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Mary Queen of Scots (1542 - 1587)

Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots

Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots (after a c.1578 Nicholas Hilliard painting)

Mary Queen of Scots was the daughter of King James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. Mary was only one week old when her father died and she became the queen. She spent most of her young life at the French Court and, in 1557 at the age of fifteen, she married the Dauphin who was soon to become King François II of France. When François II was killed in a riding accident in 1560, only seventeen months after he became king, Mary returned to Scotland.

After spending so many years in France, Mary had become devoutly Catholic. She was regarded by English Catholics as the rightful queen of England. She was, after all, the grand daughter of Henry VIII's older sister, Margaret. In 1563 Elizabeth I made plans for Mary to marry Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Dudley was a favourite of Elizabeth's and she thought that, if he married Mary, it would keep the Queen of Scots under control and therefore less of a threat to the English throne.

Things did not work out as Elizabeth had planned. Against Elizabeth's wishes, in July 1565, Mary married her cousin, Henry Stuart, who was titled Lord Darnley. The following year Mary gave birth to a son, James. The marriage was not successful and Mary took a lover, her secretary David Rizzio. In 1567, David Rizzio was murdered in Holyrood House. Soon after that, Mary's husband Darnley was also murdered when his house was blown up.

Not long after her husband's murder Mary married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. He was suspected of being responsible for Darnley's death. The Scots, shocked by the murders, sent an army against the couple, and Bothwell was defeated in the battle. He managed to escape, but Mary was locked up in Lochleven Castle. Her thirteen month old son was crowned King James VI of Scotland.

After five months as a prisoner Mary escaped to England. At first she was kept in Bolton castle while Elizabeth decided what should be done with her. Mary was charged with being involved in her second husband's murder. There was no real trial, and Elizabeth acted as Mary’s judge. Certain letters were produced, known as the Casket Letters, which supposedly proved Mary's guilt.

Elizabeth was reluctant to send Mary back to Scotland or to bring her to proper trial. Mary was a queen, after all, and she was Elizabeth's second cousin, as well as being in line for the English throne. The problem, however, was that the English Catholics wanted to replace Elizabeth by Mary, and there were many plots to try to do so. Mary spent nineteen years as a prisoner being moved around the country, to in such places as Sheffield Castle, Tutbury and, finally, Fotheringhay in Northampton.

Eventually, the final plot against Mary was a set up arranged by Elizabeth's advisors. Even with so much evidence against Mary, Elizabeth was still reluctant to execute her, but once the queen had put her signature to the death warrant, her advisors acted quickly before she changed her mind. Mary was beheaded at Fotheringhay on the 8th. of February, 1587. She was forty four years old when she died.


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Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.