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Thursday, 7 April 2016

Mary, Queen of Scots


Mary was born on December 8, 1542 at Linlithglow Palace near Falkirk, Scotland during a cold winter.

She was born to James V, King of Scotland, and his French second wife, Mary of Guise. Mary was said to have been born prematurely and was the only legitimate child of James to survive him.

James V died at the age of thirty, probably from cholera, when Mary was just 6 days old. His contemporaries believed his death to have been caused by grief over the Scots' humiliating loss to the English at the Battle of Solway Moss.

When Mary's father heard of her birth he'd prophesied, "The devil go with it! It came with a lass, it will gang with a lass!"

The six-day-old Mary became the Queen of Scotland on the death of her father.

Mary was crowned as Queen of Scotland in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on September 9, 1543. Due to the age of the Queen and the unique ceremony, the coronation was the talk of Europe.

On the day of the coronation Mary was dressed in heavy regal robes in miniature. A crimson velvet mantle, with a train furred with ermine, was fastened around her tiny neck, and a jeweled satin gown, with long hanging sleeves, enveloped the infant, who could sit up but not walk. She was carried by Lord Livingston in solemn procession to the Chapel Royal. Inside, Lord Livingston brought Mary forward to the altar and put her gently in the throne set up there. Then he stood by, holding her to keep her from rolling off.

Vivacious, pretty, and clever (according to contemporary accounts), Mary had a promising childhood.

Mary around the age of thirteen

When Mary was 5, the French king, Henry II, agreed to unite France and Scotland by marrying the young queen to his three-year-old son, the Dauphin Francis.

With her marriage agreement in place, Mary was sent to France in 1548, at the age of five, to be brought up for the next ten years at the French court.

Mary was accompanied to France by her own little court consisting of two lords, two half brothers, and the "four Maries," four little girls her own age, all named Mary, and the daughters of the noblest families in Scotland: Beaton, Seaton, Fleming, and Livingston.

While in the French court, Mary was a favorite. She was brought up there her mother’s relatives "The Guises." "This small Queen of Scots has only to smile in order to turn all French heads," said Catherine de Medici.

Mary received the best available education at the French court, and at the end of her studies, she had mastered French, Latin, Greek, Spanish and Italian in addition to her native Scots. She also learned how to play two instruments and learned prose, horsemanship, falconry, and needlework.


Mary was six feet tall with exquisite long light brown hair flowing down her back, which turned grey during her imprisonment. She had narrow chestnut eyes with high cheekbones.

Portrait of Mary after François Clouet, c. 1559

Mary spoke French and lowland Scots but she learnt English only with difficulty. Consequently, she spoke with a French accent, which didn't endear her to her Scottish subjects. However her Stuart charm kept things under control for a time. She was gregarious, willful and high spirited.

Mary sometimes dressed like a man in order to walk through the streets of Edinburgh unobserved.


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  July 1, 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.

When Cardinal Beaton rose to power in Scotland, he began to push a pro-Catholic pro-French agenda, Consequently, The betrothal of the infant Mary to Prince Edward of England was annulled by the Scottish parliament precipitating war with England.

At the age of 16, Mary Queen of Scots, married Francis, the sickly 14-year-old French Dauphin. The ceremony took place at Notre Dame in Paris on April 24, 1558.

Mary and Francis (painted around 1558).

Francis ascended the throne of France at the age of fifteen after the accidental death of his father, Henry II, on July 10, 1559.

The health of the king deteriorated in November 1560. After returning from a cold November days hunting he complained of a pain in his heart.  After only 17 months on the throne, Francis II died on December 5, 1560 at the hôtel Groslot. in Orléans, Loiret.

During the next couple of years following the death of Francis, the French Poet Pierre de Boscobel de Chasteland (1540-63) became infatuated with Mary who accepted his love songs. De Chasteland concealed himself under her bed, but was discovered and forgiven. However, when he repeated the misdemeanor he was hanged at St Andrews.

Mary unexpectedly married her first cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, a descendant of King Henry VII of England on July 29, 1565 at Holyrood's private chapel. The Queen described him as the "lustiest and best proportioned man" she had ever seen.

Mary with Lord Darnley

The eighteen-year-old tall, blonde, arrogant, worthless, stupid, cowardly, vindictive, Earl of Darnley was utterly spoilt and antagonized most people at Mary's court. He became increasingly arrogant and demanding, insisting on power to go with his courtesy title of "King."

