Book Review: The Queen’s Mary by Sarah Gristwood

Mary Seaton historical fiction

Seldom are there books written from the point of view a minor historical character that manage to captivate my attention as this one did. It is engaging, from start to finish, and a great illustration of the period seen through the lens of one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ trusted ladies.

Sarah Gristwood is best known for her non-fiction, primarily her biographies focusing on the lives of European queens from the late medieval to the early modern period. This is no different, except that it is fiction and yet, it feels s if you are reading one of her biographies because she is very detailed when it comes to fashion, the type of garments that nobles, based on their status, bloodline, etc, would have used, and the foods they could afford, and other excess.

There is a part towards the end where it was harrowing to read, which I won’t spoil but those who already read this, probably know what I am talking about, and it is a testament to her talent about being able to put herself in her characters’ shoes, historical ones no doubt! And give them a voice that doesn’t feel out of place with the rest of the events.

Scotland in the sixteenth century was for lack of a better word, a mess. And this novel doesn’t shy away from showing the negative from every religious side, including its most prominent members who only cared about their self-interest.

We see the world through the lens of a little girl who learns from the get go that her life’s purpose is to serve the child-queen and protect her interests above all else. As she gets older, her faith in Her Grace is shaken. She goes from servant, to friend to confidant.
We watch the downfall of a woman whose future seemed bright, and who was determined to reclaim what she viewed was hers because of her blood. Unfortunately, the Scotland she left is not the same one she returned and the people are hungry for leadership, and the nobles will side with whoever keeps their family fortunes intact. Mary Stuart is cunning and ambitious, Mary Seaton sees that, and she is far more resilient than she is given credit to, but she can’t come to terms with the new political climate, one which is entirely hostile towards female kings and her faith.

My only criticism comes for the time jumps. The first one felt necessary but towards the end, many things felt unnecesarily rushed. But I would have liked more flashbacks. However, I can look past it because as I previously mentioned, the plot moved along nicely thanks to brilliant dialogue.
Through her eyes we also get to see her wins and losses, and her personal struggles as she is forced to decide between her family and her queen, her family and her faith, or between her desires and her sworn duty to stand by her queen’s side no matter what.
It is an emotional roller coaster and a book that every history buff will quickly binge on. I greatly enjoy it and if you are new to this period, this is a good novel to start that will get you interested in finding more about the lives of these extraordinary and tragic women.

The Burial of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

Margaret Douglas
Margaret Douglas

On the 3rd of April 1578, Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, was buried at the lady chapel in Westminster Abbey. Despite being referred by her late half-brother, James V of Scotland, as his “natural sister”, she was given the full honors of a Princess.

Margaret was the mother of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots who was suspected of his mother. Margaret initially suspected her as well until she changed her mind, and took her daughter-in-law’s side.

After Mary Stuart became Elizabeth I’s captive, Margaret and her husband, Matthew Stewart, the Earl of Lennox, worked tirelessly to secure their grandson, James VI, King of Scots’ future. After his regent was assassinated, the Earl was sent to rule on his grandson’s behalf but he too was assassinated.

Margaret spent her last seven years securing Protestant noble alliances. Despite being Mary I of England’s best friend and confidant, she always made sure not to be too partisan. When Elizabeth became Queen, some of her close associates blamed Margaret Douglas for Elizabeth’s imprisonment during her half-sister’s reign. There were rumors that Mary wished to do the same thing her half-brother had done by overriding their father’s will, taking Elizabeth out of the line of succession and naming Margaret her heir instead. Whether this is true or not, Mary decided not to repeat Edward VI’s mistake, leaving their father’s will unchanged which enabled a peaceful transition of power -that was much needed in England- for Elizabeth to become Queen.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth’s councilors succeeded in making their mistress paranoid. It didn’t help that Margaret like their Tudor ancestress and her namesake, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, had ambitions of her own. Although Elizabeth I had pushed for a union between Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots, she decided against it, and instead proposed her favorite, Robert Dudley -going so far as to ennoble him and propose to her royal cousin that the three of them live at court.
For obvious reasons, Mary didn’t like this idea, and decided to accept her cousin Margaret and her son’s offer instead. When Elizabeth found out that Henry Stewart and his father were headed off to Scotland, she put his mother under house arrest. The wedding still went ahead but the newlyweds soon realized how mismatched they were. Henry was described as arrogant and uppity, having expected more than the decorative title of King Consort, while Mary’s only interest in him was his bloodline and his availability to provide her with heirs.

After Darnley died and she married Bothwell, her enemies moved against her, forcing her to give up her crown. With Bothwell out of the way and having miscarried twins, she felt hopeless. She wasn’t getting any sympathy after she fled to England, hoping she’d find support from Elizabeth there, from her mother-in-law. After a few years had passed, Margaret’s view of the former Queen of Scots changed. But there was little that Margaret could do for her daughter-in-law. As far as she knew it, the future lay with her grandson. She envisioned that through him, she’d be triumphant. She was right. Before she died, she commissioned the “Lennox jewel” which portrayed her grandson as the King of Scots and the future King of England. That heart shaped shaped locket best describes her as someone “who hopes still constantly with patience shall obtain victory in their claim”. And she did prove to be the most patient in the end.

Donating to the Anglican church and Elizabeth I’s top councilors, as well as endearing herself to her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, Margaret assured that her legacy would remain. On February 1578, she received the Earl on her house. After he left, she fell ill. Knowing it might be the end, she wrote her last testament days later on the twenty sixth still in “perfect mind” and “good health of body”. In it, she asked the body of her son younger son Charles (who had died years before leaving only a daughter, Arbella), be buried with her at Westminster. She died a week and a half later in March 10th, and on April 3, she had a funeral worthy of a Princess.

