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date: 07 December 2023

Mary [Mary Stewart]free


Mary [Mary Stewart]free

  • Julian Goodare

Mary (1542–1587)

by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1578

The Royal Collection © 2004 HM Queen Elizabeth II

Mary [Mary Stewart] (1542–1587), queen of Scots, was born in Linlithgow Palace on 8 December 1542, the only surviving child of James V, king of Scots (1512–1542), and Mary of Guise (1515–1560).

Early life and upbringing, 1542–1560

Mary's father died at Falkland on 14 December 1542, lamenting that his Stewart dynasty 'come witht ane lase, it will pase witht ane lase' (Historie and Cronicles, 1.407). The prophecy proved inaccurate, but it was made during a crisis for Scotland, at war with England and recently humiliated at the battle of Solway Moss (24 November). Mary's succession was accepted without question, although before her coronation she was referred to officially as 'the princess', while 'the queen's grace' meant her mother. Her existence opened the way to a peace settlement involving her betrothal to the future Edward VI. This was agreed (treaty of Greenwich, 1 July 1543) but soon renounced by the Scots. Anglo-Scottish war, later dubbed the 'rough wooing', was renewed.

Details of Mary's early life are sparse. On 26 July 1543 her mother took her from Linlithgow to Stirling Castle, where she remained under the formal charge of lords Livingstone and Erskine. She was crowned there hurriedly on 9 September, the day after the regent, the earl of Arran, had publicly repudiated his flirtation with England. Her mother usually remained with her, using the influence that this gave her to bolster Scotland's links with France. After the disastrous Scottish defeat at Pinkie (10 September 1547) Mary was sent briefly to the island priory of Inchmahome, in the Lake of Menteith.

The Scots now sought French military aid, the price of which turned out to be the queen's delivery to France and betrothal to the dauphin, subsequently François II (1544–1560). On 29 February 1548 Livingstone and Erskine took her to Dumbarton to await transport to France. On 7 July the Scottish parliament agreed to the betrothal on condition that Scottish liberties were respected. She and her company—including the aristocratic four ‘Queen's Maries’ with whom she was long associated—embarked on French royal galleys on 7 August, landing at Roscoff on 13 August. Mary's arrival consolidated the political prominence of her French family: her grandfather Claud, first duc de Guise (d. 1550), and then her uncles, François, second duc (1519–1563), and Charles, cardinal of Lorraine (1524–1574). As the dauphin's prospective bride she was adopted by the French royal family, living mainly in the royal palaces with him and his brothers and sisters. Elisabeth, later queen of Spain, became a special friend. Mary remained connected to the Guises, and they carefully cultivated their dynastic prize. Her grandmother Antoinette de Bourbon monitored her closely.

Mary's education was courtly rather than academic, developing her considerable talents in music, singing, dancing, needlework, and horsewomanship. She was taught Latin and the rudiments of some other languages, but not written Scots or English. Autograph letters of hers in Scots exist, but she usually wrote to educated people like Elizabeth or Sir William Cecil in French. In spoken language she was bilingual. For her formal 'oration' at the opening of parliament in 1563, 'she wrote yt in Frenche, but pronunced it in Englishe with a verie good grace' (CSP Scot., 1563–9, 10). She was an accomplished poet in French, and occasionally in Latin.

People wanted a princess to be beautiful, and it seems that Mary really was: her beauty was universally and fulsomely praised, along with her charm, wit, and grace. She was unusually tall, like her mother. Yet she herself seems hardly to have exploited her appearance. Most authentic portraits of Mary were commissioned in her teens by the French royal family—notably three or four of c.1555–1559 attributed to François Clouet. In Scotland she patronized musicians and poets but few portraitists. For twenty years her portrait was available almost solely on coins, which remained mundane objects, however well suited her classical profile was to them. During her English captivity she learned the value of the image as propaganda, and occasional miniatures were produced. The best known and most securely attested was one by Nicholas Hilliard (c.1578) that served as the model for most of the many images of the queen in later life.

Mary's thirteen years in France made her effectively a Frenchwoman by upbringing. Her four Scottish Maries were cherished but kept at a discreet distance. Even after leaving France she felt personally closer to her French Guise and royal relations than to anyone in Scotland. In her will of 1566, there was greatest warmth in the bequests to her French connections. Her last letter, written on the morning of her execution, was to her brother-in-law Henri III, and she asked to be buried in Rheims. This did not endear her to the Scots. French court culture was alien to Scottish nobles like Lord Ruthven, who masterminded the murder of Riccio. He feared Mary's wiles, 'because she was trained from her youth in the Court of France' (Keith, 3.275). Ruthven adhered to what he regarded as a straightforward code of honour and vengeance; when Mary outwitted him she was not playing fair.

Nevertheless, a point on which Mary was most thoroughly educated was her dynastic position and destiny. This was not in itself French. Queen of Scots from infancy, she was also, as the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, poised to inherit the crown of England. While in France she used these positions to benefit France, but as personal ruler of Scotland she pursued indigenous Scottish policies. As claimant to the English succession she sought above all to make herself acceptable to the English political establishment. From the English perspective, Mary in Edinburgh represented a conservative candidate to succeed Elizabeth, with her personal Catholicism a crucial issue. Her French background was unimportant; she was not seen as Charles IX's candidate. Only in her English captivity did her French connection regain diplomatic significance.

