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Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

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Loch Leven Castle



Mary Queen of Scots

Mary was born in Linlithgow Palace, Scotland, on the 7 of December 1542. She was the daughter of King James V of Scotland, and his French wife, Mary of Guise. She is said to have been christened in the Parish Church of St. Michael, near the Palace. Her father died only days after her birth, and the week old Mary became Queen of Scotland on the 14 of December 1542. She was crowned on the 9 of September the following year at Stirling.

Mary was related to the Tudors. Her grandmother was Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's older sister. Margaret Tudor had married King James V of Scotland, and her son was Mary's father, James V. Henry VIII was thus her great Uncle, and she and Elizabeth were cousins.

Henry VIII wished to have baby Mary as a future bride for his infant son, Edward, and in 1544, his forces invaded Scotland in an attempt to force this matter, but he failed. Mary was sent to France to marry the Dauphin, Francis, the eldest son of the king of France, later Francis II. Her mother, Mary of Guise, acted as regent in Scotland.

In 1559, the King of France was killed in a jousting accident, and at only seventeen years of age, Mary became Queen of France. This alarmed Elizabeth, who had only just become Queen herself, as she and her government feared that the French would now try and claim the English throne as well. The French were simply not in a position to do this, however. Mary of Guise's position in Scotland was weak, and she was fighting for survival in a country that was now Protestant. The French could not contemplate attacking England when French rule in the country via Mary and her French mother was so fragile. For this reason, Elizabeth's ministers urged her to aid the Scots against their Catholic government. Elizabeth was reluctant to aid rebels, but in the name of self-preservation, agreed to some aid. English involvement was rather disastrous, however, with the English forces suffering humiliating defeat. William Cecil was sent to Scotland to negotiate peace with the Scots, and he played a prominent part in drawing up a treaty with the Scottish government, which guaranteed peace between the two realms. The treaty of Edinburgh was never ratified by Mary, however, as she refused to relinquish her claim to the English throne that the English requested.

Mary was always seen as a considerable threat to Elizabeth. Many Catholics did not recognise Elizabeth as the true Queen of the realm. They did not recognise the marriage of her mother, Anne Boleyn, to her father, and so believed that she was illegitimate. Illegitimate children were not supposed to become kings or queens. As well as this, Elizabeth was also a Protestant, but Mary a Catholic. For many years Catholics plotted to depose and kill Elizabeth in order to put Mary on her throne. Mary herself did not recognise Elizabeth as the true Queen, and believed that she herself was the rightful Queen of England. Sometimes she even referred to herself as such. The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth was always very difficult. As mutual queens and cousins they tried to keep up a pretence of friendship, but in reality they did not like each other very much. Perhaps because she was nine years older than Mary, Elizabeth always treated Mary with care, and was remarkably tolerant of her less than respectful cousin. In films and novels, Elizabeth is often made out to have been very cruel to Mary, but this is not really true. There is a tendency for people to side with one Queen over the other, but it is better to treat them both as victims of the circumstances in which they found themselves.

Not long after, Francis died. No longer really welcome in France, Mary soon returned to Scotland. Her return was much needed as her mother, Mary of Guise, had died in the June of 1560. In the August of 1561 Mary arrived at the port of Leith, and as only a few people knew of her coming, she was greeted by only a few of her lords. Because she was still refusing to sign the Treaty of Edinburugh, Elizabeth denied her cousin passage through England, and so Mary had bravely sailed the distance from Calais to Leith directly. But the news of her arrival soon reached her people, and they gathered in crowds to welcome the return of their long absent sovereign.

Scotland was very different to France, and Mary found her native country rather disappointing. She had been away most of her life, and had been brought up in wealth and splendour in France. Scotland lacked France's wealth and glory, and it was also much colder. The country was also Protestant. Mary tried her best to govern Scotland well, and initially was successful. She was tolerant of Protestants, listened to the advise given to her by her various ministers, and kept at peace with her influential Protestant half-brother, James Stewart, later Earl of Murray, illegitimate son of her father, James V.