Margaret Douglas as England’s first Christian Queen Regnant, Mary I, has often been neglected in history. While she doesn’t suffer from the over-deification of Elizabeth or the vilification of Mary I (and in this she is perhaps the most lucky of Tudor women), she’s suffered from neglect. Not to mention in fiction where she’s especially absent. Recently though, she has appeared on Reign season four where she is portrayed as a doting but domineering mother, who is equal in ambition and political aptitude as her royal cousin, Queen Elizabeth. While Reign is one of the least accurate series to date, the way Margaret is portrayed is not completely false.

While she was never a queen nor title holder in her own right, she made history in her own way by ensuring the continuation of her bloodline, and securing her oldest grandchild’s inheritance. She was a woman who knew how to play the dangerous game of politics, and got away with each of her schemes. Following the moral code of the day, she used her position as wife and mother to get ahead, and survive the Tudor court -something that wasn’t easily achieved by anyone, let alone a woman.

lennox_jewell(2)
The Lennox Jewel was commissioned by Margaret Douglas and it depicted her ambitions for her grandson, James VI, to become King of England. He was the fulfillment of her legacy.

Buried with the founders of the Tudor Dynasty, Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York, Margaret Douglas sent a powerful message: That it would be her line which would endure, ruling as Kings and Queens of all the British Isles after Elizabeth was gone.

Some of her contemporaries described her as “a lady of most pious character, invincible spirit, and matchless steadfastness … mighty in virtue … mightier in lineage” and a “progenitor of princes” in her son Darnley and in her grandson, James VI of Scotland and I of England.

Sources:

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

The Birth of Henry Stewart: King, Duke & Baron

Henry Stewart Lord Darnley
Henry and his younger brother, Charles

On the 7th of December 1545, Henry Stewart, Baron of Darnley was born at Temple Newsam in Yorkshire. Lord Darnley was the eldest surviving son of Margaret Douglas, the only daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland from her second husband, the Earl of Angus, and Matthew Stewart, the Earl of Lennox. Ambitious like his mother, he knew his value and what their union could mean, so his parents risked everything for the young couple to marry. Not only were the two related, descending from Henry VII via his eldest daughter Margaret, but they also had Stewart royal blood flowing through their veins. Mary was the Queen of Scots while Henry descended from James II via his father.

margaret-douglas-countess-2

Elizabeth suggested a union with her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, but after so many promises and no straight answers regarding Mary’s possible place in the line of succession, the Queen of Scots got tired of waiting and rolled the dice. Not only that, but Elizabeth wasn’t serious about her proposal. On March of that year Leicester wrote that his mistress was not going to make Mary her heir until she married or notified “her determination never to marry.” Aka no answer for now.

“The countess was more than willing to take on her first cousin, Queen Elizabeth, and to undermine her with the help of European Catholic allies if she could.” (Porter)

From her home at Settrington in Yorkshire, Porter adds that she fostered links with Catholic allies in Spain and France. Scotland had a long history with the latter thanks to the Auld Alliance and Mary’s first marriage. However, the Countess of Lennox was also a practical woman and if she wanted her son to succeed in his enterprise, he had to win the Queen over.

Darnley did win her over. He was young, good looking and had a strong lineage. The couple married on the 25th of July. Three days before he was created Duke of Albany to give him nobler status and thus more qualified to marry the Queen of Scots. Four days after their union, he was proclaimed King. But despite Mary’s first impression of him, their marriage turned out to be a disaster. At the time of their meeting, the Scottish Ambassador later recalled that he had felt that Darnley was too young and too unprepared for the road ahead. He was right. Proud and stubborn, he wanted to be Mary’s co-ruler, something she wasn’t going to give because she wanted to make it clear that she –and she alone- was Queen.

Mary Queen of Scots in black gown

Gender roles were very important during this era. Wives were subservient to husbands and as his wife, Darnley must’ve felt like Mary owed him something more than the title of King Consort. Mary however, was a Queen Regnant and Queens Regnant were usually seen as the exception to this rule. And I say usually because they often had to use religious language to get their message across. (Elizabeth for example used religious imagery during her coronation in January of 1559, and was compared to the biblical prophetess and warrior Deborah, telling the English people that as her biblical counterpart she would defend her people and be a warrior for the Anglican Church. Nearly a century earlier, Isabella I of Castile had done the same thing. She employed the image of the Virgin Mary and other religious figures in paintings of her family as a means to justify her actions, and a quick reminder that she was a defender of the church.)

Darnley’s mother was also angry and wrote to her daughter-in-law at which Mary was “greatly offended”. Taking advantage of the couple’s animosity for each other, the Protestant faction of which her half-brother the Earl of Moray belonged, began to involve Darnley in their plans. When Mary heard of her husband and his newfound allies trying to provide him with shelter but Darnley and his men still found their way in. Mary was held at gunpoint by her husband as his men took Riccio away. The poor man was stabbed 55 times. Darnley’s dagger was found next to his body. Whether it was Darnley who did the deed or someone else who put his dagger next to the body so he would be blamed is irrelevant. Darnley likely knew what awaited his wife’s secretary and played right into the Protestant faction’s game.

