Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland when she was just a baby, after her father died when she was just 6 days old. As an adult, she married her cousin, Lord Darnley, and had their only son, James. While she is perhaps most remembered for being half-sister to Elizabeth I, rival to the English throne, and a 19 year prisoner in England, the personal life of Mary Queen of Scots included time for leisure and fun. Most notably, she liked to play football, cards, and chess.
The Guinness book of world records states that a leather ball found behind oak panelling at Stirling Castle, in a bedroom used by Mary Queen of Scots, is the world's oldest football. Featuring designs that can be dated to the 1540s, the ball was placed in the panelling in the mid-16th century. Mary Queen of Scots was at Stirling Castle during this timeframe, making it plausible to think the football belonged to her. Of course, placing her at the castle is not conclusive evidence of ownership of this football, nor does the date and proximity explain why the football was hidden behind the oak panelling. However, we do know that Mary liked the game of football based on records of her stay at another castle, Carlisle Castle, in England.
While in England as a prisoner under Elizabeth I, Mary was regularly moved to various locations in an effort to thwart any potential challenge to Elizabeth’s throne. The hope was that if Mary was too exhausted from the constant upheaval, she would not have time to plot against the Queen.
She was essentially under house arrest at each of these locations but far from being the type of prison conditions you might expect at the Tower of London, for example, the Queen of Scots enjoyed considerable entertainment during her confinement, including a game of football. Recorded by Sir Francis Knollys, who was charged with keeping Mary under surveillance at the time, details a game played for Mary which included using a small ball and everyone using their feet.