The Birth of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots in black gown

On the 8th of December 1542, nearly a month after the defeat of the Scottish troops at Solway Moss, Princess Mary Stewart was born on Linlithgow Palace. She was the only surviving child of Mary of Guise and James V of Scotland. Unlike his father who had died in the battlefield, nearly three decades before him, James V died as a result of an illness

“There is no record that James ever saw his daughter, though he might have had time to do so before he was laid low by severe illness.” (Porter)

James V died six days after Mary’s birth, making Mary the first Christ Queen Regnant of the British Isles. She was crowned the following year, being less than a year old. There is a tradition that when James V heard of his daughter’s birth that he said “It came with a lass and it will end with a lass.” But this as Porter points out, given how ill he was, it is highly dubious that he was able to utter such coherent words. But for historical novelists, this makes up for good drama no doubt.

Mary, Queen of Scots as she became known became part of the ‘Rough Wooing’ –this was an aggressive Anglo-Scottish policy that was Henry VIII’s brainchild. He sought to have the Scottish nobles he captured during the battle return to Scotland with the mission to convince the Queen Dowager and the other nobles to his proposal of a betrothal between her and his son (then) Prince Edward.

John Dudley

At one point, when her father’s body wasn’t yet cold, Henry VIII attempted to invade Scotland and there was one man who firmly opposed this and this was none other than John Dudley who’s reputation hasn’t been so good thanks in part to his former allies turning against him when the going got tough following the Jane Grey fiasco and pop culture.

Before Christmas of that year, John Dudley voiced his concerns, saying that “seeing that God hath thus disposed his will of the said King of Scots, I thought it should not be to Your Majesty’s honor, that we your soldiers should make war or invade upon a dead body or upon a widow or upon a young suckling…”

When the King died, a man who continued Henry VIII’s aggressive policy under his royal nephew and new King was Edward Seymour, newly named Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset.

Edward Seymour, by an unknown artist.

Somerset had no intention for diplomacy. A hugely divisive figure as his (later) rival, John Dudley, he was willing to be lenient and do everything in his power to work for the common good (although his policies proved ineffective) but when it came to Scotland he was completely hostile. As far as he was concerned, diplomacy was failing. The Scots could understand he meant business by only one way and that was through fire and blood. Pillaging and heavy artillery. Although this did the trick, planting fear into the Scots’ hearts, it also strengthened Mary of Guise and her allies’ resolve. She decided to stall and secretly sent her daughter, her companions, among them the well-known four Maries, her half brother (Moray, who would return shortly after), to France where she would meet her future spouse, the future King of France, Francois.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots during her years of captivity during Elizabeth I’s reign.

Mary, Queen of Scots has a lot of detractors and defenders and seldom any people in between. On the one hand you have this naïve girl who was well-educated, who loved playing sports, and dressed in men’s clothes for that, and was also very beautiful, and had received not a lot of training to be a ruler but more how to be a Queen Consort while she was in France, but on the other hand, you also have a girl who caught on pretty fast and who wanted to reconcile both factions of her country, Protestant and Catholic, and tried her best but failed. And then tried again, using conspiracy to oust her cousin Queen Elizabeth when she didn’t agree to reinstate her. And this last act of hers not only failed but ended with her being sentenced to death. This was extremely painful as her executioner botched it and it took more than one blow to finish the deed.
The truth is likely somewhere in between. Mary was a quick learner, well-learned, fashionable Queen, but at the same time, she was also tired after years of trying and having little to show for it except plotters at every turn who hated her because of her sex and religion and for refusing to give up. When she finally gave up, she tried to rise up but once again she felt defeated and sought her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England for help and as previously stated, when she realized this was a huge mistake, she plotted against her and this ended with terrible results. She was much a victim of circumstance as of her own actions and rearing.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts by Linda Porter
  • Ten Tudor Statesmen by Arthur D. Innes
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Tudors by John Guy
  • Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy
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2 thoughts on “The Birth of Mary, Queen of Scots

  1. erikdefruscio December 8, 2015 / 4:39 pm

    Minerva,

    This is a wonderful and eloquent post. Mary, Queen of Scots was beautiful and played the part of Queen very well in the beginning (since she ruled two nations). However, once her husband was murdered and she then married the accused murderer, things went south for her. It seemed like somewhere along the line she lost her wits, thus of course costing her a head (and at a painful price as you mentioned).

    She was sneaky one!

    Liked by 1 person

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