Mary, Queen Of Scots

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was a pretender to the throne of England held by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, who finally had her beheaded.

Mary Stuart, commonly known as Mary, Queen of Scots, was the only child of James V of Scotland and his French wife, Marie of Guise. Marie's father, the Duke of Guise, was one of the most powerful men in France, both in his own right and by virtue of his relation to the French royal house of Valois. James V was the son of James IV and Margaret Tudor, the elder sister of Henry VIII of England. Thus, Mary Stuart was closely related to the royal houses of both France and England, as well as being the sole heir to the throne of Scotland. These close connections to the royal houses of three not always amicable countries would greatly complicate the life of Mary Stuart.

France and Scotland had been allies for centuries by the time Mary was born, and both were hereditary enemies of England. The practice of intermarriage among the royal houses of Europe, always for the purpose of establishing political or military alliances, had complicated the line of succession for all three countries. Henry VIII was the great-grandson of Katherine Valois, daughter of the King of France, by her second marriage to Owen Tudor, after the death of her first husband, Henry V. Just as Henry V had asserted a hereditary claim to the French throne, which he used to justify his wars of conquest in France, so too did Henry VIII claim a right to a place in the French line of succession (in fact, he had himself styled King of England, Ireland, and France), and he used that claim to justify military adventures on French soil.

In 1513, when Henry was at war in France, James IV of Scotland had invaded England from the north. English troops, under Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, had completely defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden, and King James had been killed during the fighting. Thus Henry's infant nephew James had become King James V of Scotland, and Scotland was ruled during his long minority by a council of regents.

Henry wished to establish an alliance with Scotland on terms favorable to England, to avoid a repeat of what had happened when James's father had invaded England while Henry was fighting in France. Henry intended to attack France again, and wanted to be sure his neighbor to the north was an ally, not an enemy.

Partly because of Scotland's close ties to France, but also to a large degree because he distrusted his powerful uncle, James had ducked Henry's overtures for years. Finally, in 1542 he agreed to cross the border to meet with Henry in the north of England. He never came. Henry was outraged, and retaliated for the insult by sending troops into Scotland. The English completely defeated the Scots at the Battle of Soway Moss (24 November 1542). James, on learning of the Scottish defeat, had taken to his bed. Within three weeks of that battle, James died - on the very day that he learned that his wife had borne a daughter. Some of his contemporaries believed that the double blow - the military loss, and his disappointment over not having a son - finished him off.

Thus did Mary Stuart become Queen of Scotland at just six days old. Her formidable mother, Marie of Guise, became regent of Scotland. Henry assumed it would be easier to gain some control over Scotland now that its queen was an infant and its regent a mere woman, especially since he could be sure that Scotland's powerful nobles would be fighting each other - and the Queen Regent - for power, and thus would pose no threat to England's security.

He sent an envoy with a proposal of marriage between the infant Mary and his five-year-old son, Prince Edward, when they both came of age. Although they were betrothed, that arrangement was annulled by the Scottish parliament, causing another war with England. The Scots were defeated at the Battle of Pinkie (1547), and Marie, fearing that her daughter would be kidnapped by the English, sent her to France when she was five years old.

Like Scotland at that time, France was a Catholic country, whereas England, under its boy king Edward VI and his council of regents, had become even more radically Protestant. In France, Mary was given an excellent education, and adopted the sophisticated manners of the cosmopolitan French court. She was betrothed to the Dauphin, the heir of the French king Henry II, and they were married in 1558, when he was fourteen and she was sixteen. His father died the next year, and he became King Francis II. Mary, Queen of Scotland, was now also Queen of France.

By this time Mary's cousin, Elizabeth Tudor, had succeeded to the English throne as Elizabeth I, for her half-sister Mary Tudor (Mary I of England, popularly called "Bloody Mary") had died in 1558. The Catholics of Europe, including the Catholic powers of Spain, France, and the Vatican, urged Mary to press her own hereditary claim to the English throne, since the Protestant Queen Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament during Henry's life. In his will, Henry VIII had explicitly excluded the Scottish branch of the family from the line of succession to the English throne, but there was some doubt as to whether he had had the power to do so. Since Mary Stuart was the legitimate child of Henry's older sister, and Elizabeth had been officially declared illegitimate, Mary actually did have a strong claim to the throne. She began to consider herself England's rightful queen and to quarter the royal arms of England on her shield - a gesture that both offended and threatened her cousin Queen Elizabeth.