Now that Mary was a widow, people were beginning to ask who she would marry. As with Elizabeth, her marriage was of immense political importance. It concerned the English government greatly. Elizabeth feared that she would marry a very powerful prince who could help her raise an army to invade England. Elizabeth wanted Mary to marry a man with very little power or influence, so that her Scottish cousin would be less of a threat. Perhaps with this in mind, Elizabeth offered her Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. This was laughed as he was widely thought to be Elizabeth's lover and a wife-murderer. Mary perceived it as an insult, although it is unlikely that Elizabeth meant it to be. Elizabeth believed that a marriage between them would guarantee the peace of both realms. She believed that Dudley would never conspire against her because of his affection for her, that he would fulfill his ambitions, and Mary would have a husband, and eventually with Elizabeth's blessing, be recognised as the heir to her throne. This all made sense to Elizabeth, but the other people involved in her plan had different ideas. Dudley was alarmed at the thought of being cast off to Scotland, and did all that he could to prevent the match, even reputedly writing to Mary denying his interest in her hand. Mary at least pretended to be sincere, but did not relish taking a man that her cousin did not find good enough to make her own husband. In an attempt to make Dudley more suitable for a Queen, Elizabeth raised him to the nobility in 1564, making him Earl of Leicester and Baron of Denbigh. Although Elizabeth appeared to be sincere in the negotiations, many doubted that she really meant it, as she and Dudley were so close that she could not bear for him to even leave the court. Whatever Elizabeth's motives may have been, the offer was made with all sincerity. Had Mary accepted the offer, and Elizabeth agreed to it, Dudley would have found resistance virtually impossible, but to his relief, the negotiations fell through. Lord Henry Darnley, an English Catholic cousin to Mary who also had a claim to the English crown, was permitted by Elizabeth to travel with his father to Scotland, and Mary, attracted by his person and position, decided to marry him. Elizabeth was outraged. With their joint claim to her throne, Elizabeth feared that they would have substantial support for tryingto depose her. It also emerged that Darnley's mother, Lady Lennox, had been involved in secret negotiations to have Mary and Darnley placed upon the English throne. There was very little Elizabeth could do, however, as Mary and Darnley were legally married, and she had to accept him as Prince consort. Elizabeth's consolation was the fact that matters could have been much worse had Mary married a powerful European prince, and Darnley in fact posed very little threat to her safety. It was Mary's life that he made more miserable. Their marriage was certainly not a happy one. Perhaps the only benefit of it, was the birth of Mary's only son, James, in 1564. Darnley was possessive, jealous, and a drunkard. He did not aid in the government of the country at all, or make Mary's political life easier - he only made it worse. Mary began to rely heavily on her Italian Private Secretary, David Rizzio, who she liked and admired, and Darnley grew jealous and angry. With a group of friends he planned to murder him. One March night, 1566, while Rizzio, who was a talented musician, was playing for Mary and her ladies, Darnley and his men forced their way into the room. Rizzio clung to Mary, but was dragged away, and murdered outside the door. Mary, understandably, never forgave Darnley for this.

Mary now turned more and more to one of her noble men, James Hepburn, Fourth Earl of Bothwell. It was probably Bothwell that was largely responsible for the eventual murder of Darnley. Darnley had been ill with the small pox and was resting at The House at Kirk O'Field. This house was blown to pieces, and Darnley's dead body was soon found. But he did not die from the explosion, it was found that he had actually been strangled. Mary was not staying at the House at the time, although she was meant to have been there, but decided to stay somewhere else. Mary declared that the explosion was meant to kill her, but very few people believed her. It was widely thought that she had connived with Bothwell to murder her husband. Bothwell and Mary had been close for some time, and despite the public outcry against him following Darnley's death, Mary married him very soon after. This was the beginning of the end of her reign in Scotland. Her people were outraged that she had married the man suspected of murdering her husband. In the streets they called her all sorts of names, and soon people were calling for her abdication as monarch. Mary's army met that of her enemies at Carberry Hill, but when she saw the magnitude of the opposition, she surrendered without even putting up a fight. She was taken as a prisoner to Loch Leven Castle. Against her will she was coerced to sign the abdication papers. From that moment onwards, her infant son was King James VI of Scotland. Her half-brother James Stewart, Earl of Murray, became regent. He did not long survive, however, as he was assassinated in 1570 by one of Mary's supporters.

