Mary Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow in Scotland on December 8, 1542, the daughter of King James V of Scotland and Marie de Guise. Her father had been ailing for some time, possibly of a complete physical and mental breakdown and finally died six days after Mary was born. Mary was crowned Queen on September 9, 1543 at Stirling Castle. Mary’s great uncle, King Henry VIII of England, made it clear he wanted the baby Mary to marry his young son Edward when she turned ten, and come to England to be brought up. The Treaty of Greenwich confirmed the marriage.
When, in January 1547, the nine-year-old Edward became King of England as Edward VI, his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was appointed his Protector and ran his government. His regime was to harass the Scots unmercifully with the object of capturing the Queen. The government of Scotland decided the young Queen must be spirited out of the country and negotiated a treaty for her to marry the Dauphin of France, thus breaking the Treaty of Greenwich. She left Scotland for France where she grew up with the French royal children in the Catholic Faith. She and the Dauphin Francis were married in April of 1558. She was fifteen. Henry II, King of France died from a grisly jousting accident and Francis and Mary became King and Queen of France on July 10, 1559.
Make sacrifice of me
Francis suffered acutely from an abscess in his inner ear and died on December 5, 1560. Mary had been Queen of France for less than two years. It was decided her best option was to return to Scotland and take over her government. Before leaving she asked permission from Elizabeth I, who had been queen of England, and Ireland, since November 1558, to have safe passage through England if she was blown off course. Elizabeth refused permission. In response, Mary said if Elizabeth “shall have me in her hands to do her will of me; and if she be so hard-hearted as to desire my end, she may then do her pleasure, and make sacrifice of me; peradventure that casualty might be better for me than to live. In this matter, God’s will be fulfilled.” Little did she know she was predicting her own denouement.
Avoiding England, Mary arrived in Scotland in August 1561. At first the teenaged Mary made a good impression. She had learned statecraft at the side of her uncles, Henry, Duke of Guise and Charles Guise, Cardinal of Lorraine, while in France. She was capable of acting with poise and discretion and could also turn on considerable, almost siren-like charm. When needed, she could act bravely in the face of adversity. She needed all this and more to deal with the many factions among the Scottish Lairds. A momentous meeting was being negotiated for Mary to meet Elizabeth in the summer of 1562 but it never materialized. However, Elizabeth was adamant she had to be the one to negotiate a new marriage for the Queen of Scots.
Mary had considered marrying a Catholic but there were few choices. She rejected Archduke Charles Hapsburg. Don Carlos, the son of King Phillip of Spain, was misshapen and mentally deranged. Elizabeth put forth as her candidate, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her own dearest, most esteemed beloved. But this was an insult to the Scottish Queen. No one really knows why Elizabeth did this but it did serve to make Henry, Lord Darnley more attractive when he showed up on the scene. Darnley was Mary’s cousin. Darnley was tall, lanky and extremely good looking, making a huge impression on Mary right away. It is believed Elizabeth knew he was difficult and a drinker and sent him to Mary, knowing she would fall for him.
Mary and Darnley began spending much time together and she fell in love. They were married in July 1565. But even before the marriage things had turned sour. Darnley, pictured with Mary, was a drunk. He insisted on being king and Mary gave in. Mary made the best of the union in hopes of having a child. The worse Darnley’s behavior, the more Mary came to rely on her secretary, the Italian David Riccio, for companionship and help in governing. There was probably nothing untoward about the relationship but Darnley and other lairds were resentful of Riccio’s influence on Mary.
On March 9, 1566 the Queen, who was six months pregnant, was with friends and Riccio in her cabinet at Holyrood Palace when the king and some lairds burst into the room. They dragged Riccio off and stabbed him to death within earshot of the queen while, Mary claimed, a gun was held to her belly. Mary’s response was courageous and resolute. She took Darnley aside and convinced him the lairds would come after them as soon as their child was born and a few days later they escaped to Dunbar Castle.
