Elizabeth and Mary – Battling Down the Centuries (Guest Post)



                

Guest article by Sarah Gristwood

It would be hard to find two women about whom more has been written than Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart – separately and, of course, together. I’ve written repeatedly of them both myself, in fiction as well as in factual history. Each a star turn, they are often presented as counterbalance to each other: Mary the heart to Elizabeth’s head. And which one you prefer isn’t only a matter of personal taste – perceptions of the pair have changed radically down the centuries.

Mary Queen of Scots, of course, was both canonised and vilified even in her own day. Reviled as a murderess by those one side of the religious divide, she was revered as a martyr by those on the other. Her reputation rehabilitated after the Stuarts gained the English throne, she was reinvented as a feeling heroine for the late eighteenth century. This was the picture  that led to her being presented as opposite to Queen Elizabeth in Schiller’s 1800 play Mary Stuart  (later made into an opera by Donizetti). The picture, too, that caused Jane Austen, in a gloriously prejudiced piece of juvenilia, to describe her as ‘this amiable woman’, in contrast to ‘that disgrace to humanity, that pest to society’, Elizabeth.

The Victorians viewed Mary with a mixture of repulsion and fascination: romantic, yes, and fetchingly feminine but oh dear, oh dear, Bothwell and Darnley . . . So different from the home life of their own dear Queen! The pre-Raphaelites of course adored her – but she still represents a challenge for today.



Recent work has sought to rediscover Mary’s queenship and highlight her abilities;  notably My Heart is My Own, by John Guy. To defeat the idea that she was simply a silly woman, given great power and throwing it away.  The effort has succeeded  – to a degree. We now appreciate that the situation Mary faced in Scotland was an impossible one – that her failure was not due only to her own weaknesses. All the same, unlucky in both love and war, she remains a highly dubious role model. And a role model, it seems, is very often what we want our heroines to be.

Of course the crimes of which Mary has been accused, murder and adultery, are still very definitely sins. By contrast the charges once levelled against Elizabeth by male historians  – of unwomanliness, of sexual froideur or alternatively of excessive closeness to her male favourites – hardly look like major crimes today. All the same her reputation too changed down the centuries. We all make Elizabeths after the image of our own age, and find evidence for them, all too easily.

In 1603 when Elizabeth died, England had become tired of an ageing woman’s rule. But by the later seventeenth century Elizabeth’s whole era was already beginning to look like a golden age, by contrast with the foibles of the Stuart monarchy. And the eighteenth century age of sensibility which so supported Mary could shed a tear for the Virgin Queen too, in the character of victim, forced by a cruel fate to throw her chance of love away. The influence of Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth in 1821 was slow to die.

The Victorians – while relishing the brave and beruffed ruler as an icon of empire – were troubled by the whole question of Elizabeth’s sexuality. Insofar as she had chosen to present herself as an eternal virgin, she was unwomanly; if on the other hand she were in any way sexual without the marriage tie . . . ‘when the character of a lady is at issue, to doubt is to condemn’, as Fraser’s Magazine put it memorably. Elizabeth, wrote Jacob Abbott in 1849, ‘would not have been a desirable wife for any of us’. The ultimate put down, clearly.

Lytton Strachey in his 1928 psychobiography Elizabeth and Essex reinvented Elizabeth yet again as a post-Freudian creature of frustrated sexuality. As Strachey wrote of Essex’s downfall : ‘Manhood – the fascinating, detestable entity, which had first come upon her concealed in yellow magnificence in her father’s lap – manhood was overthrown at last, and in the person of the traitor it should be rooted out.’ This interpretation has never to date quite gone away. Certainly it stuck around long enough to influence the Bette Davis/Errol Flynn movie, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.



By the second half of the twentieth century Elizabeth had moved an again – a heroine for our own day. I for one grew up on the novels of Margaret Irwin – Young Bess, Elizabeth, Captive Princess and Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain – and much preferred them to those of Jean Plaidy, who of course wrote also also on Mary. Elizabeth was well on the way to becoming effectively the ultimate  career woman – now, books on the management secrets of Elizabeth I, and ‘Elizabeth CEO’, can be found on the shelves, along with feminist academic study and  the novels of Philippa Gregory.

If the two queens could be said to have gone on confronting each other down the centuries, then there’s one battle of the war Elizabeth surely won. From the days of Flora Robson on, it’s she who is the ultimate screen queen . . . Even the old Vanessa Redgrave movie Mary Queen of Scots was stolen by Glenda Jackson, reprising her role from the BBC’s great Elizabeth R. More recently we’ve had Cate Blanchett in Shekhar Kapur’s feature film Elizabeth and Helen Mirren in the two plays on Channel Four tv, to say nothing of the BBC’s The Virgin Queen, and Judi Dench’s cameo in Shakespeare in Love, and, and, and . . . the list goes on, basically.

It’s true that in 1895 Thomas Edison’s The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots was one of the first movies ever made – but it was only 18 seconds long. There was John Ford’s 1936 version with Katherine Hepburn; but more recently that pair of tv plays about Mary and her son James, Gunpowder, Treason & Plot, hardly live in the memory.

There was a Swiss film made of Mary in 2013, but the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes memorably summed up its subject as a queen who lost three kingdoms and a woman who lost three husbands. The ultimate loser, basically. Which leaves us with the US tv series Reign which ran to an extraordinary 78 episodes . . . but could any one of them be said really to have shown  the historical Mary?

That may all be about to change. A new film Mary Queen of Scots is shooting right now, with Saoirse Ronan as Mary. Top billing seems still to be going to Margot Robbie as Elizabeth, rather oddly, but it is based on the Mary biography by John Guy. A good sign – but it remains to be seen whether this, at last, will manage to make the Queen of Scots a heroine for the 21st century.

Sarah Gristwood is the author of The Queen’s Mary and of Game of Queens.

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A Rivalry in Letters: Mary and Elizabeth

Guest article written by: Ryan Hunter

Video et taceo.

-Elizabeth I’s motto (“I see and keep silent”).

Carry this message from me and tell my friends that I died a true woman to my religion, and like a true Scottish woman and a true French woman; but God forgive them that have long desired my end.

-Mary Queen of Scots’ last words to her servants, 8 February 1587.

Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I’s letters to each other were their only sources of communication. They remain to this day historians’ most insightful and formative sources on the quarter century-long rivalry between the two queens, as they show how Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship changed and their enmity developed over time. They reveal fascinating insights into the two cousins and rivals’ personalities, and above all else, their fundamentally different approaches to their respective positions as two queens regnant living on the same isle with a claim to the same throne. The manner in which they wrote to each other, especially their choice of words and language, reflects the profoundly different and evolving approaches these two women employed in communicating to each other over time and, more broadly, in seeking to control the circumstances in which they found themselves. Above all, their letters serve as invaluable evidence of the shift in the queens’ attitudes to each other from youthful rivalry, to a brief period of sisterly solidarity, to profoundly hostile confrontation toward the end of their quarter century-long correspondence. Without the evidence these letters provide, historians would have only the testimony of those who knew the queens, and not the crucial words of the queens themselves, to piece together a contextual framework for Mary and Elizabeth’s evolving rivalry.

Mary, Queen of Scots painted around the age of 18 or 19 during her first widowhood (after Francis II of France's 1560 death).
Mary, Queen of Scots painted around the age of 18 or 19 during her first widowhood (after Francis II of France’s 1560 death).
Elizabeth I, aged 26, in this 1560 portrait by Clopton. (C) British Museum, London.
Elizabeth I, aged 26, in this 1560 portrait by Clopton. (C) National Portrait Gallery, London.

Whereas Mary (1542-1587), the more passionate of the two women, is direct, emotional, and often uses either pleading or accusatory language depending on the situation, her cousin Elizabeth (1533-1603) is more circumspect, usually dispassionate in tone, and often gives admonishing words of caution or paternalistic, almost sisterly advice. The two queens’ rivalry emerges in four distinct stages. The first key turning point in their correspondence was 1567, when Mary’s second husband and cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was murdered and Mary soon after married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, the man suspected of killing Darnley. Mary’s overthrow by the Scottish Protestant lords and her impetuous flight to England to seek Elizabeth’s assistance in 1568 marks the second turning point, and 1580—when Mary’s son James VI betrayed his mother and entered into an alliance with Elizabeth, her captor—the third. By the end of their quarter century-long correspondence in fall of 1586, with Mary informed that her cousin would soon likely sign her death warrant, the tone of their exchange takes on a remarkably hostile direction, which is the fourth turning point.

Astonishingly, by the end of their correspondence, Elizabeth would directly and explicitly accuse Mary of plotting against her life, while Mary would hauntingly remind Elizabeth that she would face a dreadful eternal reckoning should she choose, as Elizabeth ultimately did, to sign the death warrant and execute her cousin and fellow queen. Ultimately, as in their lifelong rivalry, the two queens’ letters to each other reveal no clear winner, but instead, through the medium of these letters, we are left to wonder at the complex personalities of these two rival monarchs. What is certain is that, without these letters, we would have only the conjecture and prejudiced opinions of the two queens’ senior advisors and ministers to attempt to piece together a fuller picture, a picture the letters are thus indispensable in constructing. The letters confirm and solidify the oft-repeated historical record that Mary was first and foremost a woman and only then a monarch, morphing during her English captivity from a desperate femme fatale into a would-be-martyr, while Elizabeth emerges as first and foremost a monarch who only then allowed herself to be a woman, always subordinating her personal wishes to her political instincts.