Elizabeth-I_Rainbow-Portrait

Elizabeth I however was not amused. She reportedly said to the Spanish Ambassador Silva: “Do you think the Queen of Scotland has been well treated to have armed men entering her chamber, as if it were that of a public woman, for the purpose of killing a man without reason?”
She wasn’t the only one who expressed fury at Darnley’s actions. His parents did as well. Margaret couldn’t believe what her son had done and hoped that Mary would forgive him. Lennox on the other hand was at a loss of words. Luckily for them, Margaret got her wish. Mary reconciled herself with their son, forestalling Moray’s coup. But things soon went south again.
That same year the couple welcomed their first and only son who was named Charles James, after his godfather Charles IX of France and his grandfather James V of Scots. The birth of their son did nothing to mitigate the couple’s resentment for each other. The following year in 1567 Darnley was murdered.

Mary’s consort had been staying at the Old Provost Lodging in Edinburgh. The people nearby were shaken by the violent explosion and found nothing but rubble where the old building had once stood. Darnley’s body was found nearby.

In the beginning Margaret accused her daughter-in-law, but following her capitulation and the coronation of her son, the Countess found herself questioning the evidence against her. Although she never got closure, Margaret’s ambitions to see her line come on top became true. Her grandson not only became King of Scotland, but was also crowned King of England after her cousin Elizabeth died in 1603.

In popular fiction Darnley is depicted as a proud and ineffective politician, who got what was coming to him because his deep involvement in Moray’s and other courtiers’ plot against his wife. He is also depicted as a bisexual –something from which there is no proof. Taking into account how bisexuals are negatively portrayed in our media, it should come as no surprise how one dimensional his character is in one historical fiction.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

 

The Death of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland

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On the 18th of October 1541, Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, died at Methven Castle, Scotland. She was married thrice, first King James IV of Scotland, then Archibald Douglas the Earl of Angus, and lastly to Henry Stewart, Lord Methven. She had children from her first two marriages: James V and Margaret Douglas. Their offspring, Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley’s union produced James VI of Scotland who became King of England after Elizabeth I died without leaving any issue.

James IV and Margaret Tudor

Being her parents’ eldest daughter, meant that she was going to expect a grand marriage and given that England desperately needed an alliance (following the Perkin Warbeck fiasco whom the Scottish King had backed) it wasn’t surprising who was picked for her. When she arrived to Scotland in 1503 and met her future husband for the first time, they hit it off immediately. The two danced, partied and spent several nights talking about the upcoming wedding ceremony. Margaret urged him to cut his beard, and James agreed. As with her brother’s wife, Katherine of Aragon, Margaret suffered many miscarriages until she finally gave birth to two healthy boys. Of these two, only one reached adulthood and became King after his father’s tragic death in the battle of Flodden in 1513.

Margaret Tudor has been criticized for her decision to marry the Earl of Angus, citing that it made her lose the Regency which her husband had left her with (with the condition that she didn’t marry), and it nearly brought a civil war with her constant fighting with her son’s new regent, the Duke of Albany. Although all of this is true, for Margaret marrying Angus had nothing to do with lust and much less with love. A pragmatic woman like her father and namesake, she wanted someone from a powerful family who could help her rule in her son’s name, and offer her military support in case the other lords turned against her. When she realized the mistake she’d made, she looked for other options. And although her brother was initially supportive of her, when he heard that Margaret had annulled her marriage to Angus, he was furious and heavily criticized her, telling her that she had made a mockery of the sanctity of marriage. This is really ironic considering what he did less than two decades after he had his marriage annulled to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, and not long after that, annulled his second marriage so he could marry again.

Margaret_Tudor_Portrait

While Margaret wasn’t highly influential in her son’s reign, she was very close to his second wife, Mary of Guise, and comforted her when she lost both of her sons (from her first marriage) in May of that year.

She was buried in St. John’s Abbey in Perth where most of the Scottish monarcha are buried and two decades later, at the height of religious unrest, the Calvinist stormed in the Abbey, desecrated her grave and burned her skeleton. “Her ashes were contemptuously scattered” Porter writes in her biography on Tudors and Stewarts, and therefore “like her first husband, she has no monument.” But her legacy got to live on through both of her offspring when their descendant became King of England, and since then, every monarch that sits on the English throne can trace their ancestry back to her.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Thistle and the Rose by Hester W. Chapman
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation: The story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

James VI of Scotland becomes I of England

James VI of Scotland and I of England and his wife, Anne of Denmark.
James VI of Scotland and I of England and his wife, Anne of Denmark.

On Monday July 25th 1603 James VI of Scotland became the I of England after he and his beautiful Anna of Denmark were crowned King and Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. James arrived to London on May of that year, his wife was not with him at the time because she was heavily pregnant but she arrived in time for their coronation. There had not been another joint coronation in almost a century. The last being the one with his predecessor’s father with his first spouse, Katherine of Aragon in 1509. He was also the first Scottish King to see the stone of Scone again. (The stone had been taken by the English under Edward I and placed in the coronation chair.) As usual, the archbishop of Canterbury (John Whitgift) was in charge of the ceremony, anointing the couple with the holy oils before placing the crowns of the St Edward and St Edith on their heads.

James VI

James VI had a terrible childhood, much like his forebears, including his great-grandfather. He had been used and abused by his tutors who were just looking to someone to manipulate and to mold into their little puppet. He was then told that his mother was the most horrible person in the world to the point that he did not know what the truth was anymore. When he was a teenager he became very independent and learned to hide his feelings very well but he also started working for his mother’s release.
Who knows what really went through his mind. Did he really care about her? Or was he was just looking to release her because he was worried that her execution and her bad reputation would also affect him and his chances to get the throne? There is some reason to believe this last one because Fontenay, the French Ambassador, noted that whenever James talked about his mother, he never “inquired anything of the queen or of her health, or her treatment, her servants, her living, and eating, her recreation, or anything similar.”
And how could he when he never knew her and the people who raised him kept telling him ugly stuff about her?

