Childhood and early reign
Mary was born on 8 December 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, Scotland, to James V, King of Scots, and his French second wife, Mary of Guise.
|Mary of Guise
|Mary of Guise, c. 1537, by Corneille de Lyon.
|Queen consort of Scotland
||18 May 1538 – 14 December 1542
||22 February 1540
||Louis II, Duke of Longueville
m. 1534; wid. 1535
James V of Scotland
m.1538; wid. 1542
|François III, Duke of Longueville
James, Duke of Rothesay
Mary, Queen of Scots
||House of Guise
||Claude, Duke of Guise
||Antoinette de Bourbon
||22 November 1515
Bar-le-Duc, Lorraine, France
||11 June 1560 (aged 44) (dropsy)
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
||Saint Pierre de Reims, France
Coat of arms of Marie of Guise (mother of Mary, Queen of Scots) as Duchess of Longueville
Coat of arms of Mary of Guise as Queen consort of Scots
Portrait of James V of Scotland and his second wife Marie de Guise
She was said to have been born prematurely and was the only legitimate child of James to survive him. She was the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England,
as her paternal grandmother, Margaret Tudor, was Henry VIII’s sister. On 14 December, six days after her birth, she became Queen of Scotland when her father died, perhaps from the effects of a nervous collapse following the Battle of Solway Moss, or from drinking contaminated water while on campaign.
A popular legend, first recorded by John Knox, states that James, hearing on his deathbed that his wife had given birth to a daughter, ruefully exclaimed, “It came with a lass, it will pass with a lass! His House of Stewart had gained the throne of Scotland by the marriage of Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce, to Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland. The Crown had come to his family through a woman, and would be lost from his family through a woman. This legendary statement came true much later—not through Mary, whose son by one of her Stewart cousins became king, but through his descendant Anne, Queen of Great Britain.
Mary was baptised at the nearby Church of St Michael shortly after she was born. Rumours spread that she was weak and frail,but an English diplomat, Ralph Sadler, saw the infant at Linlithgow Palace in March 1543, unwrapped by her nurse, and wrote, “it is as goodly a child as I have seen of her age, and as like to live.
As Mary was an infant when she inherited the throne, Scotland was ruled by regents until she became an adult. From the outset, there were two different claims to the Regency: one from the Protestant Earl of Arran, who was next in line to the throne, and the other from Catholic Cardinal Beaton. Beaton’s claim was based on a version of the late king’s will that his opponents dismissed as a forgery. Arran, with the support of his friends and relations, became the regent until 1554 when Mary’s mother managed to remove and succeed him.
Treaty of Greenwich
Coin of 1553: obverse, coat of arms of Scotland; reverse, royal monogram
King Henry VIII of England took the opportunity of the regency to propose marriage between Mary and his own son, Prince Edward, hoping for a union of Scotland and England. On 1 July 1543, when Mary was six months old, the Treaty of Greenwich was signed, which promised that at the age of ten Mary would marry Edward and move to England, where Henry could oversee her upbringing.The treaty provided that the two countries would remain legally separate and that if the couple should fail to have children the temporary union would dissolve. However, Cardinal Beaton rose to power again and began to push a pro-Catholic pro-French agenda, which angered Henry, who wanted to break the Scottish alliance with France. Beaton wanted to move Mary away from the coast to the safety of Stirling Castle. Regent Arran resisted the move, but backed down when Beaton’s armed supporters gathered at Linlithgow. The Earl of Lennox escorted Mary and her mother to Stirling on 27 July 1543 with 3,500 armed men. Mary was crowned in the castle chapel on 9 September 1543, with “such solemnity as they do use in this country, which is not very costly” according to the report of Ralph Sadler and Henry Ray.
Shortly before Mary’s coronation, Scottish merchants headed for France were arrested by Henry, and their goods impounded. The arrests caused anger in Scotland, and Arran joined Beaton and became a Catholic.The Treaty was rejected by the Parliament of Scotland in December.The rejection of the marriage treaty and the renewal of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland prompted Henry’s “Rough Wooing” of Scotland, a military campaign designed to impose the marriage of Mary to his son. English forces mounted a series of raids on Scottish and French territory. In May 1544, the English Earl of Hertford (later Duke of Somerset) raided Edinburgh, and the Scots took Mary to Dunkeld for safety.
In May 1546, Beaton was murdered by Protestant lairds, and on 10 September 1547, nine months after the death of Henry VIII, the Scots suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. Mary’s guardians, fearful for her safety, sent her to Inchmahome Priory for no more than three weeks, and turned to the French for help.