Mary and Bothwell
A week later, at the head of a small army led by James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, Mary returned to Edinburgh and was back in charge. Mary’s son James was born in Edinburgh Castle on June 19, 1566. By the fall of 1566, Bothwell (pictured) had control of the queen and almost all the lairds were united in their desire to get rid of Darnley. A conspiracy was born. On February 10, 1567, a huge explosion of gunpowder erupted at Kirk o’Field in Edinburgh where Darnley was recovering from an attack of syphilis. His body was discovered in the garden so he didn’t die in the explosion but, it was soon ascertained, from strangulation. While we will never know the truth of what happened, the circumstantial evidence is very strong against Mary and Bothwell.
On April 12, Bothwell was acquitted of Darnley’s murder. On April 21, Mary went to Stirling to visit her son and four days later was riding back to Edinburgh when Bothwell and 400 horsemen kidnapped Mary and took her to Dunbar where he supposedly raped her. On the 15th of May, at Holyrood, Mary was married to Bothwell, a divorced man, in accordance with the Protestant rite. Mary’s bad judgment was the consternation of all Christendom. There was so much feuding, conflict and tension by now that Mary may have felt the only one who could help her was Bothwell, recently named the Duke of Orkney. The lairds banded together to seek revenge for the king’s murder and to separate Mary from Bothwell.
Mary and Bothwell moved to Borthwick Castle to try to raise an army. They were unable to get much support. After a confrontation with the lairds on June 15 at Carberry Hill, Mary surrendered and Bothwell escaped. Mary was taken back to Edinburgh where the crowd yelled at her “Burn the whore!”, “Kill her!”, “Drown her!”, “She is not worthy to live!”. The next day Mary was taken to prison at Lochleven and forced to abdicate in favor of her son James who was crowned king on July 29th at Stirling. Mary had a miscarriage of twins, supposedly Bothwell’s children. Bothwell escaped to Norway and then Denmark where he lived out the rest of his life, mostly in prison.
On Sunday, May 2, 1567, Mary escaped Lochleven. She raised some supporters but was unsuccessful in making any headway at the Battle of Langside on May 13th and she slipped away and crossed the border into England on May 16th. Historians are not sure why she chose to go to England. The fight was not really over and she could have gone to France where she had many supporters. Once again her bad judgment had overtaken her.
From 1568 to 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner by Elizabeth under the watchful eye of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, moving from castle to castle. Throughout the rest of her life, Mary insisted on a face-to-face meeting with Elizabeth, which the queen always refused. Mary’s name was brought up many times by Catholics in England and abroad in plots to bring down the Protestant Elizabeth, put her on the throne of England and to restore Catholicism. Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, cultivated a network of spies to intercept Mary’s letters and finally caught her plotting to kill Elizabeth. She was put on trial and, on October 25, 1586, found guilty. After much hand wringing and agonizing deliberation by Elizabeth, she finally signed Mary’s death warrant on February 1, 1587. Elizabeth was having second thoughts. Her privy council met two days later and decided to carry out the warrant without telling the Queen.
On February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringay Castle. She was willing to die as a martyr to her Catholic faith. It took three whacks of the axe to sever her head from her neck. The executioner picked up the head and the skull fell to the floor, leaving a wig in his hand. As her executioners were disrobing the corpse, Mary’s Skye terrier was found hidden in the folds of her skirt. Mary was eventually buried at Peterborough Cathedral near Katherine of Aragon’s grave. Shortly before her death, Elizabeth I, on her deathbed, named Mary’s son James as her successor. James arranged to have his mother re- buried in Westminster Abbey.
Some historians have examined the evidence of Mary’s medical history. She exhibited some of the symptoms of “the Royal disease”, porphyria, which is the same disease that afflicted George III of England. This is a metabolic hormonal disorder that causes many physical as well as mental disturbances and could explain why Mary exhibited colossal misjudgment.
In July 1588, King Phillip II of Spain sent the Spanish Armada to England, in part to avenge the death of the Catholic Queen Mary. The Spanish suffered a spectacular loss.
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