Queen of Scotland

Born: 7 Dec 1542, Linlithgow Palace, Scotland

Acceded: 9 Sep 1543, Stirling Castle

Died: 8 Feb 1587, Fotheringhay Castle, Northampton

Interred: 1612, Westminster Abbey, London, England

Father: JAMES V STUART (King of Scotland)

Mother: Mary De GUISE

Married 1: FRANCOIS II De VALOIS (King of France) 24 Apr 1558, Notre Dame, Paris, France

Married 2: Henry STUART (B. Darnley) 29 Jul 1565, Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, Scotland


1. JAMES I STUART (King of Great Britain)

Married 3: James HEPBURN (4° E. Bothwell) 15 May 1567, Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, Scotland


2. Twin HEPBURN (b. Jul 1568 - d. Jul 1568)

3. Twin HEPBURN (b. Jul 1568 - d. Jul 1568)

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Mary at about the time of her marriage to the French heir
Painted by an unknown artist

Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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James V of Scotland

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Marie De Guise

Queen of Scots, famous for her beauty and wit, her crimes and her fate, born at Linlithgow Palace on 7 Dec 1542, was daughter of James V, King of Scotland, and succeeded her father eight days after her birth. In the following year she was crowned by Archbishop Beaton, and before she was six years old she was sent to the court of France. From her infancy, Scotland's rival pro-English and pro-French factions plotted to gain control of Mary. Her French mother, Marie de Guise, was chosen as regent, and she sent Mary to France in 1548.

On leaving Dumbarton, Sieur de Brézé was entrusted with the five-year old Mary until she would be handed over to Henri II, the King of France. Also on board were James, John and Robert, three of Mary's father's illegitimate children, and her four Maries. Lords Erskine and Livingston, Mary's guardians were also of the party. After a turbulent journey during which all but Mary were seasick, especially Lady Fleming who, in vain, begged to be brought to shore, the fleet reached the port of Roscoff in Brittany. She continued the journey on horseback and boarded a barge at Nantes which took her up the Loire River through Anjou and Touraine. At Tours she was greeted by her grand-parents, Claude and Antoinette, the Duke and Duchess of Guise. Antoinette, who was not overly impressed by Mary's companions, immediately took over the education of her pretty grand-daughter.

Mary lived as part of the French royal family. In Apr 1558 she married Francois, then dauphin, the son of the French King. She secretly agreed to bequeath Scotland to France if she should die without a son. In Jul 1559 Francois succeeded his father and Mary became Queen of France as well as of Scotland. In addition, many Roman Catholics recognised Mary Stuart as Queen of England after Mary I died and the Protestant Elizabeth I succeeded her to the throne in Nov 1558.

It was Marie de Guise who effectively ruled Scotland as Regent for Queen Mary. Marie always consulted with her two powerful brothers in France - Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, and Francois, Duke of Guise, both of whom held government positions - so that Scotland and France worked as allies in dealing with other nations.

Antoinnette De Guise

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Francois II, King of France

Marie's regency was threatened, however, by the growing influence of the Scottish Protestants, supported secretly by Elizabeth I of England, and was effectively deposed on religious grounds. When Marie died in Jun 10 or 11, 1560 at Edinburgh Castle, her body was taken back to France and interred at the church in the Convent of Saint-Pierre in Reims, where Marie's sister Renée was the abbess.

In Jun 1560 James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, the man who would later become Mary's third husband, brought her the sad news of the death of her beloved mother in Scotland following a long illness. Once Mary had heard of her mother’s death, she immediately collapsed with grief and an unbelievable sadness. Francois’s death actually came after Mary’s mother, and once Francois had died, his mother, Catherine d’Medici, took over the government of France and it was then that Mary became an insignificant widow. It seemed like her only relation left was her half brother James Stuart (later to become the Earl of Moray). James visited France and asked Mary to come back to Scotland. It seemed like there was no point any more for Mary to stay in France, so she agreed to go even though she didn’t really want to go back. During her absence John Knox had preached, and the Reformation had been established. When Mary landed at Leith on 19 Aug 1561, after a long sailing from Calais, France, no crowds gathered to meet her even though she was the Queen. She arrived in a thick dark misty fog which was not the best omen she could have received. Mary and immediately took the advice of her half-brother and of William Maitland of Lethington, both moderates. Within days of her return, Knox was denouncing the Mass which she was attending in private in the Chapel of Holyroodhouse, and spewed his hatred from the pulpit of St Giles at every opportunity. Nothing which Mary said or did obtained his approval, but few of the Lords agreed with his outright condemnation. Mary subjected herself to five interviews with Knox, without positive outcome. She recognised the Reformed church and allowed it a modest endowment but not full establishment. The Protestant reformers were horrified because she had Mass in her own chapel, and the Roman Catholics were worried about her lack of zeal for their cause. For the next few years Mary tried to placate the Protestants and befriend Elizabeth while at the same time negotiating a Catholic marriage with Don Carlos, the son of Felipe II of Spain.

