Mary I, Queen of Scots

Mary I, Queen of Scots

Mary I was the daughter of James V, born on the 8th December 1542 just six days before her father died. Mary was nine months old when she was crowned in 1543. Scotland was plunged once more into chaos as various factions battled for control of the kingdom. Both the English and the French held a keen interest in Scotland during this period and there were plans for Mary to marry an English prince and separate plans to marry her off to the French dauphin, which eventually happened. The two larger nations wrestled for the support of Scotland, offering generous pensions to nobles for support. The English invaded when things didn't go their way and the French sent arms, money and men to help the Scots resist.

By 1554 when Mary of Guise (Mary I's mother) assumed the regency it seemed Scotland had chosen France but the French demanded a high price for their support and Scottish independence was at risk. Mary Tudor died in 1558 and was succeeded in England by her sister Elizabeth. In July the following year Mary, Queen of Scots became Queen of France as well when her husband Francis II succeeded his father Henry II. The French sent troops to support Mary of Guise in her role as regent against a growing tide of dissent, particularly as the reformation was taking place in the Scottish church and men such as John Knox saw Mary as an obstacle to this process.

With English support the rebels were able to seize control though it was largely a bloodless affair. Things changed again however in 1560 when Francis II died and Mary was no longer Queen of France. It seemed likely she would now return to rule Scotland but there were fears this would put the reformation in jeopardy once again. The leaders of the recent revolution were immediately divided, some keen to remain faithful to Mary and others fearful of her actions. Supporters of the Reformation wanted Mary to marry one of their prominent leaders the Earl of Arran, who had been unsuccessfully trying to arrange a marriage to Elizabeth.

Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 after 12 years in France and agreed to leave the Reformation alone although she did hold mass in her chapel. The leaders of the Reformation had agreed on a policy of suppression of idolatry and they were clear about their hatred of Mary's Catholic faith, in fact the Queen´s priest had to be protected from the mob. Arran refused to visit the court while Mary held mass and became intent on forcing her to marry him, planning to kidnap her from the castle. His plan came to nothing though and in 1562 he was "confined" due to insanity.

Mary did much to appease the reformers but she could not satisfy Knox as she continued to attend mass herself. Mary also had a claim to the English throne which caused Elizabeth some concern particularly as she had no heir. It seems Mary was keen to secure the English succession and with a view to this she married Lord Darnley (grandson of Margaret Tudor) and continued to guarantee the safety of the reformation. Unfortunately for Mary Elizabeth then decided she didn't approve of the marriage and supported a rebellion in Scotland by reformers who were unconvinced by Mary's guarantees. The resulting Chaseabout rebellion was unsuccessful.

Darnley was not the brightest of people and unfit to rule so Mary didn't allow him a real share of her power. In 1566 a number of men who supported Darnley's claim broke into the Queen's residence and murdered David Riccio in her presence. Riccio had a great influence in the court and was said to be haughty with the nobles, he was also Catholic so it was unsurprising that he was chosen as a target. Darnley's dagger was deliberately left in Riccio's corpse. Mary pardoned the rebels from the Chaseabout uprising but not the murderers of Riccio and after a brief reconciliation with Darnley their relationship was soon doomed once again.

Mary began to get close with James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell. Her marriage to Darnley did manage to produce a son but Darnley did not even attend the baptism of Prince James. Mary and Bothwell were left with the problem of how to get rid of Darnley. Divorce was one option as was the death of Darnley which seemed likely after Mary pardoned the Riccio murderers and released them in late 1566 but things were complicated further when Mary discovered she was pregnant again in January 1567 and the father was obviously not her estranged husband. Mary now had to reconcile with Darnley, who was ill and laid up in Glasgow, at least long enough for marital relations to be resumed and legitimate her pregnancy.

Darnley was resting in a house at Kirk o´ Field with little security. His illness was apparently caused by poisoning and a further plot in February 1567 saw several barrels of gunpowder placed below the house causing it to be completely destroyed. The king managed to escape the house before it blew up only to be confronted by a band of murderers in the garden who quickly dispatched him.

We don't know who really killed Darnley partly because there was no shortage of possible candidates for the crime. It is even possible that more than one plot was in action when he was killed. In any case it left Mary in a very precarious position and she had no choice but an early marriage to the father of her unborn child. For the sake of appearances or perhaps genuinely Bothwell kidnapped Mary before their marriage in May however the marriage was universally condemned as a disgrace and Mary was seen as complicit. Bothwell was still strongly suspected of the murder of Darnley.

An army was raised against Mary and Bothwell and they were defeated. Bothwell eventually died in prison in Denmark in 1578 after apparently falling victim to insanity as Arran had done. Mary surrendered and was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle and forced to abdicate. Her son was crowned King James VI at Stirling on the 29th July. She escaped in 1568 and raised a small force but was defeated and fled to England where she was imprisoned yet again. Moray was appointed regent but not all the nobles supported the removal of the queen and indeed the English Queen Elizabeth refused to recognise his administration and began proceedings which could have restored Mary to her throne. The Casket Letters were the main evidence against Mary, supposedly correspondence she had sent to Bothwell though the authenticity has always been the subject of debate amongst historians. In the event they were enough to prevent Mary from reclaiming her throne or her freedom.

Elizabeth failed to take fully decisive action, allowing a number of regents to take successive control of Scotland as Mary remained in custody until 1587 when she was found guilty of having knowledge of Babington's plot to kill Elizabeth. Mary was executed on the 8th of February. Her son James was under pressure to attack England in retaliation but he refused in hopes of having himself confirmed as the successor to the English throne. As it turned out he would become the king of both Scotland and England without being explicitly named so when in 1603, after Elizabeth died, an Accession Council proclaimed James the new king.