I’ve been noodling around with some ideas for a Scottish story and enjoying the opportunity to research a new place and time period. In my digging, I’ve discovered some fascinating things about Mary, Queen of Scots.
I always knew she was Elizabeth I’s cousin and that she met her end on the chopping block, but I didn’t know much about her life. It was like a medieval soap opera, with ill-considered marriages at the heart of her downfall. Made me think Elizabeth was wise to remain the Virgin Queen.
When she was five years old, Mary Stuart was sent to France to avoid a forced marriage with Edward of England’s son. This was known as “the Rough Wooing.” Once in France, she became quite a pet of the monarchy. She was fluent in French, English, Latin, Greek, Spanish and Italian, in addition to her native Scots! And at the tender age of 14, she married the Dauphin, who was two years her junior.
By the time she was 17, she was the Queen of France. But her reign was short because her husband died of an ear infection. So in 1561, Mary Stuart decided to return to the only throne left to her. Without receiving safe passage from her English cousin Elizabeth, Mary sailed home to Scotland.
She was acclaimed as “beautiful” with her fiery red hair and at 5’11” she was a veritable giantess for her day. But Scotland did not welcome her with open arms. While she was in France, the Reformation swept the Highlands and the people weren’t in the mood to accept a Catholic monarch and one they feared had become thoroughly French.
She didn’t help herself when she married her half first cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley in 1565. He was a grasping man who demanded the courtesy title of “King” and was jealous of her counselors and advisors. While she was pregnant with her only son, her husband burst into her chambers and murdered her private secretary, David Rizzio, before her eyes.
Needless to say, the marriage was strained. After her son James was born, Mary met with a number of her influential nobles, all of whom wanted the “problem of Darnley” removed by any means. Fearing for his life, Darnley fled to his father in Glasgow and became ill there (possibly from syphillis).
The next year, he returned to Mary in Edinburgh and rumors of reconciliation were on the wind when the house in which he was staying suffered an unexplained “explosion.” Darnley’s body was recovered in the garden and it was apparent died from strangulation.
James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was suspected of supplying the gun powder. Mary convene a trial before parliament and Bothwell was acquitted.
In 1567, Mary visited her son in Stirling and on her way home, she was “abducted” by Bothwell, who supposedly raped her and forced her to marry him. He had conveniently divorced his wife 12 days earlier. The Scottish nobles wouldn’t have Bothwell as king and Mary was forced to abdicate her throne in favor of her one year old son James.
After her army was defeated, she fled to England, but instead of help from her cousin, Elizabeth had her imprisoned. In 1587, she was tried and found guilty of the murder of Lord Darnley. She suffered a botched execution–the headsman had to strike twice–and once her head was removed, her little Skye terrier slipped out from under her skirt.
But her son James became King of both Scotland and England. History was not kind to female rulers.