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Mary, Queen of Scots

Queen of Scotland and France

Mary Stuart was born on December 8, 1542 in Scotland. She was the only child of Scottish king James V and his French wife, Marie of Guise. When Mary was just six days old, her father died, land the newborn baby became Scotland's queen.

When Mary was five years old, she was sent to France to be raised in the court of King Henry II. She received an excellent education and grew up to be a great beauty. She was unusually tall for a woman of her day (about 5'11"). At the age of 15, she married Henry II's sickly 14-year-old son Francis. Although it was an arranged marriage, the bride and groom genuinely liked each other.

In 1559, Mary's father-in-law died, and her husband became King Francis II. But Francis's reign was short. He died in December 1560, three days before Mary's 18th birthday.

The following year, Mary decided to return home to Scotland. At first she received a warm welcome from the Scottish people, but she was unprepared for the challenge of ruling her kingdom. Her greatest problem as queen was her religion. She was a devout Roman Catholic, and Scotland had become an officially Protestant country.

Mary and Lord Darnley

During the first years after her return to Scotland, Queen Mary enjoyed all the pleasures of royal life. She knew it was her duty to marry again and produce heirs, and at first she wanted to make a political marriage. Then, at the age of 22, the Queen of Scots fell in love with her 19-year-old cousin, the handsome and arrogant Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. They married in July of 1565.

By autumn Mary was pregnant, but already her marriage was troubled. Her husband drank heavily and cheated on her. As Mary drew away from him, he began to listen to unlikely gossip that she was having an affair with David Riccio (or Rizzio), her secretary.

On the evening of March 9, 1566, Mary was having supper at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh with friends, including Riccio. Lord Darnley unexpectedly showed up with a group of armed men. Riccio tried to hide behind Mary, but the men dragged him into another room and stabbed him to death. Queen Mary was now a prisoner of the murderers.

Her husband begged Mary to forgive him, and she pretended to do so. Darnley helped her escape. She raised an army and returned to Edinburgh.The rebellion was over. Most of the plotters fled to England, but Darnley stayed in Scotland. Mary now hated him.

Mary and Darnley's son, James, was born three months after Riccio's murder. On February 1, 1567, Darnley moved into a house at a place called Kirk o'Field, less than a mile from Holyrood Palace. At two o'clock in the morning on February 10, Darnley's house blew up, completely demolished by gunpowder. Darnley was dead. Yet, strangely, he had not been killed in the explosion. The king and one of his servants were found in a garden near the house. They had been strangled or suffocated.

Did this news come as a shock to Mary? Or had she been involved in the plot to murder her husband? The mystery remains unsolved.

Mary and Lord Bothwell

One of Mary's close advisors was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, an attractive -- and married -- Protestant nobleman. From the very start, he was the chief suspect in the Kirk o'Field plot. Later Mary's enemies claimed that she and Bothwell began an affair before Darnley's death and planned her husband's murder together. However, it is not known for certain if Mary ever had a voluntary relationship with Bothwell. In April, Bothwell was tried for the murder but acquitted. Not long after the trial, Bothwell asked the queen to marry him. Mary refused.

The queen's baby son, Prince James, was being raised apart from her, as was customary in royal families. On April 21, Mary visited James at Stirling Castle. She would never see him again. On April 24, as Mary and her small entourage rode back toward Edinburgh, they were stopped by Bothwell and 800 of his followers. Bothwell abducted Mary and took her to Dunbar Castle, where he raped her. According to the morals of the time, Mary was now almost obligated to marry him.

Bothwell's previous marriage was quickly annulled, and on May 15, 1567 -- just three months after Darnley's death -- he married the Queen of Scots in a Protestant ceremony.

Mary's marriage to Bothwell was even more unpopular than her marriage to Darnley had been. Scotland's nobles rose up in rebellion against the queen. The royal couple managed to raise a small army, but the Scottish people did not rally to their sides as they had hoped. On June 15, Mary, Bothwell, and their followers faced the larger rebel army at Carberry Hill, not far from Edinburgh. Realizing that their situation was hopeless, Mary agreed to surrender if they let Bothwell go.

Mary in Captivity

The queen was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle. Bothwell tried to organize support for her, but eventually he was forced to flee from Scotland. In order to survive he became a pirate. He was arrested and spent the rest of his life imprisoned. He died in 1578.