Elizabeth I painted in her coronation robes on 15 January 1559. She ascended to the throne on 17 November 1558 upon her half-sister Queen Mary I Tudor's death.
Elizabeth I painted in her coronation robes on 15 January 1559. She ascended to the throne on 17 November 1558 upon her half-sister Queen Mary I Tudor’s death.

Mary and Elizabeth’s rivalry begins over a confrontation between the two queens in the year 1558, rooted in the two different destinies their lives took when Elizabeth became Queen and Mary married her first husband, Dauphin Francois of France. The conflict was one of status and title centering on Mary’s naïve acceptance of her father-in-law’s decision to claim the thrones of England and Ireland in her name, a decision that both outraged and disconcerted Elizabeth. Upon learning of Mary I of England’s death, Henri II of France immediately proclaimed his son and daughter-in-law King and Queen of England and Ireland, since, in the eyes of Catholic Europe, Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII by Anne Boleyn, was illegitimate, and Mary, Queen of Scots was now the rightful Queen of England.[1]

The young Mary, only 15 at her marriage, seems not to have understood how deeply she offended her older cousin Elizabeth by allowing her father-in-law Henri II and her Guise uncles “to claim the title Queen of England and Ireland for the house of Valois, and quarter Mary’s arms with those of France, Scotland and England.”[2] Although, Jane Dunn points out, “this act of acquisitiveness was not initiated by Mary, her acceptance and overriding pursuit of it altered her destiny forever”[3] and made Elizabeth view her from her accession as a serious rival for her throne. Dunn notes that Mary’s assumption of the royal arms of England in November 1558 “gave her a compelling idea of herself as rightful heir to the English throne, an aspiration she maintained throughout her life.”[4] From the moment Mary first imagined herself as Queen of England, the two cousins and sister queens were set upon an inevitable rivalry that ultimately would end only with Mary’s death.

Mary, Queen of Scots sketched by French royal portraitist Francois Clouet in 1558 shortly before her wedding to Francis, Dauphin (Crown Prince) of France, son of Henri II.
Mary, Queen of Scots sketched by French royal portraitist Francois Clouet in 1558 shortly before her wedding to Francis, Dauphin (Crown Prince) of France, son of Henri II.

Elizabeth first refers to Mary politely in the first peace treaty she signed during her reign, a treaty with France and Scotland (then governed by Mary’s formidable mother, the Scottish Queen Mother and Regent Marie de Guise, sister of France’s powerful Guise brothers).[5] In asserting that Mary was not Queen of England, Elizabeth deliberately chose diplomatic language in defending her own claim to be England’s rightful monarch. She tactfully accepted “that the title to this kingdom injuriously pretended in so many ways by the Queen of Scotland has not proceeded otherwise than from the ambitious desire of the principal members of the House of Guise”[6], Mary’s uncles. Elizabeth, in an almost chiding tone, went on to patronize the young Mary and her husband Francois for their youthful error in claiming what she asserted was her rightful title: “the King, who by reason of his youth…the Queen of Scots, who is likewise very young…have [not] of themselves imagined and deliberated an enterprise so unjust, unreasonable, and perilous”[7] as to brazenly quarter their arms with England’s.

Thus, as early as 1558, we have evidence that Mary claimed to be the rightful Queen of England. While her claims unnerved Elizabeth, at this stage the rivalry between the two queens seems more indicative of a youthful concern for status and image which, while not unserious, was a far cry from the verbal valedictory broadsides the queens would ultimately launch at each other before Mary’s execution.

When, in December 1560, aged only sixteen, Mary’s husband Francois died, leaving her a widow at 17, the stage was set for Mary and Elizabeth’s first serious confrontation.[8] Within several months, after experiencing what seems to have been a profound depression and nervous collapse[9], the widowed Mary made up her mind to return to her native Scotland. This prospect alarmed Elizabeth, who was horrified of the prospect of her Catholic cousin and rival suddenly arriving on her doorstep. Citing Mary’s refusal to ratify the Treaty of Edinburgh, in which Scotland’s Protestant leaders acknowledged Elizabeth as rightful Queen of England, Elizabeth refused her cousin a warrant of safe passage through English waters on her return from France to Scotland.[10]

Mary, Queen of Scots pictured in her first widowhood as the dowager Queen of France, 1560.
Mary, Queen of Scots pictured in her first widowhood as the dowager Queen of France, 1560.

Mary responded with her first known letter in reference to her English cousin. Exhibiting what was to become a lifelong flair for self-dramatization, the now dowager queen of France wrote to the English ambassador: “I am determined to adventure the matter, whatsoever come of it; I trust the wind will be so favourable that I shall not need to come on the coast of England; for if I do, then… the Queen your mistress 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.”[11]

By the early 1560s we see a more positive shift in the queens’ relations, with Mary ensconced in Scotland, having seemingly forgotten about Elizabeth’s refusal to grant her safe passage through England to Scotland. Both queens were now writing in “amenable, even affectionate” terms to each other.[12] Mary seems clearly to be the more emotional partner in their letters, once kissing a letter Elizabeth had written for her, saying to the English ambassador “I will kiss it also…for her sake it commeth from.”[13]

Mary, Queen of Scots painted as a young woman.
Mary, Queen of Scots painted as a young woman.

In summer 1565, Mary married her second husband, the nearest heir to both the Scottish and (after Mary) English thrones, her and Elizabeth’s mutual cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, whom Elizabeth had deliberately sent north in the hopes of seducing Mary. Within months, it became clear to all that Mary had rushed into a disastrous marriage; Darnley emerged as a drunk, a boor, and a womanizer.[14] While Mary achieved perhaps her most important life’s goal, giving birth to a son and heir James in June 1566[15], news which dismayed Elizabeth [16], her misery in her marriage led to a whirlwind of drama culminating in the February 1567 murder of her husband. Mary had not hid her misery in her marriage from Darnley’s enemies, even going so far as to say to some of her lords that “unless she were quit of [Darnley] by one means or another, she could never have a good day for the rest of her life”.[17]

1565 or 1566 painting of Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, King consort of Scots.
1565 or 1566 painting of Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, King consort of Scots.
Portrait of Darnley's murder on 10 February 1567. Mary's soon-to-be third husband, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was widely believed to be responsible for the murder. Many of Mary's supporters would ultimately blame Elizabeth I herself.
Portrait of Darnley’s murder on 10 February 1567. Mary’s soon-to-be third husband, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was widely believed to be responsible for the murder. Many of Mary’s supporters would ultimately blame Elizabeth I herself.

On February 24, 1567, Elizabeth wrote the following impassioned letter to Mary, using what G.B. Harrison describes as “great frankness without any of the usual circumlocutions common in her diplomatic correspondence”[18]. It marks the first major turning point in relations between the two queens. The letter is remarkable in that the usually prescribed Elizabeth pointedly eschews the usual formalities, urging Mary in extremely direct language to act immediately to preserve her reputation and distance herself from her husband’s alleged killer, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell:

Madame: My ears have been so deafened and my understanding so grieved and my heart so affrighted to hear the dreadful news of the abominable murder of your mad husband and my killed cousin that I scarcely have the wits to write about it… I cannot dissemble that I am more sorrowful for you than for him… I will not at all dissemble what most people are talking about: which is that you will look through your fingers at [ignore] the revenging of this deed… However I exhort you, I counsel you, and I beseech you to take this thing so much to heart that you will not fear to touch even him [Bothwell] whom you have nearest to you if the thing [the murder] touches him, and that no persuasion will prevent you from making an example [of justice] out of this to the world: that you are both a noble princess and a loyal wife.[19]

As Elizabeth’s words here illustrate—“you will look through your fingers at the revenging of this deed”—gossip was already rife that Mary would not punish her estranged husband’s murderer. This letter is remarkable in that Elizabeth speaks plainly to Mary as her equal, as a fellow queen, and also, on an emotional and direct level, as a fellow woman. Her unusually direct and emotional words, full of solidarity and sympathy for Mary, nevertheless contain heartfelt and practical advice to defend her honour and distance herself from Bothwell, the man at the centre of Darnley’s murder. It is in this letter that Elizabeth revealingly observes that “I am not ignorant that you have no wiser counselors than myself”[20], casting herself as Mary’s chief advisor and defender against her enemies’ machinations. Despite receiving Elizabeth’s letter, Mary, under Bothwell’s control, took the worst route possible, ensuring her own downfall and the premature end of her reign.

