Mary Stuart Biography
MARY STUART (Mary, Queen of Scots) (1542–87). Queen of Scotland from 1542 to 1567. She was born Dec. 7 or 8, 1542, at Linlithgow Palace, the daughter of James V of Scotland by Mary of Guise. Her father died within a week of her birth, and she was proclaimed Queen. The English began negotiations for her betrothal to Prince Edward (later Edward VI), but, though they declared war to enforce their demands, they were unable to do so. After the Scots were defeated at Pinkie Cleugh, the young Queen was sent for greater security to an island in the Lake of Monteith. Meanwhile negotiations were opened with France for her marriage to the Dauphin (later Francis II), and these were satisfactorily concluded on July 7, 1548, whereupon Mary was sent to France. At the French court Mary received a good education and showed considerable intelligence. On April 24, 1558, her marriage to the Dauphin took place, and, contrary to the public agreements, she bound herself secretly that, if she died childless, her Scottish realm and her right of succession to the English throne, as great-granddaughter of Henry VII, should pass to France. In 1559 her husband ascended the French throne, and during his reign of over a year Mary exerted supreme influence. But the death of Francis II, on Dec. 5, 1560, destroyed all her plans. Catharine de' Medici was hostile to her; and so, on Aug. 15, 1561, after considerable negotiation with the great Protestant lords of Scotland, she left France forever and returned to Scotland.
Her government began auspiciously, and even the religious situation caused at first little difficulty. Protestantism had received the sanction of the Scottish Parliament, and Mary did not oppose this settlement, stipulating merely for liberty to use her own religion. Moreover, she surrounded herself with Protestant advisers, her chief minister being her natural brother, James Stuart, an able and ambitious statesman, whom she soon created Earl of Mar, and a little later Earl of Murray (q.v.). Her chief difficulties were to come to an amicable agreement with Elizabeth concerning the succession to the English throne. The English Queen, however, was suspicious of Mary, and the question of whom the latter would marry complicated matters further, Elizabeth fearing that an alliance of the Scottish Queen with a powerful foreign prince, like Don Carlos of Spain, would endanger her throne. Contrary to the advice of all, Mary, on July 29, 1565, married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who had some claims to both the Scottish and English thrones. The marriage was not a love match, but chiefly due to the fact that Darnley had considerable influence with the English Catholics, who would thus aid Mary in any plans she might have to obtain the English throne. On the other hand, the marriage alienated the powerful Protestant lords of Scotland, notably Murray, who rose in rebellion, and it made Elizabeth more suspicious than ever. The insurrection of the Protestant lords was suppressed, but Mary's eyes were soon opened to the mistake of her marriage with the worthless Darnley. She was disgusted by his debauchery and alarmed by his arrogance and ambition, which went so far as to prompt him to demand that the crown should be secured to him for life, and that if the Queen died without issue it should descend to his heir. Ascribing Mary's reluctance to accede to these demands to the influence of her confidential adviser, David Rizzio, an Italian of great ability, but generally hated as a foreigner and a Roman Catholic, Darnley conspired with the Protestant nobles to murder him and seize the government. It was stipulated that Protestantism should remain the recognized religion. On March 9, 1566, Rizzio was dragged from Mary's supper room and assassinated. Mary dissembled her indignation at her husband's treachery, succeeded in detaching him from the conspirators, and persuaded him not only to escape with her from their power by a midnight flight to Dunbar, but also to issue a proclamation in which he denied all complicity in their designs. Two of the chief conspirators, Ruthven and Morton, fled to England, while Murray and the Queen became reconciled. On June 19, 1566, Mary gave birth to a son (later James VI of Scotland and James I of England); but soon afterward she quarreled more than ever with Darnley, and the latter thought of leaving the country. Meanwhile the Queen showed more and more favor to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, a needy and profligate noble. About Jan. 9, 1567, Darnley fell ill. Mary brought him to Edinburgh, and he was lodged in a small mansion. Here on February 9 the Queen visited him, but left him about 10 o'clock in the evening. Early the next morning the house in which Darnley slept was blown up, and his lifeless body was found in a neighboring garden. Bothwell was undoubtedly the murderer, and it is a matter of controversy whether or not Mary was privy to the deed. A mock trial was held, and Bothwell was acquitted. On April 19 he carried the Queen to Dunbar, probably with her full consent. He divorced his young wife, Catherine Gordon, whom he had married little more than a year before, and on May 15, 1567—only three months after her husband's murder—Mary became Bothwell's wife.
This last indiscretion of Mary arrayed all her nobles in arms against her. She was able to lead an army against them, but it melted away without striking a blow at Carberry Hill, June 15, 1567. She had to abandon Bothwell and surrender herself to the confederated lords, who led her to Edinburgh, and from there to Lochleven. At the latter place she was compelled on July 24, 1567, to sign an act of abdication in favor of her son. Escaping from her island prison May 2, 1568, Mary found herself in a few days at the head of a small army, but this was defeated on May 13 by the Regent Murray at Langside, near Glasgow. Four days afterward, in spite of the entreaties of her best friends, Mary crossed the Solway and threw herself on the protection of Queen Elizabeth, only to find herself a prisoner for life.
Mary was first taken to Carlisle, but on July 13, 1568, she was removed to Bolton. Elizabeth demanded that there should be an inquiry into Darnley's murder. Mary seems to have held out at this time hopes of marriage to the Duke of Norfolk, and there were several attempts to bring about a rising among the Catholics in England and Scotland in her favor. As a result Norfolk was executed, as being implicated, on Tower Hill, June 2, 1572. Undoubtedly Elizabeth would have been glad to be rid of her dangerous prisoner, but could not on account of her relations with Spain and France at the time. Mary was moved from place to place, until in April, 1585, she was placed under the care of Sir Amyas Paulet, and here all opportunity was given her to become entangled in the conspiracy of Antony Babington (q.v.) against Elizabeth. For this she was brought to trial, and though she denied all complicity, she was found guilty, and beheaded on Feb. 8, 1587, at Fotheringay Castle. She met her fate with great composure and dignity.
Mary was reputed to be the most beautiful woman of her time. Her whole life was dramatic, and hence it has never ceased to interest poets and historians. She was a woman of great ability and varied accomplishments. Her prose writings have been collected by Prince Alexander Labanoff in his Recueil des lettres de Marie Stuart. Setting aside the 12 sonnets which she is said to have written to Bothwell, and which survive only in a French version of an English translation, no more than six pieces of her poetry are now known. The best is the poem of 11 stanzas on the death of her first husband, Francis II. The longest is a Meditation. All are in French, except one sonnet, which is in Italian.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XV (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 177-178.