In July 1567, Mary was forced to sign papers abdicating her throne in favor of her son, James. But Mary had not given up hope of regaining her freedom and her crown. In May of 1568, she escaped from Lochleven and raised an army, but her forces were defeated. She decided to go to England and seek help from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. No one in Mary's party thought this was a good idea, but Mary insisted.

Queen Elizabeth did not welcome Mary's presence in England, since Mary had long claimed that she, not Elizabeth, was England's rightful queen. After conducting an inquiry into Lord Darnley's murder, Elizabeth and her councilors decided that Mary was guilty of planning it. Mary remained Elizabeth's prisoner for the rest of her life. And despite Mary's pleas, the two queens would never meet.

Mary, Queen of Scots was only 25 years old when she arrived in England. She remained there, a prisoner, for almost 19 years. She was kept at various castles and manors, and was watched closely but not treated unkindly. Sometimes she was able to go horseback riding, and she was even permitted to spend weeks at a health spa, but most of her time was devoted to quiet pursuits such as embroidery, card games, caring for pets, playing the lute -- and scheming to escape.

In 1586, Anthony Babington, a young Catholic man, wrote to Mary about his plan to assassinate Elizabeth and free Mary, and she wrote back approvingly. Unfortunately for them both, Elizabeth's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, was aware of the plot -- and reading their letters. Babington and his co-conspirators were arrested, tried, and executed. And for Mary too there was no escape.

The Execution of a Queen

In October 1586, Mary went on trial at Fotheringhay Castle. She insisted that she had not plotted against Elizabeth, but Elizabeth's commissioners did not believe her, and Mary was found guilty. Elizabeth delayed signing the death warrant until February 1, 1587.

The next morning, Mary was taken into the great hall. Hundreds of people had gathered there to watch the Queen of Scots die. Mary remained calm and dignified. As the executioners and two of Mary's attendants began removing her external apparel, the queen smiled and joked. When her sober black gown was removed, the audience was surprised to see that underneath it she wore red clothes -- the traditional Catholic color of martyrdom.

After her execution by beheading, Mary was buried in Peterborough Cathedral. When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, Mary's son became King James I of England. In 1612 he had his mother's remains moved to the Chapel of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey, where Elizabeth I is also buried. The modern British royal family is descended from Mary, Queen of Scots.

Books About Mary, Queen of Scots

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Book categories: Biographies, Writings, Scotland, Parents, Darnley, Rizzio, Politics, Mary & Elizabeth I, Knox, Bothwell, James VI, Stuarts, Tudors, Fiction, Children's Books, Scotland, England, DVDs


Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy. This biography presents Mary as an emotionally intricate woman and an adroit diplomat, the intellectual and political equal of Elizabeth I. The British title of this book is My Heart Is My Own. Winner of the Whitbread Biography Award.

Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser. This classic, prize-winning biography is an indispensable resource. It focuses on Mary's personality and private life.

Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure by Jenny Wormald. This biography sets out to show Mary as she really was -- not a romantic heroine, but the ruler of an important European kingdom. Born to supreme power, she was incapable of coping with its responsibilities.

Mary Queen of Scots by Retha Warnicke. Biography that focuses on the personal side of Mary's life: her three marriages, her constant illness, and her role in numerous plots and conspiracies.

An Accidental Tragedy: The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots by Roderick Graham. Biography of a passive young woman who became a victim of circumstance.

Mary Stuart by Stefan Zweig. Biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed at the age of 44.

Mary, Queen of Scots: Truth or Lies by Rosalind Marshall. Biography that examines key mysteries of Mary's life.

The Love Affairs of Mary Queen of Scots: A Political History by Martin Hume. Claims that Mary's ruin was based on weakness of character.

Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen by Mickey Mayhew. The queen's jailers all but bankrupted themselves to keep her in style while fending off countless escape plots.

The Little Book of Mary Queen of Scots by Mickey Mayhew. First-hand anecdotes and extracts from diaries, letters, and rare historical sources.

A Wee Guide to Mary Queen of Scots by Joyce Miller. A short introduction to Mary's dramatic life.

Mary's Life in Illustrations

Mary Queen of Scots by Susan Watkins, photographs by Mark Fiennes. This biography is illustrated with portraits of Mary and photographs of her letters, possessions, and castles.

Mary Queen of Scots: An Illustrated Life by Susan Doran. Biography. Contemporary records are either transcribed or explained with captions.

Mary's Writings & Needlework

Writing Renaissance Queens by Lisa Hopkins. Texts by and about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Reading Monarchs' Writing edited by Peter C. Herman. Criticism of the poetry of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I.

