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.

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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

James V: The Legacy of the Thistle and the Rose

James V

10 April 1512: James V of Scotland was born at Linlithgow Palace. He was the only surviving child of James IV and Margaret Tudor-eldest daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York.

James V has gone down in history was one of the most “unpleasant and rapacious, priest-ridden” monarchs. His father has also gotten the same treatment. James IV lost his life -along with half of the Scottish nobility- in the battle of Flodden. James V was not so unlucky, but a month after the horrible defeat (yet again) of Scottish forces by English forces; he fell ill. Sensing his death he made arrangements, appointing Cardinal Beaton, the Earls of Argyll, Huntly and Moray as his daughter’s Regents. There is a myth that was proliferated to make it appear as the Stewarts -especially Mary, Queen of Scots- were the worst things that happened in the history of the world. This was that on the day of his death, James V’s last words were “It started with a lass, it will end with a lass”. In her biography of the Tudor and Stewart dynasties, Linda Porter points out that at the time of his death, James V would be so sick that he would be unable to move his lips, let alone speak!

James IV and Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
James IV and Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

James V was no fanatic but he did enforce harsh laws against his population. In this he was no different than other monarchs. He married two times, first Princess Madeleine of France and later Mary of the notorious and ambitious Guise family. With the latter, he had many children although only one survived, and she became the first Queen Regnant of the British Isles: Mary I Stewart of Scotland otherwise known as Mary, Queen of Scots.

“Until more balanced judgments appeared in recent years, James V was dismissed as the most unpleasant of the Stewarts, a rapacious, priest-ridden seeker of international recognition … But such a view overlooks his achievements: The cultural riches of his court and the importance he placed on good government .. Though half a Tudor by birth, [James V] was entirely a Stewart in his approach to kingship and more than equal to the prolonged rivalry with the uncle that he never met.” (Porter)

While people continue to view him according to Tudor historiography; the real James V as the rest of the Stewarts, was an incredible, fascinating man. His father had started great architectural projects that were largely influenced by Burgundian architecture. He surrounded himself with musicians and scholars, and when he met his young bride, Princess Margaret, she was surprised to find a great spectacle and pageantry waiting for her that lasted for almost three days. Their marriage ceremony was also very grand. James V inherited his father’s taste for architecture and war. Not one to engage openly against other countries, he nonetheless continued to aggrandize his navy by building better and bigger ships, and it was during his reign that Scotland earned the reputation as one of the most illustrious courts in Christendom. James V had been impressed by the French court when he went to visit there to marry his first wife (Madeleine) and he wanted his country to be on part with the other major Christian powers. Although James V’s childhood was surrounded by ambitious and rapacious courtiers who kidnapped him and held him hostage -such as his first stepfather, the Earl of Angus- he was nonetheless a strong and effective King who traveled the countryside often and loved to be seen by his people. He was not as learned as his uncle, Henry VIII, but he surrounded himself with many who were, and invited many scholars to his court to encourage the Humanist current among his subjects.

Not surprisingly his daughter has been given the same treatment. Until recently this has changed but there are some who still follow the popular view. Mary, Queen of Scots was James V only legitimate heir. In the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry, it would "have been better if she had not been born". This goes to show how the myth of the "evil" and "ineffective Stewarts" still predominates. Furthermore, he adds, she was "hot-tempered" and lacked "political judgment."
Not surprisingly his daughter has been given the same treatment. Until recently this has changed but there are some who still follow the popular view. Mary, Queen of Scots was James V only legitimate heir. In the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry, it would “have been better if she had not been born”. This goes to show how the myth of the “evil” and “ineffective Stewarts” still predominates. Furthermore, he adds, she was “hot-tempered” and lacked “political judgment.”

