Youre here: Home » eDigg Biographies » Biographies G-M » Mary, Queen Of Scots


» Biography Home

» Biographies A-F

» Biographies G-M

» Biographies N-S

» Biographies T-Z

Mary, Queen Of Scots

      Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was the third child of James V. and his wife, Mary of Guise. That lady had borne him previously, two sons, both of whom died in infancy. Mary was born on December 7, 1542, in the palace of Linlithgow. She was only seven days old when she lost her father, who, at the time of her birth, lay sick at the palace of Falkland.

      The young queen was crowned by Cardinal Beaton, at Stirling, on September 9, 1543. Soon after her birth, the Parliament nominated commissioners, to whom they intrusted the charge of the queen's person, leaving all her other interests to the care of her mother. The first two years of her life, Mary spent at Linlithgow, where it is said she had the small-pox, but the disease must have been of a particularly gentle kind, having left behind no visible traces. During the greater part of the years 1545, 1546, and 1547, she resided at Stirling Castle, in the keeping of Lords Erskine and Livingstone. She was afterward removed to Inchmahome, a sequestered island in the lake of Monteith; after remaining there upward of two years, it was thought expedient by those who had at the time the disposal of her future destiny, that she should be removed to France. She was accordingly, in the fifth year of her age, taken to Dunbarton, where she was delivered to the French admiral, whose vessels were waiting to receive her; and attended by Lords Erskine and Livingstone, her three natural brothers, and four young ladies as companions, she left Scotland.

      The thirteen happiest years of Mary's life were spent in France. She was received at Brest, by order of Henry II., with all the honors due to her rank and royal destiny. She travelled by easy stages to the palace at St. Germain en Laye; and to mark the respect that was paid to her, the prison gates of every town she came to were thrown open, and the prisoners set free. Shortly after her arrival she was sent, along with the king's own daughters, to one of the first convents in France, where young ladies of distinction were instructed in the elementary branches of education.

      Henry, to confirm the French authority in Scotland, was eager to marry Francis, his son, to Mary. Francis, the young dauphin, who was much about Mary's own age, was far inferior to her both in personal appearance and mental endowments. They had been playmates from infancy; they had prosecuted all their studies together; he loved her with the tenderest affection; it was not in Mary's nature to be indifferent to those who evinced affection for her; and if her fondness for Francis was mingled with pity, it has long been asserted that "pity is akin to love."

      On April 24, 1558, the nuptials took place in the church of Notre Dame, with great splendor. Every eye was fixed on the youthful Mary; and, inspired by those feelings which beauty seldom fails to excite, every heart offered up prayers for her future welfare and happiness. She was now at that age when feminine loveliness is perhaps most attractive. It is not to be supposed, indeed, that her charms, in her sixteenth year, had ripened into that full-blown maturity which they afterward attained; but they were on this account only the more fascinating. Some have conjectured that Mary's beauty has been extolled far above its real merits; and it cannot be denied that many vague and erroneous notions exist regarding it. But that her countenance possessed, in a pre-eminent degree, the something which constitutes beauty, is sufficiently attested by the unanimous declaration of all contemporary writers. Her person was finely proportioned, and her carriage exceedingly graceful and dignified.

Mary Stuart and Rizzio.

      Shortly after the espousals, Mary and her husband retired to one of their princely summer residences, where she discharged the duties of a wife without ostentation. But the intriguing and restless ambition of her uncles could not allow her to remain long quiet. About this time Mary Tudor, who had succeeded Edward VI. on the English throne, died; and although the Parliament had declared that the succession rested in her sister Elizabeth, it was thought proper to claim for Mary Stuart a prior right. But it was destined that there was to be another and more unexpected death at the French court. Henry II. was killed at a tournament by Count Montgomery. Francis and Mary succeeded to the throne. Mary was now at the very height of European grandeur, for she was queen of two powerful countries, and heir presumptive of a third. She stood unluckily on too high a pinnacle to be able to retain her position long. Francis died after a short reign of seventeen months, and the heir to the throne Charles IX., being a minor, Catharine de Medicis became once more virtually queen of France; and from her Mary could expect no favors.