As King of Scotland he had certain responsibilities but instead of reading state papers, Darnley preferred hunting.

Mary's marriage, to a leading Catholic, precipitated Mary's half-brother, the Earl of Moray to join with other Protestant Lords in open rebellion.

Darnley was jealous of Mary's friendship with her private secretary, David Rizzio, and he entered into a secret conspiracy with a group of Protestant nobles. On March 9, 1566 they murdered Rizzio while he was in conference with the queen at Holyrood Palace. He was stabbed numerous times and his body was found to have had over 50 wounds

The Murder of Rizzio, 1787 by John Opie

Mary's son by Darnley, James  — the future James I of England and James VI of Scotland - was born on June 19, 1566 in Edinburgh Castle, but the murder of Rizzio was the catalyst for the breakdown of their marriage.

Following the birth of the heir, Mary allegedly began a liaison with the tough, muscular, handsome James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, an adventurer who would become her third husband.

The Earl of Darnley was murdered on February 10, 1567 while lying in bed ill with smallpox when his house was blown up by gunpowder.

Mary Queen of Scots was playing golf when the news was bought to her of the murder of Lord Darnley. Later she was criticized for playing several rounds of golf two weeks after the loss of her husband.

Suspicion for the murder of Lord Darnley quickly fell on the Earl of Bothwell and his supporters, as well as Mary herself. However, Bothwell was acquitted in a show trial.

On her way back to Edinburgh after visiting her son at Stirling, Mary was abducted, willingly or not, by Bothwell and his men and taken to Dunbar Castle where she may have been raped by him. Mary later miscarried twins by Bothwell.

They returned to Edinburgh and on May 15, 1567 at Holyrood Palace, Mary and Bothwell were married according to Protestant rites. He was a poor consort, too deferential in public and too familiar in private.

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

The public was outraged by Mary and Bothwell's union and even Pope Pius was angered. In 1570 Mary divorced her third husband.

Bothwell fled to Denmark where he ran into creditors and angry relatives of a mistress he had cast aside. He was imprisoned, chained to a pillar half his height so he could never stand upright and died insane in 1578.


While Mary was living in France, the Scottish Parliament influenced by the incendiary fiery sermons of John Knox, overthrew the Pope's authority and forbade the saying of Mass. On her return to Scotland following the death of her husband, the French king Francis II, Mary Queen of Scots hoped to win her people back to Catholicism. Despite her efforts the Catholic teenager was unable to turn back the clock but she continued to regularly attend Mass in the Chapel Royal at Holyrood Palace.

The Scottish queen had a dazzling wardrobe and on her return from France her dress sense with her billowing skirts captivated the people.

Used to the trappings of the French court in Scotland, Mary introduced an unfamiliar glamour as the Scottish queen. Her personal possessions included 100 tapestries, 45 ornate beds and a gilded throne.

Her rooms at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh are still preserved.


Both Protestants and Catholics were shocked that Mary should marry the man accused of murdering her husband. Twenty-six Scottish nobles, known as the confederate lords, turned against Mary and Bothwell, raising an army against them.

A month after Mary's wedding to the controversial Bothwell, the angry protestant nobles confronted Mary and Bothwell at Carberry Hill a few miles east of Edinburgh on June 15, 1567. By the evening with her army deserting she agreed to send Bothwell away and Mary was led to Edinburgh and confronted by a jeering crowd.

Battle of Carberry Hill, 15 June 1567. 

The letters between Mary and Bothwell which apparently proved her part in Darnley's murder, were kept in a casket. The Earl of Morton got hold off them and they were used as evidence against her. On July 24, 1567, Mary agreed to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son James. Her brother Moray was made regent.

Mary was imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. She escaped on May 2, 1568 disguised in borrowed clothing with her hair shorn. Managing to raise an army of 6,000 men, she met Moray's smaller forces at the Battle of Langside on May 13th. Defeated, she fled to England seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England, who placed her under house arrest.

Mary, Queen of Scots Escaping from Loch Leven Castle (1805) by William Craig Shirreff

Mary spent the last 20 years of her life in captivity at a succession of English castles and homes. Between 1570 and 1584 she lived in Sheffield at both the vanished castle and in a Tudor manor house. Also twice at Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire and at Weston Staffordshire in 1585 in an old hall which burnt down in 1781. She was also held prisoner at Carlisle Castle, Cockermouth Castle and also Chatsworth Park in 1568.

