THE arrival of Mary as Queen of Scots on December 14, 1542, was inauspicious, given the massive defeat suffered by the Scottish army at Solway Moss the previous month which hastened the death of her own father, James V, when she was just six days old.

As had happened several times in the foregoing centuries, Scotland was once again reigned over by a minor and as also had happened before, the nobility of the land promptly got into a struggle to control the youngster on the throne. As Scotland’s only queen regnant before the Union of the Crowns – the Fair Maid of Norway died before she could be crowned – Mary would have a place in Scottish history in any case, but the sheer facts of her life and her tragic end make her, in my opinion, the most famous Scottish woman of them all.

Her travails on the throne were far in front of her when custody of the infant queen was immediately ‘claimed’ by Cardinal David Beaton, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Primate of the Catholic Church in Scotland, who wanted her raised to be a devout Catholic. He also said that on his deathbed, James V had appointed Beaton principal or the four regents that would run the country after James’ death. Yet the Reformation was under way in Scotland and James Hamilton, the 2nd Earl of Arran, was a leader of the Protestant cause as well as being second in line to the throne, so he led a revolt of the nobility against Beaton and became de facto Governor of Scotland. One of his first actions was to compel Parliament to pass an Act which allowed people to read the Bible in English, seen by many as a key foundation moment of the Reformation in Scotland.

King Henry VIII in England was the great uncle of Queen Mary and he was determined to marry his son, the future Edward VI, to Mary. The Treaty of Greenwich, chiefly the work of Henry and Arran, in July, 1543, committed both children to be married when Mary was 10.

Angry at England’s impounding of Scottish merchant ships, Arran switched sides and allied himself with Cardinal Beaton and the ­

pro-French party in Scotland.

At this point I would refer readers to the role that Glasgow played in the dispute over the regency which I covered in the early days of this column last November – yes I know what you’re thinking, has he really being going this long?

For sake of completeness and because they are integral to understanding what happened in Glasgow in the middle of the 16th century, I am including a potted version of the events of 1543-44.

The Scottish Parliament did not ratify the Treaty of Greenwich, so Henry decided to make war on Scotland to force the nation to do his bidding – the so-called Rough Wooing. Matthew Stewart, the 4th Earl of Lennox, had been in exile in France but returned to Scotland with hopes of marrying the widowed queen, Mary of Guise, and though he started out as a pro-Marian, pro-Catholic leader he changed sides to become the chief promoter of Henry’s cause in Scotland, as well as being a deadly enemy of Arran.

Civil war was now inevitable and it happened in and around Glasgow, which was seen as Lennox’s fiefdom and where his ally, the Earl of Glencairn, had taken up residence in Glasgow Castle.

On March 16, 1544, the first Battle of Glasgow took place. Lennox led his forces out of Glasgow to the moor east of the city to confront the advancing army of Arran. Lennox and Glencairn between them had some 800 men of whom 500 were armed with spears and pikes. Arran had a much larger army and superior artillery and guns for his troops.

The battle started well for Lennox, as his men broke through the first rank of Arran’s force and captured some cannons, but Arran’s men fought back in very fierce fighting, with 300 men reportedly killed on each side.

As so often happened in mediaeval warfare, the men of Lennox and Glencairn saw that defeat was inevitable and melted away, leaving Arran to seize Glasgow and lay siege to the Bishop’s Castle.

Lennox and Glencairn rode off to Dumbarton Castle, Lennox’s stronghold, but it would not be long before they were back to fight the second Battle of Glasgow, known in history as the Battle of the Butts.

Arran had to return east as Henry VIII’s ‘Rough Wooing’ was under way. Meanwhile Lennox met the English at Carlisle and promised to try and seize and hold the various castles which were so important to the defence of the Scottish realm. These included Glasgow Castle, which was resisting Arran’s forces that had laid siege to the building which contained Lennox’s troops.

As I have written before, historians disagree on what happened in late May 1544, but it is certain that a battle took place in or around the shooting butts used by Glaswegians for archery practice, located east of what is now Gallowgate in the city.

The second Battle of Glasgow, the Battle of the Butts, took place on either May 24 or 25. The Earl of Glencairn led the Lennox forces which included men from Glasgow and what is now West Dunbartonshire as well as Highland clansmen, notably the MacFarlane clan from Loch Lomondside.

It appears that Arran used his far superior artillery to scatter Glencairn’s forces who retreated westwards to Lennox country, pursued by Arran.

A near contemporary chronicle recorded: “At last the earle of Glencairne with his company fled, and the said erlis sone, callit Androw, (Andrew Cunningham) was slane, with many utheris of that pairtie. On the governouris pairtie was slane the laird of Colmiskeith (John Hamilton), his maister houshald, with twelf uther small men, and thairefter the said governour (Arran) past to the toun of Glasgow and spoulzeit the samyne and left littill thairin.”

Sadly we do not know to what extent Glasgow was devastated by the siege of the Castle and then Arran’s revenge after the battle of the Butts. The city was still standing and still a major religious centre when the next great Scottish event involved Glasgow to the hilt – the Reformation.