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The Scottish Nation
Mary Queen of Scots


MARY STUART, Queen of Scots, celebrated for her beauty, her accomplishments, her errors, and her misfortunes, was born at the palace of Linlithgow, December 8, 1542. She was the daughter of James V., by his queen, Mary of Lorraine, of the family of Guise. Her father dying when she was only eight days old, she became queen, and was crowned at Stirling, September 9, 1543. After an ineffectual attempt on the part of Cardinal Bethune to obtain the regency, the government of the kingdom was, during her infancy, vested in the earl of Arran. The two first years of her childhood were spent at Linlithgow, under the care of her mother; and the following three years at Stirling, under the charge of the Lords Erskine and Livingstone. Owing to the distracted state of the country, she was subsequently removed, for a few months, to the priory of Inchmahome, a small island in the beautiful lake of Menteith, Perthshire, where she had for her attendants and companions four young ladies of noble rank, all named like herself Mary, namely, Mary Bethune, niece of the cardinal; Mary Fleming, daughter of Lord Fleming; Mary Livingstone, daughter of one of her guardians; and Mary Seton, daughter of the lord of that name. At the age of six she embarked at Dumbarton for France, where she was instructed in every branch of learning and polite accomplishment. Besides making herself mistress of the dead languages, she spoke the French, Italian, and Spanish tongues fluently, and devoted much of her time to the study of history. Through the influence of the French king and her uncles, the Guises, she was married, April 20, 1558, to the dauphin, afterwards Francis II. of France, who died in 1560, about sixteen months after his accession to the throne. On her marriage she had been induced, by the persuasion of the French court, to assume, with her own, the style and arms of queen of England and Ireland, an offence which Elizabeth never forgave, although, as soon as Mary became her own mistress, she discontinued the title.

The widowed queen soon found it necessary to return to Scotland, whither she was invited by her own subjects, and arriving at Leith, August 19, 1561, she was received by all ranks with every demonstration of welcome and regard. At first the committed the administration of affairs to Protestants, her principal advisers being her natural brother, the Lord James Stuart, prior of St. Andrews, and Maitland of Lethington, and so long as she abided by their counsel her reign was mild, prudent, and satisfaction to her people. In August 1562 she made a progress into the north, where, by the aid of her brother, afterwards created earl of Moray, she crushed the formidable rebellion of the earl of Huntly. In February 1563 occurred at St. Andrews the execution of the young and accomplished French poet Chatelard, who, having fallen deeply in love with his beautiful mistress, had twice intruded himself into her bed-chamber, for the purpose of urging his passion. It was the wish of her subjects that the queen should marry, that the crown might descend in the right line from their ancient monarchs, and she had already received matrimonial overtures from various foreign princes. The ardour of youthful inclination, however, rather than the dictates of prudence, led her to prefer her cousin, Henry Lord Darnley, to all her suitors. This young man, whose only recommendation was the elegance of his person and manners, was the eldest son of the earl of Lennox, who had been forced to seek refuge in England, in the reign of James V., and Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of the earl of Angus and the queen dowager Margaret, sister of Henry VIII.; and after Mary herself, he was the nearest heir to the crown of England, and next to the earl of Arran in succession to the crown of Scotland. The royal nuptials were celebrated July 29, 1565, in conformity to the rites of the church of Rome, of which Mary was a zealous adherent, while the majority of her subjects were Protestants.

With this ill-fated marriage began the long series of her misfortunes, which were terminated only by her melancholy death upon the scaffold. The marriage had been disapproved of by the earl of Moray and the leaders of the protestant party, who, having taken up arms, were opposed by the queen in person, with remarkable energy and promptitude. At the head of a superior force, she pursued the insurgents from place to place, and compelled them at last to quit the kingdom. Mary now not only joined the league of the popish princes of Europe, but evinced her full determination to re-establish the Romish religion in Scotland. But all her plans were frustrated by an unexpected event which took place on the evening of March 9, 1566. Darnley, upon whom she had conferred the title of king, and whose weak and licentious conduct very soon changed the extravagant love she had entertained for him into equally violent hatred, excited by jealousy of David Rizzio, her foreign secretary, and favourite, had organized a conspiracy for his destruction; and on the evening mentioned, while the queen was at supper with Rizzio and the countess of Argyle, he suddenly entered her chamber, followed by Lord Ruthven and some other factious nobles, and caused the unfortunate secretary to be dragged from her presence and murdered. This atrocious deed, aggravated as it was by the situation of his wife, then six months advanced in pregnancy, could not fall to increase the queen’s aversion for her husband. Dissembling her feelings, however, she prevailed upon Darnley to withdraw from his new associates, to dismiss the guards which had been placed on her person, and to accompany her in her flight to Dunbar. In the course of a few days, at the head of a powerful army, she returned to Edinburgh, when Ruthven, Morton, Maitland, and Lindsay, the chief of the conspirators, were forced to take refuge in Newcastle, and Moray and his friends, who had in the meantime arrived from England, were again received into favour, and intrusted with the chief management of affairs.

