Mary, Queen of Scots
The tragic and tumultuous life of Mary, Queen of Scots began on the stormy night of 7th December, 1542. The first Queen of Scotland to rule in her own right was born at the Palace of Linlithgow in West Lothian, the daughter of James V and his French Queen, Marie of Guise.
Her father, James V had experienced a crushing defeat at the hands of the English a few days prior to Mary’s birth. A man of a highly emotional nature, this defeat weighed heavily upon him and lead to his death in an abject state of nervous depression. Mary became Queen of Scotland at six days old, becoming Britain’s youngest ever monarch. The infant Queen’s relative James Stewart, Earl of Arran, was appointed as Regent of the kingdom.
Mary was crowned at the Chapel Royal, Stirling Castle on 9th September, 1543. She was but nine months old at the time and as yet unable to walk. She was magnificently dressed for the occasion in an elaborate satin jeweled gown beneath a red velvet mantle, trimmed with ermine.
Scotland was at war with England, mirroring the actions of Edward I, three centuries earlier, the overbearing Henry VIII sought to domineer Scottish affairs from London. On the death of his nephew, James V, Henry attempted to gain control of Scotland through proposing that the new Queen of Scots should be married to his only son and heir Edward, later to become Edward VI. The Regent Arran signed a treaty with Henry in 1543, which proposed to unite the thrones of both countries in the young couple.
The Queen Mother, Marie of Guise, supported by Cardinal Beaton, did not favour the alliance and repudiated the agreement. Henry, domineering and savage when crossed, again invaded Scotland, mercilessly burning and ravaging the country in what came to be quaintly termed by the Scots as the ‘rough wooing’. For her greater safety. the child Queen of Scots was taken to the island of Inchmahome. After the demise of Henry VIII, the Duke of Somerset, Protector for his young son, marched a further army north and defeated the Scots at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh on ‘Black Saturday’, 10th September, 1547.
Marie of Guise formed an alliance with her native France through which she hoped to acquire protection. The now six year old Mary was betrothed to the young heir to the French throne, the Dauphin Francis. She spent the rest of her childhood at the court of her father-in-law, Henri II. Mary was a pretty child and brought up in the same nursery as her future husband and his siblings, became very attached to him. Mary was married to the Dauphin Francois on 24 April, 1558 at Notre Dame. She corresponded regularly Mary of Guise. who remained in Scotland to rule as regent for her daughter.
Mary also possessed a hereditary claim to the throne of England, through her grandmother, Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII. On the accession of Elizabeth I of England, considered by the Catholics to be illegitimate, Mary’s father-in-law quartered the arms of England with those of the Queen of Scots, thereby declaring her the true heiress to England. Elizabeth was never to forget this insult and her father-in-law’s actions were to have disastrous results for Mary in the future.
For the present however, Mary was the cosseted darling of the French court, the doting Henri II wrote ‘The little Queen of Scots is the most perfect child I have ever seen.’ He corresponded frequently with Marie of Guise, expressing his delight in his young daughter-in-law. Mary’s maternal grandmother, Antoinette of Guise, in a letter to her daughter in Scotland, stated that she found Mary ‘ very pretty, graceful and self assured.’ On the death of Henri II, Mary’s young husband Francois ascended the throne making Mary Queen Consort of France.
The influence of Protestantism grew steadily in Scotland in her absence, urged on by the person of the fiery and fanatical preacher John Knox. The Catholic Mary of Guise fought a loosing struggle to contain the inexorable march of the Reformation.
When Marie of Guise died, the young Mary, sharing her father’s emotional nature, was distracted with grief at her loss. Her cup of sorrow was not yet full and a few months later her delicate husband Francois II, died from an ear infection making the eighteen year old a widow and no longer welcome or influential at the French court, now controlled by her wily mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici.