In 1550–51 Mary saw her mother for the last time, when Mary of Guise visited the French court, accompanied by a train of Scottish nobles, whose support she hoped to win in a bid for power in Scotland. Mary of Guise was finally granted the regency by the Scottish parliament on 12 April 1554. She was aided by having her daughter declared of age a year early, in December 1553, allowing her nominally a personal choice. The young queen also obtained her own household on 1 January 1554. The new regent set out to assimilate Scotland to France, a policy that would prove deeply unpopular.

Mary and François were married splendidly in Notre Dame on 24 April 1558. The official marriage agreement (15 April, 25–26 June 1558) was that Scotland would remain a distinct kingdom, although ruled by the same monarch. A separation was envisaged should the marriage produce no male issue (a daughter would inherit Scotland but not France). Meanwhile (4 April) Mary signed secret documents making the French crown her heir if she had no issue, and assigning her kingdom to France in pledge until the French were reimbursed for their military costs in Scotland and her own upbringing. This in effect authorized a French military takeover of Scotland. The fifteen-year-old queen's acceptance of the duplicitous measures urged on her by those she trusted is unsurprising, but it is worth noting that she was now committed to two inconsistent policies. The simultaneous pursuit of incompatible policies would be a recurring phenomenon in her career.

With the death of Queen Mary of England (17 November 1558), the Tudor blood of the 'queen–dauphiness' suddenly became an immediate issue. The legitimacy and religion of the new queen, Elizabeth, were doubtful and England and France were at war, although peace negotiations were in train. Wanting peace, Henri II was cautious about proclaiming his daughter-in-law queen of England, but the English royal arms came to pervade the already febrile French royal pageantry and iconography about Mary, to English fury. Then Henri died (10 July 1559), and Mary became queen of France. Power passed to her Guise uncles, possibly assisted by her new status. Mary's prestige had never been higher.

But Mary's native throne was being rocked by a protestant and anti-French uprising (1559–60). English military intervention on the side of the insurgents led to the treaty of Edinburgh (6 July 1560) by which the French occupying forces agreed to evacuate the country, leaving Scotland in the hands of a noble coalition that swiftly enacted protestantism in the Reformation Parliament (August). Her mother's death, of which she was told on 28 June, distressed her deeply; otherwise she was hardly involved in the revolution. In November it was apparently François alone who received the coalition's emissary to France.

The death of François on 5 December 1560 hit Mary as a personal tragedy, and transformed her political position. She could theoretically have been married to her eleven-year-old brother-in-law, now Charles IX, but the new regent was the queen mother, Catherine de' Medici, who wanted to take the Guises down a peg. The French dynasty thus had no further direct use for Mary, and she ceased using the English arms or title.

Return to Scotland

Until François's death, Mary had fulfilled her glittering but symbolic role admirably. Now she had to find a new one—or rather, her Guise relatives had to find one for her. She spent her period of strict mourning with her grandmother Antoinette, and went to Lorraine in the spring. The Guises in January 1561 put in a bid for her to marry Don Carlos, eldest son of Philip II, but in April this was blocked by Catherine de' Medici. Nor did any other suitable marriage emerge.

Return to Scotland was thus an obvious move. Mary had already informed the Scottish estates in January that she hoped to return as soon as her affairs permitted, and that she would be willing to overlook the recent offences against her authority. She wanted to renew the Franco-Scottish alliance, but without French troops it would be a shadow of its former self. She might still use domestic Scottish forces to overthrow the protestant regime. The two alternatives—confrontation with the regime or acceptance of it—were put to the queen in April, with near-simultaneous visits from Catholic and protestant representatives. John Leslie, future bishop of Ross, invited her to land at Aberdeen, where the earl of Huntly would raise 20,000 men to support her in restoring Catholicism. Lord James Stewart, Mary's illegitimate half-brother and one of the protestant leaders, promised her that she could retain a private Catholic mass if she were to work with the regime.

Mary accepted Lord James's offer, which was in line with her existing policy. Lord James probably pointed out Huntly's unreliability: although a Catholic he had co-operated with the anti-French insurgents. Leslie's plan would also have invited renewed English military intervention at a time when the Guises could offer no French support. Mary would have liked to restore Catholicism, but she was in no hurry and did not want to take risks. Lord James's colleague, the secretary William Maitland of Lethington, worked out the details of the arrangement, and in June practical preparations for the journey began. Elizabeth refused Mary a passport through England (changing her mind too late), so she went by sea. Her party, including the four Maries and three of her Guise uncles, arrived at Leith on 19 August 1561.

Although the widowed queen's return was natural, Mary's co-existence with protestantism made it an experiment, even an adventure. It has sometimes been thought that her major interest in Scotland was the English succession, but she could have pursued that from a French château. Her interest in the English succession is obvious, but she also wanted to be queen of Scotland for its own sake. Even in her later English captivity, she directed her main diplomatic efforts towards fostering a party of Scottish supporters who would restore her to her northern throne.

