Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots was Elizabeth I’s second cousin. At the time that Elizabeth became Queen of England, Mary was also Queen of France. Mary, Queen of Scots was a Roman Catholic and had at one time been named as a legitimate heir to the throne of England. Mary, Queen of Scots declared herself to be the rightful Queen of England upon the death of Mary Tudor. This claim, religious differences and long standing tensions between England, Scotland and France made Mary a threat to Elizabeth’s rule.
Early life and background
Mary Stuart was born in December 1542. Her father, King James V, died when she was just six days old. As the only child, Mary became Queen. Scotland was ruled by her mother, Mary of Gaunt, as a Regent during Mary’s childhood. Her childhood saw her at the centre of several political issues. At the age of five Mary was betrothed to Edward of England. This would join the two countries together through marriage. Mary’s guardians opposed the idea though. Edward was Protestant, they and Mary were Roman Catholic. The betrothal was called off much to the dismay of Henry VIII.
In anger at this, Henry launched a series of military campaigns against Scotland. These are now known as the Rough Wooings. Relations between Mary and her English neighbours had a bad start.
Mary, Queen of Scots in France
Mary was then betrothed to the French Dauphin (Crown Prince) and sent to Paris to grow up in the French Court. In 1558 Mary married Francis of France. Francis became King in 1559. Though his reign was short, her time in France had strengthened relations between Scotland and France. In contrast England had fought wars against France on 3 occasions in Henry VIII’s reign and had lost Calais to French forces just months before Elizabeth’s accession.
Anglo-Scottish Relations 1558-1560
To further complicate relations between the two countries, England was changing from a counter-Reformation Roman Catholic Monarch in Mary Tudor to a Protestant one in Elizabeth. This at a time when Scotland saw religious unrest: the last Scottish Protestant Martyr was burnt at the stake in April of 1558. This was at a time when Elizabeth’s government were considering a Religious Settlement.
The relationship between England and Scotland deteriorated with the death of Mary Tudor. On both sides of the border there was a raised level of alert and suspicion of the other nation. The English sought to negotiate the security of the border and William Cecil sent commissioners to this end. Along the border the defences were checked.
By December, raiders from Scotland were regularly raiding Northern England. The English retaliated by laying waste to an area around Eyemouth. These raids were typical of the area though. The borders had seen incursion and counter incursion for a long time. The nobility while readying themselves for defensive actions, were deep in negotiations. Mary, Queen of Scots and her husband agreed an Anglo-Scottish treaty and a separate Anglo-French treaty. Both were agreed and details of them made public along borders by mid to late April, 1558.
Events in Scotland soon ensured an involvement of England in their affairs. In May, 1558, The Regent summoned a number of prominent protestants to appear on charges of sedition. A large Congregation joined the men to go with them to their trial. At the same time the preacher John Knox returned to Scotland and preached of protestant ideals. An incident in Perth occurred in which ornaments inside a church were smashed. It was a scene soon repeated in other Scottish towns.
This riotous behaviour and the arrival of the large Congregation for the trial led to Mary of Guise ordering reprisals. This stirred the Protestants into amassing a force to face the French forces stationed near Perth. The negotiations led to some of the Scottish nobility transferring their allegiance to the Congregation. After this further French forces were brought to Scotland. They landed at Leith and proceeded to murder many of it’s inhabitants. There followed a plea for assistance from England. Elizabeth responded by sending a large army to Berwick.
Mary, Queen of Scots returns from France
England had now become embroiled in the religious conflict within Scotland. The Regent had just died and the Queen of Scotland was faced with a newly declared Protestant state in her stead. Mary returned to Scotland shortly afterwards. A widow, young, Catholic.
Mary soon found herself at odds with the public. Though she gained permission from the Privy Council to follow her own religious beliefs she was advised to keep her practises and beliefs private. Her failure to do so led to riots. She then had a disastrous marriage to Lord Darnley, also a descendant of Henry VII. In 1566 Darnley signed a Band with the Lords of the Congregation. It suggested to many that he intended to take the throne for himself. Following this the Queens Secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered. Darnley himself was then murdered.
Mary then was married to James Bothwell. This is described by some as a forced marriage, by others as agreeable to her. It was certainly enough to raise suspicions though, Bothwell was one of those accused of murdering Darnley. It led to a confrontation with the government. Both Bothwell and Mary were forced to flee, separately, into exile.
Mary, Queen of Scots in exile
Mary fled across the Solway Firth into exile in England. Here she posed a greater threat to Elizabeth. As the Catholic alternative to a Protestant Queen, Mary was now in the country. This led to fears of Catholic attempts to place her on the throne. These fears were not misplaced. There were a number of plots in which the aim was to return a Catholic monarch in the form of Mary, Queen of Scots. The level of her knowledge of these plots is a subject for debate. They did eventually lead to her being put on trial for treason. Found guilty, it then created one last problem for Elizabeth: what to do with Mary. Alive, Mary could continue to be the focal point of plots and collusion with foreign powers. Dead, Mary becomes a martyr and such action would increase tension with foreign powers and among the nobility.
Mary’s position as an heir to the throne led to her being suspected of involvement in plots. These, some proven, led to a worsening of relations between England and Spain. Her position as a Catholic monarch of Scotland who was also an heir to the English throne was a threat to the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. If she were to become Queen of England, it was feared that protestants would suffer.
Mary was eventually sentenced to death. She was executed by beheading at Fotheringay Castle on 8th February 1587.
Image Source – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary,_Queen_of_Scots