The New Student's Reference Work/Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots (Mary Stuart) was the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Lorraine, daughter of the French Duke of Guise. She was born at Linlithgow on Dec. 8, 1542. Her misfortunes began with her birth. Mary, on the death of her father, became a queen before she was a week old. But, hating an English match, the young queen was offered (1548) to the oldest son of Henry II of France. Her next ten years were passed at the French court, where she was taught with the king’s children. At 16 she was married to the dauphin Francis. In 1559 Francis came to the throne, and for a year and a half Mary was queen of France. When Francis died, Mary cared little to stay at a court now ruled by the queen-mother, Catharine dei Medici, whom she had taunted with being a “merchant’s daughter;” and her presence was needed, too, in Scotland, for her mother had just died and the country was without a government and torn by the Reformation. Mary landed in 1561, after escaping the English ships which Elizabeth had sent to capture her. The Reformation claimed to have been sanctioned by the Scottish parliament, and the queen was content to leave affairs as she found them, only claiming the liberty to use her own religion. Mary suddenly (1565) married her cousin, James Stuart, Lord Darnley. Darnley was weak and vicious. This marriage caused the earl of Moray, the queen’s natural brother and her chief minister, to head a Protestant rising; but the revolt was quelled.
Mary soon became disgusted at Darnley’s worthlessness and alarmed at his ambition. He had been given the title of king, and now claimed that the crown should be secured to him for life and to his heirs, if the queen died childless; and what Mary refused as a favor he prepared to take by force. Mary’s chief minister since Moray’s rebellion had been Rizzio, a common-looking Italian, of brains and accomplishments, but generally hated as a low-born foreigner and a court favorite. So a conspiracy was formed by the king and Moray and other Protestant leaders, they binding themselves to secure the crown to him and his heirs, and he agreeing to have them pardoned. The result was the murder of Rizzio on March 9, 1566, Darnley leading the way into the queen’s cabinet and holding her in his grasp while the murderers slew the Italian. When Darnley dismissed the parliament about to bring Moray and the other defeated rebels to trial, Mary realized the purpose of the conspirators and set to work to defeat them. She succeeded in detaching Darnley from the others, and persuaded him to deny all connection with their designs. This ended the conspiracy and the king was hated by both sides, as he had betrayed both. In February, 1567, the house in which the king slept was blown up, and his lifeless body found in the neighboring garden. The chief murderer was the earl of Bothwell, who had enjoyed a large share of the queen’s favor since Moray’s revolt, but the queen herself was suspected, for within three months Bothwell was acquitted at a mock trial, divorced from his wife and made duke of Orkney. Then he married the queen.
This fatal step at once arrayed the nobles against Mary. Her army melted away without striking a blow, and she was forced to give up the throne to her son, James VI. The next year, escaping from prison, she found herself in a few days at the head of 6,000 men, only to be defeated. Four days later (May 17, 1568), Mary crossed the Scottish borders and threw herself on the protection of Queen Elizabeth, only to find herself a prisoner for life. Mary, as the great-granddaughter of Henry VII, claimed the right of succession to the English throne. A good part of England was still Roman Catholic and looked to Mary to restore the old faith. Of the many plots formed for her deliverance, the most famous was the one of Antony Babington, which included the assassination of Elizabeth. It was discovered; letters of Mary, approving the death of the English queen, came into the hands of the ministers; and Mary was brought to trial in September, 1586. She was sentenced to death in October, but Elizabeth could not find courage to sign the death-warrant till February, 1587. On the 8th, at Fotheringay Castle, Northamptonshire, Mary laid her head on the block with the dignity of a queen and the courage of a martyr.
Mary’s beauty and accomplishments are world-famous. She was admitted by everyone to be the most charming princess of her time. She was queenly in appearance, on the throne, in the dance or on horseback at the head of her army. The charm of her soft, sweet voice is said to have been irresistible; and she sang well, accompanying herself on the harp or lute. Her manner was sprightly, affable, kindly and frank. Her rather large features were lighted by a winning vivacity and a high, joyous spirit. The starlike brightness of her eyes — whether hazel or dark gray we know not — her fresh, clear complexion and hair of ruddy yellow changing with her years to auburn, then to dark brown, turning gray long before its time, added their share to the beauty that bewitched French, English and Scotch alike. Two women only, Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, share with Mary Queen of Scots the power wielded over the imaginations of men of all times and countries. See G. Chalmers’ Life of Mary Queen of Scots and Miss Strickland’s Lives of the Queens of Scotland.