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Mary, Queen of Scots by Haillard

Mary, Queen of Scots by Haillard


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Major History Mistakes Made in the Movie Mary, Queen of Scots

Released in late-2018, Mary, Queen of Scots, directed by Josie Rourke and starring Saoirse Ronan as the eponymous Mary Stuart, received broad acclaim for the performances both of its leading lady as well as Margot Robbie in a supporting role as Elizabeth I of England. Expected to compete for the top prizes at the 2019 Academy Awards, the film, despite its commercial success, quickly became mired in controversy surrounding its historical inconsistencies. From recasting and altering the personalities of historical figures, anachronistic inclusions, and even fundamental changes to the core narrative of the historical tale, Mary, Queen of Scots ignited a debate within the historical community regarding just how far cinema should alter history in order to appeal to modern audiences.

Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart in Mary Queen of Scots (2018). Focus Features.

Here are 18 historical details from Mary, Queen of Scots that were either astonishingly accurate or woefully wrong:


Early Years

Mary Stuart was born on December 8, 1542, in Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland. Mary’s father died when she was only six days old, making her queen of Scotland.

Mary was the daughter of King James V of Scotland and his second wife, Mary of Guise. Mary’s great-grandfather was Henry VII, making Henry VIII her great uncle. Elizabeth I was Mary&aposs cousin.

Given that Mary was only an infant, her great-uncle Henry VIII made a bid for control. Her mother, however, ended up acting as regent on Mary&aposs behalf.

Mary was initially betrothed to Henry VIII&aposs son, Prince Edward of England, who eventually became King Edward VI. Scottish Catholics, however, objected to this plan, since England had separated from the Catholic Church. When the match was annulled, England attacked Scotland in raids that became known as "The Rough Wooing."

At the age of 5, Mary was sent to France, where she grew up in the luxurious French court. Mary&aposs mother was French, and the Scots had a longstanding alliance with France, so Mary was betrothed to the 4-year-old French heir.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (left) with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Photos: DeAgostini/Getty Images National Galleries Of Scotland/Getty Images


The Two Queens Of England

Wikimedia Commons The rival queens: Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England.

For the first 18 years of her life, Mary barely set foot in Scotland.

She had been rushed off to France when she was just five-years-old where she spent 13 years as a French princess and eventually as the Queen of France after the death of the French King Henry II.

She didn’t return to Scotland until her husband, Francis II, died of an ear infection, leaving her a widow at age 18. The throne of France was passed on to her brother-in-law, Charles IX, and Mary was sent back to rule over the country of her birth a place she hadn’t seen since she was a child.

Scotland wasn’t the place she’d known as a child any longer. A growing faction of Scottish Protestants had sided with the English and was becoming an officially Protestant country under the religious reforms led by John Knox — a Scottish minister, theologian, and writer.

To make matters worse, though England was now under the rule of Mary’s cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, the kingdom of France had declared that they recognized only Mary, Queen of Scots, as the rightful ruler over England. Neither woman gave much ground. Mary refused to sign a treaty recognizing Elizabeth as the ruler of England, and Elizabeth refused Mary’s request to recognize her as her heir.

Wikimedia Commons Mary with her second husband, Lord Darnley.

Mary, Queen of Scots tried to keep the peace and win the love of Scotland’s citizens by promoting religious tolerance toward the Protestants. She even married an Englishman, her first cousin Lord Darnley, in 1565. Likely, this was a way for her to strengthen her claim to the English throne but instead, the marriage put in motion a series of events that would end in her grisly demise.

Lord Darnley was brutally abusive and jealous. He became convinced that Mary was having an affair with her secretary, David Riccio. Lord Darnley consequently had Riccio murdered. Mary’s secretary was stabbed 56 times as she, heavily pregnant, was forced to look on.

Wikimedia Commons Lord Darnley forced Mary to watch as he murdered David Riccio.

But Darnley was the father of her firstborn son, and under Catholic rules, she was forbidden to divorce. The only way she could get away from Darnley was if he died.