On Mary's first Sunday, 24 August, she heard mass in her chapel at Holyroodhouse, protected by Lord James from the threats of more militant protestants encouraged by John Knox. A proclamation, perhaps improvised in response to the incident, was issued next day, commanding that no attempt was to be made to alter the present (that is, protestant) form of religion, on pain of death, until parliament should settle the religious question. This proclamation and its reissues remained the legal basis for religion throughout her personal reign. She governed with the aid of her privy council, unlike previous Scottish monarchs who had regarded a privy council as a device for a royal minority, an alternative to royal government. Conciliar government may reflect the growing administrative sophistication of the Scottish state, but Mary's sex also mattered; men tended to insist that female rulers should take as much male counsel as possible. Lord James and Maitland were her leading councillors.

The religious compromise was behind several governmental initiatives of the early personal reign. In December 1561, for instance, all surviving Catholic benefice holders were ordered to give up one-third of their income, to finance both crown and protestant ministers. Meanwhile, Mary herself tried four times to argue politely with Knox; the effort usually reduced her to tears, but also exposed Knox's marginal position, since the protestant establishment represented by Lord James and Maitland was prepared to accept her. The hostility to the settlement of the earl of Arran, who had aspired to marry Mary on her return, was nullified when he became insane in 1562. Meanwhile the queen firmly suppressed radical anti-Catholic moves by the burgh council of Edinburgh (October 1561).

The stability of Mary's regime was based ultimately on the pursuit of détente with Elizabeth. Her leading nobles and ministers owed their positions not primarily to their own queen, but to the English-backed revolution of 1559–60. With Mary's return, it was not obvious how she would fit into this new establishment, but it was her ministers' task to find her a role in it. The new-found Anglo-Scottish 'amity' had to develop traditions and mechanisms, and it was soon realized that Mary's position in the English succession was crucial. Scots and English alike assumed that the unmarried Elizabeth had to name a successor, and Mary's policy was to ensure that it would be her. Her ministers, too, saw the dynastic issue as vital; it would be dangerous for Scotland if any other candidate were to succeed.

So, only days after Mary's arrival in Scotland, she sent Maitland to England to ask Elizabeth for the succession. Elizabeth told him that she knew no better right than Mary's, but that she did not want to nominate a successor because it would undermine her own position, as she had learned when heir apparent to her sister. Maitland took this at face value, as an opening position in negotiations. With hindsight it can be seen that Elizabeth's refusal to name a successor was adamantine and non-negotiable; to all but Elizabeth at the time, a negotiated settlement seemed likely and Maitland saw clearly the lines that it should take. Mary wanted Elizabeth's friendship, and an assurance of her throne after her death. Elizabeth wanted Mary's friendship, renunciation of her 1558 claim to be queen of England, and commitment to protestantism in Scotland and England. The treaty of Edinburgh had included a pledge by her not to bear the English arms or title, which might be interpreted as renouncing the succession. Mary had not yet ratified this treaty, much to Elizabeth's frustration. Guided by Maitland, Mary presented her demands to Elizabeth as a simple clarification of the treaty. She would renounce the English throne in return for a clear promise of the succession.

In England, however, things were not so simple. Not only was there Elizabeth's personal touchiness to contend with, but English politicians were by no means agreed that if a successor were to be named it should be Mary. Her religion was a serious objection. Whether Mary would have converted to protestantism if offered the succession in return is a fascinating if ultimately unanswerable question. She might well have been swayed by the Guises' advice, which in 1562 was that conversion might be necessary. At any rate it suited neither queen to rule out concessions, and so the negotiations proceeded on what were perhaps false premises. In spring 1562 it was agreed that the queens should meet at Nottingham in the autumn. But in July the English intervened to support the Huguenots in the deteriorating French civil war, while Mary remained neutral. The meeting was postponed—indefinitely as it turned out. At this point (24 July) Mary reluctantly received the pope's envoy, Nicholas of Gouda, and told him firmly that the time was not right for Catholic initiatives.

Progresses and policy, 1562–1564

The queen now undertook the first of her extended progresses around her kingdom, a visit to the north-east (August–November 1562). This demonstrated, perhaps deliberately, how far her wooing of the Anglo-Scottish protestant establishment had marginalized her Catholic subjects. In order to advance protestantism in the north-east, Mary had decided to establish Lord James in the earldom of Moray, currently being administered by the Catholic earl of Huntly. Mary did not intend to destroy Huntly, but he was to be cut down to size. As the royal party approached his domains, Huntly staged a half-hearted protest which spiralled into open revolt. His small army was defeated at Corrichie (28 October) and he died of natural causes in his captors' hands. Huntly's downfall demonstrated to the English that Mary was willing to maintain protestantism, and further entrenched a domestic regime that could claim to be benefiting all concerned in it.

Mary's frequent progresses became important governmental devices. She covered over 1200 miles between August 1562 and September 1563, visiting not just the north but also the south and west. In 1564 she reached Inverness again, travelling through the central highlands via Blair Atholl—a remarkable venture. In Inverness she had the court wear what passed for highland dress. Like her grandfather James IV, she was solving the problem of governing a decentralized kingdom by bringing her court physically to the localities. Her personal charm was deployed to maximum effect among local élites. Most of the lords whom she visited would espouse her cause during the civil wars that followed her deposition.