Elizabeth-I_Rainbow-Portrait

Whichever was, Elizabeth I was never going to release MQS anytime soon and she must have made this very clear because the following year in 1585, when James was 19, he agreed with her decision to keep his mother in prison and even called Elizabeth “Madame Mother”. This made MQS go ballistic because this was her only son, the only hope she had to get free, calling her jailer ‘mother’. It was at this point that she started looking for other means to be released.

NPG 1766,Mary, Queen of Scots,by Unknown artist

“In all Christendom I shall find enough heirs with talons strong enough to grasp what I may put in their hand.”

Something we know ended in failure and with her eventual execution. But that July was her son’s day. In an ironic twist, Henry VII and his mother’s prayers of seeing his descendants on the throne of England for centuries did come true but not through his male heir and his descendants, but through his eldest daughter Margaret Tudor’s brood.

“When he [James VI] entered London for the first time on that spring morning in 1603” Linda Porter writes, “he was fulfilling the hopes of the marriage of James IV to Margaret Tudor a century before that the two crowns might, one day, be united.” And she is right. Henry VII did a lot to ensure peace between both kingdoms and agreed to prosecute border criminals in courts of law that would include Scottish and English jurors (to avoid bias). He also worked with Scottish noblemen to ensure that there would be less raids on England’s Northern borders and Scotland’s Southern border. It is hard to say though, that Henry VII would have ever envisioned this future for his country. Maybe Porter is right and he did. His ancestor Edward I certainly tried this when he negotiated a marriage between the maid of Norway (who died before she could be crowned Queen of Scots) and his heir, Edward of Caernarfon (future Edward II). Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, almost succeeded but Mary of Guise was a lot smarter than he thought, and she sent her daughter away to France to marry the Dauphin, instead of his heir.

Henry VII, first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty and his eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor.
Henry VII, first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty and his eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor.

James VI was twice descended from Henry VII through both his parents. Mary, Queen of Scots as you all know, descended from Margaret Tudor’s first marriage to King James IV of Scotland, while Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley descended from her second to the Earl of Angus.

Although Elizabeth never named an heir, James became the most obvious choice and her councilors started having secret correspondence with him since 1601. After Bess’ death in 24 March 1603, parliament declared in favor of James and Robert Cecil sent a messenger to Scotland less than a month later to tell the King of Scotland of the recent events. James immediately set out for England. On the day of his coronation, he and Anne were gorgeously dressed, and even though there was an outbreak of plague, “the streets seemed paved with men and women” wrote one observer, that were eager to see their new king and queen.
This was after all, the end of an era -the Tudor era- and the start of a new one.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor England by Claire Ridgway by Claire Ridgway

The Treaty of Greenwich, the Rough Wooing and Beyond

Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots.
Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots.

On the 1st of July 1543 the Treaty of Greenwich was signed which stipulated that the future King of England, Prince Edward Tudor would marry the Queen of Scots, Mary (I) Stewart. Mary of Guise was forced to agree with this treaty since as Consort she never really had a lot of influence outside of hosting pageantry and boosting her husband’s image through her own. However, with her husband’s death the past year, she began to be more involved in government, primarily because of her daughter’s well-being.

The Treaty had been discussed since the aftermath of James’ death. The pro-Protestant faction headed by the Earl of Arran agreed with the treaty and reached a compromise with the other Scottish lords. The Treaty seemed like a triumph for English ambitions of annexing Scotland to their domain. Never before had this happened. The last King who had these ambitions was Edward I of England. He sought to make the maid of Norway the new Queen of Scots –and in doing that, he would marry her to his son, Edward of Caernarfon (future Edward II) uniting both realms. Now Henry was going to make that dream a reality.
The treaty goes as follows:

  1. Prince Edward, eldest son and heir apparent of Henry VIII, now in his sixth year, shall marry Mary Queen of Scotland now in her first year.
  2. Upon the Consummation of the marriage, if the King is still alive, he shall assign to the said Mary, as dower, lands in England to the annual value of 2000 to be increased upon his death to 4,000.
  3. Until, by force of this treaty, the said Mary is brought into England she shall remain in custody of the barons appointed thereto by the 3 states of Scotland; and yet, for her better education and care, the King may send, at his expense, an English nobleman or gentleman with his wife or other lady or ladies and their attendants not exceeding 20 in all, to reside with her.
  4. Within a month after she completes her tenth year she shall be delivered to commissioners of England at the bounds of Berwick, provided that before her departure from Scotland the contract of marriage has been duly made by proxy.
  5. Within two months after the date of this treaty shall be delivered into England six noblemen of Scotland, two of whom, at the least, shall be earls or next heirs of earls and the rest barons or their next heirs, as hostages for the observance on the part of Scotland of these three conditions … the first and fourth articles of this treaty and the condition that if any of these hostages die he shall be replaced within two months by another of equal quality; Scotland, however, is to have power to change the hostages every six months for other of equal quality.
  6. Scotland shall continue to be called the kingdom of Scotland and retain its ancient laws and liberties.
  7. If after the marriage the Prince should die without issue the said Princess shall be at liberty to return into Scotland unmarried and free of impediment.
  8. Upon her going into England, James earl of Arran, governor of Scotland, who meanwhile shall receive the fruits of that realm, shall receive an acquittance thereof from the King and Prince Edward, a convenient portion for her honorable entry into England reserved.
  9. This treaty to be ratified within two months.