The French king, Henry II, proposed to unite France and Scotland by marrying the young queen to his three-year-old son, the Dauphin Francis. On the promise of French military help, and a French dukedom for himself, Arran agreed to the marriage. In February 1548, Mary was moved, again for her safety, to Dumbarton Castle. The English left a trail of devastation behind once more, seizing the strategic town of Haddington. In June, the much awaited French help arrived at Leith to besiege and ultimately take Haddington. On 7 July 1548, a Scottish Parliament held at a nunnery near the town agreed to a French marriage treaty.
Life in France
Mary around the age of thirteen
With her marriage agreement in place, five-year-old Mary was sent to France to spend the next thirteen years at the French court. The French fleet sent by Henry II, commanded by Nicolas de Villegagnon, sailed with Mary from Dumbarton on 7 August 1548 and arrived a week or more later at Saint-Pol-de-Léon near Roscoff in Brittany. She was accompanied by her own court including two illegitimate half-brothers, and the “four Marys”, four girls her own age, all named Mary, who were the daughters of some of the noblest families in Scotland: Beaton, Seton, Fleming, and Livingston.Janet, Lady Fleming, who was Mary Fleming’s mother and James V’s half-sister, was appointed governess.
Vivacious, beautiful, and clever (according to contemporaneous accounts), Mary had a promising childhood. While in the French court, she was a favourite with everyone, except Henry II’s wife Catherine de’ Medici. Mary learned to play lute and virginals, was competent in prose, poetry, horsemanship, falconry, and needlework, and was taught French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Greek, in addition to speaking her native Scots. Her future sister-in-law, Elisabeth of Valois, became a close friend of whom Mary “retained nostalgic memories in later life”. Her maternal grandmother, Antoinette de Bourbon, was another strong influence on her childhood,and acted as one of her principal advisors.
Portraits of Mary show that she had a small, oval-shaped head, a long, graceful neck, bright auburn hair, hazel-brown eyes, under heavy lowered eyelids and finely arched brows, smooth pale skin, a high forehead, and regular, firm features. She was considered a pretty child and later, as a woman, strikingly attractive. At some point in her infancy or childhood, she caught smallpox, but it did not mark her features.
Mary was eloquent, and especially tall by sixteenth-century standards (she attained an adult height of 5 feet 11 inches or 1.80 m);while Henry II’s son and heir, Francis, stuttered and was abnormally short. Henry commented that “from the very first day they met, my son and she got on as well together as if they had known each other for a long time”.On 4 April 1558, Mary signed a secret agreement bequeathing Scotland and her claim to England to the French crown if she died without issue. Twenty days later, she married the Dauphin at Notre Dame de Paris, and Francis became king consort of Scotland.
Claim to the English throne
After the death of Henry VIII’s elder daughter, Queen Mary I of England, in November 1558, she was succeeded by her only surviving sibling, Elizabeth I. Under the Third Succession Act, passed in 1543 by the Parliament of England, Elizabeth was the heir of Mary I of England, and Henry VIII’s last will and testament had excluded the Stuarts from succeeding to the English throne. Yet, in the eyes of many Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate, and Mary Stuart, as the senior descendant of Henry VIII’s elder sister, was the rightful queen of England.Henry II of France proclaimed his eldest son and his daughter-in-law king and queen of England, and in France they quartered the royal arms of England with their own. Her claim to the English throne was a perennial sticking point between her and Elizabeth I.
When Henry II died on 10 July 1559 from injuries sustained in a joust, 15-year-old Francis became King of France, with Mary, aged 16, as his queen consort. Two of Mary’s uncles, the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, were now dominant in French politics, enjoying an ascendancy called by some historians la tyrannie Guisienne.
Mary (age 16) and Francis II (age 15) shortly after Francis was crowned King of France in 1559
Mary’s arms as Queen of Scots and France with the arms of England added, used in France before the Treaty of Edinburgh, 1560
In Scotland, the power of the Protestant Lords of the Congregation was rising at the expense of Mary’s mother, who maintained effective control only through the use of French troops. The Protestant Lords invited English troops into Scotland in an attempt to secure Protestantism, and a Huguenot rising in France, called the Tumult of Amboise, in March 1560 made it impossible for the French to send further support. Instead, the Guise brothers sent ambassadors to negotiate a settlement. On 11 June 1560, their sister Mary of Guise died, and so the question of the succession and future Franco-Scots relations was a pressing one. Under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, signed by Mary’s representatives on 6 July 1560, France and England undertook to withdraw troops from Scotland and France recognised Elizabeth’s right to rule England. However, the 17-year-old Mary, still in France and grieving for her mother, refused to ratify the treaty.
