In Episode 7, we dive into the life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots:

  • Mary’s early life
  • Her life in France
  • Return to Scotland
  • Marriage to Darnley

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Baby Mary, Long Live the Queen

It was a cold winter when young Mary Stewart was born at Linlithgow Palace on December 8, 1542 as the only surviving heir. Mary’s father was James V, son of James IV and Margaret Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII of England. Her mother was Marie de Guise, the second wife of James V and daughter of Claude the Duke of Guise and Antoinette of Bourbon, one of the most powerful families in France.

A couple weeks before on November 24, James V lost the Battle of Solway Moss against his uncle Henry VIII — he was devastated by this loss. He didn’t sustain any injuries, but James V ended up in bed at Falkland Palace, where the news was brought to him that his child was born. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Supposedly, he said “It came from a woman, and it will end with a woman” or “it came with a lass, and it will pass with a lass” — why? The Stewart line came from Marjorie Bruce, Robert the Bruce’s daughter as Robert’s son David, died without any heirs to succeed him.

At 30 years old, James V passed away on December 14, though no one knows what he died of. James was 17 months old when he became king and now his daughter Mary became queen at 6 days. Mary was baptized as soon as was possible, and with an infant queen, the fight began over who was to have the power and control.

The Earl of Arran, the heir to the Scottish throne should Mary die, became the regent. He was a strong supporter of England and the last person Marie de Guise would trust with her daughter. With Arran in charge, Henry VIII allowed 23 of his Scottish prisoners to go back to Scotland, but before they left, he made sure they signed a document that said they support sending Mary to England.

Henry would keep her safe, take care of and raise her, and then one day, she’d marry his son, the future Edward VI who was 5 at the time. Henry VIII sent an ambassador to Scotland to propose his plan and Marie played her part letting them believe she was completely on board with the plan.

In reality, she was trying to get the King of France, Francis I, to send aid to Scotland to protect her daughter and her crown. First, she needed to get Mary away from Arran. The best option was to get the queen to Stirling Castle, which was a fortress.

In comes the Treaty of Greenwich in July 1543. Henry VIII was willing to compromise. Mary would live in Scotland until she turned 10, then she’d go to England to get married to Edward. At the end of July, Marie finally took her daughter to Stirling, where they would stay until Mary left the shores of Scotland behind. In August, Mary was anointed as Queen of Scotland, and since the crown wasn’t made to fit baby heads, someone held it above her head during the ceremony.

The Rough Wooing

France started sending aid, and the Scottish Parliament ripped up the Treaty of Greenwhich. Henry VIII was livid. So began what later became known as the Rough Wooing — a bunch of battles and skirmishes between Scotland and England. Henry VIII wanted Scotland, and the way to attain it was to marry his son Edward to Mary Queen of Scots.

When the Scots wouldn’t give Henry what he wanted, Henry VIII sent in troops, while also fighting in France. Mary was taken to the Highlands for safety. Eventually, there was peace between England and France and England and Scotland.

Henry VIII died in January 1547, and young Edward VI became king when he was 9 years old. Francis I died two months after him, and his son became King Henri II of France. And just like that, the peace ended. Hertford (who had named himself Duke of Somerset) was a part of a Council of Regents instead of sole regent. He wanted to make sure Mary married Edward.

On the other hand, Henri II decided he was Scotland’s guardian and sent aid to Scotland because he wanted Mary to marry his own son, the Dauphin Francis.

Due to Herford’s greed, the confrontation between England and Scotland came to a head at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. The Scots lost, with about 10,000 of their number dead. As a result, in 1548, at 5 years old, Mary was sent to France for safety. There she would live with her future husband and future in-laws. In return, France would help kick England out of Scotland

Long Live the Queen…in France!

Mary arrived in France with many Scottish attendants, including her maids of honor and friends Mary Seton, Mary Fleming, Mary Beaton, and Mary Livingston. They became known as the four Maries.

Mary would join four of Henri II’s children in the nursery at court. In all things Francis came first, but second to him was Mary. As his future wife, and a queen in her own right, she outranked almost everyone at court. Aside from the king and Queen of course.

Mary charmed all those around her, due to her vivacious personality. It seems like all those who came in contact with her throughout her life used words like pretty and beautiful to describe her appearance.