      In August, 1561, Mary left France with tears, and was received in Scotland with every mark of respect. She came, alone and unprotected, to assume the government of a country which had long been distinguished for its rebellious turbulence. Contrasted, too, with her former situation, that which she was now about to fill appeared particularly formidable. By whatever counsel she acted, the blame of all unpopular measures would be sure to rest with her. If she favored the Protestants, the Catholics were sure to renounce her, and if she assisted the Catholics, the Protestants would be again found assembling at Perth, listening, with arms in their hands, to the sermons of John Knox, pulling down the remaining monasteries, and subscribing additional covenants. Is it surprising, then, that she found it difficult to steer her course between the rocks of Scylla and the whirlpools of Charybdis? If misfortunes ultimately overtook her, the wonder unquestionably ought to be, not that they ever arrived, but that they should have been guarded against so long.

      To further their political views, Mary's hand was sought for by princes of the several European courts. The princes of the house of Austria, apprehensive of the ambition of France, wished a union between the Scottish queen and the Archduke Charles. Philip II., envying the Austrians so important a prize, used all his influence to procure her hand for his son Don Carlos, heir to the extensive domains of the Spanish monarchy. Catharine de Medicis, jealous of them both, offered the hand of the Duke of Anjou, brother to her former husband, and Elizabeth, the artful queen of England, recommended Lord Robert Dudley, afterward Earl of Leicester.

      Mary shunned all their intrigues, and followed the bent of her own inclination in marrying Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, eldest son of the Earl of Lennox. Darnley, at this time in the bloom of youth, was distinguished for the beauty and grace of his person, and accomplished in every elegant art; and he also professed the Catholic religion. Darnley's qualifications, however, were superficial, and abandoning himself to pleasure and the vices of youth, he became gradually careless and indifferent toward the queen, whose disappointments and mortifications were in proportion to the fervor of her former sentiments. Her French secretary was one David Rizzio, who was possessed of musical talents, and to whom she became much attached. Darnley became jealous of Rizzio, and he, with a number of conspirators, took possession of the palace on March 9, 1566, while the queen was at supper with the Countess of Argyle and Rizzio. The latter clung to the queen for protection, but he was torn from her and dragged to the next apartment, where the fury of his enemies put an end to his existence, by piercing his body with fifty-six wounds. The conspirators put Mary under guard, but she escaped, and by the aid of Bothwell and others, she was soon enabled to put her enemies at defiance. This event served to alienate Mary's affections from Darnley.

      On June 19, 1566, the queen gave birth to a son; an event more fortunate to the nation than to his unhappy mother, whose evil destiny received aggravation from a circumstance which appeared so flattering to her hopes.

      Darnley, neglected by the queen, and despised by the people, remained in solitude at Stirling, but alarmed by the rumor of a design to seize his person, he thought fit to retire to his father at Glasgow. On his way thither he was seized with a dangerous illness. Mary visited him, and it is said prevailed on him to be removed to the capital, where she would attend on him. Kirk of Field, a house belonging to the provost of a collegiate church, was prepared for his reception. The situation, on a rising ground and in an open field, was recommended for the salubrity of its air.

      At two o'clock on the morning of February 10, 1567, the city was alarmed by a sudden explosion. The house in which Darnley resided was blown up with gunpowder. The dead body of Henry and a servant, who slept in his room, were found lying in an adjacent garden, without marks of violence, and untouched by fire. Thus perished Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in his twenty-first year, a youth whom the indulgence of nature and fortune had combined to betray to his ruin.

      This execrable deed gave rise to various suspicions and conjectures, which, while they glanced at the queen from her new sentiments with regard to her husband, were, with a general consent, directed toward Bothwell. A proclamation was issued from the throne, offering a considerable reward for the murderer. Neither the power and greatness of Bothwell, nor his favor with the queen, secured him from the indignant sentiment of the nation. He had a mock trial, in which he was acquitted.

      The queen, on a journey from Edinburgh to Stirling, to visit her son, was seized by a party of Bothwell's and conducted a prisoner to his castle at Dunbar. Here he prevailed on her to marry him, and on her subsequent appearance in public she was received with a sullen and disrespectful silence by the people.

      The transactions which had passed during the last three months in Scotland were beheld by Europe with horror and detestation. The murder of the king, the impunity with which his assassins were suffered to escape, and the marriage of the queen with the man accused of being their chief, were a series of incidents, which, for their atrocity and rapid succession, were scarcely to be paralleled in the pages of history. A general infamy fell upon the Scotch nation, which was regarded, from these circumstances, as a people void of decency, humanity, and honor.