Return to Scotland
Mary’s all-white mourning garb earned her the sobriquet La Reine Blanche (“the White Queen”).
King Francis II died on 5 December 1560, of a middle ear infection which led to an abscess in his brain. Mary was grief-stricken. Her mother-in-law, Catherine de’ Medici, became regent for the late king’s ten-year-old brother Charles IX, who inherited the French throne.
Mary returned to Scotland nine months after her husband’s death, arriving in Leith on 19 August 1561. Mary had lived in France since the age of five, and had little direct experience of the dangerous and complex political situation in Scotland. As a devout Catholic, she was regarded with suspicion by many of her subjects, as well as by Elizabeth, her father’s cousin. Scotland was torn between Catholic and Protestant factions, and Mary’s illegitimate half-brother, the Earl of Moray, was a leader of the Protestant faction.The Protestant reformer John Knox also preached against Mary, condemning her for hearing Mass, dancing, and dressing too elaborately. She summoned him to her presence to remonstrate with him unsuccessfully, and later charged him with treason, but he was acquitted and released.
To the disappointment of the Catholic party, however, Mary tolerated the newly established Protestant ascendancy,and kept her half-brother Lord Moray as her chief advisor. Her privy council of 16 men, appointed on 6 September 1561, retained those who already held the offices of state and was dominated by the Protestant leaders from the reformation crisis of 1559–1560: the Earls of Argyll, Glencairn, and Moray. Only four of the councillors were Catholic: the Earls of Atholl, Erroll, Montrose, and Huntly, who was Lord Chancellor. Modern historian Jenny Wormald found this remarkable, suggesting that Mary’s failure to appoint a council sympathetic to Catholic and French interests was an indication of her focus on the goal of the English throne over the internal problems of Scotland. Even the one significant later addition to the council, in December 1563, Lord Ruthven, was another Protestant whom Mary personally disliked. In this, she was acknowledging her lack of effective military power in the face of the Protestant lords, while also following a policy which strengthened her links with England. She joined with Lord Moray in the destruction of Scotland’s leading Catholic magnate, Lord Huntly, in 1562 after he led a rebellion in the Highlands against her.
Mary sent William Maitland of Lethington as an ambassador to the English court to put the case for Mary as the heir presumptive to the English throne. Elizabeth refused to name a potential heir, fearing that to do so would invite conspiracy to displace her with the nominated successor. However, Elizabeth assured Maitland that she knew no one with a better claim than Mary. In late 1561 and early 1562, arrangements were made for the two queens to meet in England at York or Nottingham in August or September 1562, but Elizabeth sent Sir Henry Sidney to cancel in July because of the civil war in France.
Mary turned her attention to finding a new husband from the royalty of Europe. However, when her uncle the Cardinal of Lorraine began negotiations with Archduke Charles of Austria without her consent, she angrily objected and the negotiations foundered. Her own attempt to negotiate a marriage to Don Carlos, the mentally unstable heir apparent of King Philip II of Spain, was rebuffed by Philip. Elizabeth attempted to neutralise Mary by suggesting that she marry English Protestant Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (Sir Henry Sidney’s brother-in-law and the English queen’s own favourite), whom Elizabeth trusted and thought she could control.She sent ambassador Thomas Randolph to tell Mary that if she would marry an English nobleman “perchance such as she would hardly think we could agree unto”, Elizabeth would “proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our next cousin and heir”.This proposal came to nothing, not least because the intended bridegroom was unwilling.
In contrast, a French poet at Mary’s court, Pierre de Boscosel de Chastelard, was apparently besotted by Mary. In early 1563, he was discovered during a security search hidden underneath her bed, apparently planning to surprise her when she was alone and declare his love for her. Mary was horrified and banished him from Scotland. He ignored the edict, and two days later, he forced his way into her chamber as she was about to disrobe. She reacted with fury and fear, and when Moray rushed into the room, in reaction to her cries for help, she shouted, “Thrust your dagger into the villain!”, which Moray refused to do as Chastelard was already under restraint. Chastelard was tried for treason, and beheaded.Maitland claimed that Chastelard’s ardour was feigned, and that he was part of a Huguenot plot to discredit Mary by tarnishing her reputation.