Although Mary had failed to meet Elizabeth, she continued to pursue the English succession. She made a declaration renouncing the English throne in one of her parliaments, probably that of 1563 or 1564. Although this fell short of ratifying the treaty of Edinburgh, it did indicate that Mary was seeking only the succession. Yet to the English establishment, represented by Cecil, the prospect of Mary's succession was never welcome. The Scottish establishment, represented by Moray and Maitland, recognized their dependence on England and hoped to keep their queen on a conciliatory course.

One of the main ways in which Mary could demonstrate her protestant and pro-English commitment was to make an acceptable marriage. Yet her first major marriage project was spectacularly unacceptable to the English. In February 1563 she reopened negotiations for the hand of Don Carlos. Maitland hinted to Philip that she might otherwise marry Charles IX, and Philip was initially beguiled. But by early 1564 he decided against the marriage. The Don Carlos project may have been a feint to put pressure on Elizabeth. If so, Elizabeth initially responded as Mary must have hoped. She told Maitland in June 1563 that she would regard a Habsburg marriage as a hostile act, but would show all favour to Mary if she married suitably. When asked who a suitable husband would be, Elizabeth prevaricated and dropped vague hints. Eventually, in March 1564, the English ambassador Thomas Randolph told Mary that the husband Elizabeth had in mind for her was her own favourite, Lord Robert Dudley.

This remarkable proposal astonished the Scots and still puzzles historians. Was Elizabeth sincere, or was she using Dudley (a man over whom she had complete control because he still hoped that she would marry him) purely to deflect Mary from a continental marriage? There is no positive evidence for the latter theory, and in any case Dudley was definitely reluctant. He was created earl of Leicester (29 September) to enhance his eligibility, but what Mary and her advisers wanted was a firm promise of the succession. Elizabeth would make only vague promises, which never elicited more than a polite but unenthusiastic response in Scotland. Randolph remained hopeful, but by early 1565 the plan was dead in the water.

Marriage to Darnley

When the Leicester match lost momentum, Elizabeth moved to stall Mary's marriage completely. She would ideally have wished to keep her permanently unmarried—a traditional Tudor policy towards potential dynastic rivals, which she had recently inflicted on Catherine Grey. With Mary she had less influence than with one of her own subjects, but she could still aim to stave off a marriage for a while. Thus she declared on 5 March 1565 that she had decided not to name a successor until she herself had either married or decided not to marry. This said to Mary, in effect, that she could retain English friendship only by marrying Leicester or one of her own subjects, or by remaining unmarried—and none of these would secure the English succession.

There remained one theoretical candidate for Mary's hand, however: her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (1545/6–1567), who stood next to her in the English succession. Darnley's father, the earl of Lennox, had been exiled to England for opposing the Hamiltons in the 1540s. Having been born in England, Darnley might even have a better claim to the succession than Mary, who was technically an alien at English common law—a minor point, but one that had been made against her in the English 1563 parliament. Although a MaryDarnley match was highly undesirable to Elizabeth, because uniting the two claims would prevent her playing them off against each other, she assumed that she could always block it because Darnley was an English subject, and his parents were her dependants with lands in England. Elizabeth had originally asked Mary to restore Lennox in June 1563, as a gesture of Anglo-Scottish amity. Mary and her advisers had agreed, since the proposal mainly damaged the Hamiltons who were then in partial eclipse. Lennox returned to Scotland in September 1564, and his restoration to his estates (16 October) was confirmed by parliament on 13 December. He pressed for Darnley to join him, and this was agreed in January with the apparent blessing of both Leicester and Cecil; he arrived on 11 February. There is no evidence for the popular theory that Elizabeth sent Darnley deliberately to trap Mary into an unwise marriage; the theory is also quite irreconcilable with the desperate English shifts and manoeuvres as the marriage loomed. Darnley's release proved a major blunder.

Mary first took up the idea of a Darnley marriage as a means of putting pressure on Elizabeth to retract her declaration of 5 March. During April she also conceived a personal attraction to him, though its exact nature—romantic, sexual, even maternal—is unknown. But such feelings would have led at most to light courtly dalliance if he had not possessed solid dynastic credentials. On paper his credentials were impressive. His religion, like his father's, was also attractively ambiguous: while his mother was a committed Catholic, in mid-1565 Darnley generally posed as a protestant, absenting himself from his own wedding mass. Nevertheless, the marriage offered Mary advantages with the Catholic powers, keeping both France and Spain friendly; had she married a Habsburg she would have forfeited Valois support, and vice versa. Perhaps, though, Darnley won Mary's hand mainly by being, apart from Leicester, the sole remaining candidate in the field. Mary might have avoided disaster if she had married Leicester after all, abandoning her Catholic friends and resigning herself to a future of being bossed around by Elizabeth. But if she wanted more than that, she simply had to marry Darnley and hope to overcome English displeasure.

