February 8th 1587: Mary, Queen of Scots executed
On this day in 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed at Fotheringhay castle aged 44. Born in 1542, Mary was the only child of King James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. Just six days after Mary was born, James died and the infant became queen, with her mother acting as regent. Mary was initially betrothed to Edward, son of King Henry VIII of England, but her Catholic family broke off the engagement, much to the anger of the English king. Mary was instead sent to France, at the court of Henry II, and married to his son Francis. However, Francis died soon after their marriage, aged sixteen, and Mary returned to Scotland to rule. She married the Earl of Darnley, but their turbulent marriage ended in bloodshed when Darnley murdered. Mary waited just three months before marying her close adviser, the Earl of Bothwell, who was suspected of killing Darnley. The Catholic Mary had long been opposed by the nobility of predominantly Protestant Scotland, and suspicions that she was involved in her husband’s murder finally severed their relationship. Mary was forced to abdicate in July 1567 in favour of her son, James. The former queen was imprisoned, but she managed to escape and fled to England seeking the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth I. However, Mary’s claim to the English throne - as great-granddaughter of Henry VII - threatened Elizabeth, whose eligibility was questioned by those who did not recognise Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth thus decided to imprison the former Scottish queen, who was held for 19 years. English Catholics conspired for many years to assassinate Elizabeth in order to seat Mary on the throne. In 1586, Elizabeth’s spies intercepted correspondence between Mary and one of the plotters, leading Elizabeth’s advisers to convince her to have Mary tried for treason. Mary was sentenced to death, and, while initially reluctant, Elizabeth ultimately signed the death warrant and Mary was executed in February 1587. Just before her beheading, Mary removed her black dress to reveal a red dress, symbolising Catholic martyrdom. Upon Elizabeth’s death in 1603, Mary’s son James ascended to the English throne, uniting the thrones of Scotland and England. The new king had his mother’s body exhumed and buried in Westminster Abbey.
“So long as there is life in her, there is hope; so as they live in hope, we live in fear”
- Elizabeth I’s advisers