Mary I, Queen of Scots

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Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots

Scots Gaelic: Mairi Stiùbhairt, Queen of Scots
Also Known As: "Mairi Stiùbhairt", "Mary I.of Scotland", "Marie Stuart", "Mary Queen of Scots", "Marie Queen Consort of France", "Mary", "Queen Of Scots", "42nd Queen of Scots"
Birthplace: Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland (United Kingdom)
Death: February 08, 1587 (44)
Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England (Executed)
Place of Burial: London, England
Immediate Family:

Daughter of James V, King of Scots and Mary of Guise, Queen Consort of Scotland
Wife of Francis II, king of France; Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley and James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell
Mother of James VI King of Scots, James I King of England & Ireland
Sister of James Stewart, 10th duke of Rothesay and Arthur Robert Stewart, 5th duke of Albany
Half sister of François III d'Orléans, duc de Longueville; Louis d'Orléans, Duc de Longueville; Jean Stewart; James Stewart, Commendator of Kelso and Melrose; Adam Stewart and 5 others

Occupation: Queen of Scotland, Queen of Scots, Queen of the Scots
Managed by: Anne Brannen
Last Updated:

About Mary I, Queen of Scots

Find-A-Grave Memorial Mary “Queen of Scots” Stuart

Mary Stuart,_Queen_of_Scots

Mary I Stewart, Queen of Scots was born on 8 December 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, Scotland and was executed on 8 February 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England. She was also known as Mairi Stiùbhairt, Mary, Queen Consort of France.

She was Queen of Scotland from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567

Preceded by: James V (9 September 1513 - 14 December 1542)

Succeeded by: James VI (James I of England and Ireland) (4 July 1567 - 27 March 1625)

Coronation: 9 September 1543


Daughter of James V and Mary of Guise


  1. François II de France m. 1558; dec. 1560
  2. Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley m. 1565; dec. 1567
  3. James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell m. 1567; dec. 1578


  1. James VI of Scotland and I of England


Mary Stewart(Mairi Stiùbhairt) was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland. She was 6 days old when her father died and she was crowned nine months later. In 1558, she married François, Dauphin of France, who ascended the French throne as François II in 1559. Mary was not Queen of France for long; she was widowed on 5 December 1560. Mary then returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith on 19 August 1561. Four years later, she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Their union was unhappy and in February 1567, there was a huge explosion at their house, and Darnley was found dead, apparently strangled, in the garden.

She soon married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who was generally believed to be Darnley's murderer. Following an uprising against the couple, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle on 15 June and forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son, James VI. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, Mary fled to England seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England, whose kingdom she hoped to inherit. Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth's throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics, including participants in the Rising of the North. Perceiving her as a threat, Elizabeth had her arrested. After 19 years in custody in a number of castles and manor houses in England, she was tried and executed for treason for her alleged involvement in three plots to assassinate Elizabeth.

During the 15th-century reign of Robert III of Scotland, it had been confirmed that the Scottish Crown would be inherited only by males in the line of Robert's children—all sons—who were listed in that parliamentary Act. Females and female lines could inherit only after extinction of male lines. Mary ascended to the throne because, with the demise of her father, James V, Robert III had no remaining direct male descendants of unquestionably legitimate origins. John Stewart, Duke of Albany, grandson of James II of Scotland and at one time regent for the young James V, was the last direct male heir of Robert III (other than the king himself) when he died in 1536. Mary was the first member of the royal House of Stuart to use the Gallicised spelling Stuart, rather than the earlier Stewart. Mary adopted the French spelling Stuart during her time in France, and her descendants continued to use it.[1]

Mary at the age of thirteenMary was born on 8 December 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, Scotland to King James V of Scotland and his French second wife, Mary of Guise. She was the only legitimate child of James to survive him, and she was said to have been born prematurely.[2] A popular legend, written by John Knox, states that James, hearing on his deathbed that his wife had given birth to a daughter, ruefully exclaimed, "It came with a lass, it will pass with a lass!"[3]

The House of Stewart, which originated in Brittany, had gained the throne of Scotland by the marriage of Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce, to Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland. James thus felt that since the crown came with a woman, a woman would be responsible for the loss of the crown from their family. This legendary statement came true much later, but not through Mary, whose son in fact became King of England. Eventually Sophia of Hanover, daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, became the heir to Anne, Queen of Great Britain and with her son George Louis of Hanover becoming King of Great Britain, replacing the House of Stuart in England.

Mary was baptised at the Church of St. Michael, situated close to the palace, shortly after she was born. Rumours were spread suggesting Mary was weak and frail; on 14 December, six days after her birth, her father died following what may have been a nervous collapse following the Battle of Solway Moss, meaning she was now queen.[2] An English diplomat, Ralph Sadler, saw the infant at Linlithgow Palace in March 1543, unwrapped by her nurse, and wrote, "it is as goodly child as I have ever seen of her age, and as like to live."[4]

As Mary was still an infant when she became queen, Scotland was ruled by regents until she became an adult. From the outset, there were two different claims to the Regency: the next heir James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran claimed based on his hereditary right, the other claim came from Cardinal Beaton. However, Beaton's claim was based on an allegedly forged version of the late king's will,[5] so Arran became the regent,[6] until 1554 when Mary's mother succeeded him.[7] The young queen was crowned at Stirling in September 1543, with 'such solemnity as they use do use in this country, which is not very costly' according to the report of Ralph Sadler and Henry Ray[8]