Almost as soon as Darnley was dead, Bothwell began to establish a strong emotional and psychological hold over Mary, to the point that Mary arranged a show trial in April 1567 which acquitted Bothwell of all charges in Darnley’s murder[21]. Prior to hearing about the outcome of the show trial, Elizabeth wrote again to Mary, writing in uncharacteristically emotional, motherly terms: “Madam, I treat you as my daughter, and assure you that if I had one, I could wish for her nothing better than I desire for you… the one for whom one wishes the greatest good that may be possible in this world.”[22] There is no evidence that Mary, by then completely in thrall to Bothwell, responded to this warm letter of sympathy from Elizabeth.

Disturbed by Mary’s silence, soon after, Elizabeth wrote touchingly yet again to Mary in her own hand, in French, Mary’s mother tongue, in anticipation of the hearing against Bothwell: “For the love of God, Madame, use such sincerity and prudence in this matter [the hearing], which touches you so nearly, that all the world may feel justified in believing you innocent of so enormous a crime, which, if you were not, would be good cause for degrading you from the rank of princess, and bringing upon you the scorn of the vulgar.”[23] Once again, Elizabeth showed herself to be concerned above all else for Mary’s honour as her fellow queen and cousin; she knew that by associating publicly with the man all of Edinburgh blamed for Darnley’s murder, Mary delegitimized herself before her many enemies and only furthered the scandalous rumors that she had been involved in the murder. As a fellow queen regnant, Elizabeth was acutely aware that all of Europe was closely watching Mary’s actions, and she was concerned that Mary not act in any emotional or impulsive way that would denigrate female rulers’ perceived capabilities in the eyes of men.

When Elizabeth heard in May 1567 that Mary had, after being kidnapped and allegedly raped by Bothwell, married the man publicly held responsible for Darnley’s murder, she wrote yet another impassioned, incredibly direct letter to her cousin, warning her in no uncertain terms that Mary’s actions had scandalized Europe and threatened the future of her reign in Scotland:

How could a worse choice be made for your honour than in such haste to marry such a subject, who besides other and notorious lacks, public fame has charged with the murder of your late husband, besides the touching of yourself also in some part, though we trust in that behalf falsely…[24]

By marrying Bothwell, Mary, in Elizabeth’s view and all the world’s, showed herself incapable of ruling independently and asserting her own will. Worst of all, by marrying the man “public fame has charged with the murder of” Darnley, Mary showed a fatal, utter indifference to public opinion and a deafeningly reckless refusal to heed her cousin and fellow queen’s impassioned pleas for caution and deliberation. Elizabeth, used to speaking to Mary like an older to a younger sister, makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she thinks Mary’s decision was the worst possible choice.

Elizabeth was clearly horrified that, not only had Mary married the man publicly charged with murdering her late husband, but that Bothwell “hath another lawful wife alive, whereby neither by God’s law nor man’s yourself can be his leeful wife, nor any children betwixt you legitimate.”[25] Elizabeth wrote explicitly of the threat Mary’s new marriage posed to her continued rule in Scotland, urging Mary “to be careful how your son the prince may be preserved, for the comfort of yours and your realm, which two things we have from the beginning always taken to heart…”[26] Elizabeth signed herself, emphatically, “a good neighbour, a dear sister and a faithful friend”[27].

Mary’s response to Elizabeth marks an equally poignant turning point in the cousins’ relations. In the following letter, defending her marriage to Bothwell, Mary revealed her own belief that she could not rule Scotland alone as Elizabeth ruled in England. Unlike Elizabeth, Mary now had neither the authority nor the will to govern Scotland unaided:

Destitute of a husband, our realm not truly purged of the factions and conspiracies that for a long time has continued therein, which occurring so frequently, had already in a manner so wearied and broken us, that by our self we were not able for any long continuance to sustain the pains and travail in our own person… for their satisfaction, which could not suffer us long to continue in the state of widowhood, moved by their prayers and requests, it behooves us to yield unto one marriage or other.[28]

Mary fails to give a convincing defence of her marriage; all she can muster in response to Elizabeth’s horror and outrage is “it behooves us to yield unto one marriage or other”. These are hardly the words of a capable, confident queen.

The collapse of Mary’s reign came swiftly. Following the defeat of her forces at Carberry Hill by her Protestant half-brother the Earl of Moray, the captured, disheveled, heavily pregnant Mary was led through the streets of Edinburgh, all illusions of royal authority gone, her husband having fled the battlefield leaving her utterly without support or defence[29]. Crowds verbally assaulted her, shouting “Burn the whore!”[30] and holding up placards depicting their queen as a prostitute and adulterer. A prisoner of her Protestant enemies who now controlled her son the infant prince James, Mary’s reign was effectively over. Despite her horror at Mary’s reckless behavior, Elizabeth was first and foremost concerned with Mary’s security and status as a fellow monarch. Dedicated to the absolute majesty and divine right of kings, Elizabeth was outraged that Mary had been so outrageously treated by her own subjects. Elizabeth furiously argued that “it does not appertain to subjects so to reform their prince, but to deal by advice and counsel, and failing thereof, to recommend the rest to Almighty God”.[31] Incensed that the Scottish lords would dare assault their God-anointed Sovereign, Elizabeth “threatened war”[32] and talked of sending an armed force to relieve Mary. She talked, yet, in keeping with her motto, besides offering written encouragement to Mary, she did nothing.

Upon hearing of her cousin’s capture by the rebellious Protestant lords in June 1567, Elizabeth wrote to Mary “We assure you that whatsoever we can imagine meet for your honour and safety that shall lie in our power, we will perform the same…you [shall not] lack our friendship and power for the preservation of your honour in quietness.”[33] Elizabeth told her ambassador to Scotland that she “would not suffer her [Mary], being by God’s ordinance the prince and sovereign, to be in subjection to them that by nature and law are subjected to her.”[34] While Elizabeth continued to rail in support of her beleaguered cousin, she did not send troops to free Mary or restore her to her throne.

On 24th July 1567 Mary was forced to abdicate at Loch Leven castle immediately after miscarrying Bothwell’s twins[35], and the Protestant lords installed her infant son as James VI. A December 1567 Act of the Scottish Parliament, of dubious legality as it was held at the behest of her Protestant enemies, confirmed that Mary had freely abdicated of her own volition on behalf of her son. Despite managing to harness all her considerable charm, scheming abilities, and physical energy to eventually escape from her prison at Loch Leven and ultimately flee to England in 1568, where she sought Elizabeth’s direct material assistance to help her win back her throne, Mary never again ruled Scotland.[36] For the next nineteen years, despite Mary’s naïve expectation that Elizabeth would make good her promises of loyalty and support and restore her to the Scottish throne, Mary was imprisoned on Elizabeth’s orders.

The young James VI of Scots (de facto King of Scots from July 1567, de jure from February 8, 1587 with his mother's death). James was raised by strict Presbyterian Calvinists who encouraged him to hate his mother, whom he had no memory of since he had been separated from her shortly before her forced abdication. The Dutch painter Arnold van Brounckhorst painted then 7-year old James in 1574.
Young James VI

The young James VI of Scots (de facto King of Scots from July 1567, de jure from February 8, 1587 with his mother’s death). James was raised by strict Presbyterian Calvinists who encouraged him to hate his mother, whom he had no memory of since he had been separated from her shortly before her forced abdication. The Dutch painter Arnold van Brounckhorst painted then 7-year old James in 1574.

Betraying her impulsive and emotional nature, Mary wrote to Elizabeth as soon as she had crossed into England, urging her to “fetch me as soon as you possibly can, for I am in a pitiable condition, not only for a Queen, but for a gentlewoman.”[37] Now that Mary was in England, an extremely unwelcome prospect for Elizabeth, the two cousins’ relationship had changed once again. Elizabeth responded coolly, leading Mary to write another impetuous letter to her in which she hinted that, should Elizabeth not help her regain her lost throne, she would look elsewhere for assistance: “If for any reason I cannot come to you, seeing I have freely come to throw myself in your arms, you will I am sure permit me to ask assistance of my other allies…”[38] Elizabeth knew that she could not safely return her to Scotland with Mary’s Protestant enemies in control of the country, but to let Mary pass to France risked possible French military involvement which would only further destabilize Scotland and possibly threaten England. As Elizabeth continued to prevaricate, Mary found her cousin’s behavior “maddening and her even-handedness galling in the extreme”.[39]

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1587, r. de facto 1542-1567, de jure 1542-1587), Queen consort of France (1559-1560).
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1587, r. de facto 1542-1567, de jure 1542-1587), Queen consort of France (1559-1560).

As Mary gradually came to realize that her cousin had no intention of seeing her restored to rule in Scotland, she wrote a flurry of letters to Elizabeth, begging for an audience with her. 1568 marks yet another major shift in writing style and tone. Denied access to Elizabeth’s presence, Mary’s agony over her “anguished impotence of her enforced isolation” from her cousin “had Mary resorting to the language of unrequited love.[40] If allowed to see Elizabeth, Mary wrote, she would “discover to you the secrets of my heart…I shall devote myself more and more to love, honour, and obey you…”[41] These letters, extremely unconventional in their phrasing, betrayed how out of touch Mary was with the political reality of her situation.

