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Mary, Queen of Scots

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Mary I of Scotland (December, 1542 - February 8, 1587 - reigned December 14, 1542 - July 24, 1567), also known as Mary, Queen of Scots, or Mary Stuart, was born at the Palace of Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland, on December 7 or December 8, 1542. She was the daughter of King James V of Scotland and his French wife, Marie of Guise. Mary, Queen of Scots is often confused with her second cousin once removed Mary I of England who lived at approximately the same time (1516 - 1558).

Mary I of Scotland
Her father died at the age of thirty and, although the kingdom was ruled by her mother as Regent, six-day old Mary became Queen of Scotland. On September 9, 1543, she was formally crowned in Stirling Castle. 

Immediately, the powers in Scotland began the negotiations with the monarchs of Europe and in 1548 a formal agreement was reached with France for her marriage to the French dauphin. 

Vivacious, pretty, and clever (according to contemporary accounts), Mary had a promising childhood. With her marriage agreement in place, she was sent to France in 1548, at the age of five, to be brought up for the next ten years at the French court. (She was accompanied by the "four Maries," four little girls her own age, all named Mary, and the daughters of the noblest families in Scotland: Beaton, Seton, Fleming, and Livingston.) 

In 1558 she married the dauphin, the heir to the French throne, who became Francis II of France. Under the ordinary laws of succession, Mary Stuart was also next in line to the English throne after her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, who was childless. Although the anti-Catholic Act of Settlement would not be passed until 1701, the will of Henry VIII had excluded the Stuarts from succeeding to the English throne. The question of the succession was therefore a fraught one. 

Francis II died in 1560, and Mary's mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici, became regent for his brother Charles IX. Under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, made in June 1560 following the death of Marie of Guise, France undertook to withdraw troops from Scotland and recognise Elizabeth's right to rule England. The eighteen-year-old Mary, still in France, refused to ratify the treaty. 

The young widow returned to Scotland. She was still only 19 and, despite her talents, her upbringing had in no way given her the judgment to cope with the dangerous and complex political situation in the Scotland of the time. Religion had divided the people, and Mary's illegitimate brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, was a leader of the Protestant faction. Mary, being a devout Roman Catholic, was regarded with suspicion by many of her subjects as well as by Elizabeth I of England, her cousin and the monarch of the neighbouring Protestant country. The Protestant reformer John Knox preached against Mary, condemning her for hearing Mass, dancing, dressing too elaborately, and many other things. 

By 1561, Mary was having second thoughts about the wisdom of having crossed Elizabeth, and attempted to make up the breach by inviting her to visit Scotland. Elizabeth refused, and the bad blood remained between them. Mary then sent Maitland of Lethington as an ambassador to the English court to put the case for Mary as a potential heir to the throne. Elizabeth's response is said to have included the words, "As for the title of my crown, for my time I think she will not attain it." However, Mary, in her own letter to the Duke of Guise, reports other things that Maitland told her, including Elizabeth's supposed statement that, "I for my part know none better, nor that my self would prefer to her." Amongst other things, Elizabeth was mindful of the role Parliament would have to play in the matter. 

In December 1561, arrangements were made to meet, this time in England, but Elizabeth changed her mind. The meeting had been fixed for York "or another town" in August or September. However, in July, Elizabeth sent Sir Henry Sidney to call it off, because of the civil war in France. In 1563, Elizabeth made another attempt to neutralise Mary by suggesting she marry Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom she trusted and thought she could control. Dudley being a Protestant, this would have solved a double problem for Elizabeth. She sent an ambassador to tell Mary that, if she would marry someone (as yet unnamed) of Elizabeth's choosing, Elizabeth would "proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our next cousin and heir". This proposal was rejected. 

In 1565, Mary unexpectedly married Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, a descendant of King Henry VII of England and Mary's first cousin. Before long, Mary became pregnant, but Darnley soon became arrogant, insisting on power to go with his courtesy title of "King". He was jealous of Mary's friendship with her private secretary, David Rizzio, and, in a conspiracy with other noblemen, murdered Rizzio while he was in conference with the queen at Holyrood Palace. This was the catalyst for the breakdown of their marriage. On one occasion, he attacked Mary and unsuccessfully attempted to get her to miscarry their unborn child. 

Following the birth of the heir - the future James VI - in June 1566, Mary began a liaison with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, an adventurer who would become her third husband. A plot was hatched to remove Darnley, who was already ill (possibly suffering from syphilis. He was recuperating in a house in Edinburgh where Mary visited him frequently, so that it appeared a reconciliation was in prospect. In February, 1567, an explosion occurred in the house, and Darnley was found dead in the garden; he appeared to have been strangled. This event, which should have been Mary's salvation, only harmed her reputation. Bothwell was generally believed to be guilty of the assassination, and was brought before a mock trial but acquitted. Shortly afterwards, he "abducted" Mary; the news that she had married him sealed her fate. 

Arrested by a confederacy of Scottish nobles, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle in June 1567. The castle is situated on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. Between July 18 and July 24, 1567, Mary miscarried twins at that castle. On July 24, she was also forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her one year old son. 

On May 2, 1568 she escaped from Loch Leven and once again managed to raise a small army. After her army's defeat at the Battle of Langside, she fled to England where she was imprisoned by Elizabeth. Eighteen years of confinement followed, much of it in the custody of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his redoubtable wife Bess of Hardwick, whose daughter married Mary's second husband's brother and produced one child, Arbella Stuart. Bothwell was imprisoned in Denmark, became insane, and died in 1578, still in prison. 

The "Casket Letters" were compromising letters, possibly forgeries, from Mary to Bothwell. They came into English hands in the course of a Scots attempt to have Mary tried for her part in Darnley's murder. Elizabeth used them as an excuse for not bringing Mary to court. However, in 1570, Elizabeth was persuaded by the French to promise to help Mary regain her throne. As a pre-condition, she demanded the ratification of the Treaty of Edinburgh, something Mary would still not agree to. Nevertheless, William Cecil continued negotiations with Mary on Elizabeth's behalf. The two queens never met in person. 

The Ridolfi Plot caused Elizabeth to think again. In 1572, Parliament, with the queen's encouragement, introduced a bill barring Mary from the throne. Elizabeth unexpectedly refused to give it the royal assent. The furthest she ever went was in 1584, when she introduced a document (the "Bond of Association") aimed at preventing any would-be successor from profiting from her murder. It was not legally binding, but was signed by thousands, including Mary herself. 

Mary eventually became a liability Elizabeth could no longer tolerate because of numerous plots to kill Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, and she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle on February 8, 1587, on suspicion of having been involved in a plot - the Babington plot - to murder Elizabeth. She had already been succeeded as monarch of Scotland by her son James VI who later became James I of England as well. 

The two classic film biographies of Mary (neither of them so faithful to history as to get in the way of the story) are the 1936 Mary of Scotland starring Katharine Hepburn and Fredric March and the 1971 Mary, Queen of Scots starring Vanessa Redgrave (Oscar) and Nigel Davenport.

Preceded by:
James V
List of British Monarchs Succeeded by:
James VI


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