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Mary I of Scotland

Mary I of Scotland (Mary Stuart or Stewart) (December, 1542 - February 8, 1587), also known as Mary, Queen of Scots was the ruler of Scotland from December 14, 1542 - July 24, 1567.

She was born at the Palace of Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland, on December 7 or December 8, 1542 to King James V of Scotland and his French wife, Marie of Guise. Mary, Queen of Scots is often confused with her second cousin once removed Mary I of England who lived at approximately the same time (1516 - 1558).

Mary I of Scotland
known as Mary, Queen of Scots

Her father died at the age of thirty, probably from cholera. The six-day-old Mary became Queen of Scotland, with James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, the next in line for the throne, acting as regent (until 1554, when he was succeeded by the Queen's mother, who continued as regent until her own death in 1560). Six months after her birth, on July 1543, the Treaties of Greenwich promised Mary to be married to Henry VIII's son Edward in 1552, and for their heirs to inherit the Kingdoms of Scotland and England. Two months later, on September 9, 1543, she was formally crowned in Stirling Castle.

One year after Mary's birth, the Scottish parliament decided to pursue an alliance with France rather than England. In May 1544, Henry VIII began his "rough wooing" designed to impose the marriage to his son on Mary. This lasted until June 1551, costing over half a million pounds.

Following a formal agreement, in 1548, promising Mary in marriage to the French dauphin, a fleet rescued the five-year-old Mary from Dumbarton, taking her to France.

Table of contents
1 Life in France
2 Return to Scotland
3 Escape to England
4 Execution
5 External links

Life in France

Vivacious, pretty, and clever (according to contemporary accounts), Mary had a promising childhood. With her marriage agreement in place, she was sent to France in 1548, at the age of five, to be brought up for the next ten years at the French court. (She was accompanied by the "four Maries," four little girls her own age, all named Mary, and the daughters of the noblest families in Scotland: Beaton, Seton, Fleming, and Livingston.)

In 1558 she married the dauphin, the heir to the French throne, who became Francis II of France. Under the ordinary laws of succession, Mary Stuart was also next in line to the English throne after her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, who was childless. Although the anti-Catholic Act of Settlement would not be passed until 1701, the will of Henry VIII had excluded the Stuarts from succeeding to the English throne. The question of the succession was therefore a real one.

Francis II died in 1560, and Mary's mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici, became regent for his brother Charles IX. Under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, made in June 1560 following the death of Marie of Guise, France undertook to withdraw troops from Scotland and recognise Elizabeth's right to rule England. The eighteen-year-old Mary, still in France, refused to ratify the treaty.

Return to Scotland

The young widow returned to Scotland soon after arriving in Leith on August 19, 1561. She was still only 19 and, despite her talents, her upbringing had in not given her the judgment to cope with the dangerous and complex political situation in the Scotland of the time. Religion had divided the people, and Mary's illegitimate brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, was a leader of the Protestant faction. Mary, being a devout Roman Catholic, was regarded with suspicion by many of her subjects as well as by Elizabeth I of England, her cousin and the monarch of the neighbouring Protestant country. The Protestant reformer John Knox preached against Mary, condemning her for hearing Mass, dancing, dressing too elaborately, and many other things.

By 1561, Mary was having second thoughts about the wisdom of having crossed Elizabeth, and attempted to make up the breach by inviting her to visit Scotland. Elizabeth refused, and the bad blood remained between them. Mary then sent Maitland of Lethington as an ambassador to the English court to put the case for Mary as a potential heir to the throne. Elizabeth's response is said to have included the words, "As for the title of my crown, for my time I think she will not attain it." However, Mary, in her own letter to the Duke of Guise, reports other things that Maitland told her, including Elizabeth's supposed statement that, "I for my part know none better, nor that my self would prefer to her." Amongst other things, Elizabeth was mindful of the role Parliament would have to play in the matter.

In December 1561, arrangements were made for the two to meet, this time in England, but Elizabeth changed her mind. The meeting had been fixed for York "or another town" in August or September. However, in July, Elizabeth sent Sir Henry Sidney to call it off, because of the civil war in France. In 1563, Elizabeth made another attempt to neutralise Mary by suggesting she marry Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom Elizabeth trusted and thought she could control. Dudley being a Protestant, this would have solved a double problem for Elizabeth. She sent an ambassador to tell Mary that, if she would marry someone (as yet unnamed) of Elizabeth's choosing, Elizabeth would "proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our next cousin and heir". This proposal was rejected.

In 1565, Mary unexpectedly married Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, a descendant of King Henry VII of England and Mary's first cousin. Before long, Mary became pregnant, but Darnley soon became arrogant, insisting on power to go with his courtesy title of "King". He was jealous of Mary's friendship with her private secretary, David Rizzio, and, in a conspiracy with other noblemen, murdered Rizzio while he was in conference with the queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This was the catalyst for the breakdown of their marriage. On one occasion, he attacked Mary and unsuccessfully attempted to cause her to miscarry their unborn child.