The Queen of Scots became increasingly frustrated with Elizabeth, who, to her outrage, sanctioned a 1568 hearing at York to determine the authenticity of the so-called “Casket Letters”, which Mary’s Protestant half-brother and enemy the Regent Earl of Moray alleged Mary had written to Bothwell urging him to kill Darnley. Mary furiously decried the letters as forgeries, but neither she nor her supporters were permitted to look at the copies. As Elizabeth had desired, the inquest found Mary neither guilty nor innocent of adultery and murderous conspiracy against Darnley, giving the English Queen the excuse to continue keeping her Catholic cousin a prisoner.

Mary had, through her own incompetence as a ruler, lost her throne, and after a year in captivity she still naively expected that Elizabeth would risk all to restore her to rule. Any willingness Elizabeth might have initially had to restore her cousin to her throne in Scotland soon dissipated when leading Catholic earls in northern England rebelled against the Protestant queen in autumn 1569, insisting on freedom of worship for Catholics and hoping to remove Elizabeth and put Mary on the English throne. The rebellion had wide support among northern Englishmen, most of whom were Catholic, and Elizabeth suppressed it with considerable difficulty. Mary almost certainly knew of the risings in her favour, but said almost nothing on the subject to Elizabeth. She continued to petition her English cousin to allow her greater freedom of movement. Elizabeth demurred, and Mary continued to write her.

Exasperated with Mary’s numerous plaintive letters to her, in a letter dated February 20, 1570 Elizabeth railed against her cousin: “Good madame, what wrong did I ever s[eek] to you or yours in the former part of my reign, when y[ou] know what was sought against me, even to the sp[oil] of my crown from me?” [42] The two queens’ relationship only continued to deteriorate after this letter was written, especially given that Pope Pius V issued his papal bull Regnans in Excelsis in April of 1570 formally excommunicating Elizabeth, whom he derided as “the pretended queen of England and servant of wickedness”, urging English Catholics to do all they could to depose her [43].

Elizabeth from then on began to view Mary as a nuisance and the source for Catholic opposition to her reign. Her Privy Councilors increasingly pressured her to put her imprisoned cousin on trial and execute her for her suspected role in encouraging the failed 1571 Ridolfi Plot. This plot, orchestrated by Florentine nobleman and banker Roberto di Ridolfi with Spanish King Philip II’s active support, sought to again raise the Catholic North against Elizabeth, assassinate her, restore Catholicism, and put Mary on the throne. Elizabeth’s cousin, England’s most powerful landowner Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, plotted to marry Mary and rule England alongside her, despite that her husband Bothwell was still alive, imprisoned in a Danish prison, and despite that Norfolk had led Queen Elizabeth’s forces into Scotland in 1560 supporting the Protestant Lairds of the Congregation in in ousting Mary’s mother the Queen Regent Marie de Guise. As senior MPs and her councilors continued to push for Mary’s preemptive execution, Elizabeth prevaricated in her usual manner, increasingly referring to her Scottish cousin as “the Daughter of Debate” [44].

A supporter of Mary's cause painted this portrait of the Queen and her teenage son, James VI of Scots. In reality, Mary never again saw her son after he was taken from her in 1567 shortly before her forced abdication.
A supporter of Mary’s cause painted this portrait of the Queen and her teenage son, James VI of Scots. In reality, Mary never again saw her son after he was taken from her in 1567 shortly before her forced abdication.

By 1580, Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship deteriorated further. As the years went on, and Elizabeth took steps to ensure that Mary’s son James VI was raised as a Protestant by the regents governing Scotland during his minority, Mary bemoaned her lack of control over her own son and heir. When James wrote to Mary “declining to associate her with himself in the sovereignty of Scotland”, offering to treat her merely as a “Queen-Mother”[45], the devastated Mary wrote a nearly hysterical letter to Elizabeth in which she fumed that “Without him I am, and shall be of right, as long as I live, his Queen and Sovereign…but without me, he is too insignificant to think of soaring.”[46] Refusing James’ offer for her to return to Scotland as a retired dowager queen, Mary wrote frenziedly to her cousin that “I do not acknowledge one [queen mother]; failing our association, there is no King of Scotland, nor any Queen but me.”[47] Again, Mary was utterly out of touch with political reality; while it is true that she had been forced to abdicate against her will, by now her son was taking part in the ruling of Scotland, and the rest of Europe acknowledged him as a legitimate monarch.

Writing in early May 1580 to Elizabeth, whom she still addressed courteously as “Madam, my good sister”, Mary bemoaned that while she had “written to you several times during the last year; to lay before your consideration the unworthy and rigorous treatment which I have received in this captivity…”[48], Elizabeth had not responded to her. Terrified that Elizabeth was growing distant from her, Mary felt obliged to point out to Elizabeth how her enemies were constantly conspiring to blacken her reputation and name: “I am constrained to beg and entreat you, as I humbly do, by my liberation out of this prison, to relieve yourself from…the continual suspicions, mistrusts, and prejudices with which [my enemies surrounding you] daily trouble you against me…”[49] Mary at this point was once again employing conventional speech toward Elizabeth, though it was, typical of her, wrought with emotion. By July 1585, Elizabeth’s hold over James VI was so strong that he was addressing her in his letters as “madame and mother”[50]; fortunately for Mary’s sake, she seems never to have known that he addressed Elizabeth as if she were his own mother. However, James’ continued close association with Elizabeth seems to have pushed Mary over the edge; word reached Mary of her son’s defensive treaty with Elizabeth in July 1586, right when Babington asked her blessing for his plot to assassinate Elizabeth and put her on the English throne.[51]

James VI of Scotland in 1586, aged 20. This was the year he betrayed his mother by agreeing to a defensive treaty with Elizabeth I, Mary's jailor.
James VI of Scotland in 1586, aged 20. This was the year he betrayed his mother by agreeing to a defensive treaty with Elizabeth I, Mary’s jailor.

Fall of 1586 marks the fourth and final stage of the two queens’ relationship. Elizabeth’s agents’ discovered Mary’s involvement in the Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne. Elizabeth ordered Mary transferred to Fotheringhay Castle, where she would ultimately stand trial for treason against her cousin and be executed[51]. It is around this time that Elizabeth seems to have finally determined, after months of delay, that Mary was guilty of conspiring against her. During this time she revealingly refers to Mary in a letter to her jailor as a “wicked murderess”[52], the only evidence that Elizabeth believed Mary to be guilty of Darnley’s 1567 murder—an allegation against Mary which, at the time of the murder, Elizabeth had vehemently denied. Thus, Elizabeth’s reference to Mary as a “wicked murderess” shows just how much their relationship had changed by fall of 1586, to the point that Elizabeth now viewed Mary as her guilty and implacable enemy.

The cousins’ final letters to each other are stark proof of how their relationship had deteriorated over time from a youthful rivalry, to sisterly solidarity immediately following Darnley’s murder, to, ultimately, deadly confrontation in 1586. Convinced of Mary’s involvement in the Babington Plot, Elizabeth’s last letter to Mary was “an imperious broadside”[53]. Furious at Mary’s continued dissimulations, and particularly her refusal to acknowledge the right of English noblemen to try her, since she was an anointed queen, Elizabeth’s letter carried no formal titles or polite address, “just a peremptory statement of fact and intent”[54] and a command that Mary duly answer Elizabeth’s judges, who represented the full authority of the English Queen:

You have in various ways and manners attempted to take my life and bring my kingdom to destruction by bloodshed. I have never proceeded so harshly against you. . . It is my will, that you answer the nobles and peers of the kingdom as if I myself were present. I therefore require, charge, and command you make answer for all I have been well informed of your arrogance.[55]

Even now, convinced of Mary’s guilt in the Babington Plot to assassinate her, Elizabeth still offered Mary a way out of certain death. She closed her above letter with this admonition, exhorting her sister queen to admit her guilt in playing a role in the plot, and throw herself upon Elizabeth’s mercy: “Act plainly without reserve, and you will sooner be able to obtain favour of me.” Mary never responded. Some time before her trial, Mary embroidered her royal cloth of estate with the French motto “En ma fin git mon commencement” (“In my end is my beginning”). By all accounts, she had begun to think seriously of her impending martyrdom.

At her trial in mid-October, during which Mary at last had the opportunity to put her great charm to use, she sought to remind Elizabeth, through her commissioners, to remember “that the Theatre of the whole World is much wider than the Kingdom of England”[56], reminding Elizabeth that Mary was above all “a European prince and a Catholic queen”[57] who “could look to her fellow Catholic princes to avenge her and to future generations to absolve her”[57] of her earlier misdeeds in ruling Scotland. Mary heatedly denied that the trial had any legitimacy, flaring “I am no subject, and would rather die a thousand deaths than acknowledge myself to be one!”[58]. When told that she must answer the charges against her, Mary insisted on her innocence, declaring that “I would never make shipwreck of my soul by conspiring the destruction of my dearest sister.”[59].