Marriage to Lord Darnley
Mary had briefly met her English-born first cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in February 1561 when she was in mourning for Francis. Darnley’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Lennox, who were Scottish aristocrats as well as English landowners, had sent him to France ostensibly to extend their condolences while hoping for a potential match between their son and Mary. Both Mary and Darnley were grandchildren of Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England. Darnley was also a member of the House of Stuart (or Stewart), as Mary was, but he was not a patrilineal descendant of Stewart kings, but rather of their immediate ancestors, the High Stewards of Scotland. Darnley shared a more recent Stewart lineage with the Hamilton family as a descendant of Mary Stewart, Countess of Arran, a daughter of James II of Scotland. They next met on Saturday 17 February 1565 at Wemyss Castle in Scotland, after which Mary fell in love with the “long lad” (as Queen Elizabeth called him—he was over six feet tall). They married at Holyrood Palace on 29 July 1565, even though both were Catholic and a papal dispensation for the marriage of first cousins had not been obtained.
Mary’s bedroom at Holyroodhouse. http://historicallyobsessed.blogspot.com/2011/12/today-in-history-happy-birthday-mary.html
English statesmen William Cecil and the Earl of Leicester had worked to obtain Darnley’s licence to travel to Scotland from his home in England. Although her advisors had thus brought the couple together, Elizabeth felt threatened by the marriage, because as descendants of her aunt, both Mary and Darnley were claimants to the English throne. Their children would inherit an even stronger, combined claim to the English succession. However, Mary’s insistence on the marriage seems to have stemmed from passion rather than calculation. The English ambassador Nicholas Throckmorton stated “the saying is that surely she [Queen Mary] is bewitched”, adding that the marriage could only be averted “by violence”. The union infuriated Elizabeth, who felt the marriage should not have gone ahead without her permission, as Darnley was both her cousin and an English subject.
Mary’s marriage to a leading Catholic precipitated Mary’s half-brother, the Earl of Moray, to join with other Protestant lords, including Lords Argyll and Glencairn, in open rebellion. Mary set out from Edinburgh on 26 August 1565 to confront them, and on the 30th Moray entered Edinburgh, but left soon afterward having failed to take the castle. Mary returned to Edinburgh the following month to raise more troops. In what became known as the Chaseabout Raid, Mary and her forces and Moray and the rebellious lords roamed around Scotland without ever engaging in direct combat. Mary’s numbers were boosted by the release and restoration to favour of Lord Huntly’s son, and the return of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, from exile in France. Unable to muster sufficient support, in October Moray left Scotland for asylum in England. Mary broadened her privy council, bringing in both Catholics (Bishop of Ross John Lesley and provost of Edinburgh Simon Preston of Craigmillar) and Protestants (the new Lord Huntly, Bishop of Galloway Alexander Gordon, John Maxwell of Terregles and Sir James Balfour).
Before long, Darnley grew arrogant. Not content with his position as king consort, he demanded the Crown Matrimonial, which would have made him a co-sovereign of Scotland with the right to keep the Scottish throne for himself if he outlived his wife. Mary refused his request, and their marriage grew strained even though they conceived by October 1565. He was jealous of her friendship with her Catholic private secretary, David Rizzio, who was rumoured to be the father of her child.By March 1566, Darnley had entered into a secret conspiracy with Protestant lords, including the nobles who had rebelled against Mary in the Chaseabout Raid. On 9 March, a group of the conspirators, accompanied by Darnley, murdered Rizzio in front of the pregnant Mary at a dinner party in Holyrood Palace. Over the next two days, a disillusioned Darnley switched sides, and Mary received Moray at Holyrood. On the night of 11–12 March, Darnley and Mary escaped from the palace, and took temporary refuge in Dunbar Castle before returning to Edinburgh on 18 March.The former rebels Lords Moray, Argyll and Glencairn were restored to the council.