Mary in captivity, by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1578

During her "stay" in England Mary kept birds and small dogs sent over from France.

The Roman Catholics formed many plots to put Mary on the throne and the Scot was a passionate user of ciphers whilst imprisoned. She smuggled out many cryptograms to Queen Elizabeth's enemies in The Hague and Madrid. However when ciphers exchanged with Babington smuggled in a beer keg were discovered Mary was moved from Chartley Hall to more formidable Castle of Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire.

Mary knew that Fotheringhay Castle was only used as a state prison and when told during the journey there hat the road leading to it was called Perryho Lane the Latin speaking Scot exclaimed "Perio! I perish."

The fine linen sheets on which she slept at Fotheringhay Castle were made from the fibre of the stinging nettle.


Mary Queen of Scots owned one of the world's first billiard tables. The game was popular in 16th-century France, where Mary probably acquired a taste for it, and she continued with the pastime on her return to Scotland.

After she was imprisoned she was allowed to keep a billiard table in her Tower of London cell and she was a keen exponent of the game right up to her death. In fact whilst awaiting her execution she complained of being deprived of her billiard table.

During her imprisonment Mary whiled away boredom with richly colored embroidery.

Embroidery done by Mary in captivity (now in the Royal Collection)

Mary Queen Of Scots was a pioneering female golfer and the founding member of St Andrews, the world's first golf club.

She was a keen football player. Not only did Mary Queen of Scots write about the sport in her diary, the world's oldest football was found behind the panelling of her chamber in Stirling Castle. It's thought she may have lost it while playing with it as a child.

A fine rider, Mary owned a horse called Black Agnes given to her by her brother, Moray.

Mary was partial to an orange marmalade, which was made by her Turkish chefs.

For salad the teenage Scottish queen liked boiled celery root diced and tossed with lettuce, creamy mustard dressing, truffles, and hard-cooked egg slices.


Mary Queen Of Scots suffered from smallpox among many other ailments as a teenager, including intermittent depression and nervous exhaustion.

At moments of crisis Mary fell ill and had fainting and vomiting episodes.

The Scottish queen also had an ongoing battle with porphyria, a disease that causes mental confusion.

Whilst imprisoned in Lochleven Castle Mary suffered a miscarriage. In her later years she was lamed by rheumatism. At her trial Mary entered dressed in black supported due to her rheumatism by her physician and steward.


Mary Queen of Scots was sentenced to be executed on February 8, 1567 at Fotheringhay Castle due to the alleged Roman Catholic plots to place her on the English throne in place of her cousin Elizabeth.

On the day of her execution she got up at 6.00 and spent her last two and half-hours before the summons praying in her oratory. She wrote in her Book of Devotion:
"O Lord my God, I have trusted in thee;
O Jesu my dearest one now set me free.
In prison's oppression, in sorrow's obsession,
I weary for thee."

Mary dressed for her execution like a bride of death entirely in black apart from a white linen veil. Underneath Mary wore an undergarment of tawny red satin, thereby declaring herself a Catholic martyr.

At her execution the Executioner asked Mary to pardon what he was about to do "I forgive you with all of my heart", she replied "for now I hope you shall make an end to my troubles." Then the Catholic Mary shouted in Latin to drown the Protestant prayers of the English chaplain. The Scottish queen knelt, holding her rosary and placed her head upon the block and said, "Into your hands, O lord do I commend my soul."

The scene of the execution, created by an unknown Dutch artist in 1613

The execution was badly carried out and it is said to have taken three blows. 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, which the executioner cut through using the axe.

Mary's devoted little Skye Terrier was her companion throughout her long imprisonment. The dog as concealed in her skirts during her execution. It refused to be coaxed away from her body and it took several washings to get his mistress' blood out of the dog's fur. The terrier wouldn't eat afterwards and died from grief and starvation.

A satirical rhyme circulated around Protestant households mocking her tragic life.
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With Silver belts" (silver belts are used in Mass)
"And cockle shells" (A cockle shell is the badge of compostela worn by pilgrims)
"And Pretty Maids all in a row." (This is referring to the famous four Marys who attended the Queen of Scots)

Source Food For Thought by Ed Pearce

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