On the eighth of December in 1542, Mary of Guise, wife of King James V of Scotland, gave birth to a baby girl. At the time of Mary’s birth her father was ill and it legend states that King James said “It cam wi’ a lass and it will gang wi’ a lass!” when he learned of his child’s sex, referring to the Stewarts, ruling house of Scotland. James died within a week of Mary’s birth, making her Queen of Scotland as a newborn.
From her first days Mary’s life was riddled with politics and plots. Her great-uncle King Henry VIII of England sought to unite Scotland and England by marrying his son Edward to young Mary in a time known as the “rough wooing” of Scotland. The outcome of this was Mary’s betrothal to Francis, the Dauphin of France. Mary was sent to France at the age of five and would live at the French court for the next 14 years.In 1558 Mary and Francis were married. The two were childhood friends and got along well, but the Dauphin was weak and sickly compared to the very tall, beautiful,and lively Mary. They would have no children. Francis became king in 1559 and Mary became his consort. Francis was dead of an ear infection a year later and Mary returned to Scotland in 1561, with very little knowledge of the country’s people or political environment. Within the first years of her reign Mary saw religious strife, intrigue, rebellions, and conflict.
When Mary wed a second time to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, she received disapproval from all sides. Soon Darnley became arrogant and demanding and their marriage was strained. Despite this, Mary became pregnant. During her pregnancy, Mary was witness to the murder of her Catholic friend and private secretary David Ritzzio at the hands of Darnley and his co-conspirators. Mary and Darnley were forced into hiding by the Protestant conspirators, and in 1566 she gave birth to her son James. Shortly afterwards, Mary began working with some Scottish lords to get rid of “the Darnley problem.” This resulted in Darnley’s murder by strangulation after the house he resided in was blown up with gunpowder. It was believed Mary was directly responsible for her husband’s murder and allowed the guilty men to escape, with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell being the chief conspirator. But Bothwell had his own plot to wed Mary and rule Scotland with her. In 1567 Mary was abducted by Bothwell and possibly raped by him. Mary, whether by her own will or not, married Bothwell, to the shock and animosity of both Protestants and Catholics. Many Scottish nobles turned against Mary and she was eventually forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son James, now James VI of Scotland.
Mary fled to England, possibly seeking help from her cousin Elizabeth to regain her throne. But Elizabeth was not keen to involve herself and her army so far into Scottish politics, and instead ordered an investigation into the murder of Mary’s husband Darnley. Mary was placed under house arrest in England, from which she would never be freed. For the next 19 years Mary would be kept under careful surveillance, as she was suspected to be involved in Catholic plots to usurp Queen Elizabeth. After Mary was implicated in the Babington plot, which was a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne with the aid of King Phillip II of Spain, she was put on trial. She was allowed no legal council nor was she permitted to review evidence that had been seized from her. Nevertheless, Mary was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was beheaded on February 8, 1587 at the age of forty four after a short but tumultuous life.
Mary’s son James succeeded Elizabeth I as King James I of England, and thus began the Stuart dynasty’s rule of England and Scotland in a personal union. Through her son, Mary is a direct ancestor of all British rulers extending to the present day.