Five Facts About Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

The life and story of Mary Queen of Scots verges on legendary. Love affairs, deceit, conspiracy, war and turmoil – it’s a tale steeped in romanticism and intrigue, and one that was made for Hollywood.

Reigning amidst a period of social upheaval and religious unrest, Mary Queen of Scots is often remembered for the manner of her demise – execution on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Here are five facts about Mary Queen of Scots.

She was crowned Queen of Scots at just six days old

Born on 8th December 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, Mary was the daughter of King James V of Scotland and the formidable Mary of Guise.

Notably, Mary was the king’s only legitimate surviving child. On 14th December, just six days after her birth, she became Queen of Scotland following the death of her father.

She was (briefly) Queen Consort of France

Mary Queen of Scots
Francis II of France.

In an attempt to solidify the ‘Auld Alliance’, Mary was betrothed to Francis, heir to Henry II of France. And in April 1558, she married Francis at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Following the coronation of King Francis II in 1559, Mary briefly became Queen Consort of France, while Francis also served as Consort of Scotland.

However, less than one year into his reign Francis II died of an abscess in his brain. Having lost her mother just months prior, Mary was devastated and returned to Scotland in August 1561.

She was married three times -and outlived them all

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary with her second husband, Lord Darnley.

Mary’s first marriage to Francis II of France was cut short when the young monarch died in 1560. 

Upon her return to Scotland, Mary then married Lord Darnley, with whom she had a child, James. In February 1567, Darnley was murdered after an explosion levelled his residence in Edinburgh.

Notably, Darnley was found dead outside the residence and is believed to have been murdered after initially escaping.

Mary’s third and final marriage was to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. The marriage was not a happy one, and the two would eventually part after her abdication.

Bothwell fled and was eventually imprisoned in Denmark – where he became insane and died in 1578.

Mary abdicated the throne in disgrace

Mary’s marriage to James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, proved to be unpopular among Catholics and Protestants alike.

Many Catholics refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the marriage on accounts of Bothwell’s Protestant faith and the fact that he was divorced.

What did unite Scottish Catholics and Protestants was their shock that Mary would marry a nobleman accused of murdering her husband, Lord Darnley.

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This prompted twenty six Scottish lords, known as the ‘Confederate Lords’, to turn against the pair and raise their own army. While Mary and Bothwell confronted the lords at Carberry Hill on 15th June 1567, there was no battle. After negotiations, Mary was taken to Edinburgh before being imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle.

In July of 1567, she abdicated the throne in favour of her infant son James, who was placed in the care of the Earl of Moray, who served as regent.

Her execution was really gruesome

The execution scene, drawn by eyewitness Robert Beale.

Beheading was a gruesome form of execution, but it was somewhat of an art and required great skill on the part of the executioner himself.

Mary’s execution in 1587 is remembered for being unusually horrific, however. Several swings of the axe were required to finish the execution, according to contemporary accounts.

In addition, when the executioner attempted to display her severed head he failed to remember she was wearing a crimson red wig, which slipped off her severed head. An all-round embarrassing affair for the executioner and a particularly gruesome afternoon for all involved.

Bonus Fact!

Her son became the first king of Scotland and England

James VI & I.

Mary had the last laugh in her long-running feud with Elizabeth I. 

Her surviving heir, James, was crowned King of Scotland in July 1567 in the wake of her abdication. Upon the death of the childless Elizabeth in 1603, James succeeded the last Tudor monarch to become James I of England and Ireland. 

Ruling a united kingdom, he would reign for two decades as James VI & I.

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