      The discontented nobles confederated together and flew to arms. Bothwell and Mary were unable to stem the opposition; she surrendered to her enemies, and was conducted a captive to the castle of Lochleven. Mary had for some weeks suffered the terrors of a prison; of her deliverance there seemed to be but little prospect; no one had appeared as her defender or advocate. Thus solitary, deserted, and distressed, her persecutors reckoned on her fears and on her sex. Lord Lindsay, the fiercest zealot of the party, was employed to communicate their plan to the queen, and to obtain from her a subscription to the papers with which he was charged. In the execution of his commission, he spared neither harshness nor brutality; certain death was offered to the unhappy victim, as the alternative of her refusal. Thus urged, she yielded to the pressure of circumstances, and put her signature to the papers presented to her by Lindsay. By one of these papers she resigned the crown, renounced all share in the government, and consented to the coronation of the young king. By another, she appointed Murray to the regency, and vested him with the powers and privileges of the office. Pierced with grief, and bathed in indignant tears, she signed the deed of her own humiliation, and furnished to her adversaries the instrument of her abasement.

      The people were not generally satisfied with the conduct of Murray, the regent, and the scattered party of the queen began gradually to reunite. Such was the disposition of the nation when Mary, through the medium of George Douglas, a youth of eighteen, contrived to escape from prison. She flew on horseback, at full speed, to Hamilton, where, before a train of great and splendid nobles, and an army 6,000 strong, she declared that the deeds signed by her during her imprisonment, and the resignation of her crown, were extorted from her by fear. An engagement between her forces and those of Murray took place at Hamilton; her army was defeated. She stood on a hill and saw all that passed. In confusion and horror she began her flight, and so terrible was the trepidation of her spirits, that she stopped not till she reached the abbey of Dunrenan, in Galloway, fully sixty Scottish miles from the field of battle. In the space of eleven days she had beheld herself a prisoner, at the mercy of her greatest enemies; at the head of a powerful army, with a numerous train of nobles devoted to her service; and a fugitive, at the hazard of her life, driven, with a few attendants, to lurk in a corner of her kingdom. Still anxious and agitated in her retreat, she was impelled by her fears to an irretrievable step, fatal to all her future hopes. In vain her attendants, with the lords Herries and Heming, implored her on their knees not to confide in Elizabeth, her resolution was not to be shaken, and to England she fatally resolved to fly. No longer an object of jealousy, but compassion, Mary trusted in the generosity of a sister queen, that she would not take advantage of her calamitous situation. She got into a fisherman's boat, and with about twenty attendants, landed at Workington, in Cumberland, whence, with marks of respect, she was conducted to Carlisle.

      She addressed, on her arrival in England, a letter to the queen, in which she painted in glowing colors the injuries she had sustained, and implored the sympathy and assistance which her present situation so pressingly required. Elizabeth and her council deliberated upon the course which, in this extraordinary event, it would be proper to pursue; and at last determined, in spite of justice and humanity, to avail herself of the advantages given her by the confidence of her rival. Mary demanded a personal interview with Elizabeth, but this honor she was told must be denied to her. She had no intention of acknowledging superiority in the queen of England, who, she expected, would, as a friend, herself receive and examine her defences. But Elizabeth chose to consider herself as umpire between the Scottish queen and her subjects; and she prepared to appoint commissioners to hear the pleadings of both parties, and wrote to the Regent of Scotland to empower proper persons to appear in his name, and produce what could be alleged in vindication of his proceedings.

      Mary, who had hitherto relied on the professions of Elizabeth, was by this proposal at once undeceived, and she was, in despite of her remonstrances and complaints, conducted to Bolton, a castle of Lord Scroop, on the borders of Yorkshire. Commissioners met on both sides, and after protracted deliberations for four months, they left things just as they found them.

