“Mary, Queen of Scots entered the room where she would be executed. She told her friends and servants to ‘rejoice rather than weep for that the end of Mary Stuart’s troubles is now come … tell my friends that I die a true woman to my religion, and like a true Scottish woman and a true French woman.’
Mary was disrobed; her black garments were removed, revealing an outfit of deep red – the Catholic colour of martyrdom. She knelt down on a cushion, resting her head on the block, before stretching out her arms and crying in Latin “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” The axe came down, but landed on the back of her head rather than her neck. A second blow cut into her neck but a third was required to sever the head completely.
When the executioner lifted Mary’s head it tumbled onto the stage, leaving him holding her wig. Her hair was short and completely grey due to years of stress as a prisoner. A final surprise was waiting for the executioner – Mary’s little Skye terrier had been hiding under her skirts, soaked in blood.” –Laura Brown, Historic Environment Scotland
Hello again, friends. I hope this day finds you well. Today we are going to pick up where we left off in my previous post about the life of Mary Queen of Scots.
Last time, we saw a young grieving widow return to Scotland to reign over her home country alone. Still mourning the loss of her French husband, Mary (a Catholic) found herself at odds with a predominantly Protestant nation. Many felt that the best chance for the country’s stability depended upon her marrying a man of the Protestant faith. So five years after the death of her first husband, Mary married Henry, Lord Darnley.
Kind of like the Ford Pinto of the ’70s or the Yugo of the ’80s, Lord Darnley turned out to be a bit of a lemon. Reportedly spoiled, petulant, jealous, and given to carousing – a man of poor character – Darnley was never given any real authority. Mary abandoned her plans to crown him as king, and his arrogance and behavior put a terrible strain upon the marriage.
Darnley’s jealous behavior came to a head in March 1566 after Protestant lords (and the nobles who had formed a rebellion against Mary in ‘The Chaseabout Raid”) influenced him to join their secret conspiracy to murder David Rizzio, Mary’s private secretary and BFF. The nobles felt that Rizzio had too much influence on Mary’s foreign policy, and Lord Darnley was suspicious that Rizzio and Mary were more than just friends. The rumor mill speculated that Mary was carrying Rizzio’s child! So, in front of a six-month pregnant Mary who was dining with friends at Holyrood House in Edinburgh, Darnley and his cronies dragged David Rizzio away from the table, into the next room, and brutally murdered him.
Reeling from the murder of her friend, Mary gave birth to a son three months later, on June 19, 1566. And not just any son, but the future King James VI of Scotland and I of England. To the dismay of the Protestants, wee James was baptized into the Catholic faith.
In the most mysterious of circumstances, Lord Darnley met his end on February 10, 1567. In the early morning hours, the home at which Darnley was staying rocked with a massive explosion. Darnley’s body and that of a servant were recovered in the garden; however, it was discovered that the blast had not killed them. Rather, they had been strangled! Young Mary was now a widow for a second time.
This is where Mary’s story begins to get complicated, and as I said in Part 1, sometimes deciphering fact from fiction can be challenging. I will do my best to only provide you with those points on which multiple sources are in agreement. If you want the finely detailed and verified facts on all things political, you’ll have to wait for my book (just kidding).
Some historians speculate that by this point, Mary had formed a close relationship with a man named James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. Bothwell had been involved in aiding Mary after the death of her Italian secretary, and some believe that the pair may have been lovers.
The question of who murdered Lord Darnley loomed and not even Mary was above suspicion. Darnley’s influential family accused Mary’s friend Bothwell in the assassination, claiming that with Lord Darnley out of the picture, Bothwell was free to pursue marriage to Mary. As the chief suspect, Bothwell was tried for the crime in April 1567 but was subsequently acquitted. The question of ‘who done it’ remains to this day.
Shortly after Bothwell’s acquittal, Mary was abducted by Bothwell and his men and was taken to Dunbar Castle where they wed. Because the exact nature of their relationship remains unclear, it is not known if Mary’s abduction was by force or if it was a pre-planned agreement between the two.
I don’t know if Mary had poor taste in men or if she was just unlucky in love, but her marriage to Bothwell also soured. Their relationship was turbulent and proved to be deeply unpopular in the eyes of both Protestants and Catholics. Ultimately, an army was raised against them. Bothwell fled, and Mary found herself imprisoned at Lochleven Castle, where she miscarried twins. Mary was given a choice – abdication or death. She chose abdication, and her infant son James became the new sovereign – King James VI of Scotland. Bothwell, by this point, had been forced into exile and would eventually die in prison in Denmark (driven to insanity).
Mary had the heart of a fighter and would not relinquish her pride. On May 2, 1568, the still twenty-something escaped from Lochleven Castle and raised a small army. That army was defeated in the Battle of Langside, and Mary fled to England into what she hoped would be the protective arms of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
If you’ll recall from Part 1, there had always been conflict over to whom the crown belonged. Many Catholics felt that as the senior descendent of Henry VIII’s eldest sister, Mary was the rightful ruler of the throne. Elizabeth saw Mary as a tremendous threat and, over the next nineteen years, kept a watchful eye on her by holding her captive in various castles throughout England.
During the years of Mary’s captivity, Elizabeth’s fears were realized, as Mary was discovered to be involved in numerous plots for assassination. The big question remains: Was Mary tricked into expressing her support for this effort, or was it a deliberate attempt to dethrone her cousin and claim the kingdom for herself?
Whatever Mary’s intention (or lack of intention), she was and would always be perceived as a threat to Elizabeth. So, in October 1586, Mary Queen of Scots was tried for treason and condemned to death. She was taken to Fotheringhay Castle, and on February 8, 1587 – at the age of just 44 – was executed.
Poor Mary. What had begun as a promising life and a bright future had turned into a tragic chain of events. It was a sad reflection of the time in which she lived. The questions remain. Was Mary a misguided martyr, swept up in the political and religious frenzy of her day? Or was she a Jezebel, scheming and dabbling in murder to achieve her goals? That is a question that perhaps only Mary herself could answer.
Sixteen years after Mary’s execution, Elizabeth died of natural causes, and Mary’s son James ascended to the throne his mother had coveted. And in perhaps the ultimate poetic irony, some four centuries later, the rival queens’ final resting place lies in London’s Westminster Abbey, only a short distance apart.