Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots

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Mary, Queen of Scots, was the tragic ruler of Scotland whose marriages were disasters and who was imprisoned and eventually executed as a threat by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Dates: December 8, 1542 - February 8, 1587

Also known as: Mary Stuart, Mary Stewart


The mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, was Mary of Guise (Mary of Lorraine) and her father was James V of Scotland, each in their second marriage. Mary was born on December 8, 1542, and her father James died on December 14, so the infant Mary became Queen of Scotland when she was just a week old.

James Hamilton, Duke of Arran, was made regent for Mary, Queen of Scots, and he arranged a betrothal with Prince Edward, the son of Henry VIII of England. But Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, was in favor of an alliance with France instead of England, and she worked to overturn this betrothal and instead arranged for Mary to be promised in marriage to France's dauphin, Francis.

Claimant to the English Throne

The young Mary, Queen of Scots, only five years old, was sent to France in 1548 to be raised as the future queen of France. She married Francis in 1558, and in July 1559, when his father Henry II died, Francis II became king and Mary became queen consort of France.

Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart (she took the French spelling rather than the Scottish Stewart), was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor; Margaret was the older sister of Henry VIII of England. In the view of many Catholics, the divorce of Henry VIII from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and his marriage to Anne Boleyn were invalid, and the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth, was therefore illegitimate. Mary, Queen of Scots, in their eyes, was the rightful heir of Mary I of England, Henry VIII's daughter by his first wife.

When Mary I died in 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots, and her husband Francis asserted their right to the English crown, but the English recognized Elizabeth as the heir. Elizabeth, a Protestant, supported the Protestant reformation in Scotland as well as in England.

Mary Stuart's time as queen of France was very short. When Francis died, his mother Catherine de Medici assumed the role of regent for his brother, Charles IX. Mary's mother's family, the Guise relatives, had lost their power and influence, and so Mary Stuart returned to Scotland, where she could rule in her own right as queen.

Mary in Scotland

In 1560, Mary's mother died, in the middle of a civil war she stirred up by attempting to suppress the Protestants, including John Knox. After the death of Mary of Guise, the Catholic and Protestant nobles of Scotland signed a treaty recognizing Elizabeth's right to rule in England. But Mary Stuart, returning to Scotland, managed to avoid signing or endorsing either the treaty or recognition of her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was herself a Catholic and insisted on her freedom to practice her religion. But she did not interfere with Protestantism's role in Scottish life. John Knox, a powerful Presbyterian during Mary's rule, nevertheless denounced her power and influence.

Marriage to Darnley

Mary, Queen of Scots, held on to hopes of claiming the English throne which she considered hers by right. She turned down Elizabeth's suggestion that she marry Lord Robert Dudley, Elizabeth's favorite, and be recognized as Elizabeth's heir. Instead, in 1565 she married her first cousin, Lord Darnley, in a Roman Catholic ceremony.

Darnley, another grandson of Margaret Tudor and heir of another family with a claim to the Scottish throne, was in the Catholic perspective the next in line to Elizabeth's throne after Mary Stuart herself.

Many believed that Mary's match with Darnley was impetuous and unwise. Lord James Stuart, the Earl of Moray, who was Mary's half-brother (his mother was King James' mistress), opposed Mary's marriage to Darnley. Mary personally led troops in the "chase-about raid," chasing Moray and his supporters to England, outlawing them and seizing their estates.

Mary vs. Darnley

While Mary, Queen of Scots, was at first charmed by Darnley, their relationship soon became strained. Already pregnant by Darnley, Mary, Queen of Scots, began to place trust and friendship in her Italian secretary, David Rizzio, who in turn treated Darnley and the other Scottish nobles with contempt. On March 9, 1566, Darnley and the nobles murdered Rizzio, planning that Darnley would put Mary Stuart in prison and rule in her place.

But Mary outwitted the plotters. She convinced Darnley of her commitment to him, and together they escaped. James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who had supported her mother in her battles with the Scottish nobles, provided two thousand soldiers, and Mary took Edinburgh from the rebels. Darnley tried to deny his role in the rebellion, but the others produced a paper that he had signed promising to restore Moray and his fellow exiles to their lands when the murder was complete.

Three months after Rizzio's murder, James, the son of Darnley and Mary Stuart was born. Mary pardoned the exiles and allowed them to return to Scotland. Darnley, motivated by Mary's split from him and by his expectations that the exiled nobles would hold his denial against him, threatened to create a scandal and leave Scotland. Mary, Queen of Scots, was apparently by this time in love with Bothwell.

The Death of Darnley—and Another Marriage

Mary Stuart explored ways to escape from her marriage. Bothwell and the nobles assured her that they would find a way for her to do so. Months later, on February 10, 1567, Darnley was staying at a house in Edinburgh, possibly recovering from smallpox. He awakened to an explosion and fire. The bodies of Darnley and his page were found in the garden of the house, strangled.

The public blamed Bothwell for the death of Darnley. Bothwell faced charges at a private trial where no witnesses were called. He told others that Mary had agreed to marry him, and he got the other nobles to sign a paper asking her to do so.

But immediate marriage would violate any number of etiquette and legal rules. Bothwell was already married, and Mary would be expected to formally mourn her husband Darnley, for a few months at least.

Then Bothwell kidnapped Mary—many suspected with her cooperation. His wife divorced him for infidelity. Mary Stuart announced that, despite her kidnapping, she trusted Bothwell's loyalty and would agree with the nobles who urged her to marry him. Under threat of being hanged, a minister published the banns, and Bothwell and Mary were married on Mary 15, 1567.

Mary, Queen of Scots, subsequently attempted to give Bothwell more authority, but this was met with outrage. Letters (whose authenticity is questioned by some historians) were found tying Mary and Bothwell to Darnley's murder.

Fleeing to England

Mary abdicated the throne of Scotland, making her year-old son James VI, King of Scotland. Moray was appointed regent. Mary Stuart later repudiated the abdication and attempted to regain her power by force, but in May 1568, her forces were defeated. She was forced to flee to England, where she asked her cousin Elizabeth for vindication.

Elizabeth deftly dealt with the charges against Mary and Moray: she found Mary not guilty of murder and Moray not guilty of treason. She recognized Moray's regency, and she did not allow Mary Stuart to leave England.

For nearly twenty years, Mary, Queen of Scots, remained in England, plotting to free herself, to assassinate Elizabeth and to gain the crown with the help of an invading Spanish army. Three separate conspiracies were launched, discovered and squelched.

Trial and Death

In 1586, Mary, Queen of Scots, was brought to trial on charges of treason in Fotheringay castle. She was found guilty and, three months later, Elizabeth signed the death warrant.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed on February 8, 1587, facing death with the charm, determination, and courage which she had brought to the rest of her life.

Golf and Mary, Queen of Scots

The records aren't clear, but many have speculated that Mary, Queen of Scots, brought the term "caddy" into the golf lexicon. In France, where Mary grew up, military cadets carried golf clubs for royalty, and it is possible that Mary brought the custom to Scotland, where the term evolved into the word "caddy."


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