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Inside the Royal Rivalry Between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots

Historically, the two queens had actually never met.
IMAGE PUBLIC DOMAIN/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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There’s been much buzz about the upcoming star-studded film adaptation of John Guy’s My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots. Here, we set the facts straight about the feud between royal cousins (once removed) Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Elizabeth I and Mary both descended from Henry VII, the King of England and Lord of Ireland who ruled from August 1485 to April 1509. His daughter, Margaret, went to Scotland to marry James IV and she went on to have a son, James V who would be the father of Mary Stuart. Henry VII’s other son, Henry VIII, married Anne Boleyn and had Elizabeth I.  

WHO WAS ELIZABETH I?


Born in 1533, Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. As a young girl, Elizabeth had a troubled childhood that started with the execution of her mother.

This changed her life completely, starting with her being declared illegitimate. During this time, Henry VIII made drastic measures, including changing the nation’s religion and ultimately starting the Protestant Reformation.

Elizabeth was often neglected and, at one point, her nanny had to write to her father to give her proper clothes. This all changed, however, when Queen Mary, the first daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Catharine of Aragorn, failed to produce an heir and subsequently died. Elizabeth took the throne, reinstated the Church of England, while declaring that she didn’t want to make "windows into men's souls."

WHO WAS MARY STUART?


Mary was the only legitimate child of James V and his French second wife, Mary of Guise. She was crowned while she was nine months old after her father died just days after she was born.

At 15, Mary married the Dauphin of France, Francis II. A year after, the king of France, Henry II, died in an accident which led to Francis and Mary ascending the throne as king and queen. The young couple's reign, however, did not last long. In November 1506, Francis collapsed after suffering a syncopal episode. He died at 16 years old, after just 17 months on the throne.

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After her husband’s death, Mary returned to Scotland, ultimately setting in motion her eventual abdication as queen of Scotland and death.

ELIZABETH AND MARY WERE FRIENDLY IN THEIR YOUTH.

Though the two corresponded, historically, they had really never met. Their communication stopped at letters, and from time to time, they communicated through their envoys. The relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots was, simply put, complicated. In their youth, the two shared a correspondence and had several similarities. They were very friendly up until the death of Henry VIII, when they both grew up to assume their duties.

Elizabeth was threatened by Mary as she held a strong claim to her throne. She once stated, "If it became certainly known in the world who should succeed me. I would never think myself in sufficient security." The cousins also discussed personal relationships with men which ended in disagreement: Elizabeth offered her favorite Robert Dudley to Mary as a suitable partner and Elizabeth warned Mary about her relationship with James Hepburn.

THEIR FEUD WAS EXPLOITED BY THOSE AROUND THEM.

The beginning of their rift started with the difference in their religion: Elizabeth was Protestant and Mary was Roman Catholic, and the latter sought to restore England to Catholicism.

As they grew up, more of their differences came to be revealed: Protestant and Catholic, Tudor and Stuart, English and Scottish. Several circumstances furthered the conflict, notably when English politician Sir Thomas Wyatt started a rebellion against Elizabeth’s reign. She, in turn, had reason to believe that Wyatt’s rebellion was backed by Mary, leading her to be imprisoned.

The final straw, however, was the Babington Plot: A plot to assassinate Elizabeth that had evidence that implicated Mary. All these events led to Elizabeth reluctantly ordering Mary’s execution at Fotheringhay Castle. In a final letter to Mary, Elizabeth wrote:

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You have in various ways and manners attempted to take my life and bring my kingdom to destruction by bloodshed. I have never proceeded so harshly against you... It is my will, that you answer the nobles and peers of the kingdom as if I myself were present. I therefore require, charge, and command you make answer for all I have been well informed of your arrogance.

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Paolo Chua
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