Mary Stuart was born at Linlithgow Palace, Scotland, the only legitimate child of James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise. She was the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England. Six days after her birth, her father died, and she inherited the throne, being crowned Queen of Scots at nine months old. Because she was only an infant, her mother was assigned as regent until adulthood.
As King Henry VIII of England wanted to gain control of Scotland, she was initially engaged to his son, Prince Edward. The nobility of Scotland, which at the time was a Catholic country, opposed the alliance with Protestant England and annulled the agreement. That led England to attack Scotland in what became known as The Rough Wooing. The Scots turned to France for protection, which resulted in the engagement of Mary to King Henry II of France’s eldest son, the Dauphin Francis.
At six years old, Mary was sent to France, living in the French court for the next 13 years. In 1558, at 16, she married Francis. The following year, her husband crowned Francis II, and she became both the queen of Scotland and queen of France. A year later, her husband died, and the 18 years old widow returned to Scotland.
While she was in France, Protestantism spread throughout Scotland and caused inner-state rivalries within the nobility. As a Roman Catholic, Mary had faced many challenges; with the support and assistance of her illegitimate Protestant half-brother, James, earl of Moray, she managed to rule the country and establish a policy of religious tolerance.
In 1565, at 23, Mary married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Earl of Darnley. Soon after, she discovered that he conspired with Protestant nobles to get a hold of her throne. After witnessing him killing her closest secretary, six months pregnant, Mary decided to detach herself from him.
In 1567, Darnley died in a mysterious explosion; her involvement in the incident was unclear. Three months later, Mary married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, her close confidant and the main suspect in her late husband’s death. The Scottish nobility did not approve of the marriage and rose against her. She lost an armed battle and was forced to abdicate her throne in favor of her infant son and imprisoned in Lochleven Castle, where she gave birth to still-born twins.
In 1568, Mary escaped from the castle and raised a small army but was defeated. She fled to England, seeking the protection of her cousin Elizabeth I, but instead of getting help, Mary was imprisoned for the next 18 years.
The Catholics in England wanted to put Mary on the throne instead of Protestant Elizabeth. Coded letters between Mary and her supporters were discovered in 1586, and she was brought to trial and was found guilty of treason. On February 8th, 1587, Mary got executed in Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire. She was 44 years old.
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- She had red hair and brown eyes and was very tall at 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m).
- Her entourage when going to France consisted of the four Marys – four daughters of noble families, all called Mary.
- After her imprisonment, her son, James, was raised by her half-brother and was brought up as a protestant. He inherited the throne from Queen Elizabeth I, becoming both James VI King of Scotland and James I King of England and Ireland. In 1612, he exhumed her body and reburied it at a monument in Westminster Abbey.
- Her last words before her execution were In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum (Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit).
- Her life story got depicted in popular media, including in the TV show Reign and the 2018 film Mary Queen of Scots, portrayed by Saoirse Ronan.
- There are several statues of her in the UK.
- Several guided tour follows her legacy in Edinburgh, UK, such as Small-Group Mary Queen of Scots Walking Tour and Private Old Edinburgh Tour - Walk in the footsteps of Royals and Rogues!
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