Coin of 1553: obverse, coat of arms of Scotland; reverse, royal monogramHenry VIII of England took the opportunity of this regency to propose England and Scotland be united through the marriage of Mary and his own son, Prince Edward. On 1 July 1543, when Mary was six months old, the Treaty of Greenwich was signed, which among other points, promised Mary to be married to Edward. It was Henry's wish that Mary should also move to England where he could oversee her upbringing.[9] However, feelings among the Scottish people towards the English changed somewhat when Cardinal Beaton rose to power again, and began to push a pro-Catholic and French agenda, which angered Henry who wanted to break the alliance with France and the papacy. When French ships were spotted on the Scottish coast in July, it was felt they were a threat to Mary, and she moved with her mother to Stirling Castle which was considered safer.[10] On 9 September 1543 Mary was crowned Queen of Scots in the chapel at this castle.[11]

Shortly before Mary's coronation, the occupants of some Scottish ships headed for France were arrested by Henry, who claimed they were not allowed to trade with France even though that was never part of the agreement. These arrests caused anger among people in Scotland. Arran decided to join Beaton following this,[10] and he became a Catholic. The Treaty was eventually rejected by Parliament in December.[11]

This new alliance and the rejection of the treaty caused Henry to begin his rough wooing, designed to impose the marriage to his son on Mary. This consisted of a series of raids on Scottish and French territory and other military actions. It lasted until June 1551, costing over half a million pounds and many lives. In May 1544, the English Earl of Hertford (later created Duke of Somerset by Edward VI) arrived in the Firth of Forth hoping to capture the city of Edinburgh and kidnap Mary, but Mary of Guise hid her in the secret chambers of Stirling Castle.

On 10 September 1547, known as "Black Saturday", the Scots suffered a bitter defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. Mary of Guise, fearful for her daughter, sent her temporarily to Inchmahome Priory, and turned to the French ambassador Monsieur D'Oysel for help.

The French, remaining true to the Auld Alliance, came to the aid of the Scots. The new French King, Henry II, was now proposing to unite France and Scotland by marrying the little Queen to his three-year old son, the Dauphin François. This seemed to Mary of Guise to be the only sensible solution to her troubles. In February 1548, hearing that the English were on their way back, Mary of Guise moved Mary to Dumbarton Castle. The English left a trail of devastation behind once more and seized the strategically located town of Haddington. By June, the much awaited French help had arrived. On 7 July 1548 a Scottish Parliament held at a nunnery near Haddington agreed a French Marriage Treaty.

Mary (age 17) and Francis (age 15) shortly after Francis became king in 1559With her marriage agreement in place, five-year-old Mary was sent to France to spend the next thirteen years at the French court, mainly at Amboise, near Tours. Henry II had offered to guard and raise her. The French fleet sent by Henry II, commanded by Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon, sailed with the five-year-old Queen of Scots from Dumbarton to Roscoff (or nearby Saint-Pol-de-Léon)[12] in Brittany and arrived on 18 August 1548.[13] She was accompanied by her own little court consisting of two lords, two half-brothers, and the "four Marys", four girls her own age, all named Mary, and the daughters of some of the noblest families in Scotland:Beaton, Seton, Fleming, and Livingston.

Vivacious, beautiful, and clever (according to contemporaneous accounts), Mary had a promising childhood. While in the French court, she was a favourite. She received the best available education, and at the end of her studies, she had mastered French, Latin, Greek, Spanish, and Italian in addition to her native Scots. She also learned how to play two instruments and learned prose, poetry, horsemanship, falconry, and needlework. She formed a close friendship with her future sister-in-law, Elisabeth of Valois, of whom Mary retained the most nostalgic memories in later life.[14] Her grandmother Antoinette de Bourbon exerted one of the strongest influences on her childhood,[15] and acted as one of her principal advisors.

Coin of Francis II and Mary Stuart, 1558Portraits of Mary show that she had a small, well-shaped head, a long, graceful neck, bright auburn hair, hazel-brown eyes, under heavy lowered eyelids and finely arched brows, smooth lustrous skin, a high forehead, and regular, firm features. While not a beauty in the classical sense, she was an extremely pretty child who would become a strikingly attractive woman. In fact, her effect on the men with whom she later came into contact was certainly that of a beautiful woman.[16]

Despite the fact that Mary was tall for her age (she attained an adult height of 5 feet 11 inches, especially tall by sixteenth century standards)[17] and fluent in speech, while Henry II's son and heir Francis was abnormally short and stuttered, Henry commented that "from the very first day they met, my son and she got on as well together as if they had known each other for a long time"[18] On 24 April 1558 Mary married the Dauphin Francis at Notre Dame de Paris, Francis assuming the title King consort of Scots.[19] When Henry II died on 10 July 1559, Mary, Queen of Scots, became Queen consort of France; her husband becoming Francis II of France.

Mary's Arms as Queen of Scots and Queen consort of FranceAfter the death of Mary I of England, Henry II of France caused his eldest son and his daughter-in-law to be proclaimed king and queen of England.[20] From this time on, Mary always insisted on bearing the royal arms of England, and her claim to the English throne was a perennial sticking point between Elizabeth I and her, as would become obvious in Mary's continuous refusal to ratify the Treaty of Edinburgh. Under the ordinary laws of succession, Mary was next in line to the English throne after her father's cousin, Elizabeth I, who was childless. Yet, in the eyes of many Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate, thus making Mary the true heir as Mary II of England. However the Third Succession Act of 1543 provided that Elizabeth would succeed Mary I of England on the throne.

The anti-Catholic Act of Settlement was not passed until 1701, but the last will and testament of Henry VIII, (given legal force by the Third Succession Act), had excluded the Stuarts from succeeding to the English throne. Mary's troubles were still further increased by the Huguenot rising in France, called le tumulte d'Amboise (6–17 March 1560), making it impossible for the French to help Mary's supporters in Scotland. The question of the succession was therefore a real one.