When several of her servants and secretaries’ confessions to her alleged plotting were read aloud before the court, Mary argued that her letters must have been tampered with after she had first dictated them. She forcefully argued that the confessions were false, and that no monarch or ruler could be found guilty of a crime based off the altered, tampered-with writings or false testimony of their own servants:

The majesty and safety of all princes falleth to the ground if they depend upon the writings and testimony of their secretaries… I am not to be convicted except by mine own word or writing. [60]

trial-of-mary-queen-of-scots-in-fotheringay-castle
Trial of Mary, Queen of Scots in Fotheringay Castle

Mary pointed out in vain that “My Papers and Notes are taken from me, and no man dareth step forth to be my advocate …”. [61]. She was permitted no attorney to speak in her defence. Citing that the English noblemen present all had a vested interest in seeing her convicted of treason and put to death, the Scottish Queen flatly refused to acknowledge their pretensions of legitimacy to try her, insisting that as a sovereign “queen by right of birth” they had no authority to judge her in any capacity:

I am an absolute queen, and will do nothing which may prejudice either mine own royal majesty, or other princes of my place and rank, or my son … I am a queen by right of birth and have been consort of a king of France; my place should be there, under the dais … I am the daughter of James V, King of Scotland, and grand-daughter of Henry VII …To the judgment of mine adversaries, amongst whom I know all defense of mine innocence will be barred flatly, I will not submit myself. [62]

Drawing of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots. The empty dais in the top center signified the royal authority of Queen Elizabeth as the English Sovereign in whose name the trial was conducted; Mary, seated in a lower chair to the right, argued in vain that she, as a queen in her own right, should also have a throne.
Drawing of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Drawing of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots. The empty dais in the top centre signified the royal authority of Queen Elizabeth as the English Sovereign in whose name the trial was conducted; Mary, seated in a lower chair to the right, argued in vain that she, as a queen in her own right, should also have a throne.

By this time, Mary had become convinced that she would die a martyr’s death at Elizabeth’s hands. As with all treason trials in Tudor England, Mary’s was a foregone conclusion; while she protested her innocence to the last, on October 25, 1586 she was pronounced guilty of high treason for conspiring to assassinate Elizabeth and sentenced to death. Almost immediately, Parliament pressured Elizabeth to sign Mary’s execution warrant. Elizabeth, in characteristic fashion, demurred and stalled, hoping to find a way to spare herself the horror of signing her sister queen and cousin’s death warrant. While her English cousin remained tormented over whether or not to order her execution, Mary seems to have received the trial verdict with serene equanimity. Sometime following the verdict, she composed (in Latin) her last known poem praying for the Lord to release her from her earthly prison and “liberate” her to the heavenly realm:

O Domine Deus!
Speravi in te;
O care mi Iesu!
Nunc libera me:
In dura catena
In misera poena
Desidero te;
Languendo, gemendo,
Et genuflectendo
Adoro, imploro,
Ut liberes me!

I have translated the prayer as follows, opting for a more literal Latin to English transition:

O Lord God! I have hoped in Thee;
O Jesus my Beloved, set me free:
In rigorous chains, in piteous pains,
I am longing for Thee!
In weakness appealing, in agony kneeling,
I pray, I beseech Thee to liberate me!

Mary’s last letter to Elizabeth, written on December 19, 1586, less than two months before her execution on February 8, 1587, puts the final touch on the complete reversal of their relationship in the past nineteen years. Convicted of conspiring to assassinate her fellow queen — a charge Mary vehemently denied to her death — she knew that Elizabeth would likely be forced to have her beheaded. Describing her nineteen year imprisonment in religious terms as a “long and weary pilgrimage”, Mary’s last letter to her cousin contains a plea for her remains to be conveyed to France after her death, as well as a curious plea that Elizabeth not send an assassin to deny Mary the martyr’s death she longed for:

Now having been informed, on your part, of the sentence passed in the last session of your Parliament, and admonished… to prepare myself for the end of my long and weary pilgrimage, I prayed them to return my thanks to you for such agreeable intelligence, and to ask you to grant some things for the relief of my conscience. . . I require you, Madam, for the sake of Jesus, that after my enemies have satisfied their black thirst for my innocent blood, you will permit my poor disconsolate servants to remove my corpse, that it may be buried in holy ground, with my ancestors in France, especially the late Queen my mother, since in Scotland the remains of the Kings my predecessors have been outraged, and the churches torn down and profaned…

…Dreading the secret tyranny of some of those to whom you have abandoned me, I entreat you to prevent me from being dispatched secretly, without your knowledge, not from fear of the pain, which I am ready to suffer, but on account of the reports they would circulate after my death… I beseech the God of mercy and justice to enlighten you with His holy Spirit, and to give me the grace to die in perfect charity, as I endeavour to do, pardoning my death to all those who have either caused or cooperated in it [a veiled reference to Elizabeth herself]; and this will be my prayer to the end.[63]

Most disturbingly for Elizabeth, Mary’s final letter to her contained an explicit threat that her judicial murder at Elizabeth’s hands would outrage all of Catholic Europe and likely provoke retaliation by the Catholic powers against England:

Accuse me not of presumption if, leaving this world and preparing myself for a better, I remind you that you will one day to give account of your charge, in like manner as those who preceded you in it, and that my blood and the misery of my country will be remembered…Your sister and cousin, wrongfully a prisoner, Marie Royne [64]

Mary’s valedictory words—“my blood will be remembered”— must have seared themselves into Elizabeth’s soul.

letter
Queen Elizabeth I’s famous signature at the top of a copy of the death warrant she signed on 1 February, 1587 for the execution of her imprisoned cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.

When word reached Mary that Elizabeth had at last signed her death warrant, the Queen of Scots responded calmly, thanking God and saying to the English messengers present that

In the name of God, these tidings are welcome, and I bless and praise Him that the end of all my bitter sufferings is at hand.  I did not think that the Queen, my sister, would ever have consented to my death; but, God’s will be done.  He is my principal witness, that I shall render up my spirit into His hands innocent of any offence against her, and with a pure heart and conscience clear before His divine majesty of the crimes whereof I am accused.  That soul is fair unworthy of the joys of heaven, whose body cannot endure for a moment the stroke of the executioner. [65] [66]

Even after bringing herself to sign her cousin’s death warrant authorising the execution, Elizabeth still searched desperately for a way to rid herself of having to take upon the heinous crime of murdering her own kinswoman and fellow queen. The Queen suggested that Mary could be quietly murdered by her jailors. Her request that Mary’s life should be ‘shortened’ was taken to Sir Amyas Paulet, Mary’s strict Puritan jailor. Paulet replied to Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s chief spymaster and one of the chief witnesses against Mary at her trial, only six days before Mary’s execution:

I am so unhappy to have lived to see this unhappy day, in the which I am required, by direction from my most gracious Sovereign, to do an act which God and the law forbiddeth… God forbid that I should make so fowle a shipwracke of my conscience, or leave so great a blot to my posteritie, or shed blood without law and warrant…  thus I commit you to the mercy of the Almightie.

From Fotheringhay, the 2nd of February, 1587

Paulet informed Mary the night before her death of her impending execution; the Queen received the news calmly, while her servants, devoted to her, collapsed in tears. She spent the last hours of her earthly life in prayer and writing to her allies, especially her former brother-in-law, King Henri III of France (1551-89, r. 1574-1589). In her final earthly letter, written at 2:00 in the morning with a steady, calm hand in her pristine French, Mary once again declared herself innocent of the charge of conspiring against Elizabeth, claiming to her fellow king that she was about to die as a martyr for their shared Catholic faith. She also reiterated to Henri that she desired to be buried next to her mother in France on consecrated ground, a request neither Elizabeth nor her own son James would ever fulfill:

Royal brother, having by God’s will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates…

… I am to be executed like a criminal at eight in the morning… I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime…

At eight o’clock on the morning on Wednesday, February 8, 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots walked to the scaffold in the Great Hall of Fotheringhay Castle accompanied by her priest, her devoted ladies-in-waiting, and several male assistants. One eyewitness described how the Queen was beautifully and deliberately attired in splendid dress, evoking the image of a Catholic martyr. To her very end, she would play the part of a martyr for her Roman Catholic faith:

On her head a dressing of lawn edged with bone lace; a pomander chain and an Agnus Dei; about her neck a crucifix of gold; and in her hand a crucifix of bone with a wooden cross, and a pair of beads at her girdle, with a medal in the end of them; a veil of lawn fastened to her caul, bowed out with wire, and edged round about with bone lace. A gown of black satin, printed, with long sleeves to the ground, set with buttons of jet and trimmed with pearl, and short sleeves of satin, cut with a pair of sleeves of purple velvet. [67]

On approaching the scaffold, Mary turned to her weeping ladies and manservants and said: “Thou hast cause rather to joy than to mourn, for now shalt thou see Mary Stuart’s troubles receive their long-expected end.” [68] She continued, exhorting them to rememberthat “all this world is but vanity and full of troubles and sorrows. Carry this message from me and tell my friends that I died a true woman to my religion, and like a true Scottish woman and a true French woman; but God forgive them that have long desired my end and thirsted for my blood.” [68]

Refusing the offer of the Protestant Dean of Peterborough’s services to pray with her, Mary then had her rosary taken from her, in direct defiance of Elizabeth’s orders that she be allowed all her Catholic devotional items in her last earthly moments. The Queen addressed the Dean, saying “Trouble not yourself nor me, for know that I am settled in the ancient Catholic religion, and in defence thereof, by God’s grace, I mind to spend my blood.” [69]

The Dean then began praying aloud according to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, attempting to drown out the Queen, who insisted on praying in Latin; Mary uttered her Catholic prayers in a louder voice, weeping as she did so. Then, she refused the help of the executioner and his assistant to undress her, saying “I was not wont to have my clothes plucked off by such grooms, nor did I ever put off my clothes before such a company” [69]. Mary took off her black gown to reveal a bodice and petticoat of scarlet, the traditional colour of Catholic martyrs.