David Rizzio

After rejecting several proposals of marriage, she married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in 1565. Being excluded from any share of the government by the advice (as he suspected) of David Rizzio, an Italian musician, her favourite and secretary, the King, by the counsel and assistance of some of the principal nobility, suddenly surprised them together, and Rizzio was slain, in the Queen's presence, in 1566. An apparent reconciliation afterwards took place, a new favourite of the Queen appeared in the Earl of Bothwell, and in Feb 1567, Darnley, who had continued to reside separately from the Queen, was assassinated, and the house he occupied, called the Kirk of Field, near Edinburgh, was blown up with gunpowder. This murder was very imperfectly investigated; and in the month of May following, Mary wedded the Earl of Bothwell, who was openly accused as the murderer of the late King.

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Medal of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Lord Darnley

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Mary Queen of Scots by an unknown artist, c. 1620
Royal Collection, Windsor © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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Engraving of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Lord Darnley

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was born in 1535. His father, Patrick, passed on the title of Earl of Bothwell. Later, Mary would award him with the titles of Duke of Orkney, and Earl of Shetland. His parents were divorced when James was young, and he was raised by his uncle, the Bishop of Moray.

Bothwell and his family had long been supporters of the Stuarts. He had served as an advisor to Marie of Guise and had traveled many times to France to visit the young Queen while she was there. He carried a deep hatred for the English.

Bothwell's crest showed a bridled horse's head and neck. His motto was simply- "Keep Trust- Keep Faith".

Bothwell was considered to be a rake and rascal in his day. Contemporary descriptions describe him as of Viking stock, with a glint of red in his hair. Reportedly he had a small head, small ears, broad face, and blue eyes. He possessed a fair education, having studied in Paris. Bothwell, like Mary, wrote in a clear Italian hand. He was well-versed in French, collected books, and possessed a large library, which was very uncommon in Scotland. He was born to be a rebel. Tall, broad shouldered, with exceptional strength, he was skilled with both the broadsword and the rapier. He was an excellent sailor, and was true only to himself. His actions were pleasing to himself and he answered to none. He was an honest man, a man of his word, and possessed an excellent sense of humor. Men hated him because women loved him. Mary, Queen of Scots, died for him.

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Mary in mourning for Francois II
Painted by an known artist
Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II


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Earl of Bothwell
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell

Earl of Bothwell

In order to marry the Queen, Bothwell had to obtain a divorce from his wife, Jean Gordon, dau. of George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly. The divorce was granted because of "consanguinity". Apparently, one of Bothwell's ancestors had married a Gordon. To find this excuse, Bothwell's advisors had to go back three generations; Bothwell's great great grandmother was the ancestor in question. The scorned Jean Gordon agreed to the divorce, not on the grounds of consanguinity, but on her own terms. She charged Bothwell with adultery involving a servant girl by the name of Bessie Crawford. Jean's intention was to shame and embarrass Bothwell , but Bothwell being a brazen, arrogant character was completely unaffected by the exposure and the inevitable gossip that followed. His goal was marriage to the Queen and he challenged all that opposed it. Of course, his ultimate goal was to become King of Scotland.

Scotland soon became a scene of confusion and civil discord. Bothwell, a fugitive and an outlaw, took refuge in Denmark; and Mary, made a captive, was committed to custody in the castle of Loch Leven. After some months' confinement she effected her escape, and, assisted by the few friends who still remained attached to her, made an effort for the recovery of her power. She was opposed by the Earl of Moray, the natural son of James V, who had obtained the regency in the minority of her son.