Francis died on 5 December 1560, of an ear infection which led to an abscess in his brain. Mary's mother-in-law, Catherine de' Medici, became regent for the late king's brother Charles IX, who inherited the French throne. Under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, signed by Mary's representatives on 6 July 1560 following the death of her mother, France undertook to withdraw troops from Scotland and recognize Elizabeth's right to rule England. The 17-year-old Mary, still in France, refused to ratify the treaty.

Mary landing in Leith, 19 August 1561Mary returned to Scotland soon after her husband's death, arriving in Leith on 19 August 1561. Despite her talents, Mary's upbringing had not given her the judgment to cope with the dangerous and complex political situation in Scotland at the time.[citation needed] As a devout Catholic, she was regarded with suspicion by many of her subjects, as well as by Elizabeth, her father's cousin. Scotland was torn between Catholic and Protestant factions, and Mary's illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, was a leader of the Protestant faction.[21] The Protestant reformer John Knox also preached against Mary, condemning her for hearing Mass, dancing, dressing too elaborately, and many other real and imagined offences.[22]

To the disappointment of the Catholic party, however, Mary tolerated the newly established Protestant ascendancy, and kept her brother James Stewart as her chief advisor. Her privy council, (listed below), was mainly composed of Protestants. In this, she was acknowledging her lack of effective military power in the face of the Protestant Lords, while also following a policy which strengthened alliance with England. She joined with James in the destruction of Scotland's leading Catholic magnate, Lord Huntly, in 1562 after he led a rebellion in the Highlands against her.[23]

Mary's arms of 1565 originally from her Tollbooth in LeithMary was also having second thoughts about the wisdom of having crossed Elizabeth, and attempted to make up the breach by inviting Elizabeth to visit Scotland (however, still she would not ratify the Treaty of Edinburgh). Elizabeth refused, and the bad blood remained between them. Mary then sent William Maitland of Lethington as an ambassador to the English court to put the case for Mary as a potential heir to the throne. Elizabeth's response is said to have included the words "As for the title of my crown, for my time I think she will not attain it." However, Mary, in her own letter to her maternal uncle Francis, Duke of Guise, reports other things that Maitland told her, including Elizabeth's supposed statement that, "I for my part know none better, nor that my self would prefer to her." Elizabeth was mindful of the role Parliament would have to play in the matter.

In December 1561 arrangements were made for the two queens to meet, this time in England. The meeting had been fixed for York "or another town" in August or September 1562, but Elizabeth sent Sir Henry Sidney to cancel in July because of the Civil War in France. In 1563, Elizabeth made another attempt to neutralize Mary by suggesting her marrying Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (Sidney's brother-in-law and the English queen's own favorite), whom Elizabeth trusted and thought she could control. Dudley, being as well an Englishman as a Protestant, would have solved a double problem for Elizabeth. She sent an ambassador to tell Mary that, if she would marry "some person – yea perchance such as she would hardly think we could agree unto"[24] of Elizabeth's choosing, Elizabeth would "proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our next cousin and heir". This proposal came to nothing, not least because the intended bridegroom was unwilling.[25]

Mary with her second husband, Lord DarnleyAt Holyrood Palace on 29 July 1565, Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, her half first cousin. Henry was a member of the House of Stuart like Mary was, but he was not an agnatic descendant of Stewart Kings, but rather of their immediate ancestors, the High Stewarts of Scotland.

Mary had fallen head over heels in love with the "long lad" (Queen Elizabeth's words) after he had come to Scotland from England earlier in the year (with the permission of the English Privy Council).[citation needed] On the other hand, Elizabeth felt threatened by the prospect of such a marriage, because both Mary and Darnley were claimants to the English throne, being direct descendants of Margaret Tudor, the elder sister of Henry VIII.[26] Their children would inherit both parents' claims, and thus, be next in line for the English throne. Yet, the English ambassador Nicholas Throckmorton could only state: "the saying is that surely she [Queen Mary] is bewitched",[27] and that the marriage could only be averted "by violence".[28] The union infuriated Elizabeth, who felt she should have been asked permission, as Darnley was an English subject.

This marriage, to a leading Catholic, precipitated Mary's half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, to join with other Protestant Lords in open rebellion. Mary set out for Stirling on 26 August 1565 to confront them, and returned to Edinburgh the following month to raise more troops. Moray and the rebellious lords were routed and fled into exile, the decisive military action becoming known as the Chaseabout Raid.

Before long, Darnley became arrogant and demanded power commensurate with his courtesy title of "King". Darnley was jealous of Mary's friendship with her private secretary, David Rizzio, and, in March 1566 Darnley entered into a secret conspiracy with the nobles who had rebelled against Mary in the Chaseabout Raid. On 9 March a group of the lords, accompanied by Darnley, murdered Rizzio in front of the pregnant Mary while the two were in conference at Holyrood Palace. Darnley changed sides again and betrayed the lords, but the murder had made the breakdown of their marriage inevitable.

