Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary was born in December 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, Scotland to King James V of Scotland and his second wife Mary of Guise. She was their only daughter and was baptized shortly after birth.

At the age of only six days old she became Queen of Scots following the death of her father, however the country was now to be ruled by regents until Mary came of age.

Henry VIII of England, wanting to form an alliance with Scotland was quick to propose a marriage between Mary and his son Prince Edward, and on 1 July 1543 the Treaty of Greenwich was signed. This promised that Mary, once ten years old would marry Prince Edward and move to England, to be raised.

This proposed alliance was unpopular in Scotland. Mary was raised a strict Catholic, and with Henry VIII’s break from the Catholic Church years before, a marriage to the protestant Prince Edward was seen in a bad light, therefore it was believed Mary might be in danger.

For their own safety Mary and her mother were moved to Stirling Castle on 27 July 1543 and Mary was crowned at the chapel on 9 September 1543.

The Scottish Parliament rejected the Treaty of Greenwich in December 1543, and the proposed marriage was cancelled. This angered Henry VIII who then set upon invading Scotland, leading to a series on military campaigns known as the ‘Rough Wooing’ which continued through to 1551.

In 1547 Scotland suffered a heavy defeat against England at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, and Mary was moved to safety again.

The Scots now turned to France for help, and King Henry II of France agreed to unite with Scotland and supply military support in return for a marriage between Mary and his young son, the Dauphin Francis (heir to the throne).

On 7 July 1548, the Scottish Parliament agreed to a French Marriage Treaty, and on 7 August 1548 Mary left Scotland for France.

While being raised in France, Mary received a good education including French, Spanish, Latin and Greek. She was also taught poetry, horsemanship and needlework, and was able to play instruments including the lute and virginals (type of harpsichord).

When Mary reached the age of fifteen, she was finally to marry Dauphin Francis in April 1558 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Francis was now King Consort of Scotland.

On 10 July 1559, Henry II of France died and Francis II came to the throne, uniting both the Scottish and French crowns; however, this did not last long when Francis himself died on 5 December 1560. Mary was now a widow at the age of seventeen.

Mary returned to an unstable Scotland in August 1561, but was regarded with suspicion by many. She was a devout Catholic and yet Scotland was currently being ruled by a Protestant government. Mary chose to tolerate the government and keep Lord Moray, her half-brother, a staunch Protestant as her chief adviser.

On 29 July 1565 Mary married for a second time to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley at Holyrood Palace, a marriage that was unpopular in Scotland, as Darnley was a leading Catholic. This marriage led to open rebellion against Mary by the Earl of Moray and other Protestant leaders, however the Protestant and Catholic forces never met in direct combat, and Moray finally left for England.

Mary’s marriage to Darnley came under strain when Mary became close to her secretary David Rizzio. Darnley conspired with other Protestant lords and murdered Rizzio on 9 March 1566 in front of a pregnant Mary.

Mary gave birth to a son James (future James VI of Scotland) on 19 June 1566 at Edinburgh Castle, a happy occasion and yet her marriage continued to deteriorate and Darnley began to fear for his life.

He fled Edinburgh and took refuge elsewhere.

Mary later convinced Darnley to return to Edinburgh, where he stayed at Kirk o’ Field at the edge of the city. On 9 February 1567 there was an explosion and Darnley was found dead, however it was believed at the time that he had been murdered, possibly strangled.

Many came under suspicion of Darnley’s murder including Mary herself with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell as the instigator; indeed, Bothwell was tried and acquitted of the murder.

Mary married Bothwell three months later, on 15 May 1567. Speculation exists on whether she married willingly or not.

The marriage was unpopular with Catholics and Protestants alike as many were shocked that Mary should marry a man accused of her previous husband’s murder. Many Scottish peers turned against Mary, imprisoned her at Loch Leven and forced her to abdicate her throne in favour of her one-year old son James; Bothwell was exiled.

Mary escaped from Loch Leven in May 1568, raised an army and fought and was defeated at the Battle of Langside on 13 May 1568. She now fled south to seek refuge with her cousin, Elizabeth I of England.

Mary was a threat to Elizabeth, as she had a legitimate right to the English throne, and Elizabeth did not know what to do with her.

Over the next nineteen years Mary was to be imprisoned, she was moved on many occasions but still, kept in confinement. There were many Catholic plots to oust Elizabeth from the English throne, some believed instigated by Mary, but without evidence against her, nothing could be done.

Evidence finally came in 1586 when Mary corresponded with Anthony Babington agreeing a plot to remove Elizabeth from the throne. The letters were intercepted by Elizabeth’s secretary Francis Walsingham sealing her fate.

As long as Mary lived, Elizabeth’s throne would be in danger.

Mary was moved for the last time to Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire on 25 September 1586 and put on trial. She was convicted of treason on 25 October 1586 and sentenced to death.

Elizabeth was reluctant to sign Mary’s death warrant, but finally did so and Mary was executed on 8 February 1587 at only forty-four years old.

Mary was buried at Peterborough Cathedral in July 1587.

Her son James VI of Scotland, also took the English throne as heir following the death of Elizabeth I, and as James I of England he had his mother Mary, Queen of Scots body moved to Westminster Abbey in 1612.

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