Murder of Darnley
Mary’s son by Darnley, James, was born on 19 June 1566 in Edinburgh Castle,
Edinburgh Castle seen from the roof of the National Museum of Scotland
but the murder of Rizzio had made the breakdown of Mary’s marriage inevitable. In October 1566, she was staying at Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders when she made a journey on horseback of at least four hours each way to visit the Earl of Bothwell at Hermitage Castle,
Hermitage Castle, Scottish Borders, Scotland.
where he lay ill from wounds sustained in a skirmish with border reivers. The ride was later used as evidence by Mary’s enemies that the two were lovers, though no suspicions were voiced at the time and Mary was accompanied by her councillors and guards. Immediately after her return to Jedburgh, she suffered a serious illness that included frequent vomiting, loss of sight, loss of speech, convulsions and periods of unconsciousness. She was thought to be near death or dying. Her recovery from 25 October onwards was credited to the skill of her French physicians. The cause of her illness is unknown; diagnoses include physical exhaustion and mental stress, haemorrhage of a gastric ulcer, and porphyria.
At Craigmillar Castle, near Edinburgh, at the end of November 1566, Mary and leading nobles held a meeting to discuss the “problem of Darnley”. Divorce was discussed, but then a bond was probably sworn between the lords present to get rid of Darnley by other means: “It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth … that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them; … that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend. Darnley feared for his safety and after the baptism of his son at Stirling shortly before Christmas, he went to Glasgow to stay on his father’s estates. At the start of the journey, he was afflicted by a fever, possibly smallpox, syphilis, or the result of poison, and he remained ill for some weeks.
Craigmillar Castle from the east
Ground floor plan of Craigmillar Castle.
Key: A=Kitchen, B=Dining Room, C=Chamber, D=Tower entrance, E=Tower cellars, F=East range cellars
In late January 1567, Mary prompted her husband to come back to Edinburgh. He recuperated from his illness in a house belonging to the brother of Sir James Balfour at the former abbey of Kirk o’ Field,
1567 drawing of Kirk o’ Field after the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley drawn for Cecil (William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley) shortly after the murder.
just within the city wall. Mary visited him daily, so that it appeared a reconciliation was in progress. On the night of 9–10 February 1567, Mary visited her husband in the early evening and then attended the wedding celebrations of a member of her household, Bastian Pagez. In the early hours of the morning, an explosion devastated Kirk o’ Field, and Darnley was found dead in the garden, apparently smothered.There were no visible marks of strangulation or violence on the body.Bothwell, Moray, Secretary Maitland, the Earl of Morton and Mary herself were among those who came under suspicion. Elizabeth wrote to Mary of the rumours, “I should ill fulfil the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not … tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought.
By the end of February, Bothwell was generally believed to be guilty of Darnley’s assassination. Lennox, Darnley’s father, demanded that Bothwell be tried before the Estates of Parliament, to which Mary agreed, but Lennox’s request for a delay to gather evidence was denied. In the absence of Lennox, and with no evidence presented, Bothwell was acquitted after a seven-hour trial on 12 April. A week later, Bothwell managed to get more than two dozen lords and bishops to sign the Ainslie Tavern Bond, in which they agreed to support his aim to marry the queen.
Abdication and imprisonment in Scotland
Mary depicted with her son, James VI and I; in reality, Mary saw her son for the last time when he was ten months old.
Between 21 and 23 April 1567, Mary visited her son at Stirling for the last time. On her way back to Edinburgh on 24 April, Mary was abducted, willingly or not, by Lord Bothwell and his men and taken to Dunbar Castle, where he may have raped her. On 6 May, Mary and Bothwell returned to Edinburgh and on 15 May, at either Holyrood Palace or Holyrood Abbey, they were married according to Protestant rites. Bothwell and his first wife, Jean Gordon, who was the sister of Lord Huntly, had divorced twelve days previously.
Originally Mary believed that many nobles supported her marriage, but things soon turned sour between the newly elevated Bothwell (created Duke of Orkney and consort of the Queen) and his old peers, and the marriage was deeply unpopular. Catholics considered the marriage unlawful, since they did not recognise Bothwell’s divorce or the validity of the Protestant service. Both Protestants and Catholics were shocked that Mary should marry the man accused of murdering her husband. The marriage was tempestuous, and Mary became despondent. Twenty-six Scottish peers, known as the confederate lords, turned against Mary and Bothwell, raising an army against them. Mary and Bothwell confronted the lords at Carberry Hill on 15 June, but there was no battle as Mary’s forces dwindled away through desertion during negotiations. Bothwell was given safe passage from the field, and the lords took Mary to Edinburgh, where crowds of spectators denounced her as an adulteress and murderer. The following night, she was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. Between 20 July and 23 July, Mary miscarried twins. On 24 July, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son James. Moray was made regent, while Bothwell was driven into exile. He was imprisoned in Denmark, became insane and died in 1578.
