Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots
MARY STUART, QUEEN OF SCOTS
Queen Consort of France, Queen of Scotland; b. Linlithgow Castle, Scotland, Dec. 7, 1542; d. Fotheringay Castle, England, Feb. 8, 1587. As the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary Guise, she became queen when six days old, and at ten months (September 1542) was crowned by Cardinal Beaton. During her minority Scotland faced frequent invasions from henry viii, who deployed a policy known as the "Rough Wooing," to try to secure Mary as bride for his son Edward VI. To safeguard Scotland's traditional alliance with France, her Guise uncles arranged her betrothal to the Dauphin Francis and in 1548 she was brought to France for her own safety. Here she became admired for her linguistic abilities and charm. In 1559, one year after her marriage, she became Queen Consort of France and also laid claim to the crowns of England and Ireland on the grounds of the illegitimacy of her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth's reply was quick and decisive. Soon after her accession in the same year, she sent armed aid to Scotland's Protestants who soon overturned the Catholic policies of Mary's mother, Mary of Guise. In December 1560 Mary was widowed, and despite the troubles in Scotland, she remained in France trying to find a suitable husband. In August 1561, she finally returned to face a country badly divided by religious strife. Although Mary was a nominal Catholic, she initially proclaimed her intention not to interfere with the religious status quo in the country. She promulgated an edict of toleration that led to violent diatribes from John knox and Scotland's growing Protestant faction on the one side and from Scottish Catholics on the other. In 1562, the lives of two of her Catholic advisors, her chaplain and the Jesuit Nicholas de Gouda, a papal observer and advisor sent to Mary by Pius IV, were threatened. As a result of the confused religious and political situation in these early years of her reign, Mary relied on her half-brother, James, Earl of Moray, and her secretary, William Maitland, to administer her government. The Protestant policies both pursued angered Scotland's Catholics.
Marriage to Lord Darnley. In 1565, Mary married Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, following a long search for a suitable spouse. Darnley proved a poor choice. Politically inept and a drunkard, his status as a nominal Catholic irritated Moray, Maitland, and Scotland's Protestant nobles. Their union did produce an heir (the future James VI of Scotland and I of England) but otherwise proved disastrous and was marked by numerous intrigues. Darnley's weak and quarrelsome nature made many enemies and the murder of Mary's devoted secretary, Rizzio, alienated her as well. During the years that Mary was married to Darnley her policies first favored Catholics and then Protestants. Finally, the Queen came under the influence of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who saw the removal of Darnley as his path to power. Mary persuaded Darnley, recovering from severe illness, to go with her to Kirk-o-Field, near Edinburgh, to rest in a rented house, while she, under Bothwell's escort, moved on to Holyrood Palace. In the early morning of Feb. 10, 1567, the house was blown up and Darnley killed. Although her opponents implicated Mary and accused her officially of murdering her husband, 20th-century scholarship has cast doubt on her guilt. The evidence is too contradictory for a definitive judgment.
Coercion by Bothwell. Bothwell was charged after a superficial inquiry and the Queen now came under his influence. In order to secure his marriage to Mary he obtained a divorce from the Protestant Kirk Courts, apparently with the collusion of his wife, Lady Jane Gordon. On May 15, 1567, Bothwell married Mary in a Protestant ceremony, but his triumph was short-lived. The couple quarreled and Scotland's Protestant lords, Bothwell's former allies, rose in armed revolt. In June they defeated Mary's forces at Carberry Hill and she surrendered on condition of being treated as a sovereign. Bothwell escaped, later fleeing to Denmark where he was imprisoned and died insane. In the meantime, Mary, too, escaped her captors, raised an army, and was defeated in May 1568. She signed an abdication that named Moray regent.
Imprisonment in England. Having fled to England, she refused to vindicate herself of complicity in Darnley's murder except before Elizabeth in person. Elizabeth commanded that she was to be treated with respect but, to prevent her becoming the rallying point of English Catholics in the north, she was to be kept under close guard. She was imprisoned for 19 years. Cecil's immediate plan was to put her on trial, producing at York and Westminster the so-called Casket Letters, alleged to have been written to Bothwell by Mary and which blatantly incriminate
her both in the Darnley murder and in sexual subjection to Bothwell. The authenticity of the letters was then (as now still) hotly contested, and an open verdict returned, which was generally accepted as one of not guilty (January 1569). In the wake of this acquittal, Mary considered plans for another marriage, with Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. In November and December 1569 Northern English Catholics rose in support of Mary, but the revolt quickly collapsed. The following February Pope St. pius v hoped to encourage rebellion by excommunicating Elizabeth, but this show of support came too late and ultimately had the reverse effect. Norfolk, implicated in the schemes of Ridolfi, an Italian banker, to finance a Spanish invasion, was executed in June 1572. Parliament petitioned for Mary's head, but Elizabeth prudently declined, while ordering a close guard on her cousin, whose liberty would always prove a threat to the throne. For the next 14 years, Mary was implicated in a number of ill-conceived plans for revolt and she was moved from place to place in conditions of increasing harshness. In January 1586, a plot to set her free and assassinate Elizabeth was uncovered. The chief conspirators, Anthony Babington, Mary's former page and John Ballard, a priest, were executed, and Mary's complicity in the scheme was revealed to Walsingham.
Trial and Execution. Mary was moved to Fotheringay Castle and put on trial on Oct. 14–15, 1586. She was condemned, and Elizabeth eventually signed the warrant of execution. That document referred to her as "Mary Stuart, commonly called Queen of Scotland," her royal status denied in the warrant of execution that beheaded her on Feb. 8, 1587. Before her death she reputedly praised God for the privilege of dying for the "honour of his name and of his Church, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman." Mary Stuart may have long been accepted in some quarters as a martyr for the Catholic cause, but recent historical scholarship has been less charitable in that regard. Scholars have questioned the depth of Mary's religious commitment, and they have treated her as a tragic figure, who lacked political competence and judgment.
Bibliography: Mary Stuart remains, in a phrase attributed to Elizabeth, "the Daughter of Debate," so that historical judgment on her is vast, continuous, and still not definitive. a. bellesheim, History of the Catholic Church of Scotland, tr. d. o. hunter-blair 4 v. (Edinburgh 1887–90) v.3. s. s. macnalty, Mary, Queen of Scots (New York 1961). g. r. turner, Mary Stuart: Forgotten Forgeries (London 1933), all four translations of the Casket Letters in parallel columns; also the Simonds and Conference Letters; notes and comments on the opinion of various authors concerning Mary. t.f. henderson, Mary, Queen of Scots, 2 v. (New York 1905), best complete scholarly biography. a. m. mackenzie, The Scotland of Queen Mary and the Religious Wars, 1513–1638 (London 1936). t. f. henderson, Dictionary of National Biography (London 1885–1900; repr. with corrections, 21 v., 1908–09, 1921–22, 1938; suppl. 1901–) 12:1258–75. j. h. pollen, The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. c. g. herbermann et al., 16 v. (New York 1907–14; suppl.1922) 9:764–766. g. donaldson, All the Queen's Men (London 1983). a. fraser, Mary Queen of Scots (London 1969). m. lynch, Mary Stewart. Queen in Three Kingdoms (Oxford 1988). j. wormald, Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure (London 1988).