On the morning of Feb. 10, 1567, a mysterious explosion at Kirk o’ Field house outside Edinburgh, killed Lord Darnley. Mary was an immediate suspect. Rumors spread that Darnley had been killed under Mary’s orders by her confidant James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell and a prominent adviser to Mary.

Bothwell was acquitted of any charges of Darnley’s murder, but any lingering doubts were merely strengthened when, almost immediately after the trial was over, he married the Queen of Scots.


The Salacious Letters That Helped Bring Down Mary, Queen of Scots

In 1567, a tempestuous, unhappy queen picked up her pen and wrote a passionate sonnet to her lover. “My love for him is not an empty show,” she wrote, 𠇋ut purest tenderness and constancy.”

The sonnet was one of 12. And those documents were part of a larger hoard called the casket letters, explosive papers that played a part in the bizarre story of the tragic end of Mary, Queen of Scots’ marriage to her second husband, the chaotic beginning of a new union, and the events that would cause the Scottish throne to slip through her fingers.

But though the casket letters would be used against Mary, their authenticity have always been in question. Were the letters really penned by Mary Stuart? Or were they the fabrication of the enemies determined to tear down her rule and even have her killed?

Mary Stuart had technically been queen of Scotland since she was six days old. But her grip on the Scottish throne had always been threatened by her political enemies, many of whom resented the Catholic queen.

The most serious threat to her rule broke out in 1567 with the murder of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He had been recuperating from smallpox when the house in which he was staying was bombed. Later, it was found that barrels full of gunpowder had been hidden beneath his bedroom. But the bombs didn’t seem to be what killed Lord Darnley. Rather, he appeared to have been strangled.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

The Print Collector/Getty Images

Lord Darnley’s bizarre death was interpreted as evidence of a plot to kill him, and suspicion soon turned toward Mary herself. It had been common knowledge that she didn’t love her husband, had been appalled by his arrogance and carousing, and had differed with him about matters political and personal. He had also infuriated her by attempting to rule equally alongside her. In 1566, when she was four months pregnant, Darnley had worked with a group of anti-Mary conspirators to murder her friend and private secretary, David Rizzio, in front of her. The assassination had been the last straw. She convened a meeting of advisers to figure out how to divorce her husband.

But did she conspire to murder him?

Mary’s cousin Elizabeth I, queen of England, apparently wondered as much. After the murders, she wrote a sympathetic letter to Mary (the cousins never met in person). But it also contained a word of warning. “I will not at all dissemble what most people are talking about,” she wrote, “which is that you will look through your fingers at the revenging of this deed.” By failing to avenge her husband’s death, Elizabeth suggested, Mary was keeping the rumor mill alive and implicating herself in the deed.

Mary ignored her cousin, and quickly remarried one of her advisers, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. It was unclear whether she married him willingly it was rumored that he had raped her and forced her into the marriage. Either way, the union horrified Mary’s subjects, who called him a murderer and assumed she had been unfaithful to Darnley. A group of Scottish lords raised an army and forced Mary to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son with Darnley.

Mary had one ally left—or so she thought. She fled to England with Bothwell and begged in letters for her cousin Elizabeth’s support and help regaining her throne. Instead, worried that Mary wanted to overthrow her, Elizabeth had her imprisoned. Then, she insisted on determining if Mary was guilty of both murder and adultery. But Elizabeth knew that one queen couldn’t get away with impugning another, so she convened not a trial, but a 1568 conference in which the English Privy Council, Elizabeth’s closest advisers, would consider Mary’s actions.

And that’s where the casket letters𠅎ight letters, two marriage contracts, and 12 sonnets𠅌ome in. They had supposedly been found in a silver casket among Mary’s possession after she fled Scotland, and the implications for Mary’s monarchy were scandalous. If they were true, that is.

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell.

The contents of the caskets were salacious and explosive. The marriage contracts included a promise on Mary’s part to marry Bothwell and a contract signed over a month before Darnley’s death. The sonnets, supposedly written by Mary, painted her as a passionate and faithful lover trying to seduce and convince her secret love. And the letters supposedly showed the lovers conspiring to kill Darnley and create a sham abduction by Bothwell that resulted in their marriage.

