Mary arrived at Sheffield Castle on Nov 28 1570 age 28 having travelled from Chatsworth. It would be 14 long years before she left Sheffield. The Castle would always be her main prison as it was the most secure being a 300 year old medieval castle built on bedrock and surrounded by the Don and the Sheaf. George Talbot had been requesting a move to Sheffield from early into his custodianship of Mary. He had been unsettled by proposed escape attempts and plots to put Mary on the throne of England.
Within 6 months of arriving in Sheffield, the Ridolfi plot was hatched but Sir Frances Walsingham, discovered the plot and the ringleaders executed, The main beneficiaries were the Duke of Norfolk who was subsequently executed and Mary, who thanks to Elizabeth, was spared the axe. However, George Talbot was given new instructions on how to look after Mary.
Her entourage was to be reduced from 40 to 15 and her quarters reduced in size. She had to give 1 hours notice to leave her quarters for basic exercise. This severe confinement would go on for year in, year out with only brief remission periods much to detriment of Mary’s health.
Mary was very closely guarded-in fact George Talbot paid for an extra 40 soldiers out of his own pocket after the Ridolfi plot had been discovered. Mary disliked the guards intensely especially as they changed them at 5 am in the morning and beat the drums very close to her bedroom door. She did not go to bed until about 1 am in the morning.
It was always intended to go to Sheffield Manor Lodge and this commenced in April 1573. The Castle and the Lodge were linked by a beautiful avenue of walnut trees which arched over allowing no daylight through but more importantly no rain to penetrate. This was most important as when “sweetening” i.e. cleansing took place the artefacts did not get wet. Sweetening was the most important reason why Mary was moved from place to place. Whilst based in Sheffield, she visited Chatsworth on 7 occasions, Buxton 7 times and Worksop Manor twice. They would go for a month or two at a time and come back to base Sheffield either the Castle or Manor Lodge. From 1573, Manor Lodge was used every year until 1584 apart from 1575 when they went direct to Chatsworth from the Castle.
Over the years her entourage of people was allowed to build back up from the 15 in 1572 back up to over 40. These comprised of her doctor, apothecary, food taster, cook, head of her household, grooms etc. It was a completely separate household to the Shrewsbury one. The remit to hold her was she was to be kept in custody in the manner of a Queen. Her meals were 16 course meals 4 times a day-buffet style with choice of fish, meat, venison, rabbit etc. The cost of keeping her was over £12,000 p.a. and George Talbot’s allowance was £2,700 p.a. and even that was paid infrequently. In today’s money that is over £2 million pounds p.a. shortfall for 15 years nearly taking George Talbot to the verge of bankruptcy. George’s other problem was that he was virtually a prisoner as Mary. Not allowed out by Elizabeth unless he took Mary with him which was a major logistical exercise. His only trip to Court was for the Duke of Norfolk’s trial in 1572- His sons had to conduct his day to day affairs. No wonder George’s health suffered.
MARY’S GENERAL DAY TO DAY LIFE IN SHEFFIELD Mary was almost 6 feet in height and considered one of the great beauties of Europe. She had a flawless complexion probably helped by her allowance of 2 barrels of white wine per month. As well as drinking it, much to George Talbot’s annoyance she bathed and washed in wine.
Her everyday life was very restricted as she was kept in such close confinement. She read books and wrote many letters. It has been calculated she wrote over 2,000 letters in her captivity and that figure does not include the intrigue letters she smuggled out to France and Spain. Her other main occupation was embroidery. Many of the embroideries have survived.
Her riding, which was her favourite sport, was severely restricted but in some of the less severe parts of her captivity she would have been allowed out riding within the park together with an armed escort!
Her health suffered during the captivity mainly being in her “wretched prison” Sheffield Castle with its damp, cold, dark and smelly rooms causing rheumatism and arthritis. By 1581, she could hardly walk and had to be supported either side by someone if she did try to walk. She had to be carried room to room in a sedan chair. A request was put in for a carriage to take her around the park which was subsequently granted.
In 1584, George Talbot’s health declined and arrangements were made for Mary to be moved. When Mary left Sheffield in 1584, she was a premature middle aged to elderly lady. She wore wigs and underneath was just wispy grey hair. She had got very plump, with excessive meals and lack of exercise. Being hardly able to walk, this was a completely different Mary who had arrived in Sheffield in 1570. Within 2 years of leaving Sheffield, Mary had become embroiled in the Babington plot and was executed for high treason at Fotheringhay in feb 1587 age 44
Sheffield Castle, and Sheffield Manor Lodge form the part of a a unique piece of Tudor history and more importantly should always be remembered as a very special part in the story of one of the most romantic and tragic figures in British History