There is no doubt that Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scotland that was executed by decree of Queen Elizabeth I has become one of the most loved, or at least one of the most talked about monarchs of all time.
There has been much study on Mary and depending on what side of the historical fence you may sit, you will either think she was a treasonous, power-hungry floozy or an innocent victim of other power-hungry men who used her. Countless books, movies, plays and even television shows have been written about her life. Much of it romanticized, her life has given those of us who love the 16th century and the Tudor era much to debate and dream about.
In the coming year I will be posting a series of blogs that examine some of the people who either had an influence or detriment on Mary’s life in some way. Though she only lived 44 years, she touched and was touched by countless lives that also had an impact on her.
If you are like me, I read a story, see a name, want to learn more about that person and read everything I can get my hands on about them until my thirst is quenched. That is what drew me in to the story and life of Mary, Queen of Scots in the first place. These posts are not meant to be an exhaustive coverage of everyone that Mary Stuart came in contact with. I have chosen just a few of the many people who lived during that time and had some kind of interaction with the enigmatic queen. My hope is that these posts will spark an interest and drive you to want to learn more about the woman, her life and times and the people who we can say make or break Mary, the Queen of the Scots.
Here is the schedule for the upcoming blog posts in the Principal Players Series:
January-Mary Stuart-The Queen of the Scots
February-Mary of Guise & King James V (mother and father)
March-Francis II (1st husband)
April-Catherine de’ Medici & King II (in-laws)
May-David Rizzio, Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard & Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (scandalous men)
June-James Stuart, Lord Moray (half brother)
July-John Knox (Protestant Reformer and thorn in the flesh)
August-Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (2nd husband) & James VI & I (son)
September-James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell (3rd husband)
October-The Four Marys (closest friends)
November-Bess of Hardwick & George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury (friends/jailers)
Queen Elizabeth I & William Cecil (responsible for death)
The celebrated poet, T.S. Eliot may have penned these famous words in his poem, “East Coker”, however, he was not the first person to use them. Mary, Queen of Scots took this phrase as a motto sometime during her long captivity in England. Embroidering the words on her canopy of state, they served as a sort of prophetic epitaph of her life, that ended so tragically at the hands of the Queen of England, Elizabeth I.
Some scholars speculate that she
may have been referring to her late grandfather-in-law, Francis I’s symbol of
the salamander with these words. In medieval times the salamander had an
allegorical element that symbolized a righteous person’s ability to withstand
fire, just as the three Hebrew children in the Biblical story, emerged unharmed
from the fiery furnace.
Mary was an unrepentant Catholic.
She never swayed from her religious beliefs, even though it caused heartache
for her for most of her life. It is no secret that she considered herself a
martyr for her Catholic faith (even going so far as to wearing a red petticoat,
the martyr’s color, at her execution). She is known to have told her
cousin, the Duke of Guise:
“For myself, I am resolute to die for my religion. . . With God’s
help, I shall die in the Catholic faith and to maintain it
constantly. . .without doing dishonor to the race of
Lorraine, who are accustomed to die the sustenance of the faith.”
In her Essay on Adversity, written in 1580, Mary wrote of the
lives of rulers:
“Tribulation has been to them as a furnace to fine gold—a means
of proving their virtue, of opening their so-long blinded eyes, and
of teaching them to know themselves and their own failings.”
Perhaps Mary saw herself emerging victorious on the other side of this mortal life with that everlasting life promised to believers that can only come after death.
words can also be a bit predictive. They are a sort of foretelling of the
immortal, romanticized life that she has taken on since her death. She is,
beyond a doubt, one of the most controversial figures in Scottish history.
Whether you believe she was complicit in her second husband’s death, and guilty
of plotting a treasonous over-taking of the English throne, one cannot deny
that she has had more than her fair share of 15 minutes of fame, and she
remains one of those characters in history that we non-participants either love
to love, or love to hate.
A little back history
After her disastrous second
marriage to Lord Henry Darnley ended in his death by strangulation, Mary was
kidnapped, raped and accepted a marriage proposal by another man accused in the
death of her husband (we’ll save that story for another day.) When Mary followed through with the marriage barely
two months after Darnley’s death, suspicions were heightened concerning Mary’s
involvement with Darnley’s murder.
Soon Scottish lords were seeking
to implicate Mary in Darnley’s murder as well, and she was forced to abdicate
her throne to her one-year old son, James. When attempts to raise an army to
take back her throne failed, she ended up imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle where
she eventually miscarried Bothwell’s twins. She finally escaped ten months
later with the help of one of her sympathizes.
