Today in 1567 Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James. James would ultimately become King James I of England and VI of Scotland in 1603. To understand how this young, vibrant and, by all accounts, attractive Queen came to turning the majority of the Scottish nobility against her and being forced to abdicate, we must look at her short and tempestuous life.
Born in December 1542 to James V of Scotland and his second wife Mary of Guise, Mary was described by a writer at the time as “goodly a child as I have seen of her age, and as like to live”, which back then was considered a compliment! Upon hearing that his wife had birthed a girl, King James V is said to have exclaimed: “It came with a lass, it will pass with a lass!” This exclamation is in reference to the throne of Scotland. James was coincidentally correct with this estimation, apart from the fact that the one who lost the throne wasn’t Mary, but rather Anne, whose death would bring the reign of the House of Stuart to a close in 1714.
James V died in 1542 from either a nervous collapse following his defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss against the English, or from drinking unclean water. Either way, Mary became Queen of Scots aged only 6 days old and Scotland was in need of a strong regent. Henry VIII put forward a plan to marry Mary to his son, the future king Edward VI and foster the young Queen in England. This union, however, stipulated that should no issue be born from this match then the two kingdoms would go back to separate rule. Sadly, Henry was hot tempered and when he arrested Scottish merchants in France and confiscated their goods, the Scottish parliament rejected the marriage discussions. Incidentally, this started a period known as the “Rough Wooing” where Henry VIII launched a series of raids into Scotland to encourage them to agree to the marriage.
Further alienating itself from England, the Scottish government agreed to a marriage between the young Mary and the heir to the French throne, Francis. The future Francis II of France, along with Mary, signed a secret document that said should Mary die without issue, then Scotland would come under French rule, which would without doubt frustrate and threaten the English.
After the deaths of Henry VIII and Edward VI, Mary I took the throne of England. When she died childless in 1558, her sister Elizabeth succeeded. Many in Scotland saw Mary as the true heir to the English throne and believed Elizabeth to be illegitimate as her mother was Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. This caused further issues for both reigning Queens.
Mary’s reign was full of difficulties. Ongoing conflict between Protestants and Catholics now became increasingly problematic for the monarchs in both Scotland and England. Although when Mary’s husband, the King of France, died, her first thoughts were to jump back on the dating scene. Her first choice was a chap called Lord Darnley. He was tall, attractive, and English by birth. They were married in 1565, yet the marriage was unpopular in England. Queen Elizabeth saw this match as a challenge to her throne as both Mary and Darnley had claims to the English crown through Henry VIII’s sister (Mary and Darnley being first cousins you see).
Sadly, Darnley didn’t last long. He became obsessed with personal gain and, despite being King-Consort, wanted a Crown Matrimonial to be brought into effect. This would make Darnley Co-Sovereign and allow him to be able to rule on his own should Mary die before him. This is something the nobility certainly did not want. Returning to see his wife after recuperating from an illness, the house that Darnley was staying in was blown up. Darnley was found in the garden, smothered. The prime suspect for the murder was another social climber – Lord Bothwell. There were also speculations circulating that Mary herself was involved; this isn’t too hard to believe considering that her marriage to Darnley was tempestuous…and that’s certainly putting it lightly. When Darnley thought Mary was having an affair with her Private Secretary, David Rizzio, Darnley had him stabbed whilst the poor chap was dining with the heavily pregnant Queen!
Things then started to move very quickly for Mary – a mere matter of months after her husband’s death, Mary married the man generally believed to be his murderer; Bothwell! Granted, he first abducted her and held her prisoner. However, her marriage was valid in her eyes and she is known to have carried twins, presumably, of Lord Bothwell. This was the final straw for the Scottish nobility; at a meeting, they allowed Bothwell to go free but took Mary to Edinburgh where she was harangued by the crowd as an adulteress and a murderer. Catholics declared the marriage as unlawful as Bothwell has divorced his wife in order to marry the Queen. Mary was then forced to abdicate in favour of her one year old son, James, who became King James VI of Scotland. So that brings us to today’s date in 1567: the 24th July. Poor old Mary had a tough time of it, and yet this was not the end to her problems as we are all too aware of what her infamous fate 20 years later would be: imprisonment, trial and execution.