Mary, Queen of Scots
by Rebecca Sinclair (a 2000 Write Byte)
Mary Stuart was born in December 1542 in Linlithgow, Scotland and died in February, 1587 in Fotheringay. She became queen when she was six days old after her father, James V of Scotland, died, leaving her his only legal heir.
When she was one, she was betrothed to Edward, the six-year-old son and heir of Henry VIII. In 1548, at the age of five, she was sent to France after her Roman Catholic, pro-French guardians cancelled the marriage plans. A furious Henry began what eventually becomes known as “The Rough Wooing” – a three-year series of vicious attacks on Scotland – as a way of forcing the Scots to change their mind. It didn’t work.]]>Support our sponsors In 1558, Mary marries the 14-year-old dauphin, Francis, at Notre Dame. She becomes the Queen Consort the following year, at age 17, when the dauphin’s father, Henry II, dies in a jousting accident.
In July of 1560, Mary’s representatives sign the Treaty of Edinburgh, but Mary herself never confirms the treaty. In December that same year, Francis II dies of an ear infection, leaving Mary a widow. Shortly thereafter, Catherine de Medici takes control of France and Mary is considered a threat to the French court.
In August of 1561, Mary sets sail for Scotland and lands at Leith on the 19th. At this point, it is important to keep in mind that during this period, known as The Reformation, Mary landed on her native soil as a Roman Catholic, yet found herself governing a Protestant-led government.
In July of 1564, Mary married her second husband, Henry Steward, Lord Darnley, against the will of of the Protestant lords. The ceremony was performed with Roman Catholic rites, much to the dismay of the Protestants. Henry Stewart thereby stood second in line to the English throne after Mary. The Regent Moray (Mary’s half brother, James Stuart), launched a protest that Mary quickly ended. Darnley had been given the title of king but, unsatisfied, demanded the crown be reserved for him for life. Mary refused.
Darnley was rumored to be moody, quarrelsome, and vicious. He was also violently jealous of David Rizzio, Mary’s secretary, adviser, and friend. With the very Protestant Lords who had rebelled against him, he formed an odd alliance to hatch a monstrous plot to rid the court of David Rizzio for good.
In March of 1566, David Rizzio was snatched from Mary’s table, before her eyes, dragged into the corridor, and stabbed to death. Knowing of Darnley’s active participation in Rizzio’s death, Mary, now 6 months pregnant, lost all trust for her husband and turned her faith and confidence toward James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who had always served her fully and loyally.
The following year, a sick Darnley is brought by Mary to Edinburgh and housed in her lodgings at Kirk o’ Field. Within a short time, Kirk o’ Field is blown up and Darnley’s body found nearby. The cause of death is determined to be strangulation. Bothwell is charged with the murder.
The next month, April, saw a full investigation launched, and despite the infamous “Casket Letter” (the letters in question were found in a silver casket, hence the nickname) used to implicate Mary in the plot to kill Darnley, Bothwell is found innocent. Later that month, Bothwell carries Mary off to Dunbar, where she agrees to marry him. Bothwell petitions both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church for a divorce from his wife, and it is granted.
On the fifteenth of May, 1567, Mary marries James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, in a Protestant ceremony. Naturally, the idea that Mary has wed her second husband’s (Darnley’s) accused killer turns Scotland’s nobles against her.
In a month’s time, Mary’s army defeats the rebellion at Carberry Hill, although she herself is forced to abandon Bothwell. She surrenders herself to the Lords and is jailed at Loch Leven Castle.
In May the following year, Mary manages to escape. She forms an army, but is defeated on May 13th in the infamous Battle of Langside.
A few days later, Mary crosses Solway Firth and seeks protection from her cousin, Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Instead, she finds herself imprisoned. While many hunger for Mary’s execution, for reasons of her own, Elizabeth refuses.
Between 1568 and 1586, Mary hatches many plots and schemes against Elizabeth, although none are very realistic. In October, 1568, Anthony Babington, who was later executed, actually instigates one of the plots, which is discovered and cannot be ignored. Mary is brought to trial.
On October 25th, Mary is sentenced to death. Yet Elizabeth lingers on signing the warrant of execution.
On February 1, 1587, Elizabeth, finally, and perhaps reluctantly, signs Mary’s warrant of execution and, on February 18, Mary is beheaded. She is buried at Westminster Abbey.
In her time, Mary was consider a beautiful, vivacious woman, yet not of a monarch’s imperative quality. The decisions she made, she made from the heart, which, in the end, proved her downfall.
To have an unapologetic Roman Catholic on the throne (when she returned at Leith) came as a shock to the newly Protestant Scots. Because she did not force her religion on them, nor them on her, a fragile truce was formed. For a while.
Because Darnley was so closely tied to the throne, his marriage to Mary was not discouraged. However, he must have hid his personality well during the courting of Mary, because she did not discover his true disposition until after they were wed. It has never been proved that David Rizzio was anything more than a good, close friend to Mary. What fed Darnley’s jealously over the man is anyone’s guess. Whether or not Mary actually had any part in Darnley’s murder (as a consequence of Rizzio’s murder, which Darnley participated in and, it is rumored, gloated over), has never been substantiated.
It is interesting that Elizabeth I took so long to sign Mary’s execution of death. Especially since, considering the proof offered at the trial, she realized she had no choice. If she did not, she risked her nobles rising against her. Yet she was reluctant.
Mary Stuart’s execution was not a pleasant affair. The axe was not as sharp as it could have been, and it took two strikes for the executioner to dislodge her head from her shoulders. The legend of her puppy, after she’d been beheaded, running from beneath her skirts cannot at this time be substantiated by more than one historical source.
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