After Bothwell and Mary conceded the Battle at Carberry Hill, Bothwell was promised his freedom, however he was seized as he left Scotland, and forced into inhuman conditions in a Danish prison where he would remain until his death eleven years later. During his captivity, he had been tortured beyond endurance, beaten, and kept imprisoned in a hole below ground with no daylight. At the time of his death, he was reportedly no longer recognizable as a human being from being chained, naked, in his own waste for years. Bothwell first found escape in insanity, then death.

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Inside Tutbury Castle

Thanks to Patricia Turner for this image!

The Queen was compelled by her bastard brother, the Regent Moray, to sign a formal resignation of the crown to her son James. She escaped and fought the battle of Langside 13 May 1568. The battle of Langside insured the triumph of her enemies; and, to avoid falling again into their power, she fled to England, and sought the protection of Queen Elizabeth; a step which created a very serious embarrassment for Elizabeth and her ministers. For eighteen years Mary was detained as a state prisoner; and, during the whole of that time, she was recognised as the head of the Popish party, who wished to see a princess of their faith on the throne of England.

Mary was anxious to continue negotiations with Elizabeth and thought that it would please her if she were to marry one of her subjects. The first candidate was Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Although they never actually met, the courtship took place by correspondence and gifts such as a diamond ring from Norfolk and an embroidered pillow from Mary. Far from being pleased with this arrangement, Elizabeth condemned it as plotting against her and locked up Norfolk in the Tower of London. As for Mary, she was sent back to Tutbury, and was denied the pleasure of sending or receiving outside messages.

In Jun 1569 Sir John Zouche was appointed to assist George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, who was ill, in his custody of Mary Queen of Scots at South Wingfield. Things worsened even further with the Northern Rising of Nov during which Mary was hastily transferred to Coventry away from the rebels. This was the beginning of a series of plots against the English Protestant crown carried out in Mary's. In May 1570, Mary was once more taken to Chatsworth and by Aug Norfolk was released from the Tower and became involved in the Ridolfi Plot. Elizabeth had started the process of restoring Mary to the Scottish throne but was dragging her feet as much as possible. Among the conditions imposed were those of Mary's son James to be brought to England as hostage. This alliance never did come to anything. The main instigators of the Ridolfi Plot were Mary's Ambassador in England, Leslie. Bishop of Ross, and an Italian banker Roberto Ridolfi.

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Meanwhile, Mary was alternatively shifted between Sheffield and Chatsworth, her health continuing to deteriorate due to inactivity and confinement. In Aug 1573 she was at long last granted a five week stay at Buxton baths to take the waters there. In Scotland, Morton had succeeded Mary's murdered half-brother the Earl of Moray and in turn been executed for his part in the Darnley murder. On his side, Mary's son had decided to ignore his mother's plea and suggestion to rule jointly, and preferred an alliance with Elizabeth which would leave him sole ruler of Scotland. Mary's correspondence to Elizabeth had still not brought about hopes of release or a meeting between the two Queens. Fear of further Catholic uprising prompted the English Parliament to pass an Act making it punishable by death to plot against the Queen. The task of controlling the Catholic rebels was handed over to Sir Francis Walsingham.

In 1583 he set up the Throckmorton Plot in the hope that Mary would join in and compromise herself. But it was with the Babington Plot that Walsingham finally obtained the desired result.

Taking advantage of the foreign and domestic threats against Elizabeth, Mary utilized two agents, Thomas Morgan and Charles Paget, to represent her case to Spain, France and the English Catholics in exile. Indeed, the intrigues of Morgan, Paget and still other agents on behalf of Mary gave birth to the Ridolfi plot (1571), the Don John plot (1577) and the Throckmorton plot (1583). Yet, despite Mary’s obvious connection to these plots and despite the urgings of her Privy Council and parliament, Elizabeth did not bring Mary to trial nor condemn her to the executioner’s axe for her complicity. Elizabeth believed that Mary was an anointed sovereign and that no suitable precedent existed to sanction her execution.

