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Mary, Queen of Scots - The Most Unfortunate of Queens Who Could Have Claimed Three Kingdoms (Part I)

Updated on April 5, 2014

Mary, Queen of Scots in Royal Splendor

Mary, Queen of Scots in an official portrait circa 1561-67.
Mary, Queen of Scots in an official portrait circa 1561-67.

The Historical and Politic Climate at the Time of Her Birth

People born into the political limelight do not merely influence the historical stage, they are acted upon by it. Such is very much the case with Mary, Queen of Scots who was born at Linlithgow Palace in Scotland on December 7th or 8th, 1542 the daughter and only child of King James V and his wife Mary of Guise. She would become Queen of Scotland six days after her birth when her father died.

Several of the circumstances which would have a strong impact on how she would live out her forty-four years included:

  • the impact of inheriting the Crown of Scotland as a baby. Scotland had an unfortunate history of having minor children inherit the kingdom. The number of regencies in the 13th and 14th centuries numbered seven. If fact Mary's father, James V was only 17 months old when he inherited the crown. The nobles of Scotland vied for the position of regent in many of these cases. The nobleman or noblewoman who held the title got very used to wielding the full authority of their sovereign during the ruler's minority. Mary would experience difficulty with the Scottish nobility when she came of age
  • her relationship to the Tudor ruling house of England. Mary was the great-granddaughter of King Henry VII of England and his wife Elizabeth of York, whose marriage had ended a disastrous period of conflict known as the War of the Roses. By her relationship to the Tudors she had a legitimate claim to the English crown over that of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I, who for many was considered an illegitimate child of King Henry VIII.
  • the political climate of her time. In politics, England and Scotland had battled for years. To offset England's desire to annex Scotland lay the Scottish treaty with France. Mary's mother was French and Mary spent her childhood in France, becoming (for however briefly) Queen of France when she married, Francis I. Added to the politics of Scotland, France, and England one has to add the then world power, Spain, and the dominant role it played in European continental affairs.
  • the religious climate of her time. The Renaissance brought Enlightenment and new thoughts. Printed books created the vehicle for the spread of new ideas and in religion brought about the Protestant Reformation. Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, had adopted the Protestant faith. Mary was a Catholic. The Catholic opinion in Europe at the time was Elizabeth was not legitimate because her father's marriage to Anne Boleyn was not a legal one in the eyes of the Church. Both monarchs tread a delicate path in the religious turmoil of the time, they sought the practical way to reign peacefully by personally considering religion a private matter.

Mary's Childhood and First Marriage

There was an immediate conflict for the regency. On one side there was the Catholic Cardinal, David Beaton and on the Protestant side, James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault better known by his title as Earl of Arran. Hamilton succeeded and remained regent until he was ousted by Mary's mother, Mary of Guise in 1554.

As early as when Mary was six months old a proposal of marriage which came as part of a treaty between England and Scotland was that Mary would marry the son of Henry VIII, Edward VI. This intended alliance would never take place, Edward and Mary having been born in the same year and Edward's dying at age fifteen.

Due to the political climate in Scotland and court intrigues, Mary of Guise sought to send her daughter to her grandmother in France. This would take more than four years for Mary to arrive there (1548) . This move came about because the French king, Henry II, proposed to unite France and Scotland by marrying Mary to his three-year-old son, the Dauphin Francis on the promise of French military help against England. Mary's next twelve years would be spent growing up with the French nobility. With the death of Henry II in July 1559, the Dauphin Francis, became King Francis I with his Queen consort, Mary. Francis who was not physically well developed died in December 1560 leaving his widow Mary as Dowager Queen of France who would return to her native Scotland in August 1561.

Queen Mary and King Francis II of France

Mary's first husband was Francis II of France. Francis became King of France in 1559 and died in December 1560.
Mary's first husband was Francis II of France. Francis became King of France in 1559 and died in December 1560.

Asserting Her English Claims and Second Marriage

Mary sent an ambassador to the English court to put the case for Mary as the heir presumptive to the English throne. Her cousin, Elizabeth refused to name anyone as a potential heir, fearing that to do so would invite conspiracy to overthrow her reign. She did assure the Scottish ambassador that she knew no one with a better claim than Mary. In late 1561 and early 1562, arrangements were made for the two queens to meet in England. This meeting however never took place.

Her duty to her country was to find a husband and bear children. Her attempts (and those of others with a political interest in Scotland) to find a suitable husband among the European nobility bogged down.

Mary had briefly met her English-born first cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in February 1561. They would meet again in February 1565 at which time the still unmarried Mary fell in love. She was a tall woman by anyone's standard, but particularly so by 16th century height, at 5 feet 11 inches tall and Darnley was well over 6 feet tall. The marriage was not well received either in Scotland nor in England. The Scottish saw this marriage of two Catholics as a threat to the Protestant cause. Elizabeth I, saw it as a threat since both were related by blood to the succession to the English throne. She saw it as an affront to her as Queen (Darnley being an English subject) and family member that she had not been consulted before the marriage took place on July 29, 1565.


Mary, Queen of Scots With Her Second Husband, James Stuart, Lord Darnley

Mary and second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, parents of King James VI of Scotland,  later King James I of England.
Mary and second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, parents of King James VI of Scotland, later King James I of England.

Married Life Turns Unhappy

Not long after the wedding, problems arose for the young couple. Mary was merely 23 years of age at the time of this second marriage. and Henry, Lord Darnley was only 20. Darnley was unhappy with his position as king consort. He grew arrogant and wanted to be named King Matrimonial, which would have made him co-sovereign with Mary. Mary refused and tensions mounted between the two. They did however conceive a child in October 1565.

Darnley was however becoming bolder and was involved in an intrigue against Mary, known as the Chaseabout Raid in March 1566. On March 9th, 1566, in front of Mary at a dinner party, Darnley with a group of conspirators murdered Mary's secretary, David Rizzio, whom Darnley had become jealous of. He was quick to change sides however. On the night of March 11-12 he and Mary escaped the palace.

Mary's son by Darnley, James (who would become James VI of Scotland and James I of England) was born in June 1566 in Edinburg Castle. Her marriage was for her over however. She would meet with a group of Scottish nobles in November 1566 to discuss the "problem of Darnley". Divorce was discussed but perhaps the nobles and Mary herself had other ideas.

We continue this narrative on Mary, Queen of Scots in "Mary, Queen of Scots - The Most Unfortunate of Queens Who Could Have Claimed Three Kingdoms (Part II)".


Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed for treason on February 8th, 1587. She had been imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth I of England from mid-May 1568.
Mary, Queen of Scots was executed for treason on February 8th, 1587. She had been imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth I of England from mid-May 1568.

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    • swilliams profile image

      Emunah La Paz 3 years ago from Arizona

      What an interesting article! 'She would become Queen of Scotland six days after her birth when her father died.' What a mission she had here on earth! Thank you for this intriguing article! Voted up!

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