Mary Queen of Scots
Born at Linlithgow Palace, West
Lothian on 8 December 1542, Mary became Queen of Scots
when she was six days old.
Her claims to the throne of England were almost as
strong as her claims to the Scottish throne. As Henry
VII of England's great-granddaughter, Mary was next in
line to the English throne, after Henry VIII's
Given her youth and sex, the Scottish nobility decided
that they must make peace with England, and they
agreed that she should marry Henry VIII's son, the
future Edward VI.
No sooner had the treaty been arranged, however, than
Catholics opposed to the plan took the young Mary to
Stirling Castle and, to Henry's fury, they broke the
match, preferring to return to Scotland's traditional
alliance with France.
Henry thereupon ordered the savage series of raids
into Scotland known as 'The Rough Wooing'. His army
set fire to the Abbey of Holyroodhouse where James V
was buried, burned crops in the Tweed Valley and set
ablaze the Border abbeys of Melrose, Jedburgh and
Undeterred, the Scots in 1548 betrothed Mary to the
French King Henri II's heir, the Dauphin Francis, and
sent her to be brought up at the French Court. It is
said that the spelling of the royal family name of
Stewart changed to Stuart at that time, to suit French
Tall, graceful and quick-witted, Mary married the
Dauphin in Paris on 24 April 1558. He succeeded to his
father's throne in 1559, making Mary Queen of France
as well as Scotland, but his reign was brief for he
died of an ear infection in 1560.
The following year, despite the warnings of her
friends, Mary decided to go back to Scotland, now an
officially Protestant country after religious reforms
led by John Knox.
She was a Roman Catholic, but her half-brother, Lord
James Stewart, later Earl of Moray, had assured her
that she would be allowed to worship as she wished and
in August 1561 she returned, to an unexpectedly warm
welcome from her Protestant subjects.
At first Mary ruled successfully and with
moderation, advised by Lord James and William Maitland
of Lethington, a subtle diplomat. However, her
marriage in 1565 to her second cousin Henry, Lord
Darnley (great-grandson of Henry VII) initiated a
tragic series of events made worse by factious
Spoiled and petulant, Darnley became the tool of
Mary's enemies, including
James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton,
the Regent, and, with a group of conspirators,
amongst them members of the Douglas family, burst into her supper chamber, threatened the heavily
pregnant queen and murdered her secretary, David Rizzio, on 9 March 1566 inside the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The birth of Mary and Darnley's son James that summer
did nothing to improve their relationship, and when
Darnley was murdered at Kirk o'Field, just outside the
walls of Edinburgh on 10 February 1567, people
suspected that she was implicated in the crime.
Her subsequent marriage three months later to the
Earl of Bothwell (generally believed to be the
principal murderer) brought her inevitable ruin. Her
Protestant Lords rose against her and her army
confronted theirs at
Carberry Hill, near Edinburgh, on
15 June 1567.
She surrendered, was imprisoned in
Kinross-shire, the property of
Sir William Douglas, and forced to abdicate in favour of her
infant son. Bothwell fled to Scandinavia, where he was
arrested and held prisoner until his death.
Mary escaped from Lochleven in 1568, assisted by
Willie, son of her keeper, only to be
defeated at the
of Langside, near Glasgow, on 13 May. Fleeing
south, she sought shelter in England, believing that
Queen Elizabeth I would support her cause, but instead
she was kept in captivity in England for 19 years.
The focus of a long series of Roman Catholic plots
against Elizabeth, culminating in the Babington Plot
to assassinate the English queen, led to Elizabeth's
ministers demanding Mary's execution: 'so long as
there is life in her, there is hope; so as they live
in hope, we live in fear'.
Mary was finally executed at Fotheringhay Castle in
Northamptonshire on 8 February 1587, at the age of 44.
She was buried in Peterborough Cathedral, but in 1612
her son James VI and I had her body exhumed and placed
in the vault of King Henry VII's Chapel in Westminster
Murder of David Rizzio
• Volly Douglas
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