Mary Queen of Scots was a tragic figure and no mistake; but it was ironically compounded by her stunning beauty. She is one of the most famous of Scotland’s historical figures, and despite her tragedy, her life and legacy would be one of immense importance for the future of many nations.
Born at Linlithgow Palace in 1542 she was the only legitimate child of James V and his wife Marie de Guise, and when he died six days after her birth she ascended the throne as Scotland’s Queen. Her uncle, the wife-slaughtering English king, Henry VIII, was keen that the infant should marry his own young son; and while initially warm to the idea, the Scots soon rejected the conditions that came with the union, and Mary was hidden away for her own safety as Henry invaded in a period known as the ‘Rough Wooing’. The regency (reins of power) fell to Mary’s mother who brought in the French to boot the occupying English army out, and the five year old queen was shipped toFranceas part of the bargain.
While Marie de Guise ruled the roost at home, her 15 year old daughter was married to the French Dauphin, Francis, and a year later when her father in law (the king) was accidently killed in a joust she attained the position of Queen Consort of France. A French union looked inevitable, but the house of cards was about to tumble around the hapless queen.
Francis II died in early 1560, followed by her mother a few months later, and rather unexpectedly Mary left the French court and came back to Scotland with the intention of picking up her mother’s rule. However, the political situation in Scotland was perilous for the teenage monarch –Scotland had officially gone through the Reformation led by the firebrand John Knox, and the Protestant lords were vying for power in the vacuum left by Marie de Guise. As a devout Catholic, Mary was in trouble from the very start – a situation not helped by the Machiavellian machinations of her half brother the Earl of Moray, or the diatribe spat at her by the arch anti-Catholic, Knox.
To try and strengthen her position Mary married her cousin, the handsome Lord Darnley. As much as Mary fell in love with him, it soon became apparent that this repulsive creature, full of arrogance, jealousy, idiocy and pride was more of a liability than help. After this loathsome drunk had murdered her secretary David Rizzio, a conspiracy built around him. Mary buried the hatchet briefly with her nobles (who hated Darlney even more than her), and one night, in mysterious circumstances still unknown, Darnley was murdered. There was a mock trial, quickly annulled by the queen. The main suspect was the unpopular Lord Bothwell.
Bothwell and the queen were having an affair, so following the trial’s collapse he asked her to marry him. She refused, so he kidnapped her and forced her to marry him. This was the breaking point, Mary was now seen as a loose cannon, and was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castlenorth of Edinburgh, and forced to abdicate in favour of her six month old son, James. She escaped, raised an army and was defeated by the Protestants at the Battle of Langside. With no options left, Mary fled toEngland and the mercy of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth was having none of it – Mary was heir to her throne, and the Catholic champion for it, she was a threat. The minute she arrived into England she was arrested and imprisoned. Protestant Elizabeth had already helped the Scots reformers, and now she recognised their Protestant baby king, James VI; a move that would eventually lead to union. Mary would languish under house-arrest in various castles for the next 19 years, until the plug was finally pulled. Although Elizabeth had no desire to execute her cousin, a fellow anointed monarch (it would set a dangerous precedent), her advisers, who forever suspicious of Mary’s designs on the English throne, finally wrapped her in a web of lies, deceit and conspiracy and Elizabeth was left with no option. In 1587 at Fotheringay Castle, Mary Queen of Scots had her head chopped off.
Before doing it,Elizabeth had wanted to gauge the mood of the Scottish king, James, towards his mother’s execution. Having never known his mother, and only too aware he was Elizabeth’s heir, he realised his silence was the price he’d pay for the English throne. He did nothing.
On the 24th of March 1603, Elizabeth of England died. The messengers were sent post haste to Edinburgh to offer the Scottish king the English crown – he accepted. The circle had been squared. Mary’s legacy was the fact she bore a son, whichElizabeth was unable to, and this son would fulfil her dream of sitting on the throne of England. With this union, James renamed his new country,Great Britain, and the fate of all nations would never be the same again.