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Crowned Queen of Scots at just nine months old; married, crowned Queen Consort of France and widowed all by the time she was 18 years old: Mary Stewart's life was nothing if not eventful. Get the facts about her tumultuous life and death here.
Devastated by his army's defeat by the English at Solway Moss, James V withdrew to Falkland Palace, Fife. He is reported to have laid down and turned his face to the wall.
Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace, to James V, King of Scots, and his French second wife, Mary of Guise. She was the only legitimate child of James to survive him. She was also the great-niece of Henry VIII of England, giving her a claim to the throne.
James V of Scots died just six days after the birth of his daughter. In reference to the origins of the Royal Stewart Dynasty, James is supposed to have said: 'It began with a lass and it will gang with a lass.'
These treaties between Scotland and England included a marriage agreement between Mary and Edward, son of King Henry VIII of England. This was an attempt to gain control of Mary and weaken French influence in Scotland.
Mary was crowned Queen of Scots aged just nine months. The ceremony was conducted in the Chapel Royal of Stirling Castle by Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews, Scotland’s most senior Catholic cleric.
The Rough Wooing began when the Earl of Arran renounced the Treaties of Greenwich in December 1543. Henry VIII attacked Scotland to force a marriage between Mary and Edward. The Rough Wooing continued until 1551.
Alarmed by the support for the Protestant Reformation, Cardinal Beaton had the Protestant reformer; George Wishart arrested and burnt at the stake. In retaliation Beaton was assassinated by Wishart’s supporters.
Henry VIII’s death left England with a minority government. The Duke of Somerset acted as regent for Edward VI and continued the Rough Wooing. On 9 September 1547, the Scots were defeated at Pinkie, east of Edinburgh. Mary was sent to Inchmahome Priory for safety.
The Treaty of Haddington strengthened Scotland’s links with France. The King of France, Henri II, agreed to provide military support against England, while Mary was promised in marriage to Henri’s son, the Dauphin François.
At the age of five Mary was taken to France. Henri II thought her 'the most beautiful child he had ever seen', François adored her. Henri’s wife, Catherine de Medici resented Mary as she was a Queen, giving her precedence over Catherine’s daughters in the royal nursery.
Mary and François married in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on 24 April 1558. She wore a lavishly decorated white gown. With her auburn hair and pale complexion the effect was dazzling, if unconventional; traditionally white was reserved for royal mourning in France.
Mary Tudor, England’s Catholic queen, died in 1558 and was succeeded by her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth. Mary believed that she had the stronger claim to the English throne. Henri II encouraged Mary to display the Arms of England with those of France and Scotland.
In April England, France and Spain signed the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, bringing peace to most of Europe. Henri II was fatally wounded during a jousting tournament in June 1559, held as part of the peace celebrations. François became King, making Mary Queen Consort of France.
Scotland’s Protestant Lords appealed to England for support against the regency of Mary of Guise. She was forced to retreat to Edinburgh Castle, and died there on 11 June. Scotland and England signed the Treaty of Edinburgh, which ended the Auld Alliance.
On François’ death Mary was bereft. She wrote: 'My heart keeps watch for one who's gone.' Catherine de Medici became regent for her younger son, Charles IX. Keen to secure the position of her own children, Catherine made sure that Mary could not remain in France.
Before leaving France, Mary met both Catholic and Protestant delegations from Scotland. She aligned with her Protestant half-brother, Lord James Stewart, who advised her to maintain the religious status quo.
Mary arrived in Leith on 19 August 1561 and made her official entry into Edinburgh a few weeks later. She was presented with the keys to the city, a Bible and a book of Psalms. The celebrations blatantly promoted the Protestant cause and attacked Catholicism.
Mary summoned the Protestant Reformation leader Knox five times to answer allegations he made against her. During their first audience she accused him of provoking armed revolt. He compared her to the tyrant Nero. Mary held her own till Knox left, then broke down in tears.
Mary believed a face to face meeting would convince Elizabeth to name her as heir. Arrangements were well advanced for that summer but abandoned when England became embroiled in the French Wars of Religion. Elizabeth contracted smallpox, delaying a meeting still further.
Mary considered several options for a husband. In 1563, her first choice, Don Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne, failed after he suffered brain damage in a fall down some stairs.