Escape and imprisonment in England
On 2 May 1568, Mary escaped from Loch Leven with the aid of George Douglas, brother of Sir William Douglas, the castle’s owner. She managed to raise an army of 6000 men, and met Moray’s smaller forces at the Battle of Langside on 13 May. She was defeated and fled south; after spending the night at Dundrennan Abbey, she crossed the Solway Firth into England by fishing boat on 16 May. She landed at Workington in Cumberland in the north of England and stayed overnight at Workington Hall. On 18 May, she was taken into protective custody at Carlisle Castle by local officials.
Mary apparently expected Elizabeth to help her regain her throne. Elizabeth was cautious, and ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the confederate lords and the question of whether Mary was guilty of the murder of Darnley.Mary was moved by the English authorities to Bolton Castle in mid-July 1568, because it was further from the Scottish border but not too close to London. A commission of inquiry, or conference as it was known, was held in York and later Westminster between October 1568 and January 1569.
Mary refused to acknowledge the power of any court to try her, since she was an anointed queen, and refused to attend the inquiry at York personally (she sent representatives) but Elizabeth forbade her attendance anyway. As evidence against Mary, Moray presented the so-called casket letters—eight unsigned letters purportedly from Mary to Bothwell, two marriage contracts and a love sonnet or sonnets said to have been found in a silver-gilt casket just less than one foot (30 cm) long, decorated with the monogram of King Francis II. Mary denied writing them, argued that her handwriting was not difficult to imitate, and insisted they were forgeries. They are widely believed to be crucial as to whether Mary shares the guilt for Darnley’s murder. The chair of the commission of inquiry, the Duke of Norfolk, described them as horrible letters and diverse fond ballads, and sent copies to Elizabeth, saying that if they were genuine they might prove Mary’s guilt.
The authenticity of the casket letters has been the source of much controversy among historians. It is impossible now to prove either way. The originals, written in French, were probably destroyed in 1584 by King James.The surviving copies, in French or translated into English, do not form a complete set. There are incomplete printed transcriptions in English, Scots, French and Latin from the 1570s. Other documents scrutinised included Bothwell’s divorce from Jean Gordon. Moray had sent a messenger in September to Dunbar to get a copy of the proceedings from the town’s registers.
Biographers of Mary, such as Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir and John Guy, have come to the conclusion that the documents were either complete forgeries, or that incriminating passages were inserted into genuine letters, or that the letters were written to Bothwell by some other person or by Mary to some other person. Guy points out that the letters are disjointed, and that the French language and grammar of the sonnets is too poor for a woman with Mary’s education. However, certain phrases of the letters (including verses in the style of Ronsard) and certain characteristics of style would be compatible with known writings of Mary.
The casket letters did not appear publicly until the Conference of 1568, although the Scottish privy council had seen them by December 1567. Mary had been forced to abdicate and held captive for the best part of a year in Scotland. The letters were never made public to support her imprisonment and forced abdication. Historian Jenny Wormald believes this reluctance on the part of the Scots to produce the letters, and their destruction in 1584, whatever their content, is proof that they contained real evidence against Mary, whereas Weir thinks it shows the lords required time to fabricate them. At least some of Mary’s contemporaries who saw the letters had no doubt that they were genuine. Among them was the Duke of Norfolk, who secretly conspired to marry Mary in the course of the commission, although he denied it when Elizabeth alluded to his marriage plans, saying “he meant never to marry with a person, where he could not be sure of his pillow”.
The majority of the commissioners accepted the casket letters as genuine after a study of their contents and comparison of the penmanship with examples of Mary’s handwriting. Elizabeth, as she had wished, concluded the inquiry with a verdict that nothing was proven, either against the confederate lords or Mary. For overriding political reasons, Elizabeth wished to neither convict nor acquit Mary of murder, and there was never any intention to proceed judicially; the conference was intended as a political exercise. In the end, Moray returned to Scotland as its regent and Mary remained in custody in England. Elizabeth had succeeded in maintaining a Protestant government in Scotland, without either condemning or releasing her fellow sovereign. In Fraser’s opinion, it was one of the strangest “trials” in legal history, ending with no finding of guilt against either party with one let home to Scotland while the other remained in custody.
On 26 January 1569, Mary was moved to Tutbury Castle,
Tutbury Castle viewed from within the keep, looking west.
Tutbury Castle, view across the Chapel to the North Tower and Entrance Tower.
and placed in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his formidable wife Bess of Hardwick.
