It was to be Mary’s last defeat in Scotland, fleeing south to seek protecting from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. She was viewed as a threat in England, and after two decades imprisoned in various castles and houses, Elizabeth had her tried for treason. Mary was beheaded in 1587.
The memorial was erected in 1887 to mark the 300 anniversary of her death. A competition was held between twelve architects, the winning design sketched by Alexander Skirving, close friend of Alexander Thomson; the latter’s influence can be felt in the column dressed in carvings of thistles, roses, and fleur-de-lis, symbols of Mary’s time spent in Scotland, England and France respectively. At the foot of the column four eagles perch on the corners of the pedestal, while high above them, a lion sits at the top, its paw draped over a cannon ball. While Skirving dreamt up the memorial, it was executed with precision by the talented Glasgow sculptor James Young, whose work can be seen dotted all around the city. He is reported to have carried out the work free of charge.