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell[edit] Birth of James and Kirk o'FieldTheir son James was born on 19 June 1566. It became increasingly clear, that some solution had to be found to "the problem of Darnley".[29] At Craigmillar there was held a meeting (November 1566) among leading Scottish nobles and Queen Mary. Divorce was discussed, but then a bond was sworn to get rid of Darnley by other means:[30] "It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth,..., that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them;...that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend" (Book of Articles).[31] Darnley was fearing for his safety and went to Glasgow to see his father. There he became ill (possibly of smallpox or syphilis).[32]

In the new year, Mary prompted her husband to come back to Edinburgh. He was recuperating in a house at the former abbey of Kirk o' Field within the city wall of Edinburgh, where Mary visited him frequently, so that it appeared a reconciliation was in prospect. One night in February 1567, after Mary had left to go to the wedding of one of her maids of honor, Margaret Carwood, to the Avernois, Bastien Pagez,[33] an explosion occurred in the house, and Darnley was found dead in the garden, apparently of strangulation; historian Alison Weir, however, concludes he died of post-explosion suffocation. It turned out that James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell had supplied the gunpowder for the explosion, and he was generally believed to be guilty of Darnley's assassination. Mary arranged for a mock trial before parliament, and Bothwell was duly acquitted on 12 April.[34] Furthermore, some land titles were restored officially to Bothwell as a result of Darnley's death.[35] He also managed to get some of the Lords to sign the Ainslie Tavern Bond, in which they agreed to support his claims to marry the queen. All these proceedings did little to dissipate suspicions against Mary among the populace.

Mary depicted with her son, James VI; the two had in fact not seen each other for years.On 24 April 1567, Mary visited her son at Stirling for the last time. On her way back to Edinburgh, Mary was abducted, willingly or not, by Bothwell and his men and taken to Dunbar Castle, where she was allegedly raped by Bothwell. However, already in October 1566, she had been very interested in Bothwell when she made a four-hour journey on horseback to visit him at Hermitage Castle where he lay ill.[36] On 6 May Mary and Bothwell returned to Edinburgh and on 15 May, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, they were married according to Protestant rites. Bothwell had divorced his first wife, Jean Gordon twelve days previously.[37]

Originally Mary believed she had the consent of much of her nobles regarding her marriage, but things soon turned sour between the newly elevated Bothwell and his old peers. As a result of this the Scottish nobility turned against Mary and Bothwell and raised an army against them. Mary and Bothwell confronted the Lords at Carberry Hill on 15 June, but there was no real battle (only a few duels) as Mary agreed to follow the Lords on condition that they let Bothwell go.[38] However, the Lords broke their promise, and took Mary to Edinburgh and imprisoned her in Loch Leven Castle, situated on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. Between 18 July and 24 July 1567, Mary miscarried twins. On 24 July 1567, she was also forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her one-year-old son James.

On 2 May 1568, Mary escaped from Loch Leven and once again managed to raise a small army. After her army's defeat at the Battle of Langside on 13 May, she first fled South into the Dumfries area then by boat across the Solway Firth into England.

Escape and imprisonment in EnglandMary landed at Workington in England on 19 May and stayed at Workington Hall. She then went into protective custody, guarded by Elizabeth's officers at Carlisle Castle. During this time, she famously had the French phrase En ma Fin gît mon Commencement ("In my end is my beginning") embroidered on her cloth of estate.

Mary was moved to Bolton Castle on 16 July 1568 and remained there under the care of Henry the 9th Lord Scrope, until 26 January 1569, when she was moved to Tutbury Castle.

After her long journey into England, Mary expected Elizabeth I to help her regain her throne. Elizabeth was cautious, and ordered an enquiry into the question of whether Mary should be tried for the murder of Darnley first. A conference was held in York and later Westminster between October 1568 and January 1569. The accusers were the Scottish Lords who had deposed Mary, leading them was the regent Moray (her half brother). For overriding political reasons, Elizabeth neither wished to convict Mary of murder nor acquit her of the same; the conference was intended as a political exercise. In the end Moray was allowed to return home to Scotland as its regent and Mary was not.

Mary refused to acknowledge the power of any court to try her since she was an anointed Queen, and the man ultimately in charge of the prosecution, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, was ruling Scotland as regent for Mary's son King James. His chief motive was to prevent a restoration of Mary to the Scottish throne. Mary refused to offer a written defence unless Elizabeth would guarantee a verdict of not guilty, which Elizabeth would not do.

Mary's Scottish accusers presented the "Casket letters" — eight letters purportedly from Mary to Bothwell, reported by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton to have been found in Edinburgh in a silver box engraved with an F (supposedly for Francis II), along with a number of other documents, including the Mary/Bothwell marriage certificate. The outcome of the conference was that the Casket Letters were accepted by the conference as genuine after a study of the handwriting, and of the information contained therein. Yet, as Elizabeth had wished, the inquiry reached the conclusion that nothing was proven. In hindsight it seems that none of the major parties involved considered the truth to be a priority. James MacKay comments that one of the strangest "trials" in legal history ended with no finding of guilt with the result that the accusers went home to Scotland and the accused remained detained in "protective custody." Other documents scrutinised at this time included the Earl of Bothwell's divorce from Jean Gordon. Moray had sent a messenger in September to Dunbar to get a copy of the proceedings from the town's registers.[39]

In 1570, Elizabeth was persuaded by representatives of Charles IX of France to promise to help Mary regain her throne. As a pre-condition, she demanded the ratification of the Treaty of Edinburgh, something Mary would even now not agree to. Nevertheless, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, continued negotiations with Mary on Elizabeth's behalf.

In 1569, Cecil had unofficially appointed Sir Francis Walsingham to organize a secret service for the protection of the realm, particularly the Queen's person. Henceforth, Cecil as well as Walsingham would have many opportunities (and reasons) to watch Mary carefully.

The Ridolfi Plot, which was a plan to depose Elizabeth with the help of Spanish troops, and to place Mary on the English throne, caused Elizabeth to reconsider. With the queen's encouragement, Parliament introduced a bill in 1571 barring Mary from the throne. Elizabeth unexpectedly refused to give it the royal assent. The furthest she ever went was in 1584, when she introduced a document (the Bond of Association) aimed at preventing any would-be successor from profiting from her murder. It was not legally binding, but was signed by thousands, including Mary herself.