Portrait of Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, known as Bess of Hardwick.
Elizabeth considered Mary’s designs on the English throne to be a serious threat and so confined Mary to Shrewsbury’s properties, including Tutbury, Sheffield Castle, Wingfield Manor and Chatsworth House,that were in the interior of England halfway between Scotland and London, and distant from the sea. She was permitted her own domestic staff, which never numbered less than 16,and needed 30 carts to transport her belongings from house to house. Her chambers were decorated with fine tapestries and carpets, as well as her cloth of state on which she had the French phrase En ma fin est mon commencement (“In my end lies my beginning”) embroidered. Her bedlinen was changed daily, and her own chefs prepared meals with a choice of 32 dishes served off silver plates. She was occasionally allowed outside under strict supervision,spent seven summers at the spa town of Buxton, and spent much of her time doing embroidery. Her health declined, perhaps through porphyria or lack of exercise, and by the 1580s, she had severe rheumatism in her limbs, rendering her lame.
In May 1569, Elizabeth attempted to mediate the restoration of Mary in return for guarantees of the Protestant religion, but a convention at Perth rejected the deal overwhelmingly. Norfolk continued to scheme for a marriage with Mary, and Elizabeth imprisoned him in the Tower of London between October 1569 and August 1570.Early in the following year, Moray was assassinated. Moray’s death coincided with a rebellion in the North of England, led by Catholic earls, which persuaded Elizabeth that Mary was a threat. English troops intervened in the Scottish civil war, consolidating the power of the anti-Marian forces. Elizabeth’s principal secretaries William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, and Sir Francis Walsingham watched Mary carefully with the aid of spies placed in Mary’s household.
In 1571, Cecil and Walsingham uncovered the Ridolfi Plot, which was a plan to replace Elizabeth with Mary with the help of Spanish troops and the Duke of Norfolk. Norfolk was executed, and the English Parliament introduced a bill barring Mary from the throne, to which Elizabeth refused to give royal assent. To discredit Mary, the casket letters were published in London.Plots centered on Mary continued, and after the Throckmorton Plot, Walsingham introduced the Bond of Association and the Act for the Queen’s Safety, which sanctioned the killing of anyone who plotted against Elizabeth and was aimed at preventing a putative successor from profiting from her murder.In April 1585, Mary was placed in the stricter custody of Sir Amias Paulet, and at Christmas she was moved to a moated manor house at Chartley.
On 11 August 1586, Mary was arrested after being implicated in the Babington Plot. In a successful attempt to entrap her, Walsingham had deliberately arranged for Mary’s letters to be smuggled out of Chartley. Mary was misled into thinking her letters were secure, while in reality they were deciphered and read by Walsingham. From these letters it was clear that Mary had sanctioned the attempted assassination of Elizabeth. She was moved to Fotheringay Castle in a four-day journey ending on 25 September, and in October was put on trial for treason under the Act for the Queen’s Safety before a court of 36 noblemen, including Cecil, Shrewsbury, and Walsingham. Mary denied the charges and was spirited in her defence. She told her triers, “Look to your consciences and remember that the theatre of the whole world is wider than the kingdom of England”. She drew attention to the fact that she was denied the opportunity to review the evidence or her papers that had been removed from her, that she was denied access to legal counsel and that as a foreign anointed queen she had never been an English subject and thus could not be convicted of treason.
Mary was convicted on 25 October and sentenced to death with only one commissioner, Lord Zouche, expressing any form of dissent.
Edward la Zouche, 11th Baron Zouche, 12th Baron St Maur (6 June 1556 – 18 August 1625) was an English diplomat. He is remembered chiefly for his lone vote against the condemnation of Mary, Queen of Scots, and for organising the ill-fated stag-hunt where his guest, the Archbishop of Canterbury, accidentally killed a man.
Despite this, Elizabeth hesitated to order her execution, even in the face of pressure from the English Parliament to carry out the sentence. She was concerned that the killing of a queen set a discreditable precedent, and was fearful of the consequences, especially if, in retaliation, Mary’s son James formed an alliance with the Catholic powers and invaded England. Elizabeth asked Paulet, Mary’s final custodian, if he would contrive a clandestine way to “shorten the life” of Mary, which he refused to do on the grounds that he would not make “a shipwreck of my conscience, or leave so great a blot on my poor posterity”. On 1 February 1587, Elizabeth signed the death warrant, and entrusted it to William Davison, a privy councillor. On the 3rd,ten members of the Privy Council of England, having been summoned by Cecil without Elizabeth’s knowledge, decided to carry out the sentence at once.
