Ward's Book of Days.
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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1542, was born Mary, Queen of Scots.
Mary Stuart was a queen of Scotland and queen of France who was executed by the queen of England.
Mary was born on 8th December 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, Lothian, the only child of James V of Scots, who was on his death bed with pneumonia at the time. When he heard that his child was a girl, he cursed “The devil go with it! It came with a lass and it will pass with a lass”, referring to the house of Stuart, which he now presumed would become extinct. James was entirely wrong. The Stuarts would continue not only as monarchs of Scotland, but of England too. James died six days later, leaving Mary as Queen of Scots.
Mary’s mother, the domineering Mary of Guise, then ruled Scotland as Regent, while the young queen was packed off to France, where she received an extensive education in languages, music and dancing, and, at the age of 16, married Francis, eldest son of the King of France. This was a political match, aimed at bringing about a union of France and Scotland, which would hopefully restrain and even dominate England. On the death of the French king, Francis and Mary took the throne of France, but alas the young king died suddenly, leaving Mary a widow at the age of 18.
On her return to Scotland in 1561, Mary rapidly discovered that her formal and delicate education at the French Court had ill equipped her for the brutal reality of Scottish politics. Moreover, to her chagrin, Scotland had undergone a Protestant Reformation, leaving the young Catholic queen isolated in a Calvinist environment. Mary enlisted the help of her half brother, James earl of Moray, one of the illegitimate sons of her father James V, to run the kingdom on her behalf.
Affairs ran smoothly until, Mary was introduced to her cousin, Henry Stuart, earl of Darnley, with whom she immediately fell in love and married hastily. Darnley was vain and arrogant and did nothing to reconcile the feuding Scottish nobles. He was jealous of Mary, fearing that she was having an affair with her secretary, Rizzio. In a fit of rage, Darnley had Rizzio murdered before Mary’s own eyes. The birth of a son James did nothing to reconcile the couple, and Mary now looked for an end to the marriage.
The events of the next year are disputed by historians. What is certain is that Mary became involved with James Hepburn, earl of Boswell. No one can be certain if this was an adulterous liaison, but there is evidence that Mary was seeking to divorce Darnley. There is also evidence that Darnley was seeking to proclaim himself king and dispose of Mary. On February 9th 1567, the house where Darnley was staying was wrecked by a massive explosion and all inside were killed. Some say that Mary had the gunpowder planted to kill Darnley. Some say that dissident nobles plotted to kill Darnley. Other say that Darnley was attempting to set a trap for Mary and blew himself up in the process.
Suspicion fell on Mary when, three months later, she married Bothwell, who proved to be even more vain and dismissive to the nobles than Darnley had been. The nobles had had enough and imprisoned Mary on an island in Loch Levan and formally deposed her, placing her one year old son James VI of Scots on the throne with Moray as Regent. Mary did have some supporters, who sprung her from jail and tried to regain the throne, but were decisively defeated at the Battle of Langside. Mary fled to England to seek help from her cousin, Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth gave a cautious welcome to her cousin but, fearing that Mary would plot against her, had her confined in a secure but quite congenial prison, Fotheringhay Castle. Mary was in prison for nearly twenty years. At first, she continually pleaded with Elizabeth to release her. Then she took to plotting against her. Mary continually sent out secret coded messages, which Elizabeth’s spies had managed to decode. In 1586, there was a plot against Elizabeth’s life, and although Mary could not be directly implicated, Elizabeth had to have her executed.
Mary met her death by beheading on 8th February 1587, in Fotheringhay Castle. It took three stokes of the axe for her head to be severed. When Mary’s son James VI of Scots came to the throne of England as James I, he had his mother reburied in Westminster Abbey under a superb monument. James had Fotheringhay Castle demolished, but the stone stairway down which Mary walked to her execution was taken and re-erected in a nearby inn [The Talbot Hotel, New Street, Oundle, Near Peterborough, PE8 4EA]. It is said that the hotel is haunted by Mary’s ghost, which walks down the stairway at dead of night.
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