Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mary, Queen of Scots: tragic hero or guilty as charged?

Today in history, nine month old Mary Stuart (also spelt Stewart) would be crowned Queen of Scotland at Stirling Castle in 1543. She would become known as Mary, Queen of Scots. She became queen at 6 days old when her father, King James, died in December 1542. She was also the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England, as her paternal grandmother of Margaret Tudor. This made her cousin to Queen Elizabeth I and a claim to the English crown. The House of Stuart gained the throne by marriage of Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce to Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland. She would be a tragic victim in the political games of the 16th century as many would see her as the only legitimate claim to the English and Scottish crowns.


Mary was born on the 8th or 9th of December at Linlithgow, Scotland. She was said to be born prematurely and was the only legitimate child to survive King James. Scotland would be ruled by regents until Mary became of age. She was first betrothed to King Henry VIII’s son, Edward, in order to untie Scotland and England. This fell through as the pro-Catholic, pro-France agenda rose to power in the Scottish regency. For her safety, Mary would grow up in her mother’s native France in King Henry II’s court. Marriage agreement would be made for Mary and King Henry II’s son, Francis. Mary was said to be vivacious, beautiful and clever. She was the favorite with everyone and was an accomplished student. She would be fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, Latin and Greek. She was tall woman at 5 feet 11 inches. She and Francis II would be married in 1558 and would remain so until his death in December 1560.


Mary would return to Scotland in 1561 where she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley in 1565. They would have one son, James, on June 19, 1566. The marriage was strained after Darnley demanded a crown equal to Mary’s and he would rule in the event of her death. She refused. Darnley would later be murdered in February 1567 when his residence was destroyed by an explosion and he was would found in the garden. Mary was rumored to have had a hand in Darnley’s murder but there was no proof. She would marry James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell in 1567, who was rumored to be the man to actually kill Darnley. Her marriage to Bothwell would be unpopular and she would be forced to abdicate her crown in favor of her one-year old son, James.


Mary would raise an army in order to fight James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, for her throne. She had expected her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I to support her. Instead, she would be taken to Bolton Castle where she begin a series of house arrests. Evidence, known as the Casket Letters, would serve as proof of Mary’s involvement in Darnley’s murder. Eight letters, love sonnets and two marriage contracts portrayed the conspiracy. Many biographers and historians believe the letters were complete forgeries or were pieces of other letters to create incriminating passages. The letters, according to historians, were poorly written for someone of Mary’s education. On August 11, 1586, she would be arrested as her letters were confiscated and revealed a plot to assassinate Elizabeth, Mary would be convicted on October 25 and sentenced to death. However, Elizabeth would be hesitate to order her execution as killing a queen would set a dangerous precedent and she feared retaliation from Mary’s son, James. February 1, 1587, her death warrant would be signed and she would be beheaded on February 8, 1587 at the age of 44.



Mary’s son would become King James VI of Scotland and James I of England. He would inherit the throne in 1603 upon the death of Elizabeth I. James had his mother reinterred in Westminster Abbey opposite Elizabeth’s tomb. Mary would be the tragic figure who could not cope with the demands placed on her. She would be a pawn in the hands of scheming men. There is no concrete proof that she was guilty of anything she was accused of. One theory is Bothwell killed Darnley in order to marry her and did so without Mary’s knowledge. She remains a popular image of a heroic victim.