There were serious holes in the argument that the casket letters were genuine. First, they had been produced by James Stuart, Earl of Moray, Mary’s half-brother and longtime political foe. Second, they were not signed, addressed, or dated. The facts they supposedly presented were also inconsistent. But when the council compared the handwriting to Mary’s, they determined that they were authentic.

It’s hard to determine whether that’s true today, since the letters have been lost. Using copies and passed-down transcriptions of the letters, historians now speculate that the letters were a mix of fact and fiction that combined Mary’s actual writings with false dates, additional information, and misdirection. Historian John Guy believes that about half of the information in the letters is false. “The Casket Letters were a fix by Mary’s enemies to destroy her, an ingenious, devious one,” he writes. Others argue that they were pure forgeries.

The signature of Mary Queen of Scots, on display at the National Library of Scotland in 2017, from the last letter she wrote just hours before her execution.

Jane Barlow/PA Images/Getty Images

Elizabeth’s council apparently believed the information in the letters, but Mary never defended herself in front of them. Since she considered herself to still be Queen of Scots, she couldn’t publicly acknowledge that an English court or council had any power over her. Nor did Elizabeth take the opportunity to find her cousin guilty of anything. Instead, she considered the evidence gathered by her council and decided that nothing had been proven.

The public, though, had come to its own conclusions. It got access to the casket letters through an unauthorized leak in 1571. A detection of the actions of Mary Queen of Scots concerning the murther of her husband, and her conspiracy, adultery, and pretended marriage with the Earl Bothwell and a defence of the true Lords, maintainers of the King&aposs Majesties action and authority offered titillating reading, but they served a bigger purpose.

By that point, Mary had been in Elizabeth’s custody—locked up in a palace, but locked up all the same𠅏or over a decade. But her allies still plotted to help her take over Elizabeth’s throne. The letters were published to undermine public opinion in someone that, without the help of sensational claims about her evil ambitions, might have been regarded as a pitiful monarch whose throne had been stolen and who had served years of unfair imprisonment. True or not, the casket letters still had the potential to hurt Mary.

Ultimately, Mary was imprisoned for nearly 19 years before being found guilty of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and assume her throne. She was beheaded in 1587. By then, her letters had disappeared. The casket, though, is still in existence. It’s kept at Lennoxlove, a Scottish castle, along with a death mask of the queen whose loose letters may have sealed her fate.


4. Mary was fluent in Latin.

She was also fluent in French and the Scots dialect of the Lowlands (and was proficient in Italian, Spanish, and Greek), but the Seigneur de Brantôme, a soldier and historian who had known Mary as a child in the French court and wrote a memoir of her long after her death, recalled that around the age of 13 or 14, she "recited publicly, in the presence of King Henri, the Queen, and the entire court, in a room of the Louvre, a speech in Latin composed by herself, sustaining against the common belief the thesis that it is becoming in women to be acquainted with literature and the liberal arts."


The Four Marys: Mary Queen of Scots’ Ladies in Waiting

Mary Queen of Scots, queen of Scotland at the age of just 6 days, had a very chaotic and endangered life. When she travelled to France in 1548 for her own protection and safety, she was escorted by her four ladies-in-waiting, coincidentally all named Mary. It is possible that Mary’s mother the French Marie de Guise personally chose the young girls to be companions to the Queen.

The four ladies-in-waiting all had Scottish fathers and two of them had French mothers and therefore could be relied upon to be loyal not only to their Scottish Queen but also to the French Queen Mother, Marie de Guise.

It was also the Queen Mother’s intentions for her daughter to marry the Francis, Dauphin of France, to whom Mary was betrothed.

King James V of Scotland and his wife Mary of Guise

These four ladies, who would accompany the young Queen to France were to become the Queen’s closest companions and friends, as well as her ladies-in-waiting. They are known to history as ‘The Four Marys’ Mary Seton, Mary Fleming, Mary Beaton and Mary Livingston. Mary Fleming was also a relative of Mary Queen of Scots, as Fleming’s mother was the illegitimate half-sister of Mary Queen of Scots’ late father King James V. The other ladies were of noble and high birth.