But Henry’s hopes proved to be (in Porter’s words) a true “chimera” because not long after Arran fell from power, many things happened which led to the Queen Mother becoming more influential than she had ever been, and making decisions in her daughter’s name, one of which included betrothing her to Francois I’s grandson, Francis. This did not happen all at once. By the time Mary Queen of Scots and her companions (among them her half-brother –who returned to Scotland shortly after- and her four female friends known as the “Four Maries”) a new King was in power. His name was Henry II and he was married to Catherine de Medici, although he was majorly influenced by his mistress, Diane Poiters who instantly formed a friendship with the child-Queen.
Henry II was just as conniving as his father, and he went a step further making her sign an agreement (shortly before her marriage) where she granted crown matrimonial rights to her husband and to France if she died and had no heirs. (This would come back to bite her later on.)

James Hamilton, Second Earl of Arran. He would become a Catholic after he agreed to a new betrothal between the Queen of Scots and the French Dauphin.
James Hamilton, Second Earl of Arran. He would become a Catholic after he agreed to a new betrothal between the Queen of Scots and the French Dauphin.

The Scots had always answered their monarch’s call when it came fighting against England. But this time it was different because the religious wars had creeped into Scotland, dividing the country into two. Yet despite their religious differences, there were some new Protestants that believed in Scottish sovereignty (such as Arran). The Earl intended to marry his son to the King’s youngest daughter, the lady Elizabeth Tudor, but if this failed and if the match between Prince Edward and his young Queen did not come to be, he also plotted to marry his son to her. Arran spent a lot of time negotiating with the English King through the latter’s ambassador, Ralph Sadler (who was a former protégé of his late minister, Thomas Cromwell) and sent commissioners south of the borders. But Henry VIII proved to be quite a challenge for them. Although these men were Anglophiles and were willing to give England a piece of the pie –more than Arran was willing to do- Henry still demanded too much. They succeeded in having him agree that Mary would stay in Scotland until she was ten but Henry also had the right to send “a nobleman or gentleman, with his wife or other lady or ladies and their attendants, not exceeding twenty in all, to reside with her”.

Mary of Guise.
Mary of Guise.

None of this came to be when Mary of Guise came to power and sent her daughter away (which Arran came to consent and he became a Catholic once again). What was known as the “Rough Wooing” came to be and carried on into Henry’s son, Edward VI, reign. Edward VI’s eldest uncle, the lord Protector, His Grace Duke of Somerset, sent many troops into Scotland, with the intention to pillage, kill and intimidate the Scots. Something he did not manage to do. And something which his successor, the future Duke of Northumberland did not agree.

Mary (I) Tudor, first Queen Regnant of England. The only things she had in common with MQS and her mother were their names and their religion.
Mary (I) Tudor, first Queen Regnant of England. The only things she had in common with MQS and her mother were their names and their religion.

During Mary I’s reign, although she was Catholic, she continued with her father and brother’s policy of aggression towards Scotland. She used the best tools and allies she had, her cousin Margaret Douglas and her husband who had been a prominent Scots, the Earl of Lennox, Matthew Stewart. Many believe that her religion made her into this evil mastermind who intended to unite all Catholic powers against her Protestant enemies. As enticing as this sound –and no doubt this would work in a Marvel or DC Alternate Universe of these events- this is not what happened. The only thing Mary (I) Tudor had in common with Mary of Guise and Mary, Queen of Scots was her name. That’s it. She was still spying and bribing people to keep tabs on the situation there and profiting from the religious tensions that were going on in the Regent’s court.

Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Elizabeth I.

With Elizabeth I’s tensions intensified. Proving she was the lion’s daughter, she did not agree but neither did she not agree to make Mary Queen of Scots (who was a widow by the time she came back to her native land) her heir and she put conditions on her that if she did not abide by them, then she could not inherit Elizabeth’s crown. We all know what happened there, no need to relive the events that led to Mary Stewart’s tragic death.

James VI of Scotland. On his cousin Elizabeth I's death, he became King of England.
James VI of Scotland. On his cousin Elizabeth I’s death, he became King of England.

Yet, Henry VIII’s ambitions as his ancestor –Edward I’s- would materialize but not in the way they would have imagined. After the Tudor Dynasty died out with Elizabeth I being the last monarch of that line, James VI of Scotland became King of England, uniting once and for all both realms. James VI was the only surviving son of Mary, Queen of Scots by her second marriage to her cousin, Henry Stewart otherwise known as Lord Darnley. Through both his parents he descended from the first Tudor monarch’s eldest daughter –Princess Margaret Tudor.  His descendants still reign today.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

