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French poet commits lèse-majesté in Burntisland and a cairn marks link with Norway

A serious incident occurred in Burntisland on 14 February 1563, when a man entered the bedchamber of Mary Queen of Scots, during her visit to Rossend Castle. The intruder, a young French courtier and poet, Pierre de Boscosel de Chastelard, was no stranger to the queen. When she returned to Scotland from France two years previously, Chastelard travelled as a member of her retinue. Mary had resided at the French court from the age of 5 and married the heir to the throne on reaching the age of 16 in 1558. When her husband acceded to the throne as Francis II the following year, Mary briefly became queen consort of France until she was widowed in 1560.

Rossend Castle
Mary Queen of Scots

The incident at Rossend Castle was the second occasion on which Chastelard attempted to approach the queen in private. Previously, he had entered her chamber at Holyrood Palace, and concealed himself under the bed. On that occasion he was discovered by Mary’s attendants and punished for his transgression by being sent away from the court. Shortly afterwards he repeated the attempt at Rossend Castle and entered Mary’s bedchamber as she was disrobing. The queen’s startled cries summoned assistance and Chastelard was immediately apprehended. He was tried, condemned and, on 22 February 1563, executed in the market square in St Andrews.

The motivation for Chastelard’s actions is uncertain. It has been suggested that his rash behaviour was due to an infatuation with the queen, possibly encouraged by Mary’s demeanour toward him at the court. An alternative explanation points to the possibility that he was part of a Huguenot plot to discredit or assassinate a Catholic queen. Whatever reason lay behind them, the young French court poet, at the age of only 22, paid dearly for his actions.

A more recent and happier European association is marked by a cairn erected in a park in 1996 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a town twinning link with the community of Flekkefjord in southern Norway. The partnership – established in 1946 – is one of the oldest twinning arrangements in Scotland. The association with Norway, chosen by Burntisland school children, was prompted by the presence of Norwegian forces in the area during the Second World War.

50th anniversary cairn

Rossend Castle is situated in Melville Gardens, Burntisland. It is not open to the public.
The memorial cairn is located at the western end of The Links.


Rossend Castle image © Kevin Rae, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Queen of Scots portrait by François Clouet, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Cairn image © Paul Vyšný, CC BY-SA 4.0