Elizabeth considered Mary's designs on the English throne to be a serious threat, and so kept Mary in confinement, much of it in Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor, in the custody of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and his redoubtable wife Bess of Hardwick. Bothwell was imprisoned in Denmark, became insane, and died in 1578, still in prison.

Mary was put on trial for treason by a court of about 40 noblemen, including Catholics, after being implicated in the Babington Plot by her own letters, which Sir Francis Walsingham had arranged to come straight to his hands. From these letters it was clear that Mary had sanctioned the attempted assassination of Elizabeth. Mary denied this and was spirited in her defence.[40] One of her more memorable comments from her trial was: "Look to your consciencies and remember that the theater of the whole world is wider than the kingdom of England".[41] She drew attention to the fact that she was denied the opportunity to review the evidence or her papers that had been removed from her, that she had been denied access to legal counsel, and that she had never been an English subject and thus could not be convicted of treason. The extent, if any, to which the plot was created by Sir Francis Walsingham and the English Secret Services remains open to conjecture.

In a trial presided over by England's Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Bromley[42] and Attorney General Sir John Popham (later Lord Chief Justice), Mary was ultimately convicted of treason, and was sentenced to beheading.

Although Mary had been found guilty and sentenced to death, Elizabeth hesitated to actually order her execution. She was fearful of the consequences, especially if, in revenge, Mary's son James of Scotland formed an alliance with the Catholic powers, France and Spain, and invaded England. She was also concerned about how this would affect the Divine Right of Kings. Elizabeth did ask Mary's final custodian, Amias Paulet, if he would contrive some accident to remove Mary.[43] He refused on the grounds that he would not allow such "a stain on his posterity."

She did eventually sign the death warrant and entrusted it to William Davison, a privy councillor. Later, the privy council, having been summoned by Lord Burghley without Elizabeth's knowledge, decided to carry out the sentence at once before she could change her mind.[44]

The scene of the execution, created by an unknown Dutch artist in 1613At Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, on 7 February 1587, Mary was told that she was to be executed the next day. She spent the last hours of her life in prayer and also writing letters and her will. She asked that her servants be released and that she be buried in France. The scaffold that was erected in the great hall was three feet tall and draped in black. It was reached by five steps and the only things on it were a disrobing stool, the block, a cushion for her to kneel on, and a bloody butcher's axe that had been previously used on animals. At her execution, on 8 February 1587, the executioners (one of whom was named Bull) knelt before her and asked forgiveness. According to a contemporaneous account by Robert Wynkfield, she replied, "I forgive you with all my heart".[45] The executioners and her two servants helped remove a black outer gown, two petticoats, and her corset to reveal a deep red chemise — the liturgical colour of martyrdom in the Catholic Church, the profession of which constantly endangered her life in the face of the rise of Protestantism. As she disrobed she smiled faintly to the executioner and said, "Never have I had such assistants to disrobe me, and never have I put off my clothes before such a company."[45] She was then blindfolded and knelt down on the cushion in front of the block. She positioned her head on the block and stretched her arms out behind her. Before she died, Fr. John Laux relates in his Church History that her last words were, "My faith is the ancient Catholic faith. It is for this faith that I give up my life. In Thee I trust, O Lord; into Thy hands I commend my spirit."

In Lady Antonia Fraser's biography, Mary Queen of Scots, the author writes that it took two strikes to decapitate Mary: The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head, at which point the Queen's lips moved. (Her servants reported they thought she had whispered the words "Sweet Jesus.") The second blow severed the neck, except for a small bit of sinew that the executioner severed by using the axe as a saw. Robert Wynkfield recorded a detailed account of the moments leading up to Mary's execution, also describing that it took two strikes to behead the Queen. Afterward, the executioner held her head aloft and declared, "God save the Queen." At that moment, the auburn tresses in his hand came apart and the head fell to the ground, revealing that Mary had had very short, grey hair.[45] The chemise that Mary wore at her execution is displayed at Coughton Court near Alcester in Warwickshire, which was a Catholic household at that time.

It has been suggested that it took three strikes to decapitate Mary instead of two. If so, then Mary would have been executed with the same number of axe strikes as Essex. It has been postulated that said number was part of a ritual devised to protract the suffering of the victim.[46]

There are several (possibly apocryphal) stories told about the execution. One already mentioned and thought to be true is that, when the executioner picked up the severed head to show it to those present, it was discovered that Mary was wearing a wig. The headsman was left holding the wig, while the late queen's head rolled on the floor.[45] It was thought that she had tried to disguise the greying of her hair by wearing an auburn wig, the natural colour of her hair before her years of imprisonment began. She was 24 when first imprisoned by Protestants in Scotland, and she was 44 years of age at the time of her execution. Another well-known execution story related in Robert Wynkfield's first-hand account concerns a small dog owned by the queen, which is said to have been hiding among her skirts, unseen by the spectators. As her dress and layers of clothing were so immensely regal, it would have been easy for the tiny pet to have hidden there as she slowly made her way to the scaffold. Following the beheading, the dog refused to be parted from its owner and was covered in blood. It was finally taken away by her ladies-in-waiting and washed.[45]

When the news of the execution reached Elizabeth she was extremely indignant, and her wrath was chiefly directed against Davison, who, she asserted, had disobeyed her instructions not to part with the warrant. The secretary was arrested and thrown into the Tower. He was later released, after paying a heavy fine, but his career was ruined.[47]

