Heritage
Everything You Need to Know About the Tragic Life of Mary, Queen of Scots
Her Tudor connection might have been her greatest downfall.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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Mary, Queen of Scots was made queen when she was only six days old.


The only daughter of King James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary Guise, she took the throne only six days after her birth when her father died. Her mother reigned as regent in her stead. Mary’s uncle King Henry VIII of England—the same Henry VIII that took six wives—initially sought power over the Scottish throne but the regency preferred Mary Guise.

Strain over her engagement to her uncle Henry VIII’s son caused a raid.

Mary’s ascension became an opportunity to unite the kingdoms of England and Scotland through her potential marriage to Henry VIII’s heir, Prince Edward. As per the treaty of Greenwich in July 1543, Mary was to be betrothed before she turned 10. The treaty was rejected by Scottish parliament and distraught, Henry VIII launched an attack on the southeast border, which is known as the “Rough Wooing.” The Scottish government shadily responded by agreeing to the treaty of Haddington, which promised Mary’s hand in marriage to the Dauphin of France.

Although Queen of Scotland, she grew up in France and was briefly queen.


Mary around the age of 13

With Mary set to unite her kingdom with France, she was taken to France in 1548 and was raised at the court of Henry II and Catherine de Medici. Mary’s education consisted of Latin, Italian, Spanish, and Greek language classes. Naturally, she spoke French foremost. She grew to have a slender figure, with red-gold locks, and amber-colored eyes.


King Francis II of France and his wife, Mary, Queen of France and Queen of Scotland

Ten years later, she married the French heir, Francis, whom she had grown fond of. Henry II of France died in 1559, which brought Francis to the throne. Unfortunately, he died of an ear infection a year later, making Mary a widow at age 18.

She was married three times.

After Francis’ death, Mary returned to Scotland. She ruled the Protestant country moderately. In 1565, she married her cousin, Henry Stewart, the Earl of Darnley. A son, James, was born to them a year later. Their marriage was not a loving one. In fact, Mary considered a divorce from Henry during the time she fell ill. In February 1567, an explosion hit the Edinburgh area, close to Henry’s residence. Speculation that he was murdered sprung from the fact that his strangled body was discovered outside the blast, and it seemed like he had escaped but was then assassinated.  

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Mary and her husband, Henry Stewart, Earl of Darnley.

Three months after Henry Stewart’s death, Mary married her adviser James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, with whom she had a close relationship during the deterioration of her marriage to Stewart. He had also become a chief suspect in the murder of Stewart, which caused the Scottish nobility to doubt her rule even more. On Carberry Hill on June 15, 1567, the pair was parted—he was to be exiled and incarcerated, while she was brought to the island of Loch Leven to be imprisoned. Her one-year-old son was made king, while her brother, the Earl of Moray, became his regent.


Queen Mary painted alongside her son, James VI.

Mary had claim to the British throne.

Mary later sought refuge in England but her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I had reason to fear her presence.  Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth Tudor took the throne in 1558. Since many of the Roman Catholic subjects questioned the validity of Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, they also saw her reign as illegitimate. A great-grandchild of Henry VII, Mary was a descendant of the Tudor line so she had reason to take the English throne. A Catholic, Mary was also a more favorable choice for the English people, compared to the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. Knowing this, Elizabeth dug up grounds for Mary’s imprisonment, linking her to her husband’s murder.


A portrait of Mary painted during her captivity. These were known as "Sheffield portraits."

Mary was a prisoner of England for 18 years before her execution.

Mary sought freedom, but many factors were against her. Assassination attempts against Queen Elizabeth pointed to Mary, although she likely was innocent.

Finally, Mary’s correspondence with Anthony Babington, who planned to murder Elizabeth, was intercepted and this served as Elizabeth’s evidence to have her tried for treason and condemned. Mary's son, James, had set his sights on the English throne and had little reason to object to his mother’s death. She was executed in 1587 at the age of 44. Her son took the throne after Elizabeth Tudor. He later ordered his mother’s body exhumed from the Peterborough Cathedral and transferred to King Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.


A copy of Queen Mary's tomb displayed in the National Museum of Scotland.

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Hannah Lazatin
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