Randolph realized in mid-April that marriage to Darnley could be imminent. The English council debated the Darnley problem on 1 May, and sent Sir Nicholas Throckmorton as a special envoy. Formally, the nearest Mary ever came to the English succession was now, when his instructions came close to offering it if Mary were to marry Leicester. Elizabeth also offered the duke of Norfolk or earl of Arundel, though with no assurances on the succession. But this was too little, too late. On 15 May Mary created Darnley earl of Ross, effectively announcing their engagement. This was bad news to Moray and Maitland, and also to the Hamiltons, traditional foes of the Lennox Stewarts. Lennox was attracting a new, heterogeneous party from all those dissatisfied with the regime to date. Prominent among these were the earl of Huntly, now rehabilitated after his father's downfall, and James Hepburn, fourth earl of Bothwell (d. 1578), whom Moray had forced into exile in 1562. Frantic at the way in which Darnley was precipitating a redrawing of the political map to their disadvantage, Moray and the Hamiltons broke with Mary during May and June, and made vague military gestures in the hope of securing English support.

Seeing the danger, Mary carefully refrained from making open anti-protestant moves during the summer. She reissued the proclamation of August 1561, and made it clear that her mass remained a personal one. She nevertheless needed papal approval, and asked the cardinal of Lorraine to obtain a dispensation. By July she assumed that this would be on its way; in fact it was issued only on 25 September, but backdated to 25 May to cover the possibility that the marriage might already have taken place. Her banns were called on 22 July and she was married in her own chapel at Holyroodhouse on the 29th. She also proclaimed Darnley king.

The English reacted with open hostility. Their refusal to recognize the marriage or address Darnley by his new titles left Mary's diplomatic relationship with Elizabeth in tatters. 'All ther sisterly famyliarite was cessit, and insted therof nathing bot jelousies, suspitions and hattrent' (Melville, 156). On 16 July Mary even mentioned the possibility of warfare against 'oure auld inymeis' (Keith, 2.328). The breach was a failure of English policy, but in the long run it would harm Mary more.

Encouraged by the English stance, Moray and the Hamiltons now rebelled openly. However, Mary kept the allegiance of most protestants, notably the earl of Morton, head of the Douglases. Sporadic military manoeuvres began in late August, later dubbed the Chase-about Raid. Mary's forces were greatly superior, and when the English saw that, they reluctantly abandoned the rebels to their fate. On 6 October they all fled over the border, except Argyll who retreated to the highlands.

The murder of Riccio and its aftermath

The key to Mary's problems from 1565 onwards does not lie in her relationship with Darnley as such, nor in her religious policy, nor in factionalism among the Scottish nobles. All these played their part, but they were all exacerbated by the single overriding fact of the breakdown of her relations with the English establishment. This was linked to religion, since protestantism was an inextricable part of the Anglo-Scottish 'amity' that Mary's marriage had disrupted. A hostile England would inevitably succour Mary's protestant enemies and make life awkward for her protestant friends. The playing of the protestant card by rebels would also tend to drive Mary towards a pro-Catholic policy; on the whole she resisted this, but on one occasion she did not.

With Maitland's eclipse and Moray's rebellion, Mary had to choose new councillors, and did so mainly from a range of conservative protestants. Catholics were more prominent than before, and her largely Catholic household had more political prominence. Here one notorious adviser was David Riccio, a Savoyard musician who in late 1564 had become secretary for her French correspondence. Riccio became a confidant, advising her on patronage, though it seems unlikely that he made policy as Maitland had done. During the MorayHamilton rebellion there was a brief flurry of appeals to Spain, France, and the papacy for financial and military support; Spain sent a subsidy, but it never reached Scotland.

Darnley, for whom Mary had done so much, rapidly proved himself vain, foolish, idle, and violent, with a rare talent for offending people, including his wife. He had been proclaimed king the day before his marriage, and Mary seems to have promised to get him the crown matrimonial in parliament. This honour, which François had received, would have granted Darnley equal power with his wife in the government. On realizing Darnley's incapacity Mary declined to grant him the crown matrimonial, causing him deep offence. By late October the marriage was already on the rocks—and Mary was known to be pregnant.

After her bloodless victory over the MorayHamilton rebellion, the queen's instincts turned to conciliation. It accorded with Scottish tradition, especially from the nobles' point of view, that dissident nobles should eventually be reintegrated into the body politic. In December she detached the Hamiltons from their allies by conditionally restoring them. This angered Darnley and Lennox; Darnley suddenly became ostentatiously Catholic in protest at Mary's wooing of professed protestants. A parliament was proclaimed (18–19 December) for March 1566, to which the other exiles were summoned to be forfeited, but it was assumed that the threat would not be carried out. Until mid-January 1566 Mary continued to make conciliatory gestures.

In late January, however, Mary reversed her policy abruptly. She evidently felt secure in her position, and she was encouraged into an aggressive stance by the cardinal of Lorraine and others on the continent. The impending parliament took on a new character when she announced that it really would forfeit the exiles. She also pressed ahead suddenly with open promotion of Catholicism, urging the nobles who had given her political support to attend mass (with limited success) and apparently planning to legalize the mass in the parliament. This plan horrified many leading nobles and royal officials, who had acquiesced only reluctantly in the ejection of Moray from power. There was no consensus that he should suffer permanent forfeiture; and yet there was no guarantee that the parliament would cross the royal wishes. If Mary was going to be stopped, it would have to be soon and it would have to be sensational. About 9–10 February, the exiles' Scottish friends started to plan a coup.