The birth of a son, afterwards James VI., on June 18, 1566, had no effect in producing a reconciliation between Mary and the king, and, enraged at his exclusion from power, the latter sullenly retired from court, declared his intention to quit the kingdom, and refused to be present at the baptism of the infant prince. He took up his residence with his father at Glasgow, where, in the beginning of 1567, he was seized with the small-pox, or some other dangerous disease. On hearing of his illness, Mary sent her own physician to attend him, and, after the lapse of a fortnight, she visited him herself. When he was able to be removed, she accompanied him to Edinburgh, and lodged him in a house in the southern suburbs, called Kirk-of-Field, near to where the university of that city now stands. Here she attended him with the most assiduous care, and slept for two nights in the chamber under his apartment. On the evening of the 9th of February she took leave of him with many embraces, to be present at the marriage of one of her servants at Holyrood. During the same night the house in which Darnley slept was blown up with gunpowder, and his dead body and that of his page were next morning found lying in the adjoining garden.

Of this atrocious deed, the earl of Bothwell, the new favourite of the queen, was openly accused of being the perpetrator, and Mary herself did not escape the suspicion of being accessory to the crime. At the instigation of the earl of Lennox, the father of Darnley, Bothwell was brought to trial, but he was attended to the court by a formidable array of armed followers, and neither accuser nor witness appearing against him, he was formally acquitted by the jury. On the 20th of April, Bothwell prevailed upon a number of the nobles to subscribe a bond, in which they not only declared him innocent of Darnley’s murder, but recommended him as a fit husband for the queen. Four days afterwards, at the head of a thousand horse, he intercepted Mary on her return from Stirling to Edinburgh, and dispersing her slender suite, conducted her to the castle of Dunbar, of which he was governor. Having proposed marriage, on the queen’s refusal, he produced the bond signed by the nobles, and, as is affirmed by Mary’s partisans, compelled her by force to yield to his desires, when the unhappy princess consented to become his wife. Mary’s accusers, on the other hand, say that, in the whole of this transaction, the queen was a willing actor. Her marriage to Bothwell took place May 15, 1567, only three months after the death of Darnley, and it is a prominent point in her history, for which it is impossible to find any justification. That act of folly virtually discrowned her. A confederacy of the nobles was immediately formed for the protection of the infant prince, and for bringing to punishment the murderers of the late king. As the people generally shared their indignation, they soon collected an army, at the head of which they advanced to Edinburgh, Bothwell and the queen retiring before them to Dunbar, where they assembled a force of about 2,000 men. At Carberry Hill, near Musselburgh, the two hostile armies confronted each other, June 15; but, to avoid a battle, Mary, after a brief communication with Kirkaldy of Grange, agreed to dismiss Bothwell, and to join the confederates, by whose councils she declared herself willing to be guided in future, on condition of their respecting her “as their born princess and queen.” Taking a hurried farewell of Bothwell, who, with a few followers, slowly rode off the field, and whom she never saw again, she gave her hand to Grange, and surrendered to the associated lords, by whom she was conducted in triumph to the capital. As she passed along, she was assailed by the insults and reproaches of the populace, and a banner was displayed before her, on which was painted the dead body of Darnley, with the infant prince kneeling beside it, saying – “Judge and revenge my cause, O Lord!” Next day, she was conveyed a prisoner to Lochleven castle in Kinross-shire, situated in the middle of a lake, and committed to the charge of Lady Douglas, mother of the Regent Moray by James V., and widow of Sir Robert Douglas, who fell at the battle of Pinkie. On July 24, 1567, she was compelled to sign a formal renunciation of the crown in favour of her son, and to appoint as regent, during the king’s minority, her brother, the earl of Moray, commonly called the Regent Murray, who soon after arrived from France, and entered upon the government.

Mary now employed all her art to recover her liberty, and having gained over George Douglas, youngest son of the lady of Lochleven, on March 25, 1568, she attempted to escape in the disguise of a laundress, but the whiteness of her hands betrayed her to the boatmen, by whom she was conducted back to the castle. Her beauty and misfortunes, however, had made a deep impression on William Douglas, an orphan youth of sixteen, a relative of the family, and he was easily prevailed upon to assist in a project for her escape. Accordingly, on Sunday, May 2, 1568, at the hour of supper, he found means to steal the keys, and opening the gates to the queen and one of her maids, locked them behind her, and then threw the keys into the lake. Mary entered a boat which had been prepared for her, and, on reaching the opposite shore, she was received by Lord Seton, Sir James Hamilton, and others of her friends. Instantly mounting on horseback, she rode first to Niddrie, Lord Seton’s house in West Lothian, and next day to Hamilton, where she was joined by a number of the nobility, and in a few days found herself at the head of about 6,000 men. On May 13 her forces were defeated by the regent at the battle of Langside, and the unhappy queen, who had anxiously beheld the engagement from a hill at a short distance, to avoid falling again into the hands of her enemies, fled from the field of battle, accompanied by Lord Herries and a few other attached friends, and rode, without stopping, to the abbey of Dundrennan, in Galloway, full sixty miles distant. After resting there for two days, with about twenty attendants, she embarked in a fisher boat at Kirkcudbright on the 16th, and crossing the Solway, landed at Workington, in Cumberland, where she claimed the protection of her kinswoman, the queen of England. “As well might the hunted deer have sought refuge in the den of the tiger.” By Elizabeth’s orders, she was conducted to Carlisle, from whence, on the 16th of June, she was removed to Bolton castle. But though treated on all occasions with the honours due to her rank, Elizabeth refused to admit her to a personal interview. To adjust the differences between Mary and her subjects, a conference was held at York in October 1568, and afterwards removed to Westminster, but without leading to any decisive result. Under various pretences, and in direct violation of public faith and hospitality, Elizabeth detained her a prisoner for nineteen years; and after having encouraged the Scots commissioners to accuse her publicly of the murder of her husband, denied her an opportunity of vindicating herself from the revolting charge.