His daughter’s Regents soon encountered problems because of the Scottish Reformation. Although Mary I of Scotland returned to her native land after the death of her husband and her mother (who was her last Regent); by then, the Reform movement had grown too strong. Scotland was split between Catholics and Protestants. The latter fought ardently as the former. John Knox was their best known leader and he penned many pamphlets against the “monstrous rule of women”, criticizing female Catholic rulers (while abstaining himself from criticizing the Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I). Mary, contrary to popular myth and the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry who perpetuated this in his book; was an active Queen who like her forefathers traveled the countryside, loved riding, reading, composed verses and poetry, and was a Renaissance Tomboy who would not be afraid to use men’s clothes when playing tennis. Her decision of marrying her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley however proved her undoing. To this day it is unclear if she was her murderer (many historians have begun questioning the authenticity of the Casket letters). Trying to escape, she was captured by Bothwell and in spite of her armed guards, his men overpowered her and it a Queen in a time when women were little more than property and when family honor meant everything, she had to swallow her anger and her “shame”, and deny that he had raped her and to achieve that, she married him. As everyone suspected, he fled when her enemies captured her and miscarried their twin children. She escaped thanks to her allies and fought to regain her kingdom (even after she had been forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, James). But her forces lost a major battle at Langside and this convinced her cause was lost. And what she did later proved to be the greatest mistake in her life: Pleading to her cousin Elizabeth I for help. Unlike the  romantic take on Mary’s story in the famous 70’s movie Mary, Queen of Scots; the two women never met. As soon as Mary stepped into England, she was aprehended and for the next two decades she was transferred from house to house under the guise that it was for her own protection. Finally, her involvement in the Babbington plot, doomed her and convinced her cousin that she had to go. She was exectued on February 1587.

James VI of Scotland and I of England.
James VI of Scotland and I of England.

What seemed like a defeat for the Stewarts proved to be anything but.  Fate, true to Mary’s motto “In my end is my beginning”; favored James V’s grandson -James VI. James VI became King of England in 1603 after Elizabeth I died. Nearly a hundred years later, the last monarch of the Stewart dynasty through an act of parliament officially united both Crowns creating what is now known as the United Kingdom.  James V might have lost the battle that day when he was taken by illness; but his line was far from finished. In his end was his beginning, his daughter’s beginning, and in her end was her son’s beginning and the beginning of the Stewart dynasty as the rulers of a United Britain.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Kings and Queens of England & Scotland by Plantagenet Somerset Fry

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.

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“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

The Last Will of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots. National Portrait Gallery, Unknown Artist.
Mary Queen of Scots. National Portrait Gallery, Unknown Artist.

On the eve of her execution, 7 February 1587, Mary I of Scotland wrote her last will and testament. It was at night when she began and ended the following day at two o’clock of the morning.

Today, after dinner, I was advised of my sentence. I am to be executed like a criminal at eight o’clock in the morning. I haven’t had enough time to give you a full account of all that has happened, but if you will listen to my physician and my other sorrowful servants, you will know the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and faithfully protest that I face it innocent of any crime.
The Catholic faith and the defense of my God-given right to the English throne are two reasons for which I am condemned, and yet they will not allow me to say that it is for the Catholic faith that I die.
I beg you as Most Christian Majesty, my brother-in-law and old friend, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now of your kindness on all these points: both by paying charitably my unfortunate servants their arrears of wages (this is a burden on my conscience that you alone can relieve), and also by having prayers offered to God for a Queen who has herself been called Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions.
Concerning my son, I commend him to you inasmuch as he deserves it, as I cannot answer for him.
I venture to send you two precious stones, amulets against illness, trusting that you will enjoy good health and a long happy life.

With only six hours to go, she tried to sleep and rest but she could not. When she was readied for her execution, she chose a red petticoat as the one Elizabeth’s mother had worn on the day of her execution. Red was the color of martyrdom. If Mary’s servants weren’t going to be allowed to attend, then she would wear something that would be powerful enough to make a statement. Unfortunately, she would be remembered but not the reasons she would have preferred. All historians and herstorians agree that she was “bludgeoned” to death by an inexperienced executioner; hacked to pieces. A sad end to Scotland’s first and last female monarch.