(December 8, 1542 – February 8, 1587)
Mary Queen of the Scots remains as one of the most iconic leaders of Scotland in the country's history, with movies and countless books being made about her story. This article is a short but concise introduction to her life, intended as an introduction to this historic character.
Undoubtedly, any thorough investigation of Scottish history or even your Clan history, or genealogy will yield at least a small mention of Mary Stuart. Her popularity supersedes that of any other Scottish monarch, largely due to the uniqueness and tragedy of her life.
From the very beginning, the story of Mary Stuart was an extraordinary one. Born on December 8th 1542 to King James V of Scotland and his French wife Marie de Guise, Mary came into the world two weeks after the Scottish defeat at the hands of the English at Solway Moss. Six days later, her father James V died, probably from cholera, and Mary became Queen. The situation of such a young monarch was not wholly unusual in European history, but the case of Mary Stuart was fundamentally different, as she was female. Thus, as was normal at the time, much attention was paid to the idea of her future marriage, as her husband would become the King of Scotland.
When Mary Stuart was six months old, the Treaties of Greenwich was signed, which promised that Mary would be married to Edward, son of King Henry VIII, at the age of ten.
Not long after the signing of the treaty, Mary Stuart and her mother went into hiding at Stirling Castle. Later it would also come to be the place of Mary's crowning.
On the 9th September 1543, Mary Stuart was crowned Queen of Scotland. The Greenwich Treatise soon broke down, under the strenuous, and in the eyes of the Scots, unjust demands of Henry VIII.
King Henry VIII attempted to "woo" the young Queen by force. This consisted of years of raids and attacks on Scotland. One even coming so close as to even force Mary Stuart and her guardian into hiding (once again at Stirling Castle). After this point Mary Stuart's life took a different direction, as she left Scotland. In his efforts to capture the young Queen, Henry VIII laid waste to Scotland.
Calling upon the "Auld Alliance", both Mary Stuart and Scotland were saved by France. The first by the agreement of Henri II, the new French King, who wed Mary Stuart to his new born so, thus securing and uniting the futures of both Kingdoms. And the latter by sending troops to aid in the conflict. This seemed like a logical solution to the plight of Mary Stuart. On the 7th of August 1548, Mary Stuart sailed to France with the French fleet, where she would be raised and protected.
As per arrangement, Mary Stuart was married to dauphin Francois at Notre Dame de Paris on the 24th of April 1558. Upon the death of her savior, Henri II, she became Queen consort to France.
This brief period of respite was soon broken and the troubles Mary Stuart began anew. Mary Stuart was, at the time, second in line for the English throne. However, Elizabeth I, who held the throne at the time, was considered an illegitimate child by the Catholic Church, meaning that Mary Stuart was regarded as the rightful Crown holder. Unfortunately for Mary, at the same time, a Huegonot uprising in France prevented French forces from assisting with the struggle for the Crown. Furthermore, Mary Stuart's representatives in England signed a treaty on her behalf which called for French troops to leave England and also it backed Elizabeth's right to hold the Crown.
Understandably, Mary Stuart was not happy with this and at the age of eighteen left France for Scotland.
By the 19th of August 1561, when she had arrived in Scotland, Mary Stuart seemed to have doubts about confronting Elizabeth I. She attempted to repair the damage between themselves and invited Elizabeth to visit Scotland. Elizabeth rejected the offer. Various other attempts were made by both parties, including offers of husbands for Mary, although they were all refused.
In 1565, Mary Stuart married again, to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. This marriage came as a shock to many. Elizabeth I was reputed to be furious with the arrangement and claimed that her permission should have been asked since Darnley was one of her subjects. Also amongst the opposition was a large number of Scottish Protestant leaders, who opposed Mary's choice because Darnley was a Catholic (and so was she). The military support that the Protestants were able to rally was quickly defeated.
The marriage of Mary Stuart and Lord Darnley soon took a downturn. He began to demand more power and grew jealous of friendships that Mary Stuart had outside their marriage. At one point he beat her in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. Along with this, Lord Darnley also made a pact with the Protestant rebels that Mary faced earlier, in which they succeeded to kill Mary Stuart's private secretary (Lord Darnley felt the most jealousy for this friendship).
After the birth of her son, Mary Stuart entered into a plot which would see the death of Lord Darnley. In the February of 1567, an explosion occurred at the house where Lord Darnley was staying. The Lord was found dead, although not from the explosion, but from strangulation. These "suspicious" circumstances hindered Mary Stuarts' reputation.
On the 15th of May 1567, Mary married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bathwell. The nobles of Scotland soon turned against Mary and on the 15th June she was abducted by the Lords and taken to Edinburgh. Whilst in captivity she had a miscarriage and was also forced to give up her right of the Crown to her 3 year old son James.
In 1568, Mary Stuart escaped and fled to England, where she was captured by the men of Elizabeth I. Stuart spent the rest of her life under English captivity. She was charged with the murder of Lord Darnley, although it is believed that much of the evidence presented against her was either fake or forged. The trial was made even more difficult by the fact that Mary Stuart refused to acknowledge the authority of the court since she believed she should hold the Crown. Through the rest of her life, Mary was said to be involved in a number of plots to restore Catholicism to England and assassinate Elizabeth.
This was her downfall. After agreeing to the failed Babington plot, which would see the assassination of Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart was executed. She was beheaded on February 8th 1587. It is said she wore red, marking herself as a Catholic martyr.