In the beginning of 1569, Mary was transferred to Tutbury castle, in Staffordshire, and placed under the care of the earl of Shrewsbury, who discharged the important trust committed to him with great fidelity for fifteen years. She was subsequently removed from castle to castle, and at last consigned to the custody of Sir Amias Pawlet and Sir Drue Drury, by whom she was finally conveyed to Fotheringay, in Northamptonshire. Throughout all the sufferings and persecutions to which she was subjected by the jealousy and perfidy of Elizabeth, she preserved, till the closing scene of all, the magnanimity of a queen of Scotland. She made many attempts to procure her liberty, and, for this purpose, carried on a constant correspondence with foreign powers. Being the object of successive plots, on the part of the English Roman Catholics, who made use of her name to justify their insurrections and conspiracies, Elizabeth at length resolved upon her death, and caused her to be arraigned on a charge of being accessory to the conspiracy of Anthony Babington. A commission was appointed to conduct her trial, and though no certain proof appeared of her connection with the conspirators, she was found guilty of having compassed divers matters tending to the death of the queen of England. Although Elizabeth affected great reluctance to put Mary to death, she disregarded the entreaties of the ambassadors from Scotland and France on her behalf, and signed the warrant for a mandate to be made out under the great seal for her execution. A commission was given to the earls of Shrewsbury, Kent, Cumberland, Derby, and others, to see it carried into effect, and the two former lost no time in proceeding to Fotheringay. The sentence was read to Mary in presence of her own domestics, and she was desired to prepare herself for death the next day. She crossed her breast, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and said she was ready to die in the Catholic faith, which her forefathers professed. She forgave them that were the procurers of her death, yet, she said, she doubted not but God would execute vengeance upon them. Mary then prepared for her fate with the utmost serenity, fortitude, and resignation. She was attended to the hall of Fotheringay castle, where her head was to be struck off, by Robert Melville, her master of the household, her physician, chirugeon, and apothecary. At the foot of the stairs leading into the hall, she desired Mr. Melville to commend her to her son. To the executioners she said that she pardoned them, and she desired Jane Kennedy, one of her attendants, to bind her eyes with a handkerchief, She was beheaded Feb. 8, 1587, in the 45th year of her age. “The admirable and saintly fortitude with which she suffered,” is has been well remarked, “formed a striking contrast to the despair and agony which not long afterwards darkened the deathbed of the English queen.” Mary’s body was embalmed and interred, August 1, with royal pomp, in the cathedral of Peterborough. Her funeral was also celebrated with great pomp at Paris at the charge of the Guises. Twenty years afterwards, her son, James I., ordered her remains to be removed to Westminster, and deposited among those of the kings of England, in Henry the Seventh’s chapel, where a magnificent monument was erected to her memory.

The portraits of Mary are numerous, but many of them are fictitious. In some of them, says Pinkerton, she is confounded with Mary of Guise, her mother, with Mary queen of France, sister of Henry VIII., and even with Mary de Medicis.

While the conduct and character of Queen Mary has been the subject of much controversy with historians, her learning and accomplishments are universally acknowledged. She wrote with elegance and force in the Latin and French, as well as in the English language. Among her compositions are:

Royal Advice to her Son; in two books: the Consolation of her long Imprisonment.

Eleven Letters to James Earl of Bothwell. Translated from the French originals, by Edward Simmonds, of Oxford. Westminster, 1726, 8vo.

Ten Letters, with her Answer to the Articles exhibited against her were published in Haynes’ State Papers.

Sic Letters; printed in Anderson’s Collections.

A Letter, published in the Appendix to her Life, by Dr. Jebb.

Many of her letters to Queen Elizabeth, Cecil, and others, are preserved in the Cottonian and Ashmoleon libraries, and in the library of the king of France.

Besides the above, she wrote “Poems on Various Occasions.” In the Latin, Italian, French, and Scotch languages.


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