The plot's immediate aim was to discharge the parliament before it could forfeit the exiles and legalize the mass. In the longer term it aimed to take permanent control of Mary's council, if necessary by coercing her. What has become known as 'the murder of Riccio' was not primarily about him; it was simply a seizure of political power. Such a coup had to use the legitimating ideology of the ancient nobility whose right and duty it was to counsel the monarch. Since Mary was to be accused of taking the wrong advice, an adviser had to be sacrificed. Riccio, a low-born foreigner, was a necessary but largely symbolic grievance. The plotters rapidly gathered wide support. Maitland co-ordinated the early stages, the leading noble involved was Morton, and Knox and Randolph approved. The most remarkable recruit was Darnley. Only a week earlier he had been ultra-Catholic, with the exiles his chief enemies. But the plotters fanned his jealousy of Riccio with insinuations against Mary's honour, and promised him what she had refused—the crown matrimonial. Darnley was largely a pawn, but as king he added legitimacy to the coup. He and his father also increased the threat to Mary personally: nobody else sought her death, which might lead to a disputed succession, but one of the candidates for that succession was Lennox. It was Darnley who insisted that the assassination should be in the pregnant queen's presence.

The parliament assembled on 7 March 1566. Mary heard but dismissed a warning of plots. On the 9th her supper-chamber at Holyroodhouse was entered unexpectedly, first by Darnley, then by a band of armed men led by Lord Ruthven and George Douglas (Morton's henchman and Darnley's uncle). Darnley seized the queen, Ruthven harangued her on the iniquity of her recent policies, and Douglas and others dragged Riccio into the next room and stabbed him to death. The plotters barred the palace gates (Bothwell and Huntly escaped out of a window) and showed every sign of staying. Darnley publicly assured the Edinburgh burgesses that the queen was well, and ordered the parliament to disperse. Imprisonment of the queen in Stirling Castle was discussed.

Mary met the crisis with courage and resourcefulness. She skilfully detached Darnley from the plotters, who saw that they could not now retain her in captivity; they were reduced to seeking a pardon for their offence. This was drafted and redrafted, but Mary delayed signing. She manoeuvred the plotters into giving Darnley responsibility for her guards, and then staged a daring midnight escape to Dunbar (11 March), where she and Bothwell assembled an army that soon swept her back to power. She pardoned Moray and the other exiles, and the plotters fled to England where (as Melville commented) they might find the other lords' nests still warm. The plotters' immediate aim had succeeded. The parliament did not reassemble, there were no forfeitures, and the mass was not legalized. Their long-term aim, though, had failed, and Mary was back in charge. Scottish politics now had to cope with the simultaneous presence in royal favour of two hostile and unpopular factions: Moray and his friends against Bothwell, Huntly, and theirs. Mary tried with difficulty to remain above the factions.

In April Mary took up residence in Edinburgh Castle in order to await her child's birth, and on 19 June 1566, after a difficult labour, Prince James [see James VI and I] was born. The birth of a male heir enhanced the queen's dynastic attractiveness, and Patrick Adamson, a Hamilton client, published a Latin poem in Paris describing James as prince of Scotland, England, France, and Ireland—to the fury of the English government, who demanded Adamson's punishment.

Over all this loomed the problem of Darnley, in disgrace with everyone and yet still king. Governmental documents ran in the joint names of king and queen until the very day of his murder. Occasional efforts at reconciliation did not last. In early October Mary and her courtiers went to Jedburgh to hold a justice ayre for trials of border malefactors. There she received news that Bothwell had been wounded in Liddesdale. On the 15th or 16th she, Moray, and others visited Bothwell at Hermitage Castle, a 50 mile round trip. On her return she soon became seriously ill. She vomited blood and green matter, was feverish, and repeatedly lost consciousness. On the 25th her life was despaired of, and she made a moving deathbed speech, but by early November she had made a partial recovery. The French ambassador attributed her problems to depression at her relations with Darnley, who had paid her a brief and unwelcome visit in Jedburgh.

Mary returned fully to public life on 20 November on her arrival at Craigmillar Castle near Edinburgh. There she discussed the Darnley problem with Bothwell, Huntly, Maitland, Argyll, and Moray. According to a later account (sympathetic to Mary and written by Leslie for Huntly and Argyll to sign), divorce was ruled out, and an understanding was reached that Maitland and others would pursue an unspecified solution that might offend the scrupulous Mary and Moray when they heard of it, but would receive parliamentary approval. This may refer to a murder plot, to a scheme to put Darnley on trial, or (perhaps most likely) to something in between, such as a plan to have him killed resisting arrest.

