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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Mary Queen of Scots

(also known as Mary Stuart, 1542–87)
Queen of Scotland 1542–67; only child of *James V and Mary of Guise (also called Mary of Lorraine); married the French dauphin Francis (1558), the earl of Darnley (1565), the earl of Bothwell (1567).

From the melodrama of her youth to her tragic last years, Mary's life has always had huge popular appeal. Her very first week brought drama; the death of her father made her queen of Scotland when she was six days old.

This giddy wheel of fortune turned again at the end of that year when her husband died, in December. A widow at 17, she returned two years later to a Scotland now racked with the struggles of the Reformation. But if the young queen's French Catholic ways did not please reformers such as *Knox, there were many who welcomed a glamorous court in Edinburgh. The future disasters were not inevitable. They were brought on primarily by her own impetuous actions.

These events provoked the Scottish Protestant nobility into deposing Mary in 1567 in favour of her one-year-old son by Darnley (see *James I and VI). With continuing lack of judgement, but perhaps not with many other options, Mary turned to Elizabeth for help, arriving in England in 1568. Her cousin contrived to keep her captive for the next 19 years, while nevertheless allowing her the dignity of a queen. She lived in a succession of castles with a retinue of at least 30 of her own people, and for most of the time her jailer was the relatively sympathetic earl of Shrewsbury.

Her mother arranged for her to be brought up at the French court (accompanied by her 'four *Maries'), and in France sophistication was added to the natural appeal of a tall red-headed beauty. She was married to the dauphin in 1558. In 1559 his father died and so, at the age of 16 (her birthday was in December), Mary was queen of France – in addition to being queen of Scotland and next in line to *Elizabeth I on the throne of England (see the *royal house).

At the political level these included open and frequent statements of her ambition to win the crown of England, if necessary by invasion (the Catholic view that the marriage of Henry VIII to *Anne Boleyn was invalid made Elizabeth illegitimate and gave Mary a prior claim); naturally, in view of this, Elizabeth took the threat from Scotland very seriously. Meanwhile the chaos of Mary's personal life included the brutal murder of her secretary David Rizzio (often spelt Riccio) by her new husband, Lord *Darnley, in 1566; the murder in the following year of her husband, probably organized by the earl of *Bothwell with her connivance (if the *Casket Letters are correct); and then her marriage three months later to Bothwell.

But she now engaged in a series of conspiracies, each involving the planned assassination of Elizabeth. These caused the English queen's advisers to call for her death many years before Elizabeth finally signed the warrant. The end came as a result of the *Babington plot. Mary was tried in the great hall of Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire on 14–15 October 1586, and was executed there on 8 February 1587. Her courage and dignity on both occasions rounded off a life so full of drama that it has remained a favourite subject of fiction and theatre – most notably in *Schiller's Maria Stuart (1800).

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