Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mary, Queen of Scots - This Day in History

On July 24, 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate and was replaced by her one-year-old son James VI of Scotland, and the future James I of England, the founder of the Stuart dynasty.

Mary, Queen of Scots (born 8 December 1542 – 8 February 1587) was Scottish queen regnant from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567. She was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V. When Mary was six days old, her father died, and she was crowned nine months later.

Mary’s first husband:

In 1558, Mary, who was very tall (nearly six foot) married Francis, Dauphin of France, who was very short and stuttered. He ascended the French throne (with the help of a step stool) as Francis II in 1559, but less than a year later, he was dead.

Mary’s second husband:

After Francis's death, Mary returned to Scotland, and in 1561, she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Mary had fallen head over heels in love with the “long lad,” as Queen Elizabeth called him. (His height might have been part of his attraction.) On the other hand, Elizabeth felt threatened by the prospect of such a marriage, because, as direct descendants of Margaret Tudor, the elder sister of Henry VIII, both Mary and Darnley were claimants to the English throne. The union enraged Elizabeth. Because Darnley was an English subject, Elizabeth felt that her permission should have been sought.

The Scottish court was a place of intrigue and murder. In February 1567, there was a huge explosion at the house she shared with Darnley, and Darnley was found dead, apparently strangled, in the garden. (If you can’t blow him up, suffocate him.) Mary soon married his murderer, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. She was not a particularly good judge of men.

Mary’s third husband:

On 24 April 1567, Mary visited her son, by Darnley, at Stirling for the last time. On her way back to Edinburgh, she was abducted, willingly or not, by Bothwell and his men and taken to Dunbar Castle, where she was allegedly raped by Bothwell. However, Mary had shown an interest in Bothwell when she had made a four-hour journey on horseback to visit him at Hermitage Castle where he lay ill. On 15 May, Mary and Bothwell were married at the Palace of Holyroodhouse according to Protestant rites. Bothwell had divorced his first wife, Jean Gordon twelve days previously. Considering that Mary was a devout Catholic, I believe that this is an indication that she was so traumatized by Darnley's murder, the conspiracies of the Protestant Scottish lords, and her hurried marriage to Bothwell, that she had become completely dependent on her new husband and had lost the ability to think for herself.

In 1567, the Scottish nobility turned against Mary and Bothwell, and she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son, James VI. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, Mary fled to England seeking protection from her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Apparently, she was not a good judge of the women either. Even though she had previously made claim to Elizabeth’s throne, she didn’t anticipate that Elizabeth would not welcome her with open arms. Quite the contrary. Elizabeth ordered her arrest because of the threat presented by Mary, who was considered to be the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics. After a nineteen-year imprisonment at various castles and manor houses in England, and after numerous intrigues perpetuated on her behalf, she was tried and executed for treason for her involvement in three plots to assassinate Elizabeth at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587, Northhamptonshire.

Elizabeth had reluctantly signed Mary’s death warrant. After all, by permitting the execution of a queen, she was sanctioning regicide, and she knew about regicide, as she was the daughter of Anne Boelyn  and the stepdaughter of Catherine Howard, both of whom had been executed by her father, Henry VIII. But having been the victim of numerous assassination plots, Elizabeth never felt completely safe as long as Mary was alive. Mary’s fate had been sealed on the day she crossed the border from Scotland into England. It just took nineteen years to get there.

Facts from Wikipedia; commentary by Mary.


  1. Mary, Queen of Scots is one of my favourite historical women. I recommend Antonia Fraser's biography. One can learn so much from Queen Mary from that book.
    Yes, she was, indeed, a bery bad judge of men.;)

  2. Hi Irena,

    I read Fraser's bio of Mary, Queen of Scots, many years ago. It was an exhaustive account of her life. The years she spent at the French court did not prepare her for the drastically different environment of Scotland. In contrast to Elizabeth, she truly was a tragic figure. Elizabeth refused to become a heroine in a tragedy.