Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / Mary of Scotland

Go To
"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 Francois, heir to the throne of France. In 1559 he succeeded his father as Francois II; he and Mary were thus the joint rulers of France and Scotland. By all contemporary accounts, theirs was a Perfectly Arranged Marriage and they adored one another, but Francois tragically died at the age of 16 from a cerebral abscess.

Mary was inconsolable following Francois's death. She solaced herself somewhat by writing poetry, and her Ode to Francis II makes it clear just how deeply she had loved her husband and lifelong companion and how much she was grieving. The death of her mother, just months before that of her husband, only added to her pain. As she and her mother-in-law Catherine de Medici were not on the best of terms, once the forty days of formal mourning were complete and it was confirmed that Mary was not pregnant with a Dauphin, she returned to her native Scotland.

Mary's people were glad enough to get her back, but the new obstacle before her was that she was and remained staunchly Roman Catholic, and this was an unpopular stance 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 James, the Earl of Moray. She was very charismatic and capable of winning the common subjects to her side when need be; she was also regarded as extremely attractive, with red hair and fair skin, and unusually tall for the time period (almost six feet). Unfortunately, she became infatuated with her half-cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, a fellow Catholic from Leeds and, like her, a claimant to the throne of England.note  and married him in 1564, against the wishes of Elizabeth Inote  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. She might have been at least somewhat guilty of the former charge, but most historians agree she was probably innocent of the latter, though Darnley himself engaged in adulterous activities. Her supposed affair partner was her Italian secretary and court musician, David Rizzio, whom Darnley (in league with the Protestant Scots lords) murdered in the pregnant Queen's presence in 1566. The couple separated after the birth of their son James, and Darnley took refuge from his numerous enemies with his father.

Darnley was being treated for syphilis at the time. Eventually, he and Mary attempted a reconciliation; Darnley recognized that Mary was the only one who could protect him from his enemies, and Mary that she had no honorable way to end her marriage. To that end, 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 his wife.

Popular opinion blamed Mary. While she was certainly not there for the actual murder, many believed she had authorized it. This is at best unlikely; Mary may have disdained her husband as much as she had once been attracted to him, but she knew that continuing the marriage was still her best chance at the English throne. Their united position gave them an advantage over other potential claimants, and for that if nothing else he was more valuable to her alive. Darnley was still her husband and the father of her only child, and with her romantic nature Mary may have even harbored some hope of the marriage improving. The chief pieces of "evidence" against her were the so-called Casket Letters - letters found in a casket and purported to have been written by Mary herself, ordering the murder. Modern historians, with their access to greater technology, have examined the surviving letters and generally believe them to have been falsified. (Ironically, it's the opinion of at least some modern medical historians that Darnley's syphilis treatment was less than effective, and he likely would have died of the illness within a year or two anyway.)

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. Many historians, however, do believe that she was forced into the marriage; notably, she miscarried twins whose gestation indicated that they would have been conceived during the time of her abduction, despite her protestation that they could only have been conceived after the marriage took place.

The resulting rebellion ended with Bothwell fleeing the country and Mary imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, where she had the above-mentioned miscarriage; the fetuses were buried on the island where the castle still stands. She was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her son, the one-year-old James VI (later James I of England). She made an attempt to escape the island by disguising herself as the woman who took her dirty laundry to the mainland, but was recognized when someone caught sight of her hands, which were very distinct due to their pale coloring and elegant fingers. A second escape attempt in a fishing boat proved successful, however, and she fled to England, seeking protection from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth's response was to have Mary arrested, as she and her Protestant councilors (not entirely unjustifiably) considered Mary a probable focus for Catholic conspiracies against her rule. She also wasn't completely sure whether or not Mary was complicit in her husband's murder.

Elizabeth wasn't completely unsympathetic to Mary's plight. They were among the only surviving members of The House of Tudor, they were both anointed queens, and likely Elizabeth did feel sorry for Mary - twice widowed, kept away from her only child, unable to either live free in Scotland or return to the France of her happy childhood. Mary was "jailed" in a series of castles and manor houses under the supervision of the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of Elizabeth's most loyal courtiers, and she was given many luxuries not normally afforded to prisoners, like exercise, fresh air, good food, and whatever visitors she chose to entertain. She wrote more poetry, published collections of which still exist today, and excelled at needlework, with some pieces surviving in museums; of particular note is the so-called Marian Hanging, consisting of multiple small panels of her own design sewn together into a tapestry. The majority of the icons depicted in the embroidery had some sort of personal meeting to the exiled queen, and in particular is the dolphin panel representing her dearly departed first husband (the French word for 'dolphin' being Dauphin, Francois's rank when they married).

A few attempts to have the two queens meet were arranged, but they never came to fruition, though they did correspond occasionally and Mary sent Elizabeth gifts of her handiwork from time to time. After nearly twenty years of this hospitable imprisonment (Elizabeth was notably hesitant to condemn her), Mary was tried and executed for treason on the grounds of conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth and place herself on the throne of England. It remains questionable whether Mary herself was actually involved in the Babington plot or if she was just an innocent figurehead, but Elizabeth was taking no chances.

It was the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had long since grown rather fond of his longtime ward, who had to break the news to Mary that Elizabeth had at last ordered her execution. She took it very calmly, thanking him for it, and spent her final hours preparing to leave a world which, she said, she was eager to depart. She wrote out a will, leaving generous bequests to her personal servants and a few others, and also penned a final letter to her former brother-in-law, the King of France. Her final words, as she placed her head on the block, are recorded to have been "O God, into Thy hands I commend my spirit."

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 last request was to have her body returned to France and entombed with that of her beloved first husband, but Elizabeth refused to honor this. Instead, she was originally interred in Peterborough Cathedral; the Earl of Shrewsbury and his family were among those who attended the funeral. Several years later, after her son inherited Elizabeth's throne, he gave his mother an elegant tomb in Westminster Abbey. The Latin inscription on the white marble effigy reads:

To God, the best and greatest. To her good memory, and in eternal hope. MARY STUART, QUEEN OF SCOTS, Dowager Queen of France, daughter of James V of Scotland, sole heir and great granddaughter of Henry VII, King of England, through his elder daughter Margaret, (who was joined in marriage to James IV of Scotland): great-great-granddaughter of Edward IV, King of England through his eldest daughter of Elizabeth [of York]: wife of Francis II, King of France sure and certain heiress to the crown of England while she lived: mother of James, most puissant sovereign of Great Britain.

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:

    open/close all folders 

    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, particularly her years in France, though her life story is heavily fictionalized. 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