Mary Stewart Becomes Mary, Queen of Scots, at a Week Old
When Princess Mary Stewart was just one week old, she found herself the Queen of Scotland. It was December 14, 1542 that Mary’s father, James V of Scotland, died on the battlefield. She would hold her reign for 25 years when she would choose to abdicate in favour of her son, James VI of Scotland. However, it would not stop her wish to become Queen of England after her cousin, Elizabeth I.
The Early Life of Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary was born to Mary of Guise and James V of Scotland on December 8, 1542. She was the king’s only legitimate child, which meant that she was heir presumptive to the throne. Just six days later, her father died while fighting yet another war with England, and she would become Queen of Scotland. Incidentally, her grandfather also died on the battlefield fighting against England when her father was an infant.
She had a direct claim to the English throne, something that would become a major factor in her execution in 1587. She was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England through Margaret Tudor. However, Henry VIII made it clear after his death that the Scottish line was to be looked over. If his children didn’t have children of their own, the crown would pass to the descendents of his younger sister, Mary. It was after the fiasco with Lady Jane Grey that the Scottish line were favoured for the line of succession after Henry VIII’s children.
Rumours spread around the country that she was a weak and frail baby; not the type of baby for the Queen of the country. Those rumours were dispelled when Ralph Sadler, and English diplomat, visited her in 1543 at Linlithgow Palace and confirmed that she was healthy and likely to live.
The Early Reign of Scotland
Considering she was a week old, her regency was passed into the hands of protectors of the realm. However, this was not easy task. There were two claims to the throne, from both the Protestant and Catholic sides. The now first in line to the throne, Earl of Arran, claimed that he was the regent. However, Cardinal Beaton, a catholic, claimed that that right was his, according to James V’s will. Opponents decided that the will was fake, and the regency went to the protestant earl.
Arran only held the regency for two years. Eventually Mary of Guise removed him and took control of her daughter’s affair.
In 1543, Henry VIII saw an opportunity to join the two realms together. He proposed a union between the Scottish queen and his son, Prince Edward. Mary was just six months old when she found herself betrothed to the young prince, with the signing of the Treaty of Greenwich on July 1 of that year. The treaty was very clear that the countries would only join temporarily, unless the couple had children. Should the marriage remain childless, the two countries would have their own monarchies.
The treaty didn’t last for long when Cardinal Beaton tried to gain the regency back, and pushed his pro-French Catholic ways. Henry, by this point, was deep into the religious reformation and disagreed with the direction, breaking the union. The treaty was finally rejected by the Scottish parliament in December of that year, due to Henry arresting a number of Scottish merchants leaving for France.
Betrothal to a French Prince
On September 10, 1547, Mary’s life was feared to be in danger. The Scots suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh and they had to turn to the French for help. The French finally made it to Scotland in June 1548, but there was a lot of devastation due to the English. The next month, the Scottish parliament agreed on a betrothal for Mary, Queen of Scots. She would marry King Henry II of France’s son, Francis.
Mary moved to France for her own protection when she was five-years-old, and was raised in the Catholic French court. Her two half-brothers—both illegitimate—moved with her, along with the ladies known as the “four Marys”. These girls were around the same age as Mary, Queen of Scots, and were the daughters of some of the noblest families in the country. Lady Fleming left with Mary to be the governess.
The only person Mary found that she could not impress was Catherine di’Medici, the Queen Consort of France. However, she proved herself to be intelligent, while being beautiful. She had a complexion and hair colour commonly thought of as Scottish—a long neck, pale complexion, and auburn hair. However, she was tall—much taller than her husband, but that did not seem to matter.
While she was in France, Mary signed an agreement in secret. It said that should she die without issue, the Scottish and claim to the English thrones would pass into French hands. This was in 1558, when Mary was 16, and she married her betrothed 20 days later. Luckily for Scotland and England Francis died before Mary. Henry II died suddenly after a jousting accident on July 10, 1559, and Francis died due to an abscess on his brain after a middle ear infection on December 5, 1560.
The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots Returns to Scotland
Mary was very close to both her husband and father-in-law and the death of the two of them, so close to each other, was difficult. She soon returned to Scotland to find that her home was in the middle of a troublesome political situation. It was in the middle of the religious reformation. While she had been raised a Catholic, she realised that the best thing to do was allow the reformation to happen. However, she was watched with suspicion by a number of nobles, along with her English cousin, Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was now Queen of England, and was trying to repair England after the constant moves between the Protestant and Catholic religions over the last 10 years.
While mourning, Mary met another cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He was the grandchild of Margaret Tudor and Archibald Douglas, making them directly related and both with strong claims to the English throne. It was the perfect match to gain English power, but not a supported match by the Scottish parliament. However, Mary, Queen of Scots choose to marry for love on July 29, 1565.
The couple had one child together, who would later become James VI of Scotland and James I of England. He would be a year old when Mary, Queen of Scots chose to abdicate on July 24, 1567 following the questionable death of his father. After her abdication and then her third marriage, Mary fled Scotland for England. She hoped Queen Elizabeth would give her the protection she asked for. However, Elizabeth was suspicious of her Scottish cousin and chose to imprison her.
Mary, Queen of Scots spent almost 20 years in various prisons before she was executed. She was found guilty of treason after believing Sir Francis Walsingham was smuggling letters out for her. Walsingham was actually one of Elizabeth’s secretaries and set up the plot to ensure she would be caught in the act. She was executed on February 8, 1587.