Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Page back one for what some days are like, even for a writer… Then come back and join me and Alan as we venture into the life of a queen whose life reads like the most astonishing fiction.
JANE: One of the things I found most peculiar about Mary Queen of Scots was that, in her early life, she would have considered herself French. In fact, she married into French royalty.
ALAN: Absolutely correct. Mary was the daughter of King James V of Scotland. However, she was only six days old when he died and she became Queen of Scotland. Clearly, she couldn’t reign in her own right and a council of regents was appointed.
Mary’s mother was French, and Mary spent her childhood in France. In 1558, when Bloody Mary was busy dying, Mary (Queen of Scots) married Francis, the Dauphin of France. He inherited the French throne the following year and Mary became Queen Consort of France. However, the idyll didn’t last long. Francis died in 1560 and the newly widowed Mary returned to Scotland.
JANE: Poor girl! Maybe it’s just romanticizing, but some of the history I’ve read indicates that she genuinely loved her first husband – the boy she’d grown up knowing she would someday wed. And what a comedown… From Queen Consort to resident queen of a wild and (by French standards) barbarous land.
No wonder she was open to those who coaxed her into considering that she might rule in England instead. As I recall, she had a claim as good as many had used to claim that throne, certainly better than the one Henry Tudor used to launch the campaign that eventually saw him crowned Henry VII.
ALAN: Yes, she certainly did. Henry VIII was her great uncle. Also, when Mary was only six months old, Henry arranged with the Scottish regents that when Mary reached 10 years of age she would marry his son Edward, uniting the two countries. Obviously, this all fell apart when Edward died. The connection to the English throne was tenuous, but it was definitely there.
JANE: Interesting. I’d forgotten about the betrothal to Edward. So, what happened next?
ALAN: When Bloody Mary died, Elizabeth inherited the English throne. Elizabeth was fiercely Protestant, and the English Catholics regarded her reign as illegitimate. They saw Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, as having a more legitimate claim to the throne. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth regarded Mary as a very real threat to her reign.
JANE: Yes. And this apprehension may have been even more justified because from the start Mary had trouble holding on to her Scottish throne. Therefore, it could be assumed she might be looking for another throne to occupy. Even so, it’s hard to believe that canny Elizabeth had much to fear from Mary Stuart. Mary returned from lively, Catholic France to a dourly Protestant Scotland. Although she made no attempt to stop the Protestants from worshipping as they wished, still there was widespread disapproval at Mass once again being celebrated in the royal residence.
She was only eighteen when she returned to Scotland, beautiful, lively, light-hearted, and – at least from the evidence of history – light-headed as well. Her next marriage, 1565, was to her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, a youth still in his teens, Catholic, and of bad character.
What happened next is the stuff of high drama. I’m sure that Shakespeare would have loved to do a play about it, but, as we’ve noted, he was very careful to avoid controversial contemporary subjects.
ALAN: The marriage itself was controversial right from the start. Mary and Lord Darnley were first cousins and, according to Catholic rules, they were not permitted to marry without a papal dispensation. Since they had no such dispensation, many Catholics considered the marriage to be illegitimate.
Furthermore, Elizabeth was strongly opposed to the marriage – as cousins, both Mary and Darnley had a claim to the English throne. Their children would have a very strong, combined claim. Elizabeth didn’t like that thought at all.
JANE: Did Mary and Darnley have children?
ALAN: Yes – they had a son who would grow up to become James VI of Scotland and James I of England. Elizabeth was probably quite correct to be concerned.
JANE: The marriage had a tragic ending, as I recall.
ALAN: Indeed it did. Darnley demanded that Mary make him co-sovereign of Scotland alongside her. This would give him the right to inherit the throne if he outlived her. Mary refused to do it. Now the writing was on the wall and the marriage began to disintegrate. Darnley was also very jealous of David Rizzio, Mary’s private secretary. There were even rumours that Rizzio, not Darnley, was really the father of Mary’s child! It all came to a head in 1556 when Darnley and his co-conspirators murdered Rizzio in front of Mary’s eyes at a dinner party in Holyrood Palace.
Rizzio was stabbed 56 times and stripped of his jewels and fine clothes. Within two hours of his death, he had been buried in the cemetery at Holyrood.
JANE: Ah, a classic example of Scottish subtlety and guile. What a way to end a dinner party!
ALAN: I hope he had time for dessert before he got killed.
JANE: Were they serving blood pudding? Sorry, very bad joke…
ALAN: Don’t apologise – I sniggered. That makes it a good joke.
Things didn’t stop there. Darnley and Mary were now living apart of course. Towards the end of the year, Mary met with her nobles to discuss “the problem of Darnley.” Divorce was discussed, though that probably wasn’t a practical solution given the church’s attitude towards it. It seems likely that the nobles at that meeting conspired to get rid of Darnley by other means…
JANE: More Scottish subtlety? Uh, oh… Run, Darnley, run!
ALAN: In January 1557, Mary invited Darnley to Edinburgh. She visited him daily and rumours of a reconciliation began to spread. Early in the evening of 9th February 1557, Mary visited again and then left to attend the wedding of a friend. In the small hours of the following morning, a huge explosion destroyed the house and Darnley’s body was found in the garden. He was dressed in his nightshirt, which presumably meant that he had fled in some haste from his bedroom. However, his body had no sign of injury – he could not have been killed by the explosion. It would seem that he had been strangled, probably after the explosion took place.
JANE: Gosh! I knew Darnley was killed. I had no idea the situation was so dramatic.
I wish I could get away with stuff like this in a novel… I can just see the reviewers: “Unrealistic!” “No grasp of the realities of politics.” “The author has no control of her material.” Sigh…
Now, it would be lovely to say that after this Mary had learned her lesson and settled down to quiet, responsible sovereignty. However, this was only the beginning of her troubles. Shall we continue with them next time? I need to go add a few explosions and bodies in nightshirts to my current novel.