      The last eighteen years of Mary's life were spent in imprisonment, and are comparatively a blank in her personal history. She was transported, at intervals, from castle to castle, and was intrusted sometimes to the charge of one nobleman, and sometimes to another; but for her the active scenes of life were past; the splendor and dignity of a throne were to be enjoyed no longer; the sceptre of her native country was never more to grace her hands; her will ceased to influence a nation; her voice did not travel beyond the walls that witnessed her confinement. She came into England at the age of twenty-five, in the prime of womanhood, the full vigor of health, and the rapidly ripening strength of her intellectual powers. She was there destined to feel, in all its bitterness, that "hope deferred maketh the heart sick." Year after year passed slowly on, and year after year her spirits became more exhausted, her health feebler, and her doubts and fears confirmed, till they at length settled in despair. Premature old age overtook her before she was past the meridian of life; and for some time before her death, her hair was white "with other snows than those of age." Yet, during the whole of this long period, amid sufferings which would have broken many a masculine spirit, and which, even in our own times, have been seen to conquer those who had conquered empires, Mary retained the innate grace and dignity of her character, never forgetting that she had been born a queen, or making her calamities an excuse for the commission of any petty meanness, which she would have scorned in the days of her prosperity. Full of incident as her previous life had been, brilliant in many of its achievements, it may be doubted whether the forbearance, fortitude, and magnanimity displayed in her latter years, do not redound more highly to her praise than all that preceded. Elizabeth wished for some plausible pretext to take away the life of the unhappy Mary, whom, though so defenceless, she regarded as a dangerous rival. The Duke of Norfolk made offers of marriage to Mary, to which she consented, in case she should be liberated. His scheme also was to favor the Catholic cause, and on its being discovered he was thrown into prison, where, after six months' confinement, he was liberated, on condition of his holding no further intercourse with the queen. He was, however, arrested the second time, and executed.

      A conspiracy soon after took place, through the blind affection of the English Catholics for Mary, and their implacable hatred of Elizabeth; that, while it proved fatal to the life of one queen, has left on the memory of the other an indelible stain. It was a conspiracy of two zealous Catholics, to take the life of Elizabeth. The plot was revealed in confidence to Anthony Babington, a young gentleman of Derbyshire, possessing a large fortune and many amiable qualities, whom the Archbishop of Glasgow had recommended to the notice of Mary. The conspirators, through treachery, were arrested, and it is said two letters from Mary were found with Babington. This was a pretext to represent these fanatics as the instruments of the captive queen. Determined that no circumstance of solemnity suited to the dignity of the person arraigned might be wanting, Elizabeth appointed, by a commission under the great seal, forty persons, the most illustrious in the kingdom for their rank and birth, together with five judges, for the decision of the cause.

      On October 11, 1586, the commissioners arrived at Fotheringay, where Mary was confined. She solemnly protested her innocence of the crime laid to her charge, and having never countenanced any attempt against the life of Elizabeth, she refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the commissioners. "I came," said she, "into the kingdom an independent sovereign, to implore the queen's assistance, not to subject myself to her authority. Nor is my spirit so broken by past misfortunes, or intimidated by present dangers, as to stoop to anything unbecoming the majesty of a crowned head, or that will disgrace the ancestors from whom I am descended, and the son to whom I shall leave my throne."

      Mary made her own defence; and her conduct before her judges displayed the magnanimity of a heroine, tempered by the gentleness and modesty of a woman. The judges were predetermined to find her guilty: the trial was a mere pretence to give a sanction to their proceedings; they were unanimous in declaring Mary "to be accessory to the conspiracy of Babington, and to have imagined divers matters, tending to the hurt, death, and destruction of Elizabeth, contrary to the express words of the statute made for the security of the life of the queen."

      On Tuesday, February 7, 1587, the Earls of Shrewsbury and Kent arrived at Fotheringay, and read in Mary's presence the warrant for her execution, which was appointed for the ensuing day. "That soul," said Mary, calmly crossing herself, "is unworthy the joys of heaven, which repines because the body must endure the stroke of the axe. I submit willingly to the lot which heaven has decreed for me; though I did not expect the Queen of England would set the first example of violating the sacred person of a sovereign prince." Then laying her hand on a Bible, which happened to be near her, she solemnly protested her innocence.

      At the scaffold she prayed for the prosperity of her son, and for a long and peaceable reign to Elizabeth. She hoped for mercy, she declared, only through the death of Christ, at the foot of whose image she willingly shed her blood. With intrepid calmness she laid her neck on the block; her hands were held by one executioner, while the other, with two blows, dissevered her head from her body. "So perish all the enemies of Elizabeth!" exclaimed the dean, as he held up the streaming head. "Amen," answered the Earl of Kent alone; every other eye was drowned in tears; every other voice was stifled in commiseration. Thus, after a life of forty-four years and two months, nineteen years of which had been passed in captivity, perished the lovely and unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots.

Privacy Policy
Copyright © 1999-2008 All rights reserved.