Mary, Queen of Scots

Name: Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots

Born: 8th December 1542, Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland

Daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise

Married: (1) Francis II of France, (2) Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, (3) James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

Reigned: 14th December 1542 – 24th July 1567

Son: James VI of Scotland (James I of England)

The famous Scottish Queen who ascended the throne at 6 days old . Her claim to the English throne was almost as strong as her Scottish claim as she was a great granddaughter of Henry VII which made her a direct heir after Henry VIII’s children. Mary’s life was dominated by powerful figures wanting to influence her position, and this started right from the beginning of her reign.

Mary Queen of Scots as a child.

Mary’s French mother, Mary of Guise was keen to extend the family influence in France and sent the young Queen to raised in the French court alongside the Dauphin of France who she was due to marry. The early experience of the French court gave Mary the experience and cultured upbringing that would not have been possible in Scotland. It was during her time in France that her cousin, the protestant Elizabeth became Queen of England. In Catholic France, this was not recognised and so Mary was proclaimed Queen of both Scotland and England. She became Queen consort of France in 1559 with the death of her father-in-law Henry II however, her husband Francis died suddenly leaving her a widow at only 18.

Returning to Scotland in 1561, Mary’s life in the pampered French court did not prepare her for her native country. Her position as a widowed female ruler was precarious and she was strongly advised to marry. This she did to her cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. It was a bad match from the start and caused issues for Mary, particularly from those that had supported her including her half brother, James, the Earl of Moray, who did not like him and rebelled against her. Darnley was a weak man, desperately after his wife’s power which led to the violent murder of Mary’s closest advisors, David Rizzio, in Mary’s private apartments of Holyrood Palace with her present. Not long after this the couples son, James was born, which gave Mary her sort after heir, however her marriage was not to improve.

Mary and Lord Darnley

It has been suggested that Mary considered divorcing Darnley, an unlikely thing for a Catholic to have done in the 16th Century, however it shows how desperate she was. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily for her a plot was planned with those supporters of hers who greatly disliked Darnley and the power he held of husband of the Queen. In February 1567, the House Darnley was staying in outside Edinburgh, blew up and Darnley was found outside in the grounds strangled. It appeared he had tried to escape.

Mary’s actions following Darnley’s death were her downfall. She remarried within 3 months to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who had been named the key conspirator in Darnley’s murder. This marriage proved to be just as damaging as her last. Bothwell craved power and his influence isolate supporters of the Queen. This led to Bothwell’s exile and death in prison and Mary’s forced abdication in favour of her young son. Mary naïvely sort refuge in England, hope Elizabeth being her cousin would protect her, however this was not to be. Mary was held in prisoned in England for the next 18 years.

Mary in captivity, 1578.

The issue of Mary was major for Elizabeth’s, who’s reign had been forever followed by the problems of religion. As a blood Queen of Catholic belief, Mary was a figure head for a potential rebellion to overthrow Elizabeth. This was not something she could risk. Elizabeth signed Mary’s death warrant and she was executed in 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle. Mary was given a protestant funeral in Peterborough Cathedral. Once her son, James, who became King of Scotland and England, was crowned, he had had his mother reburied in an elaborate tomb Westminster Abbey.

Mary’s tomb, Westminster Abbey.

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