At Tutbury Mary was given a new jailer, Sir Amyas Paulet, a puritan who, unlike the others, was unmoved by Mary's charm or illnesses. He cut off all her correspondence, stopped her from any outdoor activities and denied her every distraction. Eventually her health got so bad that she had to be moved to Chartley Hall. When summoned to repent her sins by Paulet she shocked him with the obstinacy of her reply: "As a sinner I am truly conscious of having often offended my Creator, and I beg Him to forgive me, but as Queen and Sovereign, I am aware of no fault or offence for which I have to render account to anyone here below... As therefore I could not offend, I do not wish for pardon; I do not seek, nor would I accept it from anyone living".

Mary soon received his "secret" correspondence and hopes of escape were once again revived by Sir Anthony Babington, a young Catholic idealist.

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Drawing of Mary
by Clouet

Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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Mary by a follower of Clouet
National Trust

Unfortunately, one of Babington's letters mentioned the ambiguous removal of Queen Elizabeth. Prompted by the bitter disappointment of those long years of illegal imprisonment and her son's betrayal, she replied to Babington approving his plans. With relish, Walsingham drew the sign of the gallows on this last letter. Babington was arrested and executed. Mary's secretaries Nau and Curle who had been in charge of the coding were also arrested and confessed. Mary was arrested and sent to Tixall.

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Mary and her son James VI
Dated 1583

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Mary was tried at Fotheringhay Castle on 14 and 15 Oct 1586. The proceedings were unprecedented and illegal. Never before had a judicial court tried the crowned head of another country. Mary at first refused to attend the trial on the grounds that an English court had no jurisdiction over her. But when she was assured that she would be allowed to have recorded a protest to that effect, she said that she would condescend to attend the trial so as to clear her name of the charge of plotting to kill Elizabeth. This suggests her innocence, for she must have suspected that her letter to Babington had been intercepted; she obviously did not expect to be confronted with anything incriminating in the letter, or else she could have continued to stand on her royal dignity and to refuse to attend the trial.

At her trial Mary admitted that she had plotted to escape but denied a number of times seeking or consenting to the death of Elizabeth. She demanded to see first hand evidence of her complicity in the proposed assassination; the presence and testimony of her secretaries, and her notes for her letter to Babington. No first hand evidence was produced. Nevertheless the verdict was a foregone conclusion. When the commissioners reconvened nine days later at the Star Chamber in Westminster they returned a verdict of guilty, with only one commissioner, Lord Zouche, declaring himself dissatisfied with the evidence.

She was condemned, and executed, 8 Feb 1587, in the castle of Fotheringay, where she had been long confined. Her body was interred, with great pomp, in Peterborough Cathedral, but subsequently removed by her son, James I, to Henry the Seventh's Chapel, Westminster Abbey, where a magnificent monument was erected to her memory.

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Mary c.1578 by Nicholas Hilliard
Mount added in the late 17th century

Victoria and Albert Museum

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The beautiful tomb of Mary Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey
She had originally been buried at Peterborough Cathedral after her execution,
but was re-interred at Westminster by her son, King James VI/I

Photo © Pitkin Guides

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A drawing of Mary's execution by a Dutch artist
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

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The character and conduct of Mary, Queen of Scots, have been made the subject of much controversy; the popular view, both in Scotland and England, making her the ‘unfortunate Mary’, almost a suffering saint; sentimentally brooding over her calamities and refusing to admit her crimes and follies Mr Froude, who has told her story once more in the third volume of his 'History of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth' has made this view no longer tenable. The verdict of Mr. Burton in his new ‘History of Scotland’ (1867) is no less severe and decisive. Among other recent Memoirs of Mary may be named those of Mignet Lamartine, Miss Strickland, and A. M'Neel Caird. The celebrated Fraser Tytler Portrait of this Queen has been purchased for the National Collection. A very fine portrait by Clouet is in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court.

It is unfortunate that Mary did not have access to a strong criminal defense lawyer like we have today. A Dayton criminal lawyer would have made sure that evidence of her innocence was presented during the trial. If the crowned head of another country could be subject to such a show trial, it is likely there were many commoners in the 16th century who did not have adequate legal representation.

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