In 1560, King Francis II died, and Mary, widowed at age 18, was now the Dowager Queen of France, with control over her own estates and a very large income. That same year her mother, Marie of Guise, also died, and Mary was recalled to Scotland.

By the time of her death, Marie of Guise had essentially lost control of Scotland to the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, a group of rebellious Protestant nobles who had held an illegal parliament to pass laws implementing the Reformation in Scotland. They were aided in this power grab by Mary's illegitimate half brother, James Stuart, the son of James V by one of his mistresses. James had also helped to fund the rebel lords in their efforts to overthrow the Queen Regent. Behind the scenes, Queen Elizabeth was also - through somewhat reluctantly - supporting the Protestant rebels. She was uneasy at the idea of supporting rebels, since that might encourage rebellion among her own lords, but she was eager to undermine French influence in Scotland.

In 1561, Mary Stuart returned to Scotland, but she was not particularly happy there. In contrast to the glamorous French court, the Scots seemed to her backwards and uncivilized. Scotland was a poor country, burdened by debt and by bitter religious strife. When she arrived, she met with her half-brother James and created him Earl of Moray (Murray). Under some pressure, but probably also with some willingness to be freed from the responsibility, Mary allowed Moray essentially to rule Scotland in her name.

By the time of Mary's arrival in Scotland, the Catholic mass had already been outlawed there. When she first heard mass in her own private chapel, angry Protestants rioted outside. She finally reached an uneasy truce with the Protestant lords that allowed her to hear mass in her private chapel, though any other Scot would be severely punished for attending a Catholic mass. And although her Catholic subjects would not be permitted to attend mass, they would not be forced to attend Protestant services.

Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth at first corresponded with some degree of friendliness, but there was always both a personal and a political rivalry between them. After all, Mary claimed a right to the crown that Elizabeth wore, though she was eventually persuaded to drop that direct claim in hopes of being named Elizabeth's heir. But there was more to their rivalry than these political matters. Both were charming, vivacious, and attractive women, not too many years apart in age. Elizabeth sometimes queried visitors as to whether she or her cousin was the more attractive or well-dressed woman, which was more accomplished at music and dance, and even which was of the more pleasing height. Both were unusually tall (Mary was six feet tall; Elizabeth was about five feet ten), and both were considered quite attractive as young women.

It was assumed that Mary must have a husband, and whom she married mattered a great deal, as it would affect the fate of Scotland and its relations with the more powerful kingdom to the south. Since both Scotland and England shared a single island, their fates were inevitably closely intertwined.

One possible match was with Don Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne. Elizabeth offered as a bridegroom her favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester - generally considered to be the one love of her life, though they were probably not actually lovers. When in 1565 Mary rashly wed her (and Elizabeth's) cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Elizabeth felt both angry and threatened. Though she was probably relieved that she was not have to surrender Dudley to this rival queen, she was nevertheless peeved that the haughty Queen of Scots had rejected her own favorite. Furthermore, if Mary had accepted Leicester, that would have given Elizabeth some control over Scotland. The greatest threat came from the fact that like Mary, Darnley was a great-grandchild of Henry VII (Elizabeth was Henry VII's granddaughter), and therefore had his own claim to a place in the English succession. By marrying Darnley, Queen Mary significantly strengthened her claim to the English throne.

At the time of their marriage, Darnley was a handsome, dashing nineteen-year-old, and Mary was evidently infatuated with him. But he was also arrogant, obnoxious, licentious, and greedy for power. He neglected his wife, and tried to force her and parliament to cede him power in his own name. She soon became disgusted with him.

When in her loneliness Mary grew close to her Italian secretary David Rizzio, Darnley and others at court began to resent his influence with her. Darnley conspired with several Protestant nobles to murder Rizzio, and the plot was carried out in a way that might well have been intended, at least by the other members of the conspiracy, to shock Mary enough to bring about her death and that of her unborn child, for she was five months pregnant at the time.