Although Mary Queen of Scots’ connection to France started at a young age, it wasn’t always certain that France would become her home. King Henry VIII first attempted to marry his son Prince Edward to the young Scottish Queen. Although some of the Queen of Scots’ nobles supported an English alliance, Marie de Guise and other nobles pushed for the Auld Alliance.

In 1548, the four Marys joined their Queen at Inchmahome Priory in preparation for their journey to France. The journey to France from Scotland was a rough sea voyage. It is recorded that during the journey, all of the ladies came down with sea sickness.

Upon their arrival in France, the station of Mary Queen of Scots and that of her ladies-in-waiting could not have been made clearer, as Mary was to join the Valois royal children whilst her ladies were initially separated from her. This could appear as a cruel move by the French King Henri II, however it was for the young Scottish Queen’s benefit. First of all, if she were to marry the Dauphin, she would need to learn to speak French and be associate with the Valois Princesses, Elisabeth and Claude. Secondly, by making her closest companions Henri’s daughters he could secure her loyalty and ensure she was surrounded by women of noble birth and of respectable character.

The four Marys were initially sent away to be educated by Dominican nuns. However their time in France was not to be for as long as anticipated, as although Mary Queen of Scots married Francis, they ruled France together for only a year before the young King died in 1560.

Francis II of France, and his wife Mary, Queen of France and of Scotland

By this time, Marie de Guise, who had once decided her daughter’s future in France whilst protecting her realm in Scotland, had died. This left Mary no choice but to return to her country as queen. The four Marys returned with her to Scotland. Scotland would be the place where the four Marys would seek their own husbands, as their now widowed Queen would also seek out another.

Mary Queen of Scots married her cousin Lord Darnley in 1565. Her ladies also married, all except Mary Seton who remained in the Queen’s service until 1585 when she left the Queen’s household to join the house of God and become a nun. Mary Beaton married Alexander Ogilvy in April 1566.

Mary Beaton had a son James with her husband in 1568. Two years earlier, she had been there to support Mary Queen of Scots as she gave birth to her son and heir James, who would become James VI of Scotland and eventually, James I of England.

Mary Beaton lived a long life, dying at the age of fifty-five in 1598. Mary Beaton has been depicted in history as a model lady in waiting and one who was well educated. It is recorded that Mary Beaton’s own handwriting was very similar to that of Mary Queen of Scots.

Mary Beaton

Mary Livingston married her husband John Sempill in the same year that Mary Queen of Scots married Lord Darnley. Both Mary Livingston and her husband’s characters were not considered to be honourable and respectful, unlike those of her ladies Seton and Beaton. The Scottish Reformer John Knox wrote that Livingston was “lusty” and her husband was a “dancer”. He even rumoured that Livingston had conceived her child before the marriage and therefore was of unworthy character to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. These remarks by Knox were ignored by Mary Queen of Scots who granted wealth and land to her lady and her husband. Mary Livingston was even awarded some of the Queen of Scots’ jewels in her will. However she and her husband were ordered some years later to return them to the crown. Her husband John Sempill was arrested for refusing to return them. Livingston died in 1579.

Mary Fleming married a man who was many years older than her, Sir William Maitland. Maitland was the Queen’s royal secretary. There were rumours that their marriage was an unhappy one, but this has been largely disregarded by history and evidence proves otherwise. Their marriage took place after three years of courtship and therefore, they had time to get to know one another well before the marriage. In 1573 they were captured at Edinburgh Castle. Mary’s husband died shortly after their capture and she herself was kept a prisoner. Mary Fleming was forced to give up her belongings and her estate was not returned to her until 1581/2 by the then King James VI, the son of her former Queen and mistress.

There is a dispute over whether Fleming remarried but it is commonly believed that she did not. She had two children, James and Margaret. In 1581 the Queen of Scots tried to set up a meeting with Mary Fleming, but there is no evidence that this ever took place. Fleming died that same year.