15th May 1567: A Most Unhappy (and Forced) Union

MQS c.1565

On this day, MQS (Mary, Queen Of Scots) & James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell were married at Holyrood House. The ceremony was conducted by the Bishop of Orkney. This action has often been criticized and taken as proof that Mary was an incompetent Queen. In the show Reign, I will give you the win, she is. In real life, the issue gets more complicated because she was far from the Mary-Sue-ish character she is often portrayed in Hollywood films. She was an intelligent, articulate, brave young woman who knew her position, and what was expected of her. However as Linda Porter, John Guy and other historians have pointed out in their respective biographies of her, she was raised as a Consort while in France instead of a Queen Regnant. This, no doubt, was problematic to many, including her defenders, who viewed that whoever she married was going to be the true ruler of their realm. (And it didn’t help that she signed, although coaxed, documents before her wedding to Francis that she would hand over the kingdom to the French crown if she died without issue). But her experience in French shaped her no doubt, being a close observer of court politics and seeing the family dynamics of the King, the King’s mistress and the King’s wife; her mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici. It was suggested after she became a widow that she married the next in line, her brother-in-law Charles, but Catherine and some French courtiers refused. The Guise family was rising too high and since her mother’s engagement to her father, the King of Scotland, they had been viewed as upstarts. She returned to Scotland and contrary to what is often shown in TV shows and movies; she didn’t seek to dethrone her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Although Mary had a claim to the English throne as a descendant of the first Tudor monarch (Henry VII) eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor; she preferred to ‘charm’ her older cousin so she would name her, her heiress. She went so far to win Elizabeth’s favor that she started allowing Protestant mass and the book of common prayer. However, Elizabeth did not want to name any heirs for fear they would start plotting against her. Elizabeth I was justified in her fears, but this made MQS frustrated and very soon she started voicing those frustrations to her cousin via her ambassadors. In response Elizabeth told them that while she preferred MQS over the Grey sisters, she could not name her, her heiress yet. Furthermore, she added, if MQS wanted to remain on Elizabeth I’s good side, she had to refuse any offer of marriage unless she had her royal permission. Mary agreed but as Elizabeth I kept delaying the matter of the line of succession, she got angry and went ahead and defied her cousin, marrying her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (another descendant of Margaret Tudor via her second marriage to the Earl of Angus). Elizabeth naturally panicked and had his family under house arrest, but this didn’t solve anything. MQS became pregnant right away and gave birth to a baby boy (the future James VI of Scotland and I of England). But things were not good for Mary, either. Defiance had a price and that price was in the form of a bad marriage. Disputes and disagreements, the two couldn’t reconcile no matter how hard his parents, especially his mother (the formidable Countess of Lennox, Margaret Douglas) tried. When Darnley was murdered, MQS was blamed and although evidence has been used to prove she was guilty, some recent historians have doubted the validity of the famous ‘Casket Letters’. Whatever the truth, MQS wasn’t his only enemy, he had many more in Scotland who were eager to see him dead. It is probable one of them killed him.

As soon as MQS knew, she tried to be diplomatic about it and arm herself to the teeth but failed. One notable courtier who often defended the young Queen (but wasn’t without self-ambition) got the idea of kidnapping her and marry her. Bothwell was “never a man to underrate himself or miss an opportunity”, Porter writes. He played a last part in MQS last parliament, and the day after he invited a number of the most influential lords to supper where he produced a draft of a bond he wanted his fellow lords to sign.

James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell. His bond was endorsed by eight bishops, and the earls of Morton, Huntly, Caithness, Argyll, Cassilis, Sutherland, Crawford, Errol and Rothes, and the Lords Boyd, Herries, Ogilvy and Sempill.
James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell. His bond was endorsed by eight bishops, and the earls of Morton, Huntly, Caithness, Argyll, Cassilis, Sutherland, Crawford, Errol and Rothes, and the Lords Boyd, Herries, Ogilvy and Sempill.

This was to confirm his innocence of Darnley’s murder and to defend himself of any lies said about him (using any means necessary), and furthermore to become Mary’s husband. The draft said Mary would be given a choice, but we all know what really happened when he encountered MQS’s party (who were headed to Edinburgh). Bothwell approached the Queen and said it was her choice to say yes or no, but there was not much of a choice.

“If she was truly kidnapped against her will, why did she not cry out or demand assistance as they passed through the various small towns and villages on route? There are several answers to this, the most obvious of which is that surrounded by a press of eight hundred horsemen it is unlikely that she could ever have been heard. But more persuasive even is the culture of the time: it would have been improper for a gentlewoman to try and fight her way out of the situation physically and, besides, Mary had no means of so doing even if she had been minded to try and escape. She does appear to have sent her messenger, James Borthwick, to Edinburgh to seek help from the citizens there, but all they could manage was tow salvoes of cannon as the riders went past them at speed. Mary was not completely at Bothwell’s mercy. When they arrived at Dunbar he dismissed all her ladies-in-waiting and replaced them with his sister Jane Hepburn the widow of Lord John Stewart, Mary’s favorite half-brother.” -Porter

There is plenty of evidence that points that Bothwell did rape Mary and since a Queen, although God’s anointed monarch, was supposed to protect her country and her reputation above all else; she could say very little. If she did scream or cry or denounce Bothwell she would have been seen as incompetent by the men of her times, including her cousin, who would use this opportunity to say that this was a Queen who was acting irrationally, who couldn’t control her own subjects and as a consequence, it was her fault for being so dumb. That was the thinking back then (and sometimes today too). With so few options, Mary could do nothing but recognize the marriage and accept it had happened. Furthermore, she was fearful for her son’s future. There were so many people who could abuse him, shape him into becoming something she dreaded, if she was deposed. So Mary did what so many women back then did, deny the charges of violence and tell her lords on the 12th of May that she forgave Bothwell for everything he had done, two days later she signed their marriage contract and on the fifteenth, she married him.

Sources:

  • Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary, Queen of Scots by John Guy
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn

The Queen and the Dauphin: Beyond their marriage

Mary Queen and Francis France
Mary, Queen of Scots at age thirteen, two years before her wedding and Francois II at the time of their wedding.

On the 24th of April 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots married her first husband, the Dauphin Francois Valois. Mary and her four companions known as the “four Maries” had been sent to France since she was a child to ensure her marriage to the Crown Heir of France. She had previously been betrothed to Prince Edward Tudor, only surviving son of Henry VIII. What was called the “Rough Wooing”, Henry VIII brokered a deal with the Regency at the time to betroth her to his son. Both parties agreed she would stay in Scotland but if needed be, she would be brought to England to be reared as future Consort to Edward. As the Regency weakened, her mother took advantage of the situation. Mary of Guise belonged to one of the most prominent families in France. They were seen as social climbers by many. However, they were known for their amassing wealth, and taking advantage of every situation. Initially her family considered -after she’d been widowed- to marry her to Henry VIII, but then James V made an offer which Francois pressed the Guise family into accepting since he wasn’t too happy with the prospect of having one of the rising families in France in alliance with his enemy. Mary of Guise had been a dutiful wife, but as the situation was beginning to deteriorate and she began to see everyone crowing around her daughter, waiting to use her for their own benefit, she stopped being idle and using her docility and apparent sweetness, she began networking with the greatest leaders in Scotland and convinced them to betroth her to France instead. This also helped her family’s interests. Henry VIII became aware of this and tried to stop it but he was too late. His incursions which were headed for the most part by his brother-in-law and future Lord Protector, Edward Seymour turned out to be for naught.