Mary was educated with the other royal children, but first her Scottish retinue had to go. Henri wanted to make sure his future daughter-in-law, and the future Queen of France, spoke French instead of her native Scots.

Mary was raised as a Catholic and learned many different languages, including Greek and Latin. She didn’t start learning English until 1568. Mary loved to read, adored poetry (reading and writing it), loved to dance, go hawking, and horseriding.

In 1550, Mary was finally reunited with her mother. Marie came for a visit for a little over a year. In April 1551, a plot was discovered to poison Mary. In September 1551, after Marie de Guise lost her only surviving child from her first marriage, she returned to Scotland for her daughter. When mother and daughter said goodbye to one another, it was the last time they saw each other.

Mary’s upbringing was overseen by her Guise uncles. In the sense that they taught her what to say and when to say it. She was literally raised to be the queen consort of France, not the one and only Queen of Scotland. She was witty and charming, but grew up within the safety of her family. She was never really taught how to govern on her own.

In April of 1554, Marie de Guise finally became the regent, and Arran was out. Marie would do everything should could to protect the crown for her daughter and rule until Mary could return to take her rightful place.

A Royal Marriage

In 1558, Mary and Francis were married at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Mary wore a white dress on her wedding day. May not be a weird color today, but when she was getting married white was the color of mourning in France. While in France, Mary had Frenchified the spelling of her last name from the traditional Stewart to Stuart.

Before they were married, Mary signed a secret contract that basically gave Scotland to France if Mary died without any heirs. Mary was 15 at this time, while Francis was 14.

After the wedding, there were banquets and masques and then it was time for the wedding night. Royal wedding rituals were interesting. First their bed was blessed and holy water flicked onto it. Then the court put Mary and Francis to bed, tucked them in, and then left. They may have consummated the marriage with no baby to show for it or, Mary may have remained a virgin while married to Francis.

With the two joined forever in holy matrimony, Scottish Parliament offered up the crown matrimonial for Francis once the Scottish commissioners got back to Scotland. This would make him King of Scots. But in the end it was never sent.

The Scottish people rejoiced! Apprently, it only hit the nobles at this point that this meant Mary would likely never return to Scotland to truly become their queen.

On June 30, 1559, King Henri II, 40 years old, decided he was going to joust against the advice of everyone. It didn’t go well. When the lance hit the king’s armor, it slid up and splintered when it hit his helmet. A piece of it went into his eye.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t save the king. He went in and out of lucidity, with the family on alert. On July 10, the king died of a stroke. The king is dead. Long live King Francis and Queen Mary! Mary was now 16, and Francis 15.

Queen of France

On September 15, 1559, Francis became King Francis II at Rheims, which was the usual place to crown the king of France. The crown was so heavy four people had to hold it over Francis’s head. And once Francis was sitting on his royal throne, the Cardinal called out “Vivat rex!” in Latin, “May the king live forever!” and in answer, the rest of the people assembled yelled out “Vive le roi!” – “Long live the king!”

France was set in its old ways, so Mary wasn’t crowned alongside Francis. As the king, he took precedence. Queens of France were anointed and crowned at a later date, in a different place, the abbey of St. Denis. Catherine de Medici, for example, wasn’t crowned until two years after Henri II.

It’s around this time that Catherine really starts becoming anti-Mary. When Mary was a child Catherine was just as charmed by her as everyone else. Now, Mary is coming into womanhood, she’s the queen of France and more importantly, the queen of her own country. Which interests will she further first? Catherine was adamant that she’d be Queen Mother, not the Dowager Queen. This way she could still be a major player within French politics.

With Henri II dead, the Guise family was up to their old tricks. Her uncles basically made decisions for Mary. Queen Mary who? Nah. They didn’t need to consult the queen of France and Scotland about anything.

Return to Scotland – Long Live the Queen of Scots!

In 1560, there was a spot of hope. Maybe, Mary was pregnant with the future heir of France. But, it wasn’t meant to be. At the end of September, Mary realized an heir was not in the cards and went about her days as normal.

Around this same time, Francis became really sick. While at church in the middle of November in 1560, Francis was taken very ill. He started having sharp pains in his head and fluid was coming out of his ear. But he was now stuck in bed, with things becoming progressively worse.