James Stewart, Earl of Moray by Hans Eworth, 1561. Mary's half brother and regent after her abdication in 1567, he presented the Casket Letters at the York Conference in 1568.The so-called Casket Letters are widely believed to be crucial to the issue of whether Mary Queen of Scots shares the guilt for her husband Lord Darnley's murder. The letters were said to have been found in a little coffer of silver and gilt said to have been Bothwell's gift to Mary. George Buchanan described the casket as 'a small gilt coffer not fully one foot long, garnished with a Roman letter 'F' under a king's crown.'[48] The original letters were presented at York, by Moray's colleagues George Buchanan, Maitland and James MacGill of Nether Rankeillour. Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, described them as horrible letters and diverse fond ballads, and sent copies to Elizabeth, saying that if they really were hers they might prove her guilt in the murder of Darnley.[49]

The authenticity of the Casket Letters has been the source of much controversy among historians. It is impossible now to prove the case of the letters' authenticity either way. The originals of the Casket Letters were probably destroyed in 1584 by King James.[50] The copies available in various collections do not form a complete set. The originals were in French; only one French copy is extant, the others are contemporaneous translations into Scots and English. The letters are, however, only one detail of the whole problem, and even if they are accepted as fake, this fact in itself does not constitute an "acquittal" of Mary, as long as other aspects of the case are not taken into account.

Mary argued that her handwriting was not difficult to imitate, and it has frequently been suggested either that the letters are complete forgeries, that incriminating passages were inserted before the inquiry of York in 1568, or that the letters were written to Bothwell by some other person. Well-respected biographers of Mary such as Lady Antonia Fraser, James MacKay, and John Guy have all come to the conclusion that they were forged. Guy has actually examined the Elizabethan transcripts of the letters rather than relying upon later printed copies.[41] He points out that the letters are disjointed. He also draws attention to the fact that the French version of one of the letters is bad in its use of language and grammar. Guy implies that a woman with Mary's education would not write in this way. However, it has also been maintained, that certain phrases of the letters (including verses in the style of Ronsard) and certain stylistical characteristics would be compatible with known writings of Mary.[51]

Another point made by commentators is that the Casket Letters did not appear until the Conference of York in 1568. Mary had been forced to abdicate in 1567 and held captive for the best part of a year in Scotland. There was every reason for these letters to be made public to support her imprisonment and forced abdication. The historian Jenny Wormald believes this reluctance on the part of the Scots to produce the letters, and their destruction in 1584, whatever their content, is a proof that they contained real evidence against Mary.[52]

At least some of the contemporaries who saw the letters at the York Conference had no doubt that the letters were genuine. Among them was Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk,[53] a later suitor and co-conspirator of Mary. When Queen Elizabeth alluded to his marriage plans with Mary, Norfolk remarked that "he meant never to marry with a person, where he could not be sure of his pillow".[54]

Tomb of Mary at Westminster AbbeyThough Mary has not been canonised by the Catholic Church, many consider her a martyr, and there are relics of her. Her prayer book was long shown in France. Her apologist published, in an English journal, a sonnet which Mary was said to have composed, written with her own hand in this book. A celebrated German actress, Frau Hendel-Schutz, who excited admiration by her attitudes, and performed Friedrich Schiller's "Maria Stuart" with great applause in several German cities, affirmed that a cross which she wore on her neck was the very same that once belonged to the unfortunate queen.

Relics of this description have never yet been subjected to the proof of their authenticity. If there is anything which may be reasonably believed to have once been the property of the queen, it is the veil with which she covered her head on the scaffold, after the executioner had wounded the unfortunate victim in the shoulder by a false blow (whether from awkwardness or confusion is uncertain). This veil came into the possession of Sir John Coxe Hippisley, who claimed to be descended from the House of Stuart on his mother's side. In 1818, he had an engraving made from it by Matteo Diottavi in Rome and gave copies to his friends. However, the eagerness with which the executioners burned her clothing and the executioners' block may mean that it will never be possible to be certain.

The veil is embroidered with gold spangles by (as is said) the queen's own hand, in regular rows crossing each other, so as to form small squares, and edged with a gold border, to which another border has been subsequently joined, in which the following words are embroidered in letters of gold:

"Velum Serenissimæ Mariæ, Scotiæ et Galliæ Reginæ Martyris, quo induebatur dum ab Heretica ad mortem iniustissimam condemnata fuit. Anno Sal. MDLXXXVI. a nobilissima matrona Anglicana diu conservatum et tandem, donationis ergo Deo et Societati Jesu consecratum."[55]

Mary's personal breviary, which she took with her to the scaffold, is preserved in the National Library of Russia of St. Petersburg.On the plate there is an inscription, with a double certificate of its authenticity, which states, that this veil, a family treasure of the expelled house of Stuart, was finally in possession of the last branch of that family, Henry Benedict Stuart, the Cardinal of York, who preserved it for many years in his private chapel, among the most precious relics, and at his death bequeathed it to Sir John Coxe Hippisley, together with a valuable Plutarch, a Codex with painted (illuminated) letters, and a gold coin struck in Scotland during Mary's reign.

The plate was specially consecrated by Pope Pius VII in his palace on the Quirinal Hill on 29 April 1818. Hippisley, during a former residence at Rome, had been very intimate with the cardinal of York, and was instrumental in obtaining for him, when he with the other cardinals emigrated to Venice in 1798, a pension of £4,000 a year from King George IV of the United Kingdom, then Prince of Wales. But for the pension, the fugitive cardinal, whose revenues were all seized by the forces of the French Revolution, would have been exposed to the greatest distress.

