Quad dig unearths Darnley death scene

Archaeologists excavating at the University hope to uncover the site of one of history’s most notorious unsolved crimes.

A dig in Old College quadrangle plans to unearth remnants of the buildings which became infamous as the site where Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots, was murdered.

The remains of the buildings have been buried beneath Old College for more than 200 years but are expected to resurface in the next few weeks.

The excavation is being carried out prior to a £1 million landscaping of the quadrangle which is being funded by a private donor.

Fundraising efforts

We knew when we began this excavation that there would be lots to discover. What is being revealed is far more than we hoped.

Professor Mary Bownes

Vice-Principal

The landscaping is one of several key improvement projects taking place as part of a major five-year fundraising initiative, the £350 million University of Edinburgh Campaign.

The house where Darnley had been lodging was associated with the Collegiate Church of St Mary, commonly known as the Kirk O’ Fields, which is now the site of Old College.

It was destroyed by an explosion on 9 February 1567 and although Darnley and his valet escaped, both men were later found dead, apparently strangled, in the garden.

Mary’s third husband, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was generally thought to be culpable but was acquitted two months later.

3D model of redevelopment

Historic site

The University was granted the Kirk O’ Fields site in 1583 and work on the present-day Old College began in 1789.

The landscaping of Old College quadrangle will fulfil the vision of architect William Henry Playfair, who completed the landmark building originally designed by Robert Adam.

It will replace the quadrangle’s grey gravel surface with honey-coloured sandstone paving stones and create a new lawn.

With work underway, archaeologists have made key finds associated with the Kirk O’ Fields site, including several burials which had been interred in the graveyard.

Artefacts uncovered

Other discoveries include the remains of Hamilton House, a mansion built in 1552 for the Duke of Chatelherault, and remnants of the first University library, dating from 1617, and parts of the early college quadrangles.

Among the many artefacts uncovered are fragments of glass and pottery, as well as pins and buttons. The dig team is hopeful that more objects will be uncovered.

The excavation is being directed by Tom Addyman of Addyman Archaeology, a division of Simpson & Brown, the University’s architects for the landscaping of the quadrangle, in consultation with the City of Edinburgh Council.

This excavation offers a tantalising hint of just how much of Edinburgh’s fascinating past still lies buried beneath the city.

Councillor Deidre Brock

Culture & Leisure Convenor for the City of Edinburgh Council

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