He then started having really terrible seizures. His nurses ended up being Mary and his mother Catherine, though they first fought over who would get to do the honors. By the time December came around, poor Francis was suffering from almost constant pain and fluid discharge. He finally passed away on December 5, 1560.

His younger brother Charles became King Charles IX at 10 years old. But then came the big question: what’s to be done with Mary, Queen of Scots and now Dowager Queen of France?

The day after Francis passed Mary cloistered herself off in a separate room for 40 days as was the custom. By the time she came out, she’d made the decision to return home to Scotland. It was finally time to truly take up the mantle as the Queen of Scots.

Returning home as a widow, who was only 18 years old, meant she was open for another marriage. So names started being thrown at her, ones that included Charles IX and Don Carlos as mentioned earlier, as well as the kings of Denmark and Sweden, the Holy Roman Emperor for his sons, and Lord Henry Darnely.

But, Mary wasn’t ready just yet for another marriage. Instead she focused on returning to Scotland, starting with making sure that she was surrounded by men who knew Scotland and all the intricate ins and outs of her political sphere.

Mary would come back to Scotland and keep from rocking the religious boat. Scotland was Protestant. Peace would be kept, which was the practical approach. But Mary would still be able to attend Mass in her own private chapel.

To prep for her return, her lords, knowing full well that Mary didn’t want to ratify the Treaty of Edinburgh, came up with a new agreement. Mary would take a step back and recognize Elizabeth as the rightful queen, and thus Mary would become the heir to the throne unless/until Elizabeth married and had children.

As her ship sailed away, Mary apparently looked back at France’s shores and said “Adieu France. It’s all over now. Adieu France. I think I’ll never see your shores again.”

Scotland, Sweet Scotland

Marry reached the Forth of Fife on August 19, 1561. After 13 years in another country, the Queen of Scots had returned. Long live the Queen! There were many celebrations all over, with music and the like. In fact, when the queen’s galleys were sailing up the Firth of Forth, they actually fired off their guns to announce the queen’s return.

Her people loved her. She was charming and vivacious. And oh, doesn’t everyone want a beautiful young queen who’s the most elegant thing they’ve seen since Marie de Guise. And big plus, French as their queen had become, she was still able to speak to her own people in her native Scots.

As joyous as her return was, there were some darker elements to contend with. Throughout her reign, Mary would butt heads with a Protestant preacher by the name of John Knox. He was very vocal in his opinions of Catholicism and it’s idolatrous nature. And more important than that females were the weaker, baser sex in his eyes. And a queen, especially a Catholic one, was not fit to rule the world of men, and thus could be removed from her position. And he wasn’t afraid to say this to her face or out in public for all to hear.

When Mary appointed her Privy Council, she made sure to keep somewhat of a balance. Twelve were appointed, and 7 of them were Protestant. She was trying to keep a nice balance between the religious factions.

The Treaty of Edinburgh once again came into play, and would for some time. Elizabeth agreed they would both choose commissioners to look over the treaty once more. They were heading towards renegotiation. But, Elizabeth changed her mind, and told Mary the only way forward was to ratify the treaty. Mary wanted to be the heir without giving away any of her own power.

Mary figured that if the two queens could meet one on one, they’d be able to talk everything out and create a great bond between the two of them. Elizabeth wasn’t against it. Her advisor Cecil was. Twice the meeting was postponed. Mary was devastated when the meeting was moved again as she was so looking forward to it.

In September 1561, she elevated her illegitimate half-brother James Stewart to the title of Early of Moray.

So in January 1562, a bill came before English Parliament known as the Act of Exclusion. And it’s exactly as it sounds. It was meant to keep Mary out of the line of succession. Enough was enough. Mary sent one of her people out of Scotland with a letter. Her decision was made. The time had come to hunt for a husband.

The Husband Hunt

Mary was still a young woman at this point, the queen of her own country, and so a very appealing marriage prospect for the royal men of Europe. Mary’s claim to the English throne was even more attractive.

Mary set her eyes on? None other than Don Carlos, the son of Phillip II. But there were some roadblocks. Her own family! They were very against a marriage with Spain for Mary. Oh they had a better idea. How about a marriage to the Archduke Charles of Austria? And they took it one step further. They had actually reached out to Austria already.

