Mary was born in 1542 in Linlithgow Palace. Her mother, Mary of Guise, was French. Her father, James V, died days after her birth and she was thus crowned Queen of Scots before she was a year old. King Henry VIII saw in the infant Mary an opportunity to join the royal houses of Scotland and England, proposing her betrothal to his son Edward. However, Scottish Catholics did not want an alliance with an English king who had destroyed links with the church in Rome. Thus a deal was struck with Henry II of France, that Mary and his son Francis should be betrothed.
Mary set sail for France aged six, receiving an excellent education and the chance to get to know her future husband well as she was brought up as one of the French royal family. She married Francis when she was just fifteen years old; a year later, on the death of Henry II, she became Queen of France. Francis had been a sickly child and his health did not improve on gaining his throne; he died in 1560, aged seventeen, less than three years after ascending the French throne – Mary suffered a double loss for her mother died earlier that same year. Her husband’s death destroyed Mary’s power and influence in her adopted country, and she therefore decided to return to Scotland.
Mary never recovered the stature she had as Queen of France, at which time she and her husband also claimed rights to the throne of England due to the fact that Mary’s grandfather had married Henry VIII’s older sister. Mary’s second marriage was to Lord Darnley - another grandchild of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret. Darnley was three years Mary’s junior, and had a taste for wine and women. Her second husband fathered a son, James, who went on to rule both Scotland and England but his jealousy caused irreparable damage to his relationship with the Scottish queen. Mary’s Italian secretary, David Rizzio – an object of Darnley’s jealousy - was murdered by rebels in her rooms at Holyrood Palace before a heavily pregnant Mary’s eyes. Should you have the chance to visit this magnificent residence at the bottom of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile you can see the room where the murder took place.
Darnley died in 1567 following an explosion where he had been staying – it is believed he actually died from strangulation rather than the explosion itself, suggesting that whoever set this trap was 100% certain they intended Darnley to die. The Earl of Bothwell, close adviser to Mary, was considered the prime suspect in Darnley’s murder but was acquitted by a court Mary had set up. The relationship between Mary and Bothwell remains somewhat unclear, as it may well not have been a love match – it is possible he kidnapped her and forced her in to her third marriage. Mary’s attempts to make peace with the Scottish nobility failed, and she was imprisoned at Loch Leven whilst Bothwell escaped.
Although Mary escaped her Scottish prison she was captured again in England and Elizabeth I kept Mary under close guard. She believed Mary a dangerous enemy who if left free could drum up Catholic support for capture of the English throne. Mary spent nineteen of her adult years captured/imprisoned. Perhaps, had she been free, she might have garnered more husbands – she understood the benefit of political alliances, though it seems that her heart ruled her head once her first husband was dead. Mary Queen of Scots was executed in 1587 on charges of treason; she died as she had lived – not easily - for it is said it took three blows to decapitate her. Her son – both James VI of Scotland and James I of England – went on to rule a joined fiefdom which may have pleased Mary’s heart yet troubled her soul.