The lives of the ladies-in-waiting of Mary Queen of Scots were very different, despite their common experiences and Dominican education in France three married and only one lady actually returned to a life in a nunnery.

Written by Leah Rhiannon Savage aged 22, Master’s Graduate of History from Nottingham Trent University. Specialises in British History and predominantly Scottish History. Wife and Aspiring Teacher of History.


Martyr queen?

The island stronghold of Lochleven Castle, from which Mary escaped in 1568. Photography by Glen Bowman.

Bothwell did escape, but Mary was not handled honourably, perhaps because she haughtily lectured her captors, inspiring their ill will: she was returned to Edinburgh and paraded through streets of soldiers who shouted ‘burn the whore’. It is likely that this show of disapproval was contrived. Bothwell made it to Norway, where he was recognised by a kinsman of a woman he’d dallied with and was thrown in prison. He died there – Guy says of excessive drinking – on 14 April 1578. From there she was taken to the island fortress of Lochleven, where she was lectured for two solid days by her half-brother and forced to abdicate in favour of her young son, James. Who became James VI of Scotland and, eventually, James I of England. Mary never obtained the English throne, but her issue did a small victory for her had she been alive to know it. Her half-brother became regent. Unsurprisingly, she also miscarried. Escape should theoretically have been impossible, but after one failed attempt, she eventually convinced the young sons of the laird of Lochleven to help her, one rowing her across the water and the other meeting her with some of the laird’s best horses on the other side. Willie Douglas was probably the laird’s illegitimate son, George Douglas was a legitimate younger son. She attempted to retake the throne with superior forces at the Battle of Langside on 13 May 1568, but her commander, the earl of Argyll, fainted at a critical moment. Mary’s army fell apart and, instead of regrouping, she panicked and fled to England.

Her choice of refuge has received considerable criticism, and with good cause. Mary assumed that Elizabeth would do all she could to restore Mary to her throne, without realising that she’s placed her cousin in an impossible situation. With the northern English counties still Catholic, Mary’s entry into England could have precipitated lengthy and brutal civil wars on both sides of the border. Nor was the financially-prudent Elizabeth going to risk a potentially costly foreign war to put a Catholic monarch on a neighbouring country’s throne, particularly when that monarch had coveted the English crown. In an effort to resolve the situation amicably, Elizabeth arranged a hearing for both sides to present their case. Guy suggests that Elizabeth’s main reason for holding the hearing was to discover the extent to which the evidence against Mary had been forged. If anything, therefore, it perhaps should have been a trial of the Lords Confederate. (pp. 432-3) She had not intended it to be a trial of Mary, but that is what it became, with Cecil engineering the judges and preventing Mary from seeing the evidence – the Casket Letters – against her.

Despite Cecil’s meddling, the hearing was inconclusive. Mary was to remain in England under closely-watched, but ‘royally luxurious’, house arrest, looked after by the earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess of Hardwick. />Castor, p. 58. She dined under her cloth of state and continued with her beloved needlework pursuits, and was even occasionally able to go hunting or enjoy the waters at Buxton. />It was not a particularly satisfactory arrangement for Shrewsbury, who effectively had to pay to feed and accommodate a permanent royal residence in his own household (both Mary and the English crown were meant to help, but did so only infrequently, and the financial burden was crippling). It also appears to have put strains on his marriage, which irrevocably broke down in 1585.

The cipher Mary used in her letters to Babington, held at the National Archives, SP 53/22