The executioner then knelt, as was custom, and begged her forgiveness for what he had to do. Queen Mary replied softly, “I hope you shall make an end of all my troubles.” She then knelt, laid her head on the block before her and repeated “In manuas tuas, Domine, confide spiritum meum” (Latin: “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”; Jesus’ last words when dying on the cross) [70]. It took three blows of the axe to sever Mary’s head, and it was reported that her lips carried on moving for 15 minutes afterwards. Alison Weir describes how the executioner then picked up Mary’s head by the hair, as was custom, but that her cap fell off along with a red wig, revealing that Mary’s real hair was grey and “polled very short”. Immediately after Mary’s decapitation, the executioners began collecting her belongings and burning them, so as to leave no relics for Catholics who might venerate the Queen as a martyr. Even her blood was wiped up with rags and the rags burned. Weir also retells the story of Mary’s loyal dog, who had secretly accompanied his mistress to her death, saying that when the executioner went to remove Mary’s clothes, as had been ordered:

he found her little dog under her coat, which, being put from thence, went and laid himself down betwixt her head and body, and being besmeared with her blood, was caused to be washed… [71]

By all accounts, the dog, depressed at being parted from his unfortunate mistress, refused to eat, grew weak, and died.

Robert Inerarity Herdman, 1867. (C) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8:00am February 8, 1587.
Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8:00am February 8, 1587.
The famous Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I showing the destruction of the Spanish Armada by the English Royal Navy assisted by the
Armada Portrait
The famous Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I showing the destruction of the Spanish Armada by the English Royal Navy assisted by the “Protestant wind” which whipped up the English Channel, scattering the Spanish ships out of their formation. Attributed to George Gower, 1588.

It is impossible to deduce from their war of letters which of the two queens “won” in their lifelong rivalry with each other. If we are to go by the letters alone, by the end of the correspondence Mary clearly has eked out the moral high ground, seeing herself as unjustly condemned by her heretical cousin to die what she chooses to view as a martyr’s death for the Catholic faith. After ordering her troublesome cousin to accept the legitimacy of her judges—which Mary never does—Elizabeth is silent. In terms of their final communications, Elizabeth’s last message to Mary was, ultimately, the death warrant dispatched to Fotheringhay Castle on February 1, 1587. Yet even there, Mary appears triumphant, for by her dignity at her execution and her deliberate casting of herself as a martyr, she managed to redeem herself in the eyes of much of history for her earlier marital problems and worse failure as a ruler. In the realm of political posturing, Mary’s death at last allowed Elizabeth to live without the fear of constant plots for her assassination, but in executing her cousin and rival queen, Elizabeth opened the way for the Spanish Armada, which, had it succeeded, would have not only deposed and likely killed Elizabeth but forcibly re-imposed Catholicism on still newly-Protestant England. Ultimately, their letters reveal Mary to be a hopelessly incompetent ruler but the braver, if not more intelligent of the two women, while Elizabeth emerges as a solitary, lonely figure, yet a masterful politician who is ultimately forced to murder her own cousin in order to guarantee her own security and satisfy her people’s demands for Mary’s head. While Elizabeth triumphed as England’s Gloriana, perhaps its most beloved monarch, it is Mary who ultimately has a kind of final revenge, as her ungrateful son James and his posterity succeeded the Virgin Queen in 1603.

James VI of Scots became King of Scots when he was only thirteen months old following his mother Mary's forced abdication on 24 July 1567. He became King of England on 24 March 1603 following Elizabeth I's death. He reigned until his own death at the age of 58 in March 1625.
James VI of Scots

James VI of Scots became King of Scots when he was only thirteen months old following his mother Mary’s forced abdication on 24 July 1567. He became King of England on 24 March 1603 following Elizabeth I’s death. He reigned until his own death at the age of 58 in March 1625. Daniel Mytens, 1621.

James VI and I, successor to both Mary, his mother, and Elizabeth, his mother's killer, had his English predecessor buried below this magnificent marble tomb in Westminster Abbey in 1603.
James VI and I, successor to both Mary, his mother, and Elizabeth, his mother’s killer, had his English predecessor buried below this magnificent marble tomb in Westminster Abbey in 1603.

After her execution in 1587, Mary was initially buried -- against her wishes -- in the Protestant Cathedral of Peterborough, the cathedral of the same Dean who had so annoyed her in her last moments on the scaffold. In 1612 her son and heir James VI and I ordered his mother's remains unearthed and transferred to Westminster Abbey, where he paid for this magnificent marble tomb for her to be erected only yards from her hated cousin and murderer, Elizabeth I.
After her execution in 1587, Mary was initially buried — against her wishes — in the Protestant Cathedral of Peterborough, the cathedral of the same Dean who had so annoyed her in her last moments on the scaffold. In 1612 her son and heir James VI and I ordered his mother’s remains unearthed and transferred to Westminster Abbey, where he paid for this magnificent marble tomb for her to be erected only yards from her hated cousin and murderer, Elizabeth I.

<Bibliography below “About the Author”>

About the Author:

Crown Chronicles Photo 1Ryan Hunter: I enjoy all periods of history, but have always been particularly drawn to the study of great empires, from antiquity down to the modern age. My favourite period in British history is that of the early modern Stuart and Tudor dynasties.

At Stony Brook University, New York, I study European History with a focus on Classical Rome, Church history, and early modern Britain, Russia, and France. My reading of history has convinced me that Monarchy offers the least harmful, most effective, and ontologically highest form of governance known to humankind.

I love travelling, and have lived in Virginia, Washington, DC, and New York in the United States, and Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. Aside from Royal history and keeping up with the latest Windsor news, I am a bibliophile, writer, and avid runner and swimmer.

Ryan’s Website: https://ryanphunter.wordpress.com/

Ryan Hunter  - Historian Facebook Page

Bibliography

Bede, Cuthbert. Fotheringhay, and Mary, Queen of Scots. London, England: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co, 1886.
Buckingham, Stanhope F. Memoirs of Mary Stuart: Queen of Scotland (Volume 2). London, England: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, 1844.
Cheetham, J. Keith. On the Trial of Mary Queen of Scots. Edinburgh, Scotland: Luath Press Limited, 2000.
Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
Harrison, G.B. The Letters of Queen Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968.
Marcus, Leah S. et al. Elizabeth I: Collected Works. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.
McGrath, Patrick. Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 1967.
McMillin, Andrea. “Mary Mary Quite Contrary.” Academia.edu. 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.
http://www.academia.edu/6108459/Mary_Queen_of_Scots
Strickland, Agnes. Life of Mary Queen of Scots. London: George Bell and Sons, 1888.
Weir, Alison. Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley. New York, NY:
Ballantine Books, 2003.
Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1998.
Wormald, Jenny. Mary, Queen of Scots: Power, Passion and a Kingdom Lost. London, England: Tauris Parke, 2001.