Mary was safe in France. When she disembarked, the King and her family wasted no time. There was a special household set for her. While movies depict her relationship with Catherine de Medici as the worst, this is not entirely true. It is true that she and Catherine were not the best of friends, but to state they were enemies is not very accurate either. As Porter says in her latest book ‘Tudors vs Stewarts’, it is evident that Mary, Queen of Scots learned a great deal more from Catherine de Medici, simply by watching her, how she ruled her household, how she conducted business, and how she behaved with dignity in spite of her husband’s treatment and took on the regency during the English-French wars when the former (under the control of Queen Mary (I) Tudor) lost Calais; learned the most from her than her closest ‘friend’-the King’s mistress, Diana Poiters. From the latter she obviously learned dress code, etiquette and other things such as charm. But it was Catherine from whom she learned about politics.

The couple was fifteen when they married. The ceremony was officiated by Charles Bourbon, the Cardinal and Archbishop of Rouen in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

“It was a Sunday and the citizens of Paris flocked to see the spectacle.” Linda Porter says and adds that the people were very impressed by the young Queen and Dauphine-to-be’s stature. She was taller than most girls and boys her age and unlike the constant depictions of her in the silver screen where she is all vain and clueless; she was more of a tomboy. When she played Tennis she would put on boy’s clothes and she loved exercising, riding, and doing other sports.

This is Mary in mourning. White was a color of mourning in France but two years prior in 1558, she broke tradition by wearing this color on her wedding day.
This is Mary in mourning. White was a color of mourning in France but two years prior in 1558, she broke tradition by wearing this color on her wedding day.

On the day of her wedding, she caused further stir when she came out wearing white. White was not the color used for wedding. Only other bride had used that color and broken with tradition. Her royal English cousin, Mary I Tudor; was the eldest daughter of Henry VIII by his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. When she married her first husband, Prince Arthur Tudor of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia, she had also broken with tradition and wore white and gold and Arthur, copying her, agreed to wear the same colors. Katherine had been the same age as Mary when she wed her first husband.

Besides her splendid gown, she wore a beautiful pendant around her neck engraved with her father-in-law, Henri II’s initials which she called ‘Great Harry’.

As all brides, she wore her hair down. It was a symbol of her purity, her maiden status. On her head she was a golden crown studded with rubies, diamonds and other precious gems.

Mary was seen as a valuable asset to France. Not only because of the Auld or Scottish-French alliance but because to many, she was more royal than Henry VIII’s bastardized daughters. If Mary (I) Tudor died without an heir, and many were saying she was likely to die soon since her last pregnancy turned out to be yet another phantom pregnancy, than that left the path clear for Mary who was the descendant of Henry VII through his eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor. Mary Tudor’s successor, Elizabeth, was still considered by most of Catholic Europe a bastard because of her mother, Anne Boleyn, and most of all, because of her Protestant affiliation.

And there was Mary, Queen of Scots herself. She was not only beautiful, accomplished and charming, but “naturally more intelligent and competent than the Dauphin” Dunn writes.

Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots

“She has grown so much, and grows daily in height, goodness, beauty and virtue, that she has become the most perfect and accomplished person in all hottest and virtuous things.” –Cardinal Archbishop of Rouen

Following the wedding ceremony, there was a sumptuous banquet, followed by the wedding night. Unlike the hit TV show Reign where the couple passionately consummates their union every night, it is unlikely this happened in real life. Francois was a sickly boy who –when he became King a year later- had to be helped so the weight of the crown didn’t hurt him. After he died in December 1560, there were talks of marrying her to the next in line, but this never came to be. Mary returned to Scotland, to rule a country she no longer recognized. Although she showed love to her subjects, the country she had been born into, was very different. It was torn by religion and many factions and they each conspired to bring Mary down following the murder of her second husband, Henry Stewart aka Lord Darnley.

Sources:

  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals and Queens by Jane Dunn
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter

The EXECUTION of Mary, Queen of Scots

Janet Kennedy blindfolding Mary, Queen of Scots. Painted by Abel de Pujol. 19th century.
Janet Kennedy blindfolding Mary, Queen of Scots. Painted by Abel de Pujol. 19th century.

Mary Queen of Scots was executed on the eighth of February at Fortheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. Mary had been found guilty of the famous “Casket Letters” in which she allegedly conspired to kill her royal cousin, Elizabeth, thus committing regicide. She was also guilty in the eyes of many of killing her second husband and cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. However it is important to note that her mother in law who initially believed she was guilty, no longer did and before her death, nine years before Mary’s execution, she wrote to Elizabeth and Cecil asking for clemency. Margaret Douglas was buried with royal honors, as a Princess. One of the last jewels she commissioned featured her grandson (Mary’s son) with his hands raised out to the sun and two crowns being placed on him which symbolized the crown of Scotland which he already had after his mother had been forced to abdicate on July 1567, and the other was of England, which he would eventually inherit after Elizabeth’s death.