RETURN TO SCOTLAND
After time spent in mourning for her husband, Mary decided to return to her native land of Scotland, she sought safe passage to England from her cousin Elizabeth I, Elizabeth, still smarting at the insult delivered by Henry III at her accession, refused to grant the favour. Mary sailed to Scotland regardless, arriving at Leith on August 19, 1561, in a thick Scottish mist. Her Protestant bastard half-brother, James Stewart. stepped into the role of her defender, chivalrously guarding her door, sword in hand, against angry protestations from her subjects, when Mary practiced the Catholic mass. The grateful Queen created him Earl of Moray in reward.
Mary was regarded with suspicion by her Protestant subjects. Confrontations with the unyielding and fanatical Knox reduced the emotional and inexperienced Mary to tears. She continued to attend the mass but in acceptance of the situation, tolerantly gave official recognition to the reformed religion. At first she allowed herself to be lead by wise ministers, but gay and pleasure loving in the finest Stewart tradition, Mary soon began to exhibit a more willful and impulsive streak. In attempting to govern the rebellious Scots nobility she faced an unenviable challenge.
Mary’s character and appearance
The Queen of Scots was considered a beauty by the standards of her own time, though not perhaps to the modern eye. She had her father’s dark auburn hair and aquiline nose along with dark, captivating, slanting eyes in a beguiling heart shaped face and the height and build of her Guise mother. She was described by a contemporary as having “withal an alluring grace, a pretty Scotch accent, and a searching wit clouded with mildness. Fame might move some to relieve her, and glory join with gain might stir others to adventure more for her sake”
Her appeal seems to have been in her considerable personal charm to the opposite sex. She had inherited her father’s tendency to nervous collapse at times of stress.
HENRY STUART, LORD DARNLEY
It was expected that the Queen would soon marry and produce a male heir to Scotland’s throne. As a Queen Regnant, she was one of the greatest prizes in the marriage market of Europe. Elizabeth I of England, who wanted influence in the matter of Mary’s marriage in return for recognition as heiress to the English throne, offered her own favourite, Robert Dudley, rumoured to be her lover. Mary, who perceived this offer as an insult, indignantly refused it.
She considered Don Carlos as a possible husband, the highly inbred and half-witted heir to Elizabeth I’s rival, Phillip II of Spain, before deciding on her handsome cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Tall, fair-haired and clean-shaven, Darnley, described by a contemporary as ‘lady-faced’, was the son of Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox and Lady Margaret Douglas. herself the daughter of Margaret Tudor by her second marriage to Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, therefore himself possessing a claim to the English throne.
Darnley had been brought up in England and was accordingly regarded as one of Elizabeth’s subjects. Mary seems to have been smitten by him and impulsively rushed into a marriage at Holyrood on 29th July,1568. On hearing the news, the furious English Queen, who had expressly forbidden their union, venomously imprisoned Darnley’s mother, Lady Margaret, in the Tower of London.
Mary’s marriage to Henry Stuart proved to be a disastrous one. Arrogant, dissolute, self-seeking and a drunkard who demanded power, Darnley was soon to make Mary repent her impulsive choice. Mary came to regard her foolish husband as an embarrassment and spent much time with her favourite Italian musician, David Rizzio. Rumour swept through the Scottish court that Rizzio was the Queen’s lover and driven by jealousy, Darnley burst into the Queen’s apartments with Lord Ruthven and others of the Scots lords, clad in armour. Rizzio was stabbed brutally many times, while he tried to cling to the Queen’s skirts for protection. Mary was heavily pregnant at the time. She was never to forgive her husband this outrage and grew to regard him with an intense loathing.
In June, 1566, at Edinburgh Castle. a son was born of this tempestuous union, named James Charles. The child was born with a fine caul, like a veil over his face, which was part of the amniotic sac.
Darnley coldly cast aspersions on his son’s legitimacy, heightening the Queen’s resentment of her husband. Elizabeth I, although reported to be secretly depressed at the news of his birth, stood as god-mother by proxy to the Scottish Prince at his baptism.