Yet this half-life did not satisfy Mary, who suffered bouts of ill health throughout her captivity. Reduced exercise, without a reduced diet, led to weight gain and, by the 1580s, she had such painful arthritis in her arms and legs that she was barely able to move. And she never gave up her desire to gain the Scottish – and possibly the English - throne. The association scheme, for example, proposed a joint reign with her son. James was never going to agree to the scheme: he’d just managed to establish himself as sole ruler after his lengthy minority, and there’s no way he would have given that up for a mother he couldn’t remember and about whom he’d heard such dreadful stories. There is some debate among historians over the complicity of Mary in the various plots against Elizabeth spanning the years 1569 to 1586 – Kate Williams, for example, says that ‘It’s quite clear that Mary didn’t plot against Elizabeth … right until the last minute’ – but Mary did not exactly discourage them. Elinor Evans, ‘Did Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots Really Meet?’ at History Extra, https://www.historyextra.com/period/elizabethan/did-elizabeth-i-mary-queen-scots-really-meet-film-why/ [accessed 17 January 2019]. In 1569, amidst the plot for the duke Norfolk and Mary to marry and succeed to the English throne, Mary declared to her intended that ‘I will live and die with you’: a clear statement of intent. Castor, p. 60. Two years later, she was writing to a papal agent, Rudolph Ridolfi, requesting Spanish aid and deploring the French, while at the same time writing to both the French and Elizabeth for the same thing. There can be little doubt that her plea to Ridolfi led to the eponymous Ridolfi Plot, which intended to depose Elizabeth with the help of the Spanish and put Norfolk and Mary on the English throne. Despite Mary’s prior declaration, she didn’t die with Norfolk, who was sent to the block in June 1572.

The problem for Cecil was there simply wasn’t enough evidence of Mary’s full involvement in any of the plots, at least until 1586, by which point Mary had been moved to the more careful custody of Amyas Paulet. Despite knowing she was being watched, she still felt secure enough to write coded letters to her fellow conspirators, in particular to Anthony Babington. What she couldn’t know is that letters both to and from her were being intercepted and decoded. The trap closed when, in response to Babington’s proposal ‘For the dispatch of the usurper … there be six noble gentlemen, all my private friends, who … will undertake that tragical execution’, Mary agreed that ‘The affairs being thus prepared and forces in readiness both without and within the realm, then shall it be time to set the six gentlemen to work’. />Cited in Guy, p. 483. Despite its questionable legality, the outcome of the subsequent trial was a foregone conclusion. Yet Mary wasn’t executed straight away. It was only on 1 February 1587 that Elizabeth finally succumbed to pressure and signed the execution warrant. Even then, she was furious when the warrant was despatched. />The problem for Elizabeth was the divine right of a monarchy The king/queen and royal family of a country, or a form of government with a king/queen at the head. The king/queen and royal family of a country, or a form of government with a king/queen at the head. The king/queen and royal family of a country, or a form of government with a king/queen at the head. , and executing a queen set a dangerous precedent, the problems of which became only too obvious in 1649. She would have much rather had Mary quietly murdered, rather than an officially-sanctioned execution.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay, drawn by eye witness Robert Beale

Mary’s execution took place at Fotheringhay Castle on 8 February 1587. She prepared well for it, managing to turn the last moments of her life into a fabulous propaganda Biased and misleading information used to promote a political cause or point of view. Biased and misleading information used to promote a political cause or point of view. Biased and misleading information used to promote a political cause or point of view. coup A sudden, and often violent, illegal seizure of power from a government. A sudden, and often violent, illegal seizure of power from a government. A sudden, and often violent, illegal seizure of power from a government. for the Catholic cause. Having done very little to restore Catholicism in Scotland, she now painted herself as a martyr: her undergarments, when displayed, were red (the colour of Catholic martyrdom). She spoke over and commanded Richard Fletcher, dean of Peterborough, not to read his sermon, and loudly said her Catholic prayers first in Latin and, when the onlookers had been silenced, in English, before performing the Catholic sign of the cross and kissing her crucifix. It took three blows of the axe to sever her head from her body, but there was one final indignity left: when the executioner attempted to hold up Mary’s head, all he managed to grasp was her cap and a wig. Her head, with her thin grey hair, had remained where it was.