Endnotes

[1] Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. 2004, 22.
[2] Ibid, 22-23
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5]Ibid, 92
[6]Ibid, 23
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid, 169
[9] Ibid, 171
[10] Ibid, 180
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid, 206
[13] Ibid, 215
[14] Harrison, G.B. The Letters of Queen Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968. 27.
[15] Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 274.
[16] Upon hearing the news that her rival and cousin had fulfilled her dynastic duty in providing for the Scottish succession, giving birth to a boy who would one day, Elizabeth knew, succeed her as King of England, Elizabeth cried “the Queen of Scots is lighter of a fair son, and I am but barren stock!” (Ibid).
[17] Ibid, 283
[18] Harrison, G.B. The Letters of Queen Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968. 49.
[19] Marcus, Leah S. et al. Elizabeth I: Collected Works. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000. 116.
[20] Ibid, 117.
[21] Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 296.
[22] Ibid, 294, 297.
[23] Ibid, 296-297.
[24] McMillin, Andrea. “Mary Mary Quite Contrary.” Academia.edu. 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.
http://www.academia.edu/6108459/Mary_Queen_of_Scots .
[25] Marcus, Leah S. et al. Elizabeth I: Collected Works. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000. 118.
[26] Ibid, 118-119.
[27] Harrison, G.B. The Letters of Queen Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968. 51.
[28] Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 301.
[29] Ibid, 307.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid, 308.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid, 311.
[36] Ibid, 313.
[37] Ibid, 320.
[38] Ibid, 321.
[39] Ibid, 323.
[40] Ibid, 332.
[41] Ibid.
[42] Marcus, Leah S. et al. Elizabeth I: Collected Works. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000. 122.
[43] McGrath, Patrick. Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 1967. 69.
[44] Wormald, Jenny. Mary, Queen of Scots: Power, Passion and a Kingdom Lost. London, England: Tauris Parke, 2001. 12.
[45] Marcus, Leah S. et al. Elizabeth I: Collected Works. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000. 369.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Ibid, 370.
[49] Ibid.
[50] Ibid, 263.
[51] Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1998. 365.
[52] Harrison, G.B. The Letters of Queen Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968. 179.
[53] Ibid, 180.
[54] Ibid.
[55] Ibid.
[56] Ibid, 181.
[57] Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1998. 392
[58] Ibid.
[59] Ibid.
[60] Ibid, 369.
[61] Weir, Alison. Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2003. 574.
[62] Ibid, 575.
[63] Strickland, Agnes. Life of Mary Queen of Scots. London: George Bell and Sons, 1888. 436-437.
[64] Ibid, 437.
[65] Bede, Cuthbert. Fotheringhay, and Mary, Queen of Scots. London, England: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co, 1886. 111-112.
[66] Strickland, Agnes. Life of Mary Queen of Scots. London: George Bell and Sons, 1888. 441-442.
[67] Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1998. 378-79.
[68] Ibid.
[69] Buckingham, Stanhope F. Memoirs of Mary Stuart: Queen of Scotland (Volume 2). London, England: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, 1844. 237-238.
[70] Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1998. 379.
[71] Ibid, 379.

Was Henry Stuart a Pawn?

Was Henry Stuart a Pawn-
When you think of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley a couple of things come to mind – his tumultuous marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots and his scandalous death that made Mary herself the prime suspect. But what do you know about Darnley prior to his marriage to the Queen of Scots?

Henry Stuart was born the 7th of December 1545 to Margaret Douglas and her husband Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox in England. Named after King Henry VIII, Darnley’s mother was the daughter of Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister) and her second husband, Archibald Douglas. His father was third in line to the throne of Scotland as a descendant of James II of Scotland – so between his two parents he had a strong claim to both the English and Scottish thrones.



Hans_Eworth_Henry_Stuart_Lord_Darnley

The upbringing of Henry Stuart was much like that of a prince or princess of England. He had tutors and was taught Latin, French and was familiar with Scottish Gaelic as well. As any noble he excelled at singing, playing the lute and dancing. Very similar to his great-uncle Henry VIII, he was strong, athletic, a good horseman and had a passion for hunting and hawking.

From early on it seems that Henry’s mother, Margaret Douglas had a hand in everything that Henry did. She may have also pushed Henry to wed his first cousin, the Queen of Scots. What desire did Margaret have to place her son on the throne of Scotland? Did it have something to do with the fact that Margaret felt she deserved to have a piece of Scotland for herself since her half-brother was James V, or that she felt Scotland owed her something after what it had done to her mother, Margaret Tudor? To learn more about that read: The Thistle and the Rose: English Princess, Scottish QueenHenry-stuart-darnley

King Henry II of France died from a jousting accident in 1559 – Darnley, just 13-years-old, was sent by both his parents (since they were not allowed in the country) to send his condolences and to have a formal audience with the Queen of Scots. Darnley carried a letter from his father in which he pleaded to have his forfeited Scottish estates restored to his family. This would be the first meeting between Darnley and Mary.

In 1561, both Henry Stuart and his mother were imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth, but they were released soon after. This imprisonment probably had something to do with the fact that Margaret wanted her son to take the throne of England after Elizabeth’s death – as we learned from Henry VIII, to even think of the King’s death was treason. After their release Darnley spent time at English court before eventually heading to Scotland.



darnley

In February 1565 , the now 19-year-old Darnley traveled to Scotland to meet-up with his father, Earl of Lennox. During this visit Henry fell ill with the measles while staying at Stirling Castle and the Queen of Scots took it upon herself to nurse him back to health. This is when Mary fell in love with the young Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

Darnley was tall and 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.”

Most of Mary’s advisers were against the love match, as was Queen Elizabeth – but Mary being the independent love-bird she was, moved forward anyway. Henry Stuart and Mary, Queen of Scots married in the chapel of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh on 29 July 1565.

The marriage between Henry Stuart and the Queen of Scots infuriated the Queen of England. By marrying Henry Stuart, Mary strengthened her claim to the English throne and become a bigger threat to Elizabeth’s reign.

By the Fall of 1565 Mary was pregnant with Henry’s child. They would have a boy, named James – who would later become King James VI of Scotland and James I of England.

In February 1567, Henry Stuart (King of Scots) was murdered at Kirk o’ Field.

Whether or not Henry Stuart was a pawn is left up to your interpretation. It is completely possible that Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley fell in love with Mary, Queen of Scots and wanted to marry her, but it’s also possible that he was hungry for power and would do whatever it took to get it – including manipulating a Queen.

What do YOU believe?

Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox
Margaret Douglas
Lady Margaret Douglas
Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots
Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth of England

Book Review: The Forgotten Tudor Women

 

Jane Seymour (3)While searching for books to add to my Christmas list I came across The Forgotten Tudor Women by Silvia Barbara Soberton. The book intrigued me because it was about three women in Tudor history that we often don’t hear enough about – Margaret Douglas, Mary Howard and Mary Shelton.

As you probably already know I recently wrote an article about Mary Howard and really enjoyed learning more about her during my research. All I had known prior to researching her was that she was married to Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy – that’s it.

When I opened the first present from my husband on Christmas Eve I saw that it was the book I had requested, The Forgotten Tudor Women – to my surprise it was fairly thin book and when I opened it I was a little discouraged to find that it was double-spaced. It felt very primary school (like the Judy Blume books) from the get go, but I pushed forward and started reading it nonetheless because I have an insatiable appetite?for knowledge.

I soon got over the double-spacing and enjoyed the writing style of Ms. Soberton. If you’re looking to learn more about what it was like to be a ‘privileged’ woman during the Tudor reign, I’d highly suggest this book. At only 204 pages it is a very quick, and easy read.

In this book we learn more about Margaret Douglas, who (to me) seems to have a life that parallels her niece?Mary, Queen of Scots when it comes to following her heart and the tragedies that follow. While reading this book I truly felt grief for Margaret and how many times her heart was broken. She was the daughter of Henry VIII’s older sister, Margaret Tudor, who became Queen of Scots herself when she married James IV. Margaret Douglas was royalty and should have been treated as such, but as we know from the history of the Tudors, having royal blood is sometimes a curse instead of a blessing.

Mary Howard is a seldom heard about figure in Tudor history and that’s an unfortunate thing. She is a fascinating woman and there needs to be a movie made about her life. She was daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, sister to the Earl of Surrey, cousin to Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard – and not to forget, daughter-in-law to King Henry VIII himself. We follow her story through the death of her husband Henry Fitzroy and the struggles she had as an intelligent woman in a society that frowned upon women having knowledge…or opinions. She fought for everything that she wanted in her life and we learn about all the struggles she faced after Fitzroy’s death. ?Mary Howard was a fighter and this book made me like her even more than I had before reading it.

On the other hand I was a little disappointed by the story that was told about Mary Shelton. Mary Shelton was a mistress of Henry VIII and cousin to Anne Boleyn. I was hoping to learn more about her like I had with Margaret Douglas and Mary Howard. The feeling I got was that there weren’t any interesting stories to be told about Mary Shelton. Her life wasn’t as scandalous and it left me wanting more. With that being said, the one piece of evidence about her life that I wasn’t familiar with was the fact that Henry VIII had considered her for a fourth wife before he was betrothed to Anne of Cleves. In a nutshell, I probably couldn’t tell you much about Mary Shelton after reading this book – that’s not to say there wasn’t anything written about her, but that I remembered a lot more about Margaret Douglas and Mary Howard after putting the book down.

Overall it was a good book, and was interesting to see how the three ladies lives intertwined and how they lived during a period in history where being an intelligent woman and having your own ideas was frowned upon by their male counterparts.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

 

The Thistle and the Rose: English Princess, Scottish Queen



Part 3: Margaret Tudor, 2nd child and first daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (written October 2015)

Three Children of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York Wellcome L0021667
Henry, Arthur & Margaret – Credit: Wellcome Library, London

On 28 November 1489, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York welcomed their first daughter, Princess Margaret. Margaret was named after her paternal grandmother Margaret Beaufort and was baptized at St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster.

As a princess, Margaret would play a pivotal role in political alliances. By Margaret’s sixth birthday her father had already considered a marriage to James IV of Scotland as a way of ending his support for Perkin Warbeck.

by Frank Cadogen Cowper
Margaret & Henry – by Frank Cadogen Cowper

On 24 January 1502, England and Scotland completed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace – the first time a peace treaty was agreed upon between the two countries in nearly two centuries. The treaty included the betrothal of  Princess Margaret to James IV. With this arrangement there would be peace between the two countries.