The cardinal desired to requite this service by the bequest of what he considered so valuable. According to a note on the plate, the veil is eighty-nine English inches long and forty-three broad, so that it seems to have been rather a kind of shawl or scarf than a veil. Melville in his Memoirs, which Schiller had read, speaks of a handkerchief belonging to the queen, which she gave away before her death, and Schiller founds upon this anecdote the well-known words of the farewell scene, addressed to Hannah Kennedy.

"Accept this handkerchief! with my own hand
For thee I've work'd it in my hours of sadness And interwoven with my scalding tears: With this thou'lt bind my eyes."

The Scottish privy council retained wide judicial, legislative and administrative powers. Appointed 6 September 1561, following Mary's return to Scotland from France, the council was dominated by the Protestant leaders from the reformation crisis of 1559–1560 and retained those who already held the offices of state. The modern historian, Jenny Wormald, found this remarkable, suggesting that Mary's inaction, rather than appointing a council sympathetic to Catholic and French interest, is an indication of the Scottish queen's focus on the goal of the English throne over the internal problems of Scotland. Even the one significant later addition to the council, in December 1563, Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven, was another Protestant who Mary personally disliked.[56]

The councillors were:

Lord James Stewart, (later Earl of Moray) William Maitland of Lethington – Secretary of State James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell – Lord High Admiral of Scotland George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly – Lord Chancellor James Hamilton, Duc de Châtellerault, 2nd Earl of Arran – Heir to the throne Archibald Campbell, 5th Earl of Argyll – Lord Justice General James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton John Stewart, 4th Earl of Atholl Alexander Cunningham, 4th Earl of Glencairn George Hay, 7th Earl of Erroll William Graham, 2nd Earl of Montrose William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal John Erskine, 6th Lord Erskine, (later Earl of Mar) Robert Richardson – Lord High Treasurer James MacGill of Nether Rankeillour – Lord Clerk Register Sir John Bellenden of Auchinoul – Lord Justice Clerk


A. Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, 1969

M. Lynch, ed., Mary Stuart: Queen in Three Kingdoms, 1988

J. Wormald, Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure, 1988.

James, Frank A.. "Mary Stuart of Scotland." Religion Past and Present. Brill Online, 2013. <>

"Fotheringhay: Mary's execution (8 February 1597) Thus died Queen Mary, aged a little above forty-four years. She was eminent for beauty, for talents, and accomplishments, nor is there reason to doubt her natural goodness of heart, and courageous manliness of disposition. Yet she was, in every sense, one of the most unhappy Princesses that ever lived, from the moment when she came into the world, in an hour of defeat and danger, to that in which a bloody and violent death closed a weary captivity of eighteen years." Tales of a Grandfather, Chapter XXXIII" "On the evening of 7 February, the Earl of Shrewsbury went into Mary's room and read out her death warrant. She took the news with serenity. Next morning she was led to the Great Hall, where a scaffold had been erected overnight. There were some three hundred people waiting inside, in absolute silence. Mary was wearing a long black dress over a red petticoat; beneath her gown, unseen by the guards, trotted one of her pet dogs, a litle Skye terrier. On the scaffold she announced proudly, 'I am settled in the ancient Catholic Roman religion, and mind to spend my blood in defence of it.' Her gown, cap and veil were removed. One of her ladies-in-waiting bound a gold-embroidered cloth over her eyes and round her head. With that she knelt and calmly placed her head on the block.She commended her soul to God, loudly and often.After two strokes of the axe she was dead." Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Magnus Magnusson. Grove Press, New York, 2000, 380.

Catherine Carmichael, daughter of Sir John Carmichael of Meadowflat, captain of Crawford Castle, became the mistress of King James V. The king built the castle of Crawfordjohn in Clydesdale in 1528 for her, and as a place for them to meet undisturbed. She bore him a son, John Stewart (6th Earl of Bothwell), and a daughter Mary, who were half-brother and half-sister to Mary, Queen of Scots.

To see a picture of Mary's death mask:

=An infant queen=

The relations of England, Scotland, and France in the mid-sixteenth century were strongly based on religious loyalties and conflicts. Protestant rulers prevailed in England, while the Catholic powers of France and Scotland became allies.

Mary Stuart (the future Mary, Queen of Scots) was the third child of King James V (1512–1542) and Mary of Guise, the rulers of Scotland. Both of her brothers had died before she was born at Linlithgow Palace in Linlithgow, Scotland, in December of 1542. Her father died only a week after her birth, and the infant princess became Mary, Queen of Scots. The period following the death of James V was an unhappy one for Scotland. In 1547 an English invasion led to the military occupation of the country. One of the chief results of this action was Scotland's tighter alliance with France. As a result, when Mary was five, the Scottish court arranged for her marriage to the four-yearold dauphin (heir to the throne) of France, the future King Francis II. She was sent to France immediately.

In France, Mary grew up with her future husband. The two children became close friends, though she was the more outgoing and energetic of the two. Mary was educated with the dauphin and the other French royal children. She appears to have been a quick and able student whose charming personality had a great impact on all around her.

Meanwhile, Mary's home country of Scotland was under heavy French influence. Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, was appointed regent (the title given to someone who rules when the legal king or queen is absent, too young, or too ill to take the throne). Her government placed many Frenchmen in positions of power. Encouraged by Protestants in that country, a feeling of resentment against the French grew in Scotland.

=Queen of France=

In April 1558, at age fifteen, Mary married Francis. In November of the same year the Queen of England, Mary Tudor, died. Mary Stuart made a claim to the English throne, basing the claim on the fact that she was the great-granddaughter of the English king Henry VII and on the grounds that Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate (the child of an unmarried couple).