One evening in March of 1566, when Mary was at supper with members of her court, the conspirators burst in and brutally stabbed Rizzio to death. He died clutching her skirts and begging her to save him. (Mary herself later claimed that a pistol was pressed against her abdomen by one of the attackers.)

Mary could not divorce Darnley without rendering her child illegitimate and thus ineligible to assume the throne after her, but she had to be rid of her dangerous husband nonetheless.

She persuaded him that his co-conspirators had used him and intended to betray him, and from all appearances the royal couple seemed to be reconciled. Their son (the future James VI of Scotland and James I of England) was born in June of 1566. (Queen Elizabeth was his godmother, and when she died in 1601, he succeeded her to the throne of England.)

At one point in 1567, when Darnley was ill, Mary made a great show of going to Glasgow to bring him back to Edinburgh with her. She stayed at the castle at Edinburgh, but he stayed in a small house at Kirk o'Field. That night men were seen running away from the house, and soon afterward there was an explosion. Darnley's naked body was found in the yard""he had been strangled, not killed in the explosion.

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was generally believed to be the chief conspirator in the murder, since he and Mary had become scandalously close, despite the fact that he was only recently married. It was also assumed that she was at least aware of the plot, and perhaps even actively involved. A sham trial acquitted Bothwell, and soon afterward he "carried her off," ostensibly by force. She publicly pardoned him and created him Duke of Orkney. He divorced his wife, and just three months after Darnley's murder, Mary, now pregnant by Bothwell, married the man who was almost certainly responsible for his death.

Her outraged nobles rose up against her, with the support of an equally outraged populace. Her own army refused to defend her, and she was taken prisoner by the rebel lords. They imprisoned her at Lochleven Castle, she was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, and there was talk of executing her. Nearly a year later she escaped, and after an abortive attempt to regain her throne, she fled to England to seek her cousin's protection""and perhaps her aid in restoring her to power.

Elizabeth was not happy to have Mary in England, for she posed a very delicate dilemma. Although Elizabeth did not like the precedent established by a group of nobles overthrowing, imprisoning, and threatening to execute their queen, she was also appalled at Mary's indiscreet behavior and at her failure to pursue her husband's murderers. Everything seemed to point to the probability that Mary herself was part of the murder plot. She was placed under house arrest and even tried in an English court for Darnley's murder, as well as for her supposed role in plots against Elizabeth. She remained under house arrest from 1569 until her death in 1587.

As a Catholic pretender to the English throne, Mary became a focal point for Catholic conspiracies against the Protestant queen of England. England had a large and restive Catholic minority, and the Catholic powers of Europe also fomented plots to replace Queen Elizabeth with Queen Mary. Elizabeth's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, using agents provocateurs, managed to get Mary to implicate herself, though only in the most peripheral way, in a plot against Elizabeth's life. May never approved the idea of assassinating Elizabeth""or even of deposing her""but when one of Walsingham's agents sent a message asking if she would reward those who rid England of Elizabeth and put her on the throne, she wrote back that she would reward those who helped free her from her imprisonment.

That letter finally persuaded Elizabeth to sign an order of execution against Mary, though she later claimed she had been duped into signing it and that she never intended it to be carried out. Walsingham, knowing his queen's volatility on this subject and her need for political cover, and absolutely convinced that she would never be safe or her throne secure as long as Mary lived, hurried to have the execution carried out before Elizabeth could recall the order.

Mary was beheaded on 8 February, 1587. Elizabeth made a public show of regret and mourning over her kinswoman's death, blaming Walsingham and her chief advisor, William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, for acting against her wishes. They both remained out of favor for some time over the matter.

It is possible that Elizabeth really did feel regret and grief over having her cousin executed. But it is also certain that, regardless of her actual feelings, she had to make a great show of her innocence in Mary's death. The Catholic powers, and even her own Catholic subjects, might well be provoked to attack her over what was considered by many to be Mary's martyrdom to the Catholic cause. In fact, the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, became a significant factor in influencing the Spanish King Phillip II to assemble the fleet known as the Spanish Armada for the purpose of invading England in 1588, the year following the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

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