Bittersweet Within My Heart: The Love Poems of Mary, Queen of Scots edited by Robin Bell.

The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots by Margaret Swain. The first comprehensive study of the queen as a needlewoman. Every piece marked by her cipher or monogram is illustrated in full.

Embroidering Her Truth: The Material World of Mary, Queen of Scots by Clare Hunter. Mary used embroidery to advance her political agenda, affirm her royal lineage, and tell her own story.

Mary's Parents & Family

The Minority of James V: Scotland in Europe, 1513-1528 by Ken Emond. During the complex minority of King James V, the competing interests of England and France were personified in Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, and John, Duke of Albany, who had been brought up in France.

Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise by Melanie Clegg. Biography of the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. She spent 18 years effectively governing Scotland and safeguarding her daughter's inheritance with cunning, charm, determination and tolerance.

Mary of Guise in Scotland, 1548-1560: A Political Career by Pamela E. Ritchie. About Mary Stuart's mother, a shrewd politician whose dynastic interests took precedence over her personal convictions.

Books About Mary's Son, King James VI
Books About the Royal Stuart Dynasty

Mary Stuart's Scotland

Homecoming: The Scottish Years of Mary, Queen of Scots by Rosemary Goring. Examines the part Scotland played in Mary's life and downfall.

On the Trail of Mary, Queen of Scots by Roy Calley. A visitor's guide to the castles, palaces and houses associated with the life of the queen.

Mary, Queen of Scots and All Her Ghosts by Martin Coventry. Mary, Queen of Scots reputedly haunts more sites than any other ghost in the world.

Books About Scottish Castles

Fiction About Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George. Although slow at times, this long novel provides a good introduction to the topic and a sympathetic picture of Mary.

Royal Road to Fotheringhay by Jean Plaidy. The haunting story of the beautiful and tragic Mary, Queen of Scots. (Bestselling novelist Plaidy, who died in 1993, was also known as Victoria Holt.)

The Captive Queen of Scots by Jean Plaidy. Novel about Mary, Queen of Scots's imprisonment in England.

The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots by Carolly Erickson. The courageous, spirited queen tell her own story.

Fatal Majesty: The Drama of Mary, Queen of Scots by Reay Tannahill. A 1998 novel about Mary's life.

The Galliard by Margaret Irwin. Novel about Mary Queen of Scots's love affair with Lord Bothwell. First published in 1941 under the title The Gay Galliard.

Mary and Others

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory. The newly married Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess of Hardwick, become jailers of doomed Mary Queen of Scots, and their home becomes the epicenter of intrigue and rebellion.

Blood Between Queens by Barbara Kyle. Queen Elizabeth I her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots are locked in a deadly rivalry for the crown of England.

The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas. Novel set at the start of the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. After a dying queen gives Rinette Leslie a casket full of Scotland's darkest secrets, she is surrounded by ruthless men who will do anything to possess it.

A Question of Guilt: A Novel of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Death of Henry Darnley by Julianne Lee. Lady Janet de Ros thinks the recently executed Mary Stuart was not guilty of plotting against Queen Elizabeth I and killing Lord Darnley.

19th Century Works

Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, translated by Eric Bentley and Joseph Mellish. An early 19th century German play.

Darnley by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. A 19th century English play.

Mary Stuart by Alexandre Dumas. Account of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots written by the great French novelist.

Books About Mary & Elizabeth I
Books About Darnley & the Casket Letters
Books About Bothwell
Other Books About Mary, Queen of Scots
DVDs About Mary

More Books

Books About Scotland's Royal History
Books About European Royal History
Books About Royal Women

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Related Topics

King James VI and I
The Stuarts
Royalty in Scotland
British Royal History
Queen Elizabeth I
French Royal History
European Royal History
Royal Women of the World
World Royal History

Other Websites

The World of Mary, Queen of Scots
Englishhistory.net - Mary, Queen of Scots
Catholic Encyclopedia: Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots (at royal.gov.uk)
Scotland's Mary
Potraits of Mary, Queen of Scots, With Commentary
Battle of Carberry Hill (illustration)

Darnley and Kirk o'Field
Blaze Site Clues to Historic Murder

James Hepburne

Babington Plot, Execution, Burial
History Magazine - The Babington Plot
Letter of Queen Elizabeth to Mary, Queen of Scots
The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

John Knox
Wikipedia - John Knox
The Monstrous Regiment of Women
Mary Queen of Scots' First Interview With John Knox

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