Mary's claim had no effect, and Elizabeth became queen (taking the title Elizabeth I) without opposition in England. However, Mary and Francis assumed the royal titles of England and Ireland, calling themselves the rightful rulers of those countries. They continued to use these titles when they became the rulers of France in July 1559. After taking the throne, Mary's husband, Francis II, ruled in France for only a little over a year, dying in December 1560. In 1561, Mary returned to Scotland, attempting to reassert her power there. Protestants had gained power in Scotland while Mary was absent, but she intended to renew Catholic influence in her county.

=Rule in Scotland=

Elizabeth I's policy toward Mary was confusing. She saw that Mary was a threat, but she was unwilling to question the authority of another legitimate ruler (a king or queen who has a clear legal claim to the throne). Her policy shifted between attacking Mary when she was strong and aiding her when she was weak. For some seven years Mary held her position as queen of Scotland, but her permanent success in this position was unlikely, since Mary was clearly in conflict with important elements in Scotland.

In July 1565 Mary married for political purposes, rather than love. Mary became the wife of Henry, Lord Darnley, a move which strengthened her claims as heir to the throne of England, since Darnley was related to the English royal line. However, the marriage had somewhat different political results from those Mary hoped for. The Protestant lords of Scotland rebelled, led by the Earl of Moray and with support from Queen Elizabeth.

Mary was able to halt this threat by military force, but she could not prevent the harm done by the unpleasant personality of Darnley himself. She turned for comfort to her Italian secretary, David Riccio. Darnley, in turn, formed an alliance with the Protestant lords. On March 9, 1566, Darnley and the nobles dragged Riccio from Mary's room and murdered him. Within a short period, Moray and the other exiled rebel leaders had returned.

=Darnley's murder=

Though Mary gave birth to a son (the later James VI of Scotland and James I of England) in June 1566, she was never close to Darnley again. Instead, she secretly became close to one of the Protestant lords, the Earl of Bothwell. In February 1567 Darnley was murdered when the house in which he had been staying was destroyed by a violent explosion, and evidence suggested that Mary and Bothwell had plotted Darnley's death.

Suspicions against Mary were strengthened when she did little to investigate the murder, allowed herself to be kidnapped by Bothwell, and then married him in May 1567. The events led to a Scottish civil war, during which Mary was captured and forced to abdicate (give up the throne). After close to a year of confinement, she escaped and once again raised a group of supporters. After these supporters were defeated at the Battle of Langside (May 13, 1568), Mary crossed the border into England on May 16, 1568. She was now a refugee from the Scotland she had tried to rule.

=Elizabeth and Mary=

Mary's move had placed Elizabeth in an awkward position. Elizabeth was not in favor of having the Catholic claimant to the English throne so close. But she also did not want to use English military force against the Scottish Protestants on Mary's behalf, and she did not wish Mary to take refuge in some Catholic court in another country. Elizabeth was also troubled by her own feelings about the divine nature of a monarch (the belief that a legitimate king or queen's power was a "divine right" to rule given by God). If Mary could be robbed of her divine right to rule, that seemed to suggest that Elizabeth could be removed from the throne by force as well.

Elizabeth decided, in a sense, to sit in judgment on Mary's case. A English commission met and ruled that the rebel government of Moray in Scotland was to remain in place for the time being, and that Mary was to remain in England.

Mary lived in England for the rest of her life and was virtually a prisoner there. Soon after her arrival, she became the center of Catholic plots to unseat Elizabeth. Although she was closely watched by the authorities, she continued to plan with her Catholic allies to escape and take the English throne. In some cases Mary played a direct part in these plans; in others she was simply the cause for which the rebels gathered. However, in 1586 the English government uncovered the details of yet another plot, with evidence that included a letter from Mary that consented to the assassination (murder) of Elizabeth. Orders were given for Mary's trial, and she was found guilty in October 1586.

Parliament (the English houses of government) demanded Mary's execution, and she was put to death on February 8, 1587. Although Elizabeth seemed greatly displeased by this event in public, realistically she knew that the action was necessary. With Mary's death, the center of Catholic plotting against Elizabeth was removed.

Read more: Queen of Scots Mary Biography - life, children, death, wife, mother, young, son, information, born, husband, house

She was betrothed to the Dauphin of France and educated at the French Court. Her husband, who succeeded as Francis II, died within a year of his accession and Mary left France in 1560 never to return. She married secondly in 1565 Henry, Lord Darnley, son of Margaret Stewart, Countess of Lennox, in 1565 and had one son who became King James VI of Scotland and I of England. After Darnley's mysterious murder she married James, Earl of Bothwell but divorced him afte She was first buried in Peterborough Cathedral with great solemnity by Elizabeth's orders but James I brought the remains to Westminster Abbey in 1612. He had erected a magnificent marble tomb for her in the south aisle of the Lady Chapel on which there is a fine white marble effigy under an elaborate canopy. She wears a close-fitting coif, a laced ruff, and a long mantle fastened by a brooch. The sculptors were William and Cornelius Cure. A crowned Scottish lion stands at her feet. So the two queens, Mary and Elizabeth I, rest in opposite aisles in Henry VII's chapel. Next to Mary is the tomb of Margaret, Countess of Lennox on which is a kneeling figure of Lord Darnleyr a short time.

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Mary I, Queen of Scots's Timeline

December 8, 1542
Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland (United Kingdom)
December 1542
St. Michaels Catholic Church, Linlithgow, UK
December 1542
Scotland, United Kingdom
September 9, 1543
June 19, 1566
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland (United Kingdom)
February 8, 1587
Age 44
Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England