The court was now taken up with preparations for the prince's baptism at Stirling Castle. Ambassadors arrived from France and England. Three days of festivities ensued, the high point being the siege of a mock fortress. The baptism itself (17 December) was a Catholic service, so the English ambassador, Bedford, absented himself, as did most Scottish nobles including Huntly, Moray, and Bothwell. Darnley too stayed away, although he was still posing as a Catholic; he preferred a stance of open opposition to the court rather than exposing himself to its contempt. The festivities were the high point of the Renaissance culture that Mary had fostered at her court, sending a political message of reconciliation under a glorious monarchy. Alongside this splendid and public Catholic gesture, Mary was carefully making practical concessions to the protestant church; and on 24 December Morton and the remaining murderers of Riccio were pardoned and returned from England. The pardon was regarded as Bothwell's initiative. His reconciliation with Morton was ominous for Darnley, since Morton was likely to seek vengeance for his betrayal by Darnley at the time of Riccio's murder. One Catholic concession was the restoration of Archbishop Hamilton's consistorial jurisdiction (23 December). This enabled him to grant divorces, though not for the queen (that would have been reserved to the pope). Moray opposed the move, so Bothwell probably supported it; he may already have been foreseeing a need to call on the archbishop's services.

The murder of Darnley

In early 1567 Mary's career suffered a series of disasters culminating in her deposition. The first disaster was Darnley's murder—an abiding historical whodunnit, generating a mass of contradictory evidence, and with a large cast of suspects since almost everyone had a motive to kill him. One of these suspects is Mary, and here three main views have been taken. The extreme anti-Mary case is that from late 1566 onwards she was conducting an illicit love affair with Bothwell, with whom she planned the murder. The extreme pro-Mary case is that she was wholly innocent, knowing nothing of the business. In between these two extremes, it has been argued that she was aware in general terms of plots against her husband, and perhaps encouraged them.

The Bothwell love affair can readily be dismissed. Once the casket letters (discussed below) are discarded as forgeries, there is no contemporary evidence for it, merely the loudly proclaimed later assertions of men whose political survival required them to make such assertions. Along with this falls the BothwellMary murder plot. The extreme pro-Mary case is equally untenable, since her main apologist, Leslie, conceded in his account of the Craigmillar conference that she had discussed a variety of options for disposing of Darnley. The question thus becomes: how much encouragement, if any, did she give to a murder plot? There is no direct evidence either way, but it is necessary to explain Mary's motives in seeking a reconciliation with Darnley in late January, when her dislike and distrust of him were vivid. Darnley had fallen ill (officially with smallpox, possibly in fact with syphilis) and was staying with his father in Glasgow. Mary went there (20 January) and persuaded him to complete his convalescence in Edinburgh, whereupon she would resume marital relations with him. This move to the notorious house at Kirk o' Field looks suspicious in retrospect, but is sufficiently explained by contemporary evidence of her concern to forestall Darnley's schemes against her. One can speculate that she wanted to facilitate a murder plot, but it is equally plausible that she was taking Darnley under her personal protection to prevent his murder.

As for who did kill Darnley, a consensus soon emerged that Bothwell was the main culprit. Despite what was said later, he probably did not act alone; Morton is his likely chief associate. There are several pointers to Douglas involvement, and Morton would later be executed for the murder (1581). A murder bond was drawn up (later carefully suppressed), and probably many others signed it.

In the early hours of 10 February 1567 the house at Kirk o' Field was blown up with gunpowder and the strangled or suffocated bodies of Darnley and his servant found in the garden. The murder made international headline news, and the courts of Europe and the common folk of Edinburgh both expected queen and council swiftly to identify and punish the culprits. The Scottish nobility, accustomed to vengeance killings, had no such expectation, which indeed was hardly realistic when leading councillors like Bothwell, Morton, and Maitland had been involved. For Mary to have made a show of prosecuting some underlings would have implicated their masters. Moray himself, possibly as innocent as Mary, urged Cecil (13 March) not to expect speedy results from the enquiries that the council claimed to be making. The one man who really wanted the murderers punished, Lennox, was fobbed off with a rigged acquittal of Bothwell (12 April). Then a parliament was held (14–19 April) at which most leading nobles extracted concessions for themselves.

Mary's own involvement in this was minimal, since she suffered a nervous breakdown after the murder. She had been depressed for some time, and had probably not fully recovered from her physical collapse in October–November 1566. The breakdown may well have been prompted by guilt feelings—she had wished Darnley dead, and now he was. There were reports of her 'melancholy'. Her council, concerned for her health, urged her to mitigate the seclusion of her formal mourning. On 8 March she received the English ambassador in a darkened room: she was clearly ill, possibly so ill as to have had one of her ladies impersonate her. She did not recover fully for months—especially since Darnley's murder was not the last of her problems.