After a few months, a careful plan was made to free her. She was guided out of the castle by a sixteen year old page, Willie Douglas, and they secretly made their way to the lake. She was rowed across the lake, and on the other side, friends waited to meet her. Mary was provided with a horse, and rode for her life and freedom. She then rose another army, but was defeated at the Battle of Langside.

Mary helplessly fled to England. She had few friends and many enemies, and even her European supporters had turned against her. She beseeched Elizabeth to help her. This was a very difficult time for Elizabeth. She had always feared Mary's power and influence, but the deposition and disgrace of a fellow monarch frightened her more. If they could treat one Queen like this, then they could so easily treat another one that way too. Elizabeth took Mary under her protection, but in reality she was little more than a prisoner. For the rest of her life, this is what she became. Mary was kept in various Castles in England for nineteen years - including Sheffield for fourteen years, Bolton, Wakefield, and Tutbury. In 1570, she obtained a divorce from Bothwell, and he died insane in aprioson in the Netherlands in 1578. Many people wanted Mary dead, but Elizabeth would not hear of executing her cousin and fellow monarch, and refused all requests of releasing her so that her enemies could kill her. Mary owed her life to Elizabeth, but still the relationship between the two Queens was difficult, perhaps more than it had ever been. Mary soon resented being kept a captive in England, and longed to be restored to the Scottish throne, and gain the English. She was placed in the care of George Herbert, Earl of Shrewsbury, and was watched carefully by the Elizabethan government who feared that she would become the focus of Catholic plots. Their fears were not unfounded. For the next twenty years there were attempts to release Mary from her prison and make her Queen of England. Elizabeth's councillors continued to urge her to have the Scottish Queen executed, but Elizabeth resisted them. It was not until the Babington plot of 1586 that she finally relented, and only then because there was proof of Mary's complicity. Elizabeth was hurt and angry that Mary had personally endorsed her murder, when for almost twenty years, she had protected Mary's life. She wrote a letter to Mary to this effect. It was the plan of Sir Anthony Babington and his co-conspirators to release Mary from the House at Chartely where she was kept, and to depose and kill Elizabeth. Their plans failed, however, as Sir Francis Walsingham, one of Elizabeth's most influential ministers, had created a very effective spy-network, that monitored the actions of English Catholics by using double agents and spies. Anthony Babington and his supporters were tortured and put to death, and Mary was put on trial. She was found guilty of treason, and condemned to death. But despite this judgment by Elizabeth's judges, Elizabeth could not bring herself to sign her cousin's death warrant. The very thought of executing a crowned sovereign terrified her, and the whole matter effected her health profoundly. In the end she reluctantly signed the warrant. Her ministers secretly rushed through the execution, and Elizabeth was not told until it was over. Mary was executed at Fotheringay Castle in the February of 1587.

Elizabeth's fury was tremendous. She had her Private secretary, William Davidson, arrested, and turned against those of her Council who had taken part in the execution, even her old trusted servant, William Cecil. She threatened to have Davidson hanged, saying that she never intended the execution to take place, only to use the warrant as a threat to stop Mary from taking part in such activities again. No one really believed her, and few have believed her since. Frightening as it was, her anger receded, and in time she was reunited with Cecil. Davidson was released from imprisonment, but was never returned to his post as secretary.

Mary was buried in Peterborough Cathedral, but was moved to Westminster Abbey in 1612. In life, Mary and Elizabeth never met, but in death, they lie only feet away from each other in perhaps the greatest of English Abbeys.

Mary was a gifted woman, and reputedly very tall, elegant and beautiful, but in the often bitter struggle for power between her and Elizabeth, Mary lost because unlike her English cousin, she let her heart rule her head, sacrificing politics for passion. After Amy Dudley's mysterious death, which many put down to her husband, Robert Dudley, Elizabeth knew that marrying the man she undoubtedly loved would be political death. In contrast, when Bothwell was publicly regarded as the murderer of Mary's husband, and her people were incensed against him, Mary ignored all advice to distance herself from the man reputed to be her lover, and married him. But tragic and misguided as her short life was, Mary has left her legacy to history, and following Elizabeth's death in 1603, her son was proclaimed King of England, and his accession brought a new dynasty to the English throne - the Stuarts.

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