The foreign response to Mary’s execution was predictable: in Paris, crowds surrounded the Louvre Originally a late-twelfth or early-thirteenth-century fortress in Paris, it became the main residence of the French kings in 1546. After Louis XIV moved his main residence to Versailles, it became a place to store the royal collection and later home to the&nbspRoyal Academy of Painting and… Originally a late-twelfth or early-thirteenth-century fortress in Paris, it became the main residence of the French kings in 1546. After Louis XIV moved his main residence to Versailles, it became a place to store the royal collection and later home to the&nbspRoyal Academy of Painting and… Originally a late-twelfth or early-thirteenth-century fortress in Paris, it became the main residence of the French kings in 1546. After Louis XIV moved his main residence to Versailles, it became a place to store the royal collection and later home to the&nbspRoyal Academy of Painting and… demanding revenge in Spain, it finally prompted Philip II to launch his Armada and in England there was rejoicing. The Scottish response was one of outrage and horror, and members of parliament swore to avenge her. But in the end, their words came to nothing. They, unlike their executed former queen, understood political realities. Mary is perceived as a romantic figure because that is how she saw herself, and how she acted. It is easy enough to feel sorry for the weak woman, thinking herself in love, feeling used and abandoned by those she – mistakenly – trusted, surrendering herself to tears and fits of despair, and surrounding herself by advisers who thought, spoke, and prayed as she did. But she lived in a dream world, of which she was the centre, and this is no way for a monarch to behave. Her political judgement was lacking, she was naïve and had little interest in the business of state, and she made some of the worst decisions a monarch could make. Yes, she was a woman in a man’s world, but there were plenty of examples of strong women even within her range of acquaintance – her own mother, Elizabeth I and Catherine de’ Medici being just a few. So, feel sympathy for the woman, but judge her differently as queen.


If you were a 16th-century monarch, how would you have objectively measured your approval ratings? Mary had a great idea: dress up like a man and roam the streets of Edinburgh to pick the thoughts of her people on the Queen. She was not the first ruler to do this, but it was the manner in which she did that made it extraordinary. Besides, her height made her disguises as men very convincing. Historians believe that she was a little bit shy off 6 feet in height.

When Mary was about leaving for France, her mother, Marie de Guise (Mary of Guise) appointed four ladies-in-waiting to keep the young Mary company and make her happy while in the French court. All four of the ladies were called Mary, and they were of noble births and similar age. During their time in France, the four Marys were educated on a host domestic issue in order to prepare them to become proper ladies-in-waiting or wives of noblemen.

The names of the four Marys were Mary Seton, Mary Beaton, Mary Fleming and, Mary Livingston. As time went by, they became good friends and companions of Mary Queen of Scots. They also went everywhere their mistress went even on an official trip. They also entertained the queen by dancing, poetry recitals, and music. However, their carefree and a bit liberal life was not appreciated by the noble Scots and radical religious zealots such as John Knox.

Up until the queen’s death, some of those Marys stayed in touch or by her side. Mary Seton was the most devoted of them all. She was there right until the gruesome murder of her queen. Unlike the rest, Seton never got married and she literally devoted her entire life in service of the queen.


Fiction: Elizabeth and Mary met in secret

The secret tete-a-tete between Elizabeth and Mary is invented for dramatic purposes. Both Guy’s biography and the film assert that Elizabeth was jealous of Mary’s youth, beauty and charisma. Ultimately, in the scene between Mary and Elizabeth, Elizabeth discovers that those very attributes have doomed Mary, while the more cautious and chaste Elizabeth proves the better (or luckier) sovereign.

In reality, it seems Elizabeth was never particularly intimidated by Mary. When Mary wrote to Elizabeth, asking her to set aside “jealousy and mislike,” Elizabeth dismissed her framing of their relationship, and Mary’s cultivated image. Elizabeth wrote to one of her lords, “We wish &hellip She were as innocent therein as she laboreth greatly to beare both us and the world in hand that she is.&rdquo

Elizabeth seemed to have little issue with imprisoning her cousin, who had once tried to rebel against her. Mary wrote many letters to her associates expressing frustration that Elizabeth would not meet with her, while Elizabeth debated what to do in her own writings, never ultimately coming to a conclusion as to whether to meet with her cousin.

Ultimately, Mary was implicated in a plot against Elizabeth’s life, and in 1587, she was executed.

Correction, Dec. 11

The original version of this story misstated the name of Mary’s son. It was James, not John.


Watch the video: Mary, Queen of Scots Learn English Through Story Subtitles (July 2022).


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