Mary Queen of Scots
The Auld Alliance was to produce one of the most problematic figures in English history, Mary Queen of Scots (1542-87). She became Queen of Scotland before she was a week old after the death of her father, Henry V, and was raised in France whilst regents ruled the land in her stead. She married the dauphin (heir to the throne) of France, the eventual King Philip II, making her a very real threat to England. As the niece of Henry VIII, Mary also had close links to the English crown, which saw her become inevitably embroiled in Tudor politics.
Mary I of England was the daughter of Henry VIII by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She died childless and her half-sister, Elizabeth, was named her successor, but because Catholics did not recognise divorce, attempts were made to prevent the woman seen as the illegitimate daughter of Anne Boleyn becoming queen. Henry II, king of Catholic France, proclaimed Mary and his son King and Queen of England, and others agreed, especially in Scotland. Eventually, Scotland signed a treaty recognising Elizabeth as Queen of England, which Mary never signed. Consequently, Elizabeth never stopped viewing Mary with great suspicion.
When Francis, by then King of France, died in 1560, the heartbroken Mary returned to Scotland for the first time since the age of 5, unaware that her strident Catholicism would prove divisive amongst her subjects. Mary married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in 1561, an alliance which Elizabeth saw as a threat. Darnley grew too cocksure, and demanded that Mary make him co-sovereign of Scotland rather than just Queen’s Consort. Infuriated, Darnley began to work in secret against Mary with her Protestant enemies, all the while growing jealous of his wife’s Catholic private secretary, David Rizzio.
In March 1566, the pregnant Mary was hosting a dinner party at Holyrood House, Edinburgh, when Darnley burst in with a group of conspirators, seized Rizzio (whom he accused of impregnating Mary), and stabbed him 56 times, before throwing him down the staircase. Although Darnley again switched sides to Mary 2 days later, he still met his own sticky end. The marriage never recovered, and in February 1567, 2 explosions were heard from Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh, where Darnley was recovering from smallpox. His body was found alongside his valet’s in the orchard adjoining the house, apparently strangled to death.
Lord Bothwell, assumed to be responsible for Darnley’s murder, married Mary on 15th May 1567. This made Mary wildly unpopular, and she was forced to abdicate in 1568. She asked Elizabeth to help her regain the throne, but Elizabeth instead placed her in custody. Mary was beheaded after being discovered conspiring to replace Elizabeth as queen in 1587, and her death was appropriately tumultuous. The clumsy executioner’s first blow missed her neck, striking her instead across the shoulders, and his second did not sever Mary’s head altogether. Horrifically, the executioner then knelt on her back, sawing the remaining sinews asunder.