MQS pink young

“This was the last captive princess of romance, the dowager queen of France, the exiled queen of Scotland, the heir to the English throne and (there must have been some among the silent witnesses who thought so), at this very moment, if she had her rights, England’s lawful queen. This was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. For a moment she held all their eyes, then she sank back into the darkness of her chair and turned her grave inattention to her judges, She was satisfied that her audience would look at no one else.” (Mattingly)

There have been many movies and historical fiction about Mary, but none have come any closer to understanding the real Queen of Scots. Mary was a very tragic figure, born in a turbulent time when the wars of religion were starting to tear her country apart, she was orphaned when she was less than two months old and crowned less than a year later with many Regents, including her mother. Marie de Guise was from the prominent de Guise family who many saw as “upstarts” and eyed with suspicion. At one point they conspired to marry their widowed daughter to the King of England who showed a strong interest in her. Mary’s mother had given birth to two healthy baby boys, and that was enough to attract the King of England, her uncle. But the King of France wisely chose to stall their ambitions and instead turn them to another suitor. The King of Scots. Scotland is seen as a backwards country in contrast to the greater countries of England, France and Spain but this can’t be further from the truth. Under the last three Stewarts, Scotland prospered greatly and became a center of culture, architectural greatness and a beacon of patronage for intellectuals. Mary’s parents always traveled the countryside. James V like his ancestors, made sure that the people knew him and had personal contact with him. This was a great contrast to the Kings of England who would normally processed and greet their people on important occasions and then go back to their usual routines. Mary, being her father’s daughter, followed the same protocol, but she was less successful. By the time that Mary returned to Scotland, shortly after Francois II’s death, she returned to a different country. The political and religious landscape had changed. Scotland had been overtaken by new religious and radical thinkers who advocated for a separate church, and national unity, forsaking Scottish identity in favor of an English one. Although Elizabeth and her councilors are credited to using religion to create dissent in Mary’s kingdom; she was not the first one. Henry VIII was the first one to pursue this policy, so did his son under the Protectorate of his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Then his sister ascended the throne and although she was Catholic, she still used religion as a way to undermine Mary’s mother’s regency and coax many of the country’s Catholics, including those that were undecided to rebel against Marie de Guise’ rule. When Elizabeth I came to the throne, the work had been half-done for her, she was just there to finish what the others started.

Mary and Darnley’s marriage was disastrous and although she had reasons to get rid of him, so did others whom he had angered with his brash behavior. Both she and Danrley were descendants of Henry VII through their eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland. Mary descended from her first marriage to James IV of Scotland and Darnley through her second to the Earl of Angus. The only saving grace was their son, James VI who was born in June 1566. Her decision to marry her captor, the Earl of Borthwell has puzzled historians for centuries. Some have used it as proof that she was incapable of ruling, and that she thought of herself a woman more than she did a Queen. This mirrors closely the film that was done about her where she was played by Vanessa Redgrave, which portrayed her as exactly that –as a vulnerable and indecisive individual. And yet, these historians and producers ignore the many other tragic events in her life that led her to make such a decision. In an age where female virtue was everything, Queens could not afford to admit they had been raped. If they had, this could be used against them by their enemies who would use it to discredit them. Unfortunately for Mary, it soon became common knowledge. Everyone had spread the word that when she sought to escape, Bothwell had routed her and with an army bigger than her own, she had limited choices. She could defy him and she and her women would die, or likely be raped, or she could agree to his terms.

MQS Black

“Bothwell’s views on female rulers were, like those of some of his fellow nobles, much closer in private to the bigoted public utterances of John Knox. Bothwell’s rape of Mary proved her weakness and her agreement to marry him, as many Scottish and Northern English heiresses who had been similarly kidnapped and raped could attest, was inevitable … His marriage to Mary took place according to Protestant rites in a muted and brief ceremony in Holyrood House, conducted by the bishop of Orkney on 15 May … the French ambassador du Croc noted her deep depression.” (Porter)

Given how many of her friends described their marriage, it was likely that he had taken her by force first and ashamed of her condition, she was forced to wed him. Not long after she also found that she was pregnant. Had she not done this, she would have been worse treated by a society where already condemned her for being a female monarch. Mary eventually escaped and won some victories but decided to go back to England, naively thinking that her royal cousin would help her regain her throne. That decision sealed her fate and the rest as they say is history.

On Wednesday morning, on the eighth of February, Mary walked out from her small chambers to the private Hall.

“Elizabeth had instructed that Mary die in the privacy of the hall …. But Elizabeth ordered that the Queen of Scots be denied her request for her servants to accompany her.” (Lisle)

Elizabeth did not want to make a martyr out of her royal cousin. She had been reluctant to sign her death warrant; she did not want others to talk about her death and make her out to look like a victim because that would have made her feel guiltier. Yet Mary was not going to give her fellow monarch that satisfaction. She chose to wear as (ironically) Elizabeth’s mother had done for her execution, a red petticoat which symbolized martyrdom. “Far meaner persons than myself have not been denied so small a favor” she told the Earls of Kent and Shrewsbury before they led her to the Hall.

Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots in Elizabeth the Golden Age.
Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots in Elizabeth the Golden Age.

Her last words after she was blindfolded were: “In te Domine confide, nonconfundar in aeternum” (In you Lord is my trust, let me never be confounded). The executioners were largely inexperienced and also crude, and roughly pushed her head against the block and then the Earl of Shrewsbury gave the signal. In the words of her physician, they “butchered her like those with which they cut wood”. Thus ended the life of the Queen of Scots, as tragically as when it began.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewars: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The True Life of Mary Stuart: Queen of Scots by John Guy
  • Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser
  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Armada by Garrett Mattingly