Mary, Queen of Scots (8 December 1542 – 8 February 1587), also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, reigned over Scotland from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567.
However it is as the tragic claimant of the English throne that she is mainly remembered, including as the subject as a recent Hollywood movie.
Mary came into the world in danger. The major acts of Mary’s life were defined by romance, murder and destructive family rivalry and the major characters all had ulterior motives.
Act One: Childhood
The daughter of King James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise, Mary Stuart was born to be Queen but no one thought it would happen so quickly.
Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace on the 8th of DecemberJames V died six days later and Mary was crowned Queen of Scots on the 9th of September 1543, at nine months old.
The King of England Henry VIII and the King of France Henri II lusted after Mary’s crown. If she wouldn’t give it willingly by marrying one of their offspring, they thought, it would be best if she didn’t exist at all.
Taking the initiative, England invaded Scotland in a “rough wooing” that forced Mary’s hand. At five years old she was engaged to marry the Dauphin Francois, future King of France.
On her wedding day in April of 1558, Mary was fifteen years old and described as “a hundred times more beautiful than a goddess of heaven” and “her person alone was worth a kingdom”.
Yet before the first act of Mary’s life drew to a close, a dark figure carrying a sceptre entered the scene. First, King Henri of France died. Mary’s husband, Francois became the King of France and she became Queen.
Soon after Mary lost her mother, Mary of Guise and her husband, King Francois is close succession. The French crown was snatched from Mary’s head less than a year after her coronation and she returned to Scotland, aged eighteen, an orphan and a widow but still a Queen.
Act Two: Return To Scotland
Mary was educated in France, preferred speaking French and favoured a French atmosphere in her court at Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh.
Mary’s return to rule over Scotland coincided with a major religious shift known as the Scottish Reformation. French decor could be forgiven but to one faction of powerful noblemen, Mary’s Catholicism would not be tolerated.
Yet Scotland was Mary’s birth right, her queendom was divinely appointed and she intended to rule as she saw fit.
Mary Queen Of Scots Stayed Here
Over the next few years, Mary made several royal progressions, touring the expanse of her great nation for months at a time. Historic houses and castles across Scotland that now “Mary Queen of Scots stayed here” are likely telling the truth.
Had Mary no claim to the English throne, her life may not have had enough drama to fill another three acts. As it was, Mary did have a claim, one that was stronger, many thought, than that of the English queen, Elizabeth I.
The issue was Elizabeth’s ancestry as many believed the marriage between King Henry VIII and his second wife, Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was illegal. Mary was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII making her strong blood tie to the throne undeniable.
Act Three: Marriages And Murders
Mary wanted to re-marry and her choice of a husband would make or break her relationship with her cousin and sister-Queen.
In an exchange of letters that simmer with repressed fury, Elizabeth advised Mary to marry Lord Robert Dudley, her own lover, in exchange for possibly recognising her as heir to the English throne. Disgusted, Mary refused.
Lord Darnley & Earl of Bothwell
Then Mary met Lord Darnley and set about a tragic chain of events that would lead to murder, rebellion and execution. At the time Mary thought she was in love.
The match between Mary and Dudley was opposed by English, Scottish, Protestant and Catholic alike. Heeding no one, Mary married Darnley on 22 July 1565 in the chapel of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley Holyrood Palace.
Within months this fateful union turned sour. When Mary’s private secretary and close confidante David Rizzio was stabbed more than forty times right in front of her, she knew Darnley was involved. Allowing assassins into Mary’s chamber, Darnley had put his wife and future heir to the Scottish throne at risk.
Mary was six months pregnant at the time. She retreated to Edinburgh Castle to give birth to the future James VI of Scotland and calculate her next move.
Darnley didn’t live much longer. On the 9th of March, 1567, at 2 am, Darnley’s house, Kirk o’Fields exploded.
The bodies of Darnley and his servant were found strangled and dumped in an orchard behind the destroyed house. Mary had visited Darnley earlier that same evening.
Accusing fingers immediately pointed at Earl Bothwell, the owner of the house. Bothwell was brought to trial in April of 1567 but was acquitted.
Then, in a dramatic twist worthy of the end of Act 3, Mary and Bothwell were married, less than four months after Darnley’s death.
Act Four: Imprisonment
Scotland rebelled and forces led by Protestant nobles took Mary prisoner. Mary was forced to abdicate and knew the story of her life could now go one of only three ways.
No longer Queen Mary she must either accept death, live in anonymous exile, or fight to reclaim her throne. Was it naiveté, desperation or a hopeful mix of both that compelled Mary to walk willingly into the lion’s den?
From the perspective of Elizabeth’s advisors, the tragedy that had befallen Mary ever since she married Darnley was good news. With Mary out of the way, Scotland would be ruled by Protestant lords with no interference from the French.
Mary couldn’t have known, as she rode through the night disguised as an ordinary countrywoman that once she took advantage of Elizabeth’s hospitality she wouldn’t be able to leave for 19 years and then it would be in a casket.
She was imprisoned in a series of houses and castles around England, including Bolton Castle (pictured).
In 1586, Mary made the mistake that cost her life. It was a time of great upheaval. A religious war raged across Europe, William of Orange was been killed by a Catholic assassin and plots to kill Elizabeth were rife.
A man named Anthony Babington was orchestrating a far-fetched plot to depose Elizabeth. Mary answered his letters and in doing this signed her own death warrant.
Act Five: In My End Is My Beginning
Elizabeth knew she would never be safe as long as Mary lived but to kill a fellow Queen?
Elizabeth’s own mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed amidst the sound of jeers and taunts from a bloodthirsty crowd. Could she be responsible for committing Mary to the same fate?
The final betrayal in a long list of betrayals committed against Mary came on 8th February 1587 when she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle. In the moments leading up to her execution, Mary recited Catholic prayers in
Then she undressed to reveal underclothes the colour of dried blood, the liturgical colour of martyrdom in the Roman Catholic Church. Shaken by his task, it took three strikes of the executioner?s axe to remove Mary?s head.
When Elizabeth finally died in 1603 with no successor named, Mary’s son, James took the throne and did what Mary was unable to do. He united the crowns of Scotland and England.
“En ma fin est mon commencement.” (In my end is my beginning) – Mary Queen of Scots
Written by Toni Marie Ford