Greetings everyone! It feels like it’s been awhile. A wonderful, restful vacation in sunny Florida and the regular busyness of life have taken me away from you lately. It’s good to be back with you again.
Today, my blog topic is by special request from my friend and faithful reader, Paige. About to embark on a honeymoon trip to Scotland (fab decision), she asked if I would mind writing an article on the fascinating and controversial Mary Queen of Scots. My friend has a similar interest in history so I am thrilled to oblige (even if it has taken me a long time to get moving on it!) Paige, dear, this one’s for you.
So…if there is one takeaway from my research on Mary Queen of Scots, it is that the relationship between Scotland and England is a complicated one. Always has been. May always be.
I want to begin by saying that the story of Mary is also complicated. As with any events that took place half a millennia ago, sometimes that which separates fact from fiction is not crystal clear. I imagine there will always be scholarly debate and political and religious bias which informs individual opinion, but I think most people would agree upon the major points of Mary’s life. As for the finer, cloudier points, well, they are certainly fodder for the imagination. That being said, let’s dig in.
Known also as Mary I or Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots was born in 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, about fifteen miles west of Edinburgh. She was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland. Mary’s mother was Mary of Guise (who played a prominent role in 16th century French politics) and she was the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England (you know, the one we all learned about in school that had his wife Ann Boleyn beheaded).
Mary was barely out of the womb when her father died and consequently, she inherited the Scottish throne. At just six days old, tiny Mary became the infant Queen of Scotland. Because she was obviously too young to rule (the child couldn’t even yet hold a cup), the country was ruled by regents until Mary became of age to assume her responsibilities. Of course, in true human form, the regency itself was not without conflict. The Catholic Cardinal Beaton and the Protestant Earl of Arran each claimed that the regency was theirs. Power, anyone? Arran ended up in the position until Mary’s mother managed to remove and succeed him in 1554, serving until Mary became an adult.
With a passionate desire for Scotland and the powerful Catholic nation of France to form an alliance against England, Mary’s mother sent her young five-year-old daughter to be educated in the French court and to eventually marry the French Dauphin – Francis (the son of the French king, Henry II). Mary Queen of Scots spent the next thirteen years in France, learning all the things that a young woman of noble birth should know: several languages, horsemanship, falconry, needlework, poetry and prose, and music. She was educated, talented, beautiful – quite the catch – and in 1558, she became the bride of the young French prince (just so we’re clear, I didn’t say the Fresh Prince – ha).
Meanwhile in England………
In 1558, Elizabeth I (a Protestant and cousin to Mary Queen of Scots) ascended to the English throne after the death of her sister. Yet in the eyes of many Catholics, it was felt that Elizabeth was an illegitimate ruler and that our Mary Stuart, as the senior descendent of Henry VIII’s elder sister, was the rightful queen of England. This issue of who the true and sovereign English ruler should be would mar Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship for the rest of Mary’s days.
A happily ever after was not in the cards for Francis and Mary, however. About a year after they were wed, following the accidental and untimely death of his father, Francis was crowned King of France (Mary as Queen). And sadly, another year and a half after that in 1560, the young King Francis himself also passed away -from an ear infection that developed into a much more serious problem. According to a previous account by Francis’ father, Henry II, Mary and his young son had seemed to click from the very beginning. Soul mates some might even say.
The loss of Mary’s young husband left her grief-stricken and the eighteen-year-old went home to Scotland to reign alone. Her return came at a time of political and religious uncertainty, with Scotland caught in the throes of the Reformation and an ever-widening Protestant-Catholic split.
I try to imagine what Mary Queen of Scots would have been like at this point in her life. Eighteen, widowed and grieving, thrust into responsibilities and pressures not of her own choosing. Possibly lonely. The tender heart of a teenager caught somewhere between the child she was and the woman she was quickly becoming.
One thing is for certain, though. Mary’s fascinating journey had only begun.
We’ll continue with more on the life of Mary Queen of Scots next time. See you again soon, Friends.