Few monarchs have had a life as tragic as Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587). Her father, James V of Scotland, died when she was six days old, and she was crowned as queen while still in her swaddling clothes. While Scotland was ruled by regents, Mary was packed off to France, where she was raised in the French royal court. There, she married the French Dauphin, and eventually became queen of France when he succeeded to the throne as Francis II. However, that marriage lasted only a year, because her husband got an ear infection that spread to his brain and killed him.
The widowed Mary returned to Scotland, where she married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. It turned out to be one of history’s worst royal marriages, as Darnley soon went from Prince Charming to Psycho Hubby. In a series of dramatic twists and turns, Darnley murdered Mary’s secretary in her presence, and she retaliated by hooking up with a lover who blew up her husband with gunpowder. It ended with the shocked Scots dethroning Mary and chasing her of out Scotland.
Mary Stuart in Scotland: A Terrible Environment and a Terrible Marriage
Mary was raised Catholic, but the Scotland to which she returned in 1561 was tearing itself apart between Catholics mounting a desperate rearguard action, and an increasingly assertive Protestants. Compared to the gaiety of the French court, where Mary had grown up, Scotland was a decidedly dour place. The leading Protestant reformer John Knox denounced the habits she had picked up in France of dancing, dressing too stylishly, and hearing the Catholic mass.
It was against that backdrop that Mary met an Italian nobleman, David Rizzio, who arrived with the staff of an embassy from Savoy to Scotland in 1561. Rizzio, who was considered a good musician and a great singer, stood out and caught the attention of the queen. A cosmopolitan and cultured courtier was a rare find in Scotland, so Mary wasted no time in snatching Rizzio up, and adding him to her staff as a court musician and bass in her personal choir. By 1564, Rizzio had grown rich off the queen’s patronage, and had been elevated from musician to Mary’s private secretary.
As private secretary, Rizzio controlled access to Mary, which made him a powerful figure in his own right. That did not sit well with the Scots, however, who resented a foreigner – and a Catholic foreigner at that – wielding such clout at court. Rumors soon began making the rounds that Rizzio was abusing his power for his own benefit, and that he had become the queen’s lover. Unfortunately for both Mary and Rizzio, they paid no attention to the rumors, and did little to dispel with. That blase attitude would come back and bite both.
Whatever the truth about an affair between the queen and her private secretary, Mary’s affections were soon captured by another beau. Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545 – 1567) was Mary’s cousin. A handsome and well-proportioned young man, Darnley was 19 when he first met Mary in 1565. The queen was captivated by her cousin, and soon fell head over heels in love with him. In addition to the attraction, a marriage made dynastic sense, as it would unite two branches of the Stuart line, and thus strengthen the Scottish royal family.
A marriage was swiftly arranged in 1565, and Darnley ascended the throne of Scotland as king consort. Soon after the wedding, however, Mary discovered that her second husband was a spoiled brat, with an excessive sense of entitlement. Darnley was enraged when Mary refused to grant him the Crown Matrimonial, which would have allowed him to continue ruling after her death. When his wife got pregnant, instead of being pleased, Darnley fretted that an heir would push him that much further from the throne.