Marriage to Bothwell

As the parliament closed, Bothwell was already bidding to marry the queen. He invited the leading lords to a banquet (20 April) known as 'Ainslie's supper' from the tavern in which it was reportedly held. Nine earls, seven lords, and eight bishops signed a bond pledging themselves to promote his marriage to Mary. They represented a wide cross-section of the mainly protestant political establishment. Morton's name was prominent, and there were several other former Riccio murderers and Chase-about raiders. Many of these men were soon to rise in revolt against the Bothwell marriage, but the Ainslie bond shows that they were not initially hostile to it. Mary later claimed that they had urged Bothwell forward insincerely, hoping to use him to destroy both himself and her. But the most straightforward interpretation of the Ainslie bond is that Morton and his friends, having helped Bothwell to get rid of Darnley, were still prepared to work with him. They did not trust him; although a protestant he had a record of opposition to the Anglo-Scottish 'amity'. But for that very reason it was important to sign the bond to keep him in line. A marriage to the queen that they promoted could benefit them as well as him.

What changed their minds was what happened next. Bothwell at once took the bond to the queen and proposed marriage—and she refused him. He then made the disastrous mistake of striking out on his own. Mary went to Stirling on 21 April to visit her son. On her return on the 24th, Bothwell with a large troop of horsemen intercepted her party at Bridge of Almond and carried her captive to Dunbar.

The abduction is a major impediment to the theory of a MaryBothwell love affair, and believers in the theory have had to claim that it was collusive. There is one piece of evidence for this: Sir William Kirkcaldy's letter of 24 April, announcing Bothwell's abduction plan and exclaiming, 'Judge ye geif it be with hyr will or no!' But Kirkcaldy in Edinburgh had no means of knowing the intentions of the queen in Stirling, and is likely to have been led astray by Bothwell's own claims that Mary had consented. Kirkcaldy's letter is of a piece with his earlier assertion (20 April) that Mary had said she would marry Bothwell 'and sall go with him to the warldes ende in ane white peticote or sho leve him' (CSP Scot., 1563–9, 322, 324). This malicious gossip is flatly contradicted by Mary's refusal to marry Bothwell on that very day. Believers in the MaryBothwell love affair have of course made the most of Kirkcaldy's 20 April letter too, but accepting it at face value forces the improbable conclusion that Mary was simultaneously declaring her intentions openly to Bothwell's enemies and engaging in an elaborate and demeaning deception to conceal those intentions. Sir James Melville, who was in Mary's company and was taken to Dunbar with her, wrote:

Then the Erle Bodowell boisted to mary the quen, wha wald or wha wald not; yea whither sche wald hir self or not … the quen culd not bot mary him, seing he had ravissit hir and lyen with hir against hir will.

Melville, 177

Mary too came as close as she could to admitting that she had been raped: 'Albeit we fand his doingis rude, yit wer his answer and wordis bot gentill' (Labanoff-Rostovskii, 2.38).

Mary thus had to go through with the marriage: 'as it is succeedit we mon tak the best of it' (Stevenson, 177). On 6 May Bothwell brought her back to Edinburgh, accompanied by his one committed ally, Huntly, having secured a rapid divorce from his existing wife, Huntly's sister. On 12 May Mary declared formally that although she had not welcomed the abduction, she was now a free agent and willing to marry Bothwell. On 15 May the marriage was celebrated at Holyroodhouse with little festivity and by protestant rites. The whole experience deepened her depression and distress; she and Bothwell argued constantly and she more than once threatened suicide.

Whatever Morton and his friends thought about abduction and rape, they were now faced with a MaryBothwell match that they had not promoted and from which they had no prospects of benefiting. When they signed the Ainslie bond they had assumed that they, Bothwell, and the queen would all be part of a new post-Darnley regime. But Bothwell was now making no efforts to include them in his plans. From 1 May onwards a large confederacy assembled at Stirling, including Morton, Argyll, and the young prince's keeper the earl of Mar. Their professed intentions were to avenge Darnley's murder, with which they charged Bothwell, and to liberate the queen from his thraldom. Military manoeuvres began in early June. The confederate lords occupied Edinburgh and captured the privy council machinery, while Mary and Bothwell were increasingly driven back on Bothwell's own followers. They operated first from Borthwick Castle, then from Dunbar. Eventually two armies confronted each other at Carberry Hill in Haddingtonshire (15 June). The day passed in fruitless negotiations and challenges to single combat until the queen's army began to dwindle. Mary surrendered to the confederates on a promise (not kept) of honourable treatment; Bothwell fled to Dunbar and eventual exile. The queen was now a captive for a second time. As she was led into Edinburgh, the lords' soldiers cried out 'Burn the whore'. She was imprisoned in a burgess's house in a state of collapse.

Downfall and flight to England, 1567–1568

What happened next flowed from the confederates' general political position: to support protestantism and the Anglo-Scottish 'amity'. Mary's recent record here was far from appealing. Some of the confederates took their original aim—her liberation from Bothwell—seriously; but many were determined to seize the opportunity provided by her public humiliation. They had to act quickly, for the Hamiltons were assembling an army for a rescue attempt. On the night of the 16th Mary was sent as a prisoner to the island fortress of Lochleven.

The period between then and 24 July, when her abdication was extorted, is crucial. Various options for Mary were initially discussed by her captors: conditional restoration; enforced abdication and exile; enforced abdication, trial for murder, and life imprisonment; enforced abdication, trial for murder, and execution. The idea of the murder trial was linked to the confederates' demand for justice for Darnley's killers. After some of Bothwell's servants were executed in late June, it was dropped. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton had been sent by Elizabