but in the 1500s Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned here.

Sheffield Castle and Manor Lodge were the two grandest buildings in Sheffield in the 1500s. Both were owned by the successive Earls of Shrewsbury.

The stone castle was a large defensive structure that dominated the town. Manor Lodge was built in 1510 as a hunting lodge in the Earl's deer park, but by the 1570s it had been rebuilt into a large, impressive manor house.

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I wanted her Catholic cousin Mary to be imprisoned

Because the lodge is now a ruin, its important role in the history of England is not always obvious to the people of Sheffield.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary abdicated the Scottish throne and fled to England in 1568, but she was considered a threat to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and locked up for 19 years until her execution in 1587.

The Scottish Queen wasn't thrown into a gloomy cell though - she resided in Sheffield for much of her imprisonment under the care of George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury.

You may recognise some of the names in this historical story - Talbot (Street), Norfolk (Park), Shrewsbury (Road) - yes, they come from the names of royalty and nobility.

It may also be the reason for the name of a former Park Hill estate pub: The Scottish Queen. Its location was between where Sheffield Castle would have been (now Castle Market) and where the remains of Sheffield Manor Lodge now stand, just off City Road.

Why was Mary imprisoned?

The Babington Plot at St Giles field, London. Date unknown. Hulton Getty archive.
The Babington Plot at St Giles field, London. Date unknown.

Queen Elizabeth I of England had changed England from being a Catholic country, back to being Protestant again and as a result she had many enemies.

Mary, Queen of Scots was born a Catholic in Scotland in 1542. Her father was James V of Scotland, who died six days after Mary was born.

England remained a Protestant country but Mary had a strong claim to the English throne and therefore posed a threat to Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth's father Henry VIII had married Anne Boleyn but this marriage was viewed as illegal by Catholics.

Scotland was a different story, though. While Mary had been spending her young life in France, Scotland had become a Protestant country again.

So the Catholic Mary wasn't popular with the Scots. They especially turned against her when she married Lord Bothwell, who had been the chief suspect in the murder of her previous (second) husband Lord Darnley.

Detail of Mary's letter to the Laird of Barnbarroch, 1571, Sheffield Archives
Detail of Mary's letter to the Laird of Barnbarroch, 1571, Sheffield Archives

It was at this point - in around 1569 - that Mary fled Scotland for England, hoping to get help and support from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.

But Elizabeth was worried that Mary would raise Catholic support and take the throne, so she put Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots under lock and key for the next 19 years. She was placed under the care of George Talbot, the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury.

This is where Sheffield comes in. Much of Mary's imprisonment was spent at Sheffield Castle and Manor Lodge under the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick (aka Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury).

Sheffield Castle no longer exists and Castle Market stands on its remains but Manor Lodge turret house and other ruins still stand just off City Road in Sheffield, in the middle of the Manor estate. You can go and see it any time you like.

Mary's letters

When the Treasures of the V&A exhibition came to Sheffield's Millennium Gallery in 2009, some important pieces of Sheffield's history were put on show.

They included embroideries by Mary and Bess Hardwick, and several letters from Mary.

The letters show that Mary was determined to be freed from her captivity in Sheffield on the grounds that as a queen she was wrongfully imprisoned. She claimed she was no threat to the rule of Queen Elizabeth in England so she wrote to friends, supporters, nobility, kings and queens during her 19 years captivity to try and gain support for her release.

The Babington Plot at St Giles field, London. Date unknown.
The Babington Plot at St Giles field, London. Date unknown.

Two of the letters which went on show at Treasures from the V&A, usually held by Sheffield Archives, were written to the Laird of Barnbarroch in April and May 1571. The third letter to Lord Burghley, dated 1572, was on loan from a private collection.

In a separate letter from the Earl of Shrewsbury to William Cecil (Baron Burghley) dated September 24th 1572, the Earl writes:

"These are to advertise you that this Queen remains still within the four walls in sure keeping, and these persons continue very quiet, thanks be to God. She is much offended at my restraint from her walking without this castle, but for all her anger, I will not suffer her to pass out of these gates."

To My Lord of Bourghly great Tresurare [Treasurer] of England My Lord. We have receaved a box with some tokens, sent from My Lady oure Grandmother by the earle of Shrewisbery, which he said come throu your meanse. Wherof we give you hartey thankes. And we have delyvered agane one other herewith, containing a token of our work to oure said Grandmother which we praye you to cause delyvere furely in Monsr. de la Mothe, the king oure good brother's ambassadoures hands, with oure lettre to accompany the same. And if you suspect any other thing you may oppen them. We have writen a lettre, to the quene, oure good sister, whereunto we praye you also to Joyne youre favorable suite in oure behalf, con forme to that, which we have written more amply to the said Ambassador, whereof we are sure you wilbe made participant. God almightie preserve you. From Shefelde castell the 17th daye of Januarie 1572 Your veri good frind Marie R.
Letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots to Baron William Cecil Burghley

Lord Burghley was responsible for Mary's execution. He organized a spy system in 1570 and in fact it was he who eventually took responsibility for Mary's execution in 1587. Burghley was Queen Elizabeth's secretary and the Treasurer of England.

Mary wrote the letter to Burghley while imprisoned in Sheffield. In it she thanks him for allowing her to receive a gift from her grandmother, Duchess Antoinette of Guise. Mary's grandmother had played an important part in her young life in the French Court.

The 'token of our work to our said grandmother' referred to in the letter was presumably a small embroidery made by Mary.

She passed a lot of time during her imprisonment embroidering with her host Bess of Hardwick, who was an accomplished needlewoman. Many of Bess's embroideries are still on show at Hardwick House in Derbyshire.


One of the pieces which was on show at Sheffield Millennium Gallery (on loan from the V&A, London) was of a monkey, or 'an eape.' Mary and Bess often used pictures from books as inspiration for their needlework.

Detail of an embroidery
An 'eape' embroidered by Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick.

The monkey is embroidered in linen, silk and gold tissue on velvet, and it was based on a woodcut from Historiae Animalium (1560) by Conrad Gesner. Mary's initials, MR, are embroidered under the monkey's table.

Another of the pieces shows Mary's pet dog Jupiter. Others include symbolic messages that reflected how she felt about her captivity in Sheffield.

The end for Mary

The Duke of Norfolk (hence Norfolk Park in Sheffield) was an admirer of Mary, Queen of Scots and planned to marry her, but Queen Elizabeth I of England did not give her approval.

The Duke of Norfolk still kept up his contact with Mary though. It was with his help, and others of the Catholic nobility, that Mary was able to plot against Elizabeth while she was not being too closely guarded in Sheffield.

Eventually a letter from Mary to Thomas Babington was intercepted. It implicated her in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Some say that Mary was set up, others think she was at the heart of the plot to take the English throne from Elizabeth.

Whatever the true version of events, Mary was beheaded for treason.

What happened to the Manor next?

In the years after Mary had left Sheffield Manor, the Earl of Shrewsbury passed it into the hands of the Duke of Norfolk, and in the early 17th century the building began to fall into disrepair. The site is now owned by Green Estate and it is currently (2009) undergoing an archaeological dig.

In Pictures: Mary Queen of Scots
28 Jul 09 |  History


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