Elizabeth I wanted Mary to marry a Protestant and proposed the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. Neither Mary nor Dudley wished the match. Mary declared she had no intention of marrying 'a mere subject of Elizabeth’s'. Dudley proposed Henry, Lord Darnley in his place.
Henry Lord Darnley was a Catholic and was descended from both James II of Scots and Henry VII of England. When Mary met him for the first time at Wemyss in Fife she thought him 'the lustiest and best proportioned lang (tall) man she had seen'.
Mary and Darnley were married in the Chapel Royal of Holyroodhouse. She proclaimed Darnley King of Scots the following day without the consent of Parliament. The announcement was met with stony silence. Only Darnley’s father cried 'God save His Grace'.
Opposition to Mary’s marriage arose very quickly. The Protestant Earl of Moray, fearing that Mary’s marriage to a Catholic threatened the Reformation, led an attempt to overthrow both Mary and her King Consort. The episode was more an armed chase than an outright rebellion.
Mary's son by Darnley, James, was born in Edinburgh Castle. By this time, however, her marriage to Darnley had broken down: he had plotted against her and even been part of a conspiracy to murder her Catholic secretary, David Rizzio, in her presence.
In the early hours of 10 February 1567, an explosion blew up Old Provost's Lodging at Kirk o'Field in Edinburgh, where Darnley was recuperating from illness. Darnley was found dead in the garden, apparently murdered. Mary herself was implicated in the plot, but the prime suspect was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.
Bothwell was tried and acquitted of Darnley's murder. His next move was to abduct Mary on her return to Edinburgh from Stirling, where she had been visiting her son – for the last time, it would transpire. It is not known whether Mary was a willing participant in the plot or not, but two weeks later the couple were married, Bothwell having divorced his first wife just twelve days previously.
Alienated from her closest advisors, Mary’s monarchy floundered. After failing to quash a rebellion of Scottish peers, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle and forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son.
With the aid of George Douglas, the owner of Loch Leven, Mary escaped and raised an army to face the forces of the Earl of Moray at the Battle of Langside.16 May: Fleeing ScotlandDefeated at the Battle of Langside, Mary fled from Scotland. She crossed into England convinced her cousin and fellow monarch, Elizabeth I, would help her regain her throne. Elizabeth however was unsure how to deal with this unexpected ‘guest’ and ordered Mary’s detention at Carlisle Castle.
Elizabeth wanted proof Mary was innocent of Darnley’s murder before agreeing to a meeting. The Conference of York failed to find such proof and in February 1569 Mary was taken to Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire, a residence of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who became her jailer for most of the next fifteen years.
Mary was held in several secure residences during her captivity, but Shrewsbury was a benign jailer. She was permitted a staff of 30 including Scottish nobility, her secretary, physcian, maids, grooms and cooks. She was occasionaly allowed to ride and her failing health was bolstered by spells at Buxton Spa.
There were several failed attempts to free Mary. Determined to prevent more, Elizabeth I's principal secretary and 'spymaster' Sir Francis Walsingham introduced the Bond of Association. This made Mary responsible for any plots instigated in her name, whether or not she knew about them, or approved them.
Desperate to be free, Mary proposed that she and her son James should rule Scotland together. However, James had secretly allied himself with Elizabeth without Mary’s knowledge. In March 1585 he officially renounced his mother’s proposal, leaving her devastated.
In April Mary was transfered to the custody of Sir Amyas Paulet. He detested her and revoked many of the privileges Shrewsbury had allowed her.
Mary was secretly corresponding with supporters, unaware that Walsingham’s agents were intercepting her letters. This allowed them to trick her into agreeing to a plot proposed by Anthony Babington, to assassinate Elizabeth I and make Mary Queen of England. This sealed Mary’s fate. She was moved to Fotheringhay Castle in September.
Mary was tried for treason at Fotheringhay Castle, Northampton where she was she remained in captivity until her execution.
Mary was 44 years old and had spent 19 years in captivity. Deposed by her country, abandoned by her son, all she had left was her faith. Those present at her execution spoke of her great courage and dignity.
Our museums are now open and tickets are available to book. We can't wait to welcome you back.