Mary attempted a second time
to raise an army, trying in vain to defeat her leading opponent, her half-brother
James Stewart, Earl of Moray. When she was not successful, she fled to England,
hoping to obtain help from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.
Any indications of sympathy
that Mary may have received from Elizabeth were short lived. She was quickly
taken into custody and remained so, moving from residence to residence under
house arrest for the next 19 years. Although records indicate that she led a
somewhat pampered life while in England (after all—she was a queen), the fact
remained that Mary was still a captive of Elizabeth’s. With her health
declining, she made it no secret that she would use any means necessary to
escape her situation. This was not a confession to treason, but merely an
admission that she had tried on more than one occasion to escape.
A victim of one scheming nobleman after
another, she continued to be a political pawn, having no control of her own
life. When her private letters were produced for Elizabeth to read, the
contents were condemning. Through plots originating at the hands of her
supporters in an attempt to rescue her, and plots formed at the hands of her
enemies in an effort to entrap her, Mary endured some of the most farcical
examples of court intrigue that have ever existed and rivals anything even
Hollywood could come up with.
The day finally came
On August 11, 1586, Mary was arrested for her part in another
murder plot to kill Elizabeth that would eventually come to be called the
Babington Plot. Mary’s long-time English
foe, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, William Cecil, and another of Elizabeth’s
secretaries, Sir Francis Walsingham, had finally succeeded in scrounging up
something to pin on the Scottish queen.
By this time, Mary was suffering from arthritis, making
movement in her arms and legs very painful. She could not walk without
assistance and was confined to a bed most of the time. She testified in court
that due to her illness, she had no desire to take the reins of government again.
She also complained that her letters and papers had all been taken from her,
and that she had not been given any counsel as to how to proceed in her trial. The
most adamant of her complaints, however, was the fact that since she was not an English subject, they had no
right whatsoever, to try her under English law.
Her pleas and complaints went unheard, and after Elizabeth’s attempts to end her Scottish problem with other means had failed, she finally signed the death warrant to execute Mary on February 1 the following year. She was executed seven days later. Mary was 44 years of age when she laid down her life in typical martyr fashion, her red petticoat announcing to the world the glorious death to which she had been called.
The following pictures were taken at the Mary Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh, Scotland when I was there in 2017. They depict examples of the high demand for relics pertaining to Mary and her fascinating story. There are many more relics at Jedburgh, but here I have posted only the ones that pertain to this post.
One final note of interest…
If you are interested in seeing some of the places that Mary stayed after her initial arrest in Scotland in 1567, or if you want to start at the beginning of her life in 1542, this is an excellent book. The author is Andrew Burnet.
The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
— Winston Churchill.
I am so glad you’re here. If you found me through Twitter, you probably already know that I am a writer of historical fiction who loves all things British–and in particular, Scottish. If you came here from Facebook, then you probably already know that I have written a book about Mary, Queen of Scots (more on that later). And if you know me from Instagram then you know that I like to post pictures of my travels and my kids–the two-legged ones and the four-legged one.
If you know me in person, then you know that I have a huge obsession with 16th century Europe and love to read about the Reformation and what life was like in that time period. I also like to read about the kings and queens of the medieval time period. You are likely to find any number of those topics on this blog.
I hope you love history as much as I do. If you do, then perhaps you’ll hang around and chat a while. Feel free to comment on what you liked, what you didn’t, and what topics you might like for us to discuss further.
Thanks for stopping by!
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A young Reformer and childhood friend of Mary, Queen of Scots sacrifices everything for love and loyalty to his queen.
Thomas Broune is a sixteenth century Scottish cleric
and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. While in service at the
queen’s court, he soon realizes that the feelings that he held for Mary, as a
protective brother that cares for his sister, has turned to feelings that he
can no longer deny; he is deeply in love with the beautiful queen. Yet Thomas is
a man of the cloth. She is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have
obligations of an overwhelming magnitude; he to his conscious, and she to her
Thomas finally removes himself from the temptation,
and eventually marries another. However, when he chooses loyalty to his queen
over the well-being of his wife and child, he finds that the choice comes at a
very high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves and crippled
by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has
made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.
Want to read more? Click on the link below to read a sample of The Queen’s Almoner. Then, tell me how much you love it and can’t wait for it to be published, or tell me how much you hate it and what I can do to improve it. (It’s ok, I’m a grown-up, I can handle a little criticism 🙂 ) Please keep in mind this is a working title and cover. When a publisher decides to publish my book the title could change, and the cover definitely will.