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Mary Queen of Scots and James VI (1542 - 1603)
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Mary Queen of Scots and James VI (1542 - 1603)
'You will do me great good in withdrawing me from this world out of which I am very glad to go.'
Mary Queen of Scots, when told of her execution date in 1587

MARY, BORN IN 1542, was the daughter of Mary of Guise and King James V of Scotland. Her father remarked gloomily at her birth, 'Adieu, farewell, it came with a lass, it will pass with a lass,' - a reference to his family's royal origins in the marriage of Marjory Bruce to Walter Stewart in the early 1300s. James was to die six days later.
In 1548 Mary was sent to France, her mother's homeland, where as a Catholic princess she married the Dauphin Francis in 1558 and the following year became Queen of France. But Francis died in 1560 and Mary returned to Scotland, where she was harangued by the anti-Catholic cleric John Knox. Five years later she married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Though handsome, Darnley was weak and jealous, and in 1566 he organized the murder of Mary's Italian secretary, David Rizzio.

In February 1567, Darnley himself was murdered. Suspicion fell on the Earl of Bothwell, who made off with Mary (reportedly 'ravishing' her). Three months later they were married. Such a murky business stained Mary's reputation and, confronted by enraged Scottish nobles, she was forced to give up the throne. On 25 July her young son by Darnley was crowned James VI at Stirling, with the Earl of Moray acting as regent. Bothwell fled to Denmark, dying insane in 1578; Mary escaped from Lochleven Castle to seek safety in England.

What was England's Queen Elizabeth to do with her unwanted guest? For 18 years she held on to Mary, who -knowingly or not - became the focus for any plot against her English cousin. Incriminating letters linked her in 1586 with the Babington Plot to murder the English queen, and her fate was sealed. Found guilty of treason, she was beheaded on 6 February 1587. In 1612 her son James had her remains moved from Peterborough Cathedral for reburial in Westminster Abbey.

James's Protestant tutor, George Buchanan, had done his best to portray Mary as evil incarnate, though James rejected this caricature. At 16 he took up the reins of power in Scotland, making friendly overtures to Elizabeth I but doing nothing beyond the diplomatically formal to save his mother's life. Having left for England in 1603 to rule the kingdom he called Great Britain, James returned to Scotland only once, in 1617.

This contemporary sketch shows Darnley's house at Kirk o' Field after the gunpowder explosion intended to kill him. The bodies of the strangled earl and his servant were in a nearby field.

Mary Queen of Scots and James VI (1542 - 1603)

Mary Queen of Scots with her son James VI. James was just a year old when Mary abdicated. She never saw him again, so the painting is an imaginary sitting of them together.

Mary Queen of Scots and James VI (1542 - 1603)

A Dutch drawing published about 1608 shows the scene at Fotheringhay Castle as the executioner prepares to strike off Mary's head. Her clothes and the block were burned (shown on the left) to leave no relics for veneration.

Mary Queen of Scots and James VI (1542 - 1603)

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