The scene of the execution, created by an unknown Dutch artist in 1613
At Fotheringhay on the evening of 7 February 1587, Mary was told that she was to be executed the next morning. She spent the last hours of her life in prayer, distributing her belongings to her household, and writing her will and a letter to the King of France. The scaffold that was erected in the Great Hall was two feet high and draped in black. It was reached by two or three steps and furnished with the block, a cushion for her to kneel on and three stools, for her and the earls of Shrewsbury and Kent, who were there to witness the execution. The executioners (one named Bull and his assistant) knelt before her and asked forgiveness. She replied, “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles. Her servants, Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle, and the executioners helped Mary to remove her outer garments, revealing a velvet petticoat, satin bodice and a pair of sleeves all in dark red, the liturgical colour of martyrdom in the Catholic Church. As she disrobed she smiled and said that she “never had such grooms before … nor ever put off her clothes before such a company”. She was blindfolded by Kennedy with a white veil embroidered in gold, and knelt down on the cushion in front of the block. She positioned her head on the block and stretched out her arms. Her last words were, “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum” (“Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”).
It took two strikes to behead Mary: the first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. The second blow severed the neck, except for a small bit of sinew that the executioner cut through by using the axe as a saw. Afterward, the executioner held her head aloft and declared, “God save the Queen.” At that moment, the auburn tresses in his hand turned out to be a wig and the head fell to the ground, revealing that Mary had very short, grey hair. A small dog owned by the queen, a Skye terrier, is said to have been hiding among her skirts, unseen by the spectators. Following the beheading, it refused to be parted from its owner’s body and was covered in her blood, until it was forcibly taken away and washed. Items supposedly worn or carried by Mary at her execution are of doubtful provenance;contemporary accounts state that all her clothing, the block, and everything touched by her blood was burned in the fireplace of the Great Hall to obstruct relic-hunters.
Copy of the Westminster effigy viewed from above
When the news of the execution reached Elizabeth, she became indignant and asserted that Davison had disobeyed her instructions not to part with the warrant and that the Privy Council had acted without her authority. Elizabeth’s vacillation and deliberately vague instructions gave her plausible deniability, to attempt to avoid the direct stain of Mary’s blood. Davison was arrested, thrown into the Tower of London, and found guilty of misprision. He was released 19 months later after Cecil and Walsingham interceded on his behalf.
Mary’s request to be buried in France was refused by Elizabeth.Her body was embalmed and left unburied in a secure lead coffin until her burial, in a Protestant service, at Peterborough Cathedral in late July 1587. Her entrails, removed as part of the embalming process, were buried secretly within Fotheringay Castle. Her body was exhumed in 1612 when her son, King James VI and I, ordered she be reinterred in Westminster Abbey, in a chapel opposite the tomb of Elizabeth I. In 1867, her tomb was opened to try to ascertain where James I was entombed; he was ultimately found with Henry VII, but many of her other Stuart descendants, including Elizabeth of Bohemia, Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the children of Anne, Queen of Great Britain, were interred in her vault.
Assessments of Mary in the sixteenth century divided between Protestant reformers such as George Buchanan and John Knox, who vilified her mercilessly, and Catholic apologists such as Adam Blackwood, who praised, defended and eulogised her.After the accession of James I in England, historian William Camden wrote an officially sanctioned biography that drew from original documents. It condemned Buchanan’s work as an invention, and “emphasized Mary’s evil fortunes rather than her evil character”.Differing interpretations persisted into the eighteenth century: William Robertson and David Hume argued that the casket letters were genuine and that Mary was guilty of adultery and murder, while William Tytler argued the reverse.In the later half of the twentieth century, the work of Antonia Fraser was acclaimed as “more objective … free from the excesses of adulation or attack” that had characterised older biographies, and her contemporaries Gordon Donaldson and Ian B. Cowan also produced more balanced works.Historian Jenny Wormald concluded that Mary was a tragic failure, who was unable to cope with the demands placed on her, but hers was a rare dissenting view in a post-Fraser tradition that Mary was a pawn in the hands of scheming noblemen.There is no concrete proof of her complicity in Darnley’s murder or of a conspiracy with Bothwell, such accusations rest on assumptions, and Buchanan’s biography is today discredited as “almost complete fantasy”.Mary’s courage at her execution helped establish her popular image as the heroic victim in a dramatic tragedy.