Another image of Mary, dressed in mourning white following the then recent death of her first husband.
Following the birth of the heir - the future James I of England and James VI of Scotland - in June 1566, Mary began a liaison with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, an adventurer who would become her third husband. A plot was hatched to remove Darnley, who was already ill (possibly suffering from syphilis). He was recuperating in a house in Edinburgh where Mary visited him frequently, so that it appeared a reconciliation was in prospect. In February 1567, an explosion occurred in the house, and Darnley was found dead in the garden; he appeared to have been strangled. This event, which should have been Mary's salvation, only harmed her reputation. Bothwell was generally believed to be guilty of the assassination, and was brought before a mock trial but acquitted. Shortly afterwards, he "abducted" Mary; the news that she had married him sealed her fate.

Arrested by a confederacy of Scottish nobles, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle in June 1567. The castle is situated on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. Between July 18 and July 24, 1567, Mary miscarried twins at that castle. On July 24, she was also forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her one-year-old son James.

Escape to England

May 2, 1568, she escaped from Loch Leven and once again managed to raise a small army. After her army's defeat at the Battle of Langside on May 13, she fled to England three days later, where she was imprisoned by Elizabeth's officers at Carlisle on May 19.

After some wrangling over the question of whether Mary should be tried for the murder of Darnley, Elizabeth ordered an inquiry rather than a trial. It was held in York between October 1568 and January 1569. The inquiry was politically influenced - Elizabeth did not wish to convict Mary of murder, Mary refused to acknowledge the power of any court to try her since she was an anointed Queen, and the man ultimately in charge of the prosecution, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, was ruling Scotland in Mary's absence. His chief motive was to keep her out of Scotland and her supporters under control.

The case hinged on the "Casket Letters" - eight letters purportedly from Mary to Bothwell, reported by the Earl of Morton to have been found in Edinburgh in a silver box engraved with an F (supposedly for Francis II), along with a number of other documents, including the Mary/Bothwell marriage certificate. Mary was not permitted to see them or to speak in her own defence at the tribunal. She refused to offer a written defence unless Elizabeth would guarantee a verdict of not guilty, which Elizabeth would not do.

Although the casket letters were accepted by the inquiry as genuine after a study of the handwriting, and of the information contained therein, and were generally held to be certain proof of guilt if authentic, the inquiry reached the conclusion that nothing was proven - from the start this could have been predicted as the only conclusion that would satisfy Elizabeth.

The authenticity of the Casket Letters has been the source of much controversy among historians. The originals were lost in 1584, and the copies available in various collections do not form a complete set. Mary argued that her handwriting was not difficult to imitate, and it has frequently been suggested either that the letters are complete forgeries, that incriminating passages were inserted before the inquiry, or that the letters were written to Bothwell by some other person. Comparisons of writing style have often concluded that they were not Mary's work.

It is impossible now to prove the case either way. Without them, there would have been no case against Mary, and with hindsight it is difficult to say that any of the major parties involved considered the truth to be a priority.

Elizabeth considered Mary's designs on the English throne to be a serious threat, and so eighteen years of confinement followed, much of it in the custody of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his redoubtable wife Bess of Hardwick, whose daughter married Mary's second husband's brother and produced one child, Arbella Stuart. Bothwell was imprisoned in Denmark, became insane, and died in 1578, still in prison.

However, in 1570, Elizabeth was persuaded by the French to promise to help Mary regain her throne. As a pre-condition, she demanded the ratification of the Treaty of Edinburgh, something Mary would still not agree to. Nevertheless, William Cecil continued negotiations with Mary on Elizabeth's behalf. The two queens never met in person.

The Ridolfi Plot caused Elizabeth to think again. In 1572, Parliament, with the queen's encouragement, introduced a bill barring Mary from the throne. Elizabeth unexpectedly refused to give it the royal assent. The furthest she ever went was in 1584, when she introduced a document (the "Bond of Association") aimed at preventing any would-be successor from profiting from her murder. It was not legally binding, but was signed by thousands, including Mary herself.


Mary eventually became a liability Elizabeth could no longer tolerate because of numerous reports of plots (which some historians suspect were fabricated by Mary's enemies) to kill Elizabeth and replace her with Mary. Mary Stuart was executed at Fotheringhay Castle on February 8, 1587, on suspicion of having been involved in a plot - the Babington plot - to murder Elizabeth. She chose to wear red, thereby declaring hereself a Catholic martyr. The execution was badly carried out - the executioner was drunk and it took 3 blows to hack off her head.

The two classic film biographies of Mary (neither of them so faithful to history as to get in the way of the story) are the 1936 Mary of Scotland starring Katharine Hepburn and Fredric March and the 1971 Mary, Queen of Scots starring Vanessa Redgrave (Oscar) and Nigel Davenport.

External links

Preceded by:
James V
List of British monarchs Succeeded by:
James VI