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Useful Notes / Mary of Scotland

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"In my end is my beginning."

"Princes at all times have not their wills, but my heart being my own is immutable."

Mary I (8 December 1542 – 8 February 1587) of The House of Stuart, popularly known as Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen of Scotland from 1542 to her forced abdication in 1567. She was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V. Because Mary was only six days old when her father, King James V, died, her mother, Marie of Guise, assumed the Regency of the kingdom and arranged her marriage to Francis, heir to the throne of France, who was crowned as Francis II in 1559, only to die the next year.

After Francis's death, Mary returned to Scotland, where her Roman Catholicism made her unpopular in a country that had adopted the Calvinist form of Protestantism. Mostly among the nobility. Mary was successful at first, due in no small part to the advice and support of her illegitimate half brother the Earl of Moray. She was also very charismatic and capable of winning the common subjects to her side when need be. Unfortunately she became infatuated with her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, a fellow Catholic from Leeds and, like her, a claimant to the throne of England, and married him in 1564 against the wishes of Elizabeth I and more importantly against the advice of every responsible member of the Scottish government. The marriage was a bitter failure — by nearly all accounts, Darnley was both vicious and effeminate, while Mary was widely accused of luxury and adultery, supposedly with her Italian secretary and court musician, David Rizzio, whom Darnley (in league with the Protestant Scots lords) murdered in the Queen's presence in 1566. The couple separated after the birth of James I and Darnley took refuge from his numerous enemies with his father.


Darnley was being treated for syphilis at the time. When he and Mary attempted a reconciliation — Darnley recognizing Mary was the only one who could protect him from his enemies and Mary that she had no honorable way to end her marriage — he was brought to the Old Provost's Lodging at Kirk O'Field. It blew up in February 1567, while Mary and most of her lords were at a wedding party after spending the day with Darnley. Darnley himself apparently escaped the explosion, as he was subsequently found strangled in the garden, with no marks on his body at all. Darnley was due to complete his treatment the next day and subsequently resume cohabitation with the queen.

Popular opinion blamed Mary. She subsequently married chief conspirator James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell and one of the few Scottish lords with a consistent record of supporting Mary and her mother. He had famously abducted her. Whether or not Mary and Bothwell planned the abduction so they could get married, or whether Bothwell kidnapped and went so far as to rape the queen to force her to marry him was hotly debated then and still is now.


The resulting rebellion ended with Bothwell fleeing the country and Mary imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. She was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her son, the one-year-old, James VI (later James I of England) and after an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne she fled to England seeking protection from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth, however, ordered her arrest, as she and her Protestant councilors (not entirely unjustifiably) considered Mary a focus for Catholic conspiracies against her rule. After nearly twenty years of imprisonment (Elizabeth was notably hesitant to condemn her), she was tried and executed for treason on the grounds of conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth and place herself on the throne of England. Rather infamously, it took three chops to do the deed. And when the executioner lifted the severed head, it fell out of the red wig she was wearing. It then looked like her body was moving, and people thought she was refusing to die, only for Mary’s pet dog to run out of Mary’s skirts and start howling by Mary’s severed head.

Mary's life and character have been a matter of great dispute ever since her execution. She has been depicted by supporters of Elizabeth and the Protestant settlement as a murderous adulteress and Machiavellian Papist plotter, while those on the Catholic side often view her as a spotless martyr and the victim of Protestant treachery. She has, at any rate, been generally depicted as a beautiful, elegant, and wildly romantic woman.

Works associated with Mary of Scotland:

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    Fan Works 
  • Mary makes a cameo in the epilogue of Handmaid, a The Tudors Alternate History fanfic, on the eve of her marriage to King Edmund of England, Henry VIII's son by Anne Boleyn, who bore him on Katherine of Aragon's behalf.