The marriage of the thistle and the rose was finalized by proxy on 25 January 1503, at Richmond Palace. Patrick, Earl of Bothwell was proxy for the Scottish king, James IV. When the ceremony was concluded Margaret was hence forth called Queen of Scots.

The Thistle and the Rose 

The thistle is the symbol of Scotland, while the rose is the symbol of England.

Dimidiated Rose and Thistle Badge
Image Courtesy: Sodacan
It wasn’t until August of that year that their marriage was celebrated in person at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh.

The couple was married nearly a decade and even though it was a political match Margaret grew to love her husband, just as her mother did her father.

Margaret gave James IV six children, but only one of the six children would survive — he became James V of Scotland when he was only 17 months old.

(Information via Wikipedia)

  • James, Duke of Rothesay (21 February 1507, Holyrood Palace – 27 February 1508, Stirling Castle).
  • Daughter (died shortly after birth 15 July 1508, Holyrood Palace).
  • Arthur Stewart, Duke of Rothesay (20 October 1509, Holyrood Palace – 14 July 1510, Edinburgh Castle).
  • James V (10 April 1512, Linlithgow Palace – 14 December 1542, Falkland Palace).
  • Daughter (died shortly after birth November 1512, Holyrood Palace).
  • Alexander Stewart, Duke of Ross (30 April 1514, Stirling Castle – 18 December 1515, Stirling Castle).

James IV was killed during the Battle of Flodden in 1513 when Scotland took advantage of the absent Henry VIII and entered England. Margaret’s sister-in-law, Katherine of Aragon was ruling as regent in England during the absence of her husband, Henry VIII in France. Katherine celebrated the death of the Scottish King by sending her husband the bloody surcoat of James IV to prove his death. Katherine also suggested that Henry use the coat as a battle banner while at the siege of Thérouanne in France to show his conquest.

Death of the Thistle

At the time of James IV’s death, Queen Margaret was only twenty-three years old. Their son James was crowned King of Scotland  on 21 September 1513, and Margaret was allowed to act as regent, per her late husband’s will – as long as she did not remarry. At the time of the king’s death Margaret was pregnant with his child, Alexander.

When Margaret was appointed regent over her young son it caused a riff among the Scottish people since Margaret was English and a woman. England was the enemy. They had just murdered the King of Scotland.

A faction of pro-French nobles wanted Margaret removed as regent and replaced with John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany. John was the closest male relative to the infant prince, and now third in line to the throne.

By June 1514, Margaret had managed to reconcile with the parties, and Scotland and France agreed upon peace that same month. In Margaret’s quest for political alliances she found herself drawn toward the House of Douglas, and in particular Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, to whom she was attracted.

Regent No More

Margaret made a fateful decision, on 6 August 1514, she secretly wed the Earl of Angus. By marrying Angus she defied the conditions of her late husband’s will and forfeited her right to be regent over her infant son. The Privy Council declared she could no longer hold the position, and in addition, she lost her rights to supervision of her sons (James & Alexander). Had she obtained permission to remarry things may have turned out differently. In defiance of the Privy Council, Margaret fled with her sons to Stirling Castle.

Margaret tries to keep her sons from Angus.
Painting of Margaret, refusing to hand over custody of her sons to John Stewart, Duke of Albany, by John Faed, 1859.

Eventually, Margaret returned her sons to the new regent. She was now pregnant with the Earl of Angus’ child and they fled to England. The two settled at Harbottle Castle in the north of England in September 1515. It was there on 8 October 1515, that Margaret gave birth to their daughter, Margaret Douglas.

Margaret’s marriage with Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus had fallen apart – Margaret fought for a divorce, asking her brother Henry VIII for help obtaining one –  the English King would not oblige.

In October 1518, Margaret wrote to her brother (Henry VIII):

“I am sore troubled with my Lord of Angus since my last coming into Scotland, and every day more and more, so that we have not been together this half year… I am so minded that, an I may by law of God and to my honour, to part with him, for I wit well he loves me not, as he shows me daily.”

Margaret Tudor, dated c. 1520-1538, by Daniel Mytens.
Margaret Tudor, dated c. 1520-1538, by Daniel Mytens.

By March 1527, Margaret was finally obtained an annulment of her second marriage to the Earl of Angus, and the following April she married Henry Steward. Without obtaining permission to marry Margaret and doing so in secret, Henry Steward was arrested by the Earl of Angus.

In 1528, James V turned 16 years old and proclaimed his majority as king and removed his former step-father Angus from power. James V in turn titled his new step-father, James Steward — Lord Methven.

Margaret was once again in the good graces of her son, and hoped to convince him to improve Scotland’s relationship with England — James had other plans. He wanted an alliance with France, and so he married the daughter of Francis I – Princess Madeleine.

Unfortunately James’ marriage to Madeleine was short-lived and she passed away in July of the same year. After the death of his new bride, James V sought a second french bride.  He married Marie de Guise.  Marie and James would go on to have Mary, Queen of Scots.

Margaret’s third marriage came to the same end as her second. She wished to divorce Lord Methven, but her son would not agree to it.

Death of the Rose

On 18 October 1541, Margaret Tudor died in Methven Castle in Scotland, probably from a stroke. She was buried at the Carthusian Abbey of St. John’s in Perth, Scotland.

You just read Part 3 of the Series:

Read Part 1: The Redemption of Elizabeth of York
Read Part 2: Arthur, The Man Who Would Be King

Mary, Queen of Scots (Guest Article)

Mary, Queen of Scots  
by Susan Abernethy
The Freelance History Writer

Many know the story of Mary, Queen of Scots. While telling the story of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland I was struck by the similarities between her and her granddaughter, Mary. They both had three husbands and had a child named James who became King of Scotland when they were just babies. Both women allowed their private lives to influence their public life contributing to a loss of political credibility. It’s time to revisit all the incredible and memorable adventures of Mary, Queen of Scots.

There are a few things to keep in mind when recounting the story of Mary. The first is Mary started at a young age to consider herself the Queen of England and even had the symbol of England quartered on her coat of arms. Queen Elizabeth I would never forgive her for this affront. Mary felt Henry VIII had made a mistake in naming the heirs of his sister Mary Tudor ahead of those of her grandmother. Elizabeth I of England didn’t want to name her successor until she was on her deathbed. These things drive the story of these two Queens.

Mary was born at Linlithgow on December 8, 1542, the daughter of King James V of Scotland and Marie of 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 her to marry his young son Edward and come to England to be brought up. The Scots wouldn’t let her out of the country but did sign the Treaty of Greenwich confirming the marriage.

After Edward became King of England, his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset was 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 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. 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.

Francis suffered acutely from an abscess in his inner ear and he was to die 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 to have safe passage through England if she was blown off course. Elizabeth was to refuse permission. In response, Mary was to say that if Elizabeth would have in her hands to do her will of her and if she was so hard hearted as to desire her end, she might then do her pleasure and make sacrifice of her. “In this matter, God’s will be done”. Little did she know she was predicting her own denouement.

Without going to England, Mary made it to Scotland where she arrived in August of 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 with Elizabeth in the summer of 1562 but somehow it just never materialized. However, Elizabeth was adamant she was 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. 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, the son of Lady Margaret Douglas, who was the daughter of Margaret Tudor by her second husband, the Earl of Angus. Darnley was tall and 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.

Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley

Mary and Darnley began spending much time together and she fell in love. They were married in July 1565. Even before the marriage things had turned sour. Darnley 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 help in governing and for companionship. 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 a few friends and Riccio in her cabinet at Holyrood Palace when the King and some lairds burst into the room. They dragged off Riccio and stabbed him to death within earshot of the Queen while, Mary insisted, 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.

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 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. 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 four hundred 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 was to be held prisoner by Elizabeth under the watchful eye of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, moving from castle to castle. Mary insisted on a face to face meeting with Elizabeth for the rest of her life and Elizabeth always refused. Her name was brought up many times by Catholics in England and abroad in plots to bring down Elizabeth, put her on the throne of England and to restore Catholicism. Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsinghamcultivated a network of spies to intercept Mary’s letters and finally caught her plotting to kill Elizabeth. She was put on trial and found guilty on October 25, 1586. 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 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 Catherine of Aragon’s grave. Shortly before Elizabeth I was to die in 1603, literally on her deathbed, she 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. Also, in July of 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.

Further reading: “The True Life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots” by John Guy, “Mary, Queen of Scots” by Lady Antonia Fraser, “Two Queens in One Isle” by Alison Plowden

About the Author:

purple-susan“Susan Abernethy here. It seems I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love history. At the age of fourteen, I watched “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” on TV and was enthralled. Truth seemed much more strange than fiction. I started reading about Henry VIII and then branched out into many types of history. This even led me to study history in college. Even though I never did anything with the history degree, it’s always been a hobby of mine. I started this blog to write about my thoughts on all kinds of history from Ancient times to mid-20th Century.”

READ MORE ARTICLES BY SUSAN AT: TheFreelanceHistoryWriter.com