Mary, Queen of Scots

                                                                     Mary Stuart                                                                       (1542-1587)

Mary was Queen of France and Queen of Scotland. She also held claim to the English throne. Her main rival was her cousin, Elizabeth I, Queen of England.

1542 – Mary was Born December 7th or 8th at Linlithgow Palace (West Lothian, Scotland, fifteen miles west of Edinburgh). She was the only daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. Mary of Guise was a French noblewoman and the second wife of James V.

James V died only six days after Mary’s birth. Since Mary’s brothers had both previously
died, Mary became heir to the throne of Scotland.

1543 – For protection, Mary and her mother moved to Stirling Castle. In July, infant Mary was crowned Queen. Here, she was cared for by the Lords of Erskine and Livingstone.

1543-1551 – This period is known as the “Rough Wooing”. Henry VIII, King of England, wanted a marriage between his son, Edward, and infant Mary. Henry’s goal was to secure an alliance between Scotland and England while gaining control of the two nations. England was Protestant and Scotland and France were both Catholic. England was afraid the French would use Scotland to invade England. Henry was also concerned that Mary might receive a proposal from the French prince, further strengthening the alliance between Scotland and France. When Henry’s attempts for his son to marry Mary failed, he launched a war on Scotland with the goal of destroying their alliance and weakening them.

1547 – Henry VIII died. Henry’s son, Edward VI, was crowned King of England at the age of nine. Young Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, became the protector of young Henry. Edward Seymour continued unsuccessful attempts to arrange the marriage of Mary to Edward while forcing an alliance between Scotland and England through many invasions. The last invasion was the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, where the Scots were defeated. Mary’s mother then arranged for young Mary to be sent to Inchmahome Priory, located on an island at Lake of Monteith, eventually being transferred to Dumbarton Castle. Strategically, this was the closest stronghold to France and the best location to prepare Mary to be smuggled to France.

1548 – In August, Mary sailed for France with her guardians and her young companions of Scottish nobility. In France, she was raised with Francis, heir to the French throne.  Mary and Francis were very compatible and grew to develop a close relationship. Mary became highly educated and learned to speak several languages. She was both intelligent and charming. At 5’11”, Mary was also quite tall.

Back in Scotland, Mary’s mother was appointed the regent.

1558 – In France, at fifteen years of age, Mary Stuart married Francis. Francis
was the son of Henry II, King of France and his wife, Catherine de Medici.

In November, Mary Tudor, Queen of England died and Mary Stuart made claim to
the English throne. The basis of Mary’s claim was the fact that she was the great-granddaughter of England’s King Henry VII, further stating that Elizabeth was untitled because she was illegitimate. Regardless of Mary’s claim, Elizabeth became Queen of England and England accepted it. Mary and Francis still considered themselves the rightful rulers of England, Scotland and Ireland.

1559 – Francis and Mary become the rulers of France when Francis’s father, Henry II, King of France, dies from injuries suffered in a joust.

1560 – Francis dies in December, after only ruling France a little over a year. His cause of death was believed to be a brain abscess due to an ear infection. Mary was devastated.

1561 – Mary, at the age of eighteen, returns to Scotland to assert her power there. Since Mary’s absence, Protestants were gaining power and Mary intended to return and renew the Catholic influence.

1565 – Mary married her cousin, Henry, Lord Darnley at Holyrood Palace. Darnley, an English Nobleman, was thought to be more of a strategic choice for Mary, rather than a romantic one. Darnley wasn’t well-liked and had a reputation of being overbearing and arrogant. Mary also became disenchanted with her husband and the marriage soon fell apart.

1566 – Mary thought Darnley’s behavior was increasingly causing her much harm, both politically and personally. In her isolated state of distrust, she turned to her Italian secretary, David Riccio (Rizzio). Mary and Riccio developed a close relationship. Although Mary claimed that her relationship with Riccio was innocent, Darnley became distrustful of their intentions. At Holyrood, in March, Darnley and the nobles murdered Riccio in front of pregnant Mary, stabbing him fifty-six times. There were rumors that Mary was pregnant with Riccio’s child and not Darnley’s. A few days later, Mary and Darnley leave Holyrood and take refuge at Dunbar Castle, staying only about a week before returning to Edinburgh.

In June, at Edinburgh Castle, Mary gave birth to her son, James, who would be known as James V of Scotland and eventually as James I of England. In December, James was baptized at Stirling Castle. Darnley refused to attend his son’s baptismal. It is unclear if he was being rebellious, or if he had been stricken with smallpox or syphilis.

Mary still remained distant to Darnley, taking up a secret friendship with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.  Bothwell was a Scottish nobleman and became Mary’s confidant.

1567 – In February, Darnley was murdered. Darnley had been staying in a house in Edinburgh referred to as Kirk o’ Field. He had been resting there, recovering from either smallpox or syphilis, while Mary and the baby had been staying at Holyrood House.  Around 2 AM, Kirk o’ Field exploded from a gunpowder blast in what appeared to be a plot to kill Darnley. The blast was massive and could be heard and felt throughout Edinburgh. The building was demolished, and Darnley was found dead, in his nightgown, in the nearby garden. Strangely, it appeared he died of strangulation and not from the blast. It was thought perhaps that Darnley was murdered while trying to flee the explosion.

Speculation of a plot to kill Darnley surrounded Mary and Bothwell, as many became aware that Mary was disenchanted with her husband and was growing closer to Bothwell. Mary married Bothwell a few months later, increasing suspicions of their role Darnley’s death. Mary’s subjects then turned on her.

In June, Protestant rebels arrested Mary and sent her to prison in Lochleven Castle. She would never see her son again, separating from him when he was just thirteen months old.

In July, Mary was forced to abdicate in order to secure her son, James, to the Scottish throne. Queen Elizabeth had not provided any heirs to the English throne, relieving James of further threats in his quest to becoming king of all three thrones – Scotland, England, and Ireland.  Ironically, Queen Elizabeth was also James’s godmother.

When Mary abdicated, she appointed her illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, as regent.

1568 – Mary exiled to England, where she unsuccessfully attempted to get help from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Although the two corresponded, it is said that they never met face to face. Mary remained imprisoned in England for nineteen years, until her death.

1584 – Mary reaches out to her son James, and he declines her proposal to return to Scotland to rule with him. Mary never had a relationship with her son, so she was like a stranger to him.

1586 – A plot was uncovered to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. Mary was implicated
in the plot, with evidence found in letters, she had allegedly written. The letters revealed some inconsistencies, making their validity questionable. Although Mary denied involvement, she was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by the English Parliament. Elizabeth showed public displeasure at Mary’s execution and she worried about how she would be viewed by Mary’s son James, but James remained cordial to Elizabeth. It took Elizabeth months to agree to sign Mary’s death warrant, as she was also torn about the evidence surrounding Mary. Elizabeth must have struggled between saving her own life and sentencing her cousin Mary to death.

1587 – On the 8th of February, Mary was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England. She was 44 years old.

1603 – In March, Queen Elizabeth I of England dies. Being of Tudor blood, Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, becomes King James I of England. He was thirty-six years old.

James is the current Queen of England’s 9th great-grandfather.


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