  • The 1895 silent film The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots features an uncredited actress as Mary in a short that basically consists of Mary being led to the scaffold and having her head chopped off (with a rather gory special effect for the day). Viewers in 1895 weren't that much into films with actual stories.
  • Katharine Hepburn played her in John Ford's 1936 film, Mary of Scotland.
  • The 1940 German film Das Herz der Königin ("The Heart of the Queen"), viewed by many critics as an anti-British propaganda movie, portrays Mary (Zarah Leander, the top female star of Germany at the time) as a beautiful saintly martyr (she sings, too) full of love and desire to free her people, while Queen Elizabeth is portrayed as a bitter malicious dried up spinster who will stop at nothing to make her cousin miserable and eventually murder her.
  • In 1971 film Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), she was portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave.
  • Samantha Morton plays her in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). Morton uses a Scottish accent (in reality Mary wouldn't have had one due to being raised in France).
  • Saoirse Ronan portrays her (with yet another incorrect Scottish accent) in Mary, Queen of Scots (2018), opposing Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I.

  • Mary is the subject of an essay in Alternate History in G. K. Chesterton's "If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary, Queen of Scots."
  • Kathyrn Lasky is the author of a book in Scholastic Books' juvenile The Royal Diaries series, Mary Queen of Scots: Queen Without A Country, France, 1553 (1999), set during her years in France.
  • Mary appears in a vision in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short story, "The Silver Mirror".
  • Appears as a character in the Lymond Chronicles.
  • Appears as the "Reine Dauphine" in La Princesse de Clèves.
  • Numerous historical novels are based upon her story, by authors such as Jean Plaidy (who also wrote non-fiction works about Mary), Nigel Tranter, and Margaret George.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch entitled 'The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots', in which two pepperpots listen to a radio show which mainly consists of Mary shouting and her would-be murderers thumping around.
    Murderer: I think she's dead.
    Mary: No, I'm not.
    [shouting and thumping resumes]
  • Part 1 of the mini-series Gunpowder, Treason and Plot shows her rise and fall. She is executed at the beginning of part 2. She's portrayed by Clémence Poésy.
  • She meets Elizabeth I in the Elizabeth mini-series, starring Helen Mirren. She is portrayed by Barbara Flynn with a French accent.
  • The CW series Reign centers around her. She is portrayed by Adelaide Kane.
  • In Elizabeth R, she's played by Vivian Pickles.
  • In Season 13 of RuPaul's Drag Race, Drag Queen Rosé impersonates Queen Mary for the Snatch Game.

  • Grave Digger's song "Ballad of Mary (Queen of Scots)" on their Tunes of War album.
  • The nursery rhyme Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary is said to be based on her, which led Disney to tell her story en bref in The Truth Behind Mother Goose.
  • Mentioned in Mike Oldfield an Maggie Reilly's "To France".
    Don't you know you're never going to get to France.
    Mary, Queen of Chance, will they find you?
    Never going to get to France.
    Could a new romance ever bind you?
  • Brian McNeill's song "A Far North Land" (From the Baltic tae Byzantium) deals with the conflict between Queen Mary and the Calvinist pastor John Knox. The ballad's conclusion is that each was as bad as the other and Scotland paid the price for their battles.
    What were you baith in Scotland's eyes,
    But different tongues for different lies?
    Lord and Lady of Misrule, who used a nation for their tool
    Who both betrayed the future of a Far North Land

  • Around the middle Baroque era, Mary's story seemed to grip many Italian composers who depicted her as a tragic martyr—notably, Giacomo Carissimi, who wrote the cantata Lamento della Regina Maria Stuarda (Ferma Lascia Ch'Io Parli).
  • Gaetano Donizetti's opera, Maria Stuarda.
  • Friedrich Schiller's play Maria Stuart.
  • Liz Lochead's play Mary Queen Of Scots Got Her Heid Chopped Off. (The title comes from a Scottish playground rhyme.)
  • Maxwell Anderson's Mary of Scotland, which inspired the John Ford film.
  • Robert Bolt's Vivat! Vivat Regina! is a Deconstruction of the romanticized portrayals, showing Mary as sympathetic but extremely foolish.

    Western Animation 
  • The 1957 Disney cartoon The Truth About Mother Goose links the "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" nursery rhyme to Mary Stuart and her tragic story.

Alternative Title(s): Mary Queen Of Scots