Archduke Charles was a big no. She only wanted Don Carlos as her husband. And who could blame her? With Spain backing her and Scotland, she’d gain more support from her fellow Catholic rulers and it would very likely make England think twice about mucking up the waters. Plus, maybe that English crown would finally be hers one day. She’d be the heir apparent.

So the negotiation with Spain was a complete secret. So naturally, most people already knew. Elizabeth in particular. Who told Mary’s ambassador to England that it had to stop at once. Elizabeth and the English government had this interesting tendency to treat Scotland and Mary like they were in some way tied to England and England’s wants and desires. Elizabeth knew she currently held all the cards.

So Mary, in a fit of anger, asked the wrong question. If I can’t marry Don Carlos, then who? That opened the door. Elizabeth stepped right through it with stipulations regarding suitable prospects. He would be an Englishman from Elizabeth’s own court, who was Team England and all about making peace between the two countries.

If there was no one who fit the bill, then and only then, could Mary ask England to marry someone outside of the British Isles. And he had to take up residence in Scotland with Mary once they were married. There would be no living in separate countries — meaning, no current or future kings for Mary. Absolutely no candidates from Spain, Austria, or France.

That basically left English noblemen or second or third sons of smaller countries, who probably couldn’t provide the sort of financial and military support Mary needed.

Cecil stepped in to make sure there was a court set up that would judge whether or not Mary had the right to succeed Elizabeth should Elizabeth die before her. This framework said Mary was subject to England’s whims, especially when it came to her marriage and the succession. Mary was furious, and as a ruler, she had every right to be.

Marry Who?

Elizabeth had a candidate or two in mind for Mary. Elizabeth’s choice was…Lord Robert Dudley! Oh you know, Elizabeth’s favorite, the man she was supposedly in love with. Not only was Elizabeth choosing the husband, but it was a man who was 100% loyal to her and kept in her pocket.

Both Mary and Dudley were taken aback. Dudley because what, be separated from Elizabeth? Mary, because of everything else. Elizabeth’s special someone? Check. A man far beneath Mary’s station as queen? Double check. Oh but it doesn’t stop there! Elizabeth went one step further and thought that all three of them, her, Dudley, and Mary would all live at the English court together.

Mary decided to hit back. She decided to finally give Elizabeth what she had asked for. And that was the return of the Earl of Lennox to Scotland. As a result, Mary started thinking. Lennox’s son was Lord Henry Darnley, age 17, and after Mary, was the next man in all of England with a claim to the throne. The two of them together had an even better claim to the throne.

Darnley came off as a very charming young man, and he was also very good looking, although many men thought he was a little too effeminate, because he was so beautiful. And he didn’t have a beard. Looks aside, Darnley was an idiot. Mary’s lords thought she would never marry him.

A Husband At Last – But the Wrong One

In February 1565 Scotland gave Lord Darnley a passport so he could go to Scotland. With Darnley in Scotland, Mary finally had a leg up on Elizabeth. Mary’s ambassador was sent to London and told Elizabeth that she should back the marriage between Mary and Darnely.

Mary was tired of the back and forth and being pulled in different directions. She was moving ahead with the marriage, especially after Spain and France gave their support for it.

Elizabeth then sent Throckmorton to Scotland with a piece of paper that a whole bunch of English lords had signed, lords from Elizabeth’s Privy Council. Privy Councilors that didn’t have anything to do with Mary. And this paper stated that Mary needed to get rid of Darnley and get married to Dudley or another Engish lord.

Mary was having none of it. She’d already done as was asked of her. Those were the terms she started with. So she chose another English lord: Darnley. It didn’t help Elizabeth’s cause that Dudley himself hadn’t signed the document.

Those few years she spent trying to tie her nobles together was being undone with her decision to marry Darnley. They began splitting off into groups. Moray was against the marriage. Defending the right of Protestantism. And the Lennox supporters, a mix of Protestants and Catholics who were all about getting more power, land, and favor at court.

Mary wasn’t playing any more games. She started by making sure Darnley was of rank high enough within the nobility to be suitable enough to marry a queen. First he was knighted, then made a Baron, and finally, he became the Earl of Ross. All on the same day.

When Darnley first arrived on the Scottish scene, Mary was neither here no there with him. The more time she spent with him though, which included nursing him back to health when he got sick, the more she fell in love with him. Or, the more she fancied herself in love with him.

