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Tales of reformation and revenge at Aberdour

23 June 2009


The 12th-century stronghold of Aberdour Castle will provide a dramatic backdrop on Sunday 5 July for a captivating re-telling of the story of the political intrigue and mystery surrounding the murder of David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary Queen of Scots.

Step back in time to 1566 to meet one of the most important members of the Red Douglases – James Douglas, the 4th Earl of Morton – and hear his account of the riveting tale and his role in it.

Nick Finnigan, Historic Scotland Events Manager, said: “Rizzio's murder was a key point in a campaign by Protestant Scottish nobles and Elizabeth I to destabilise Mary Queen of Scots, whose popularity and policies threatened their preferred status quo.

“The violent murder of Rizzio - whom it was rumoured, had become too close to Mary, may have had an adulterous affair with her, and even fathered her child - was a truly shocking event.  Rizzio was repeatedly stabbed in front of the heavily-pregnant young queen.  His murder was the catalyst for the downfall of Mary’s husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley - who was said to have taken part in the murderous conspiracy, spurred by jealousy and seeking revenge. And it had serious consequences for Mary.

“She was forced to abdicate the following year to the Red Douglas, the 4th Earl of Morton, so who better to tell this incredible tale than he? And Aberdour Castle is a perfect setting for him to share his fascinating memories – it was a Douglas residence.”

In addition to hearing the Earl’s account of the plot to overthrow Mary Queen of Scots in The Red Douglas – Reformation and Revenge on 5th July, visitors will be able to watch 16th-century soldiers practicing their weaponry skills, see the power of the mighty warbow of the time, and hear the roar of muskets and the clash of steel.

The Red Douglas - Reformation and Revenge takes place from noon to 4pm and is included in normal admission price to Aberdour Castle (Adult £4.20, Concession £3.20 and Child £2.10).

Notes for editors

The Douglases
  • One of Lowland Scotland’s greatest families, the Douglases played a far-reaching role in our history, gaining titles, vast estates and huge wealth. The Good Sir James, known as 'the Black Douglas' was one of the most celebrated early Douglases. A loyal supporter of King Robert Bruce, on the king’s death in 1329, he carried Bruce’s heart on crusade but was killed fighting the Moors in Spain. The symbol of Bruce’s ‘bludy hert’ was incorporated into the Douglas arms.

  • In 1388, the 2nd Earl died in battle with no heir and his titles were split between illegitimate members of the family. The senior line was known as Black Douglases and the junior line, Red Douglases.

The Red Douglases
  • This branch of the family led James II’s army against their own Black Douglas kinsmen at Arkinholm in 1455. However, in 1491 Archibald, the 5th Earl, entered into a treasonable pact with Henry VII of England, only to be brought back into line when James IV besieged his castle at Tantallon.

  • After Mary Queen of Scots abdicated to James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, in 1567, the Red Douglases remained loyal to the Protestant James VI & I. In 1689, James, Earl of Angus and Marquis of Douglas, raised the Cameronian Regiment to fight for William of Orange, while James, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, engineered the 1707 Act of Union that created the United Kingdom.

Aberdour Castle
  • One of the key sites linked to the Douglas family, Aberdour is a 12th-century fortified residence boasting a fine painted ceiling, walled garden and beehive-shaped dovecot. Aberdour passed to Sir William Douglas in 1342 and was extended in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Regent Morton built the terraced garden.  

  • Aberdour Castle - situated a short walk from the railway station in Aberdour, five miles east of the Forth Bridges on the A921 (Postcode KY3 0SL) – is one of over 345 outstanding heritage properties and sites in the care of Historic Scotland.  Ranging from prehistoric dwellings to medieval castles, and from cathedrals to industrial buildings, these include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country. Among the most popular are Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart Castles, Skara Brae, and the Border Abbeys.  For further details visit:

  • Historic Scotland’s mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

  • Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting Scotland’s Homecoming 2009 with a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming Pass for heritage attractions in association with other heritage organisations.

For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871