At about 2.00am on 10th February 1567, there was a massive explosion at the collegiate buildings of Kirk o’ Field being occupied by Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, King Consort of Mary Queen of Scots. The whole of the Old Provost’s Lodging and the adjacent Prebentaries’ Chamber were completely destroyed. Later that morning Darnley’s body was found in an adjacent garden, killed not by the explosion but strangled as he tried to flee the devastation. Establishing what happened that day, and who was involved in his murder, has been one of the most controversial topics of Scottish History.
When I came to write ‘The Challenge to the Crown‘, I realized that I needed to understand the layout of Kirk o’ Field, and where it was located within Edinburgh. Having searched through the archives of the National Library of Scotland, it was clear that there was no contemporary map of the period. The only helpful plan that I was aware of was made in 1647 by James Gordon. While this probably shows Edinburgh with a similar layout to that existing ninety years before, it, unfortunately, shows no trace of the collegiate buildings, although the ruins of the old Kirk can still be seen. James VI (& I) had made a point of removing every trace of the place where his father, Darnley, had been murdered, and he had used the space to provide the location of the original Edinburgh University.
By working out the layout of the collegiate buildings, it might be possible to show how the buildings were accessed to deliver the gunpowder. I hoped to be able to refute the evidence of the implausible depositions taken from conspirators after the explosion. Although Victorian historians had painstakingly calculated the buildings dimensions, evidence of their layout is limited to the well-known plan of the murder scene made by one of William Cecil’s spies (shown below). This drawing takes a bit of deciphering, not least because the Old Provost’s Lodging and adjacent Prebendaries’ Chamber were reduced to rubble by the explosion. Yet it shows a small courtyard between the town wall and the back of the Prebendaries’ Chamber offering access to the Old Provost’s Lodging at basement level. This was hidden from the main courtyard where grooms and horses were congregated. Yet any mention of it seems to have been expunged from the published evidence. Was this, perhaps, a more plausible route for the delivery of the gunpowder?
With this information, David Atkinson of Handmade Maps Limited was able to redraw the map of Edinburgh to show the location and layout of Kirk o’ Field. (The drawing of this new map unfortunately transposes the names of the New and Old Provost’s Lodgings).