By June 1565 Mary was finally starting to realize that Darnley was actually a frog instead of a handsome prince. But instead of turning back and claiming she drank a batch of really bad wine, she forged ahead. While this marriage wouldn’t end in happily ever after, it did appeal to some of the English subjects, and Mary’s own Scottish ones as well. She was getting married and would now be able to produce an heir.

On July 22, 1565 the banns were read in St. Giles Kirk. The same day, Darnley became the Duke of Albany.

As they were getting closer to the wedding, more and more lords started to really hate Darnley. And Darnley was starting to overreach himself. Not yet king, and he had already gotten it into his head that he held the power.

On July 29, 1565 Mary and Darnley were joined together in holy matrimony, until death do them part. The next day, Darnley was declared the King of Scots. He would rule with his wife, not over her. But his name did take precedence over hers on official documents — Henry and Marie instead of the other way around.

The Chase-about Raid

With her marriage arrangement settled, Mary had to immediately turn her attention to her brother. Moray and a bunch of other lords rebelled against the marriage with Darnley. By marrying him, the balance between the religions would come to an end and Protestantism had to be protected. In reality, they were worried about their own power within Scotland.

Mary did as much as she could to assure her Protestant subjects that she wasn’t out to get their religion. She even ate meat during Lent, which Catholics weren’t supposed to do. But her average everyday subjects weren’t the ones rebelling.

Before the wedding even took place, Mary started gathering her army together. She also called on the Earl of Bothwell, who was a Protestant and very anti-Catholic. But more than that, he would always side with Scotland as he wasn’t a fan of the English. So Mary had his loyalty. And bonus, Bothwell and Moray did not get along. The Earl of Huntly was also called on to join.

Mary rallied her troops, inspiring loyalty among her subjects, especially since she was directly involved in putting a stop to the rebels. She was on a horse, riding with her soldiers, with a pistol.

This whole debacle became known as the Chase-about Raid. They all chased each other around the Scottish countryside from city to city. And just when they thought they’d caught up to the other guy, nope.

Eventually Moray and his men made it to Dumfries, where they holed up until October 1565. When Mary and her troops finally got there in October, after resting her army in Edinburgh for a few weeks, Moray and his friends had run off to England, hoping for some backup.

In Sickness and In…Oh Darnley, Do Shut Up

Now Mary and Darnley could really begin to settle into wedded bliss and the task of ruling a country together. Or not, considering while Mary was ruling Scotland Darnley was trying to get the Catholic rulers of Europe to acknowledge him. In fact, he had all the power now. He was a man after all.

As mentioned before, his name came first on documents. But he was so busy doing nothing but drinking and partying that Mary had a stamp made of his signature to ensure that the affairs of state were taken care of in a timely fashion.

The two of them started arguing not long after they were married, and their fights only got worse. Once she was pregnant, he’d served his primary function and she was done with his antics.

Mary decided to take it all back. His name came second. He signed on the right. And the coins now read Marie and Henry, queen and king. He could now remain the man of leisure he was, drinking and carousing at will.

The single most important thing that Mary did was to refuse him the crown matrimonial. Without that, he couldn’t be anointed king. And if he wasn’t anointed as the king of Scots, he couldn’t become the true king if something happened to Mary. He could still sign his name Henry R (Henry Rex), but outside of that he couldn’t wield any of the powers a king could.

Well then, if she won’t give it to Darnley, then he’d just take it! And so began more plotting, but this time it was her husband standing in the shadows. Darnley was willing to turn on Mary if Parliament would hand over the crown matrimonial. He’d then become the true King of Scots, let the rebel lords come home, and provide pardons for each of them.

Darnley would also then backtrack and welcome back the happy balance that existed between the religions before he made a mess of everything. Even Moray agreed to the plot. The only thing left to do was to find a fall guy. And that person ended up being David Rizzio, Mary’s private secretary.

Why him? Darnley was mad with jealousy. He believed Mary and Rizzio were having an affair. And so, poor Rizzio was set to be assassinated. Quite a few people knew about this evil plan. However, Mary was one of the only ones completely unaware.

Make sure you tune in for Part II of Mary Queen of Scots to see how the Rizzio assassination turned out, and all that came after.

*Music: Initial classical piece that’s a part of the intro is Concerto for 2 Oboes in F Major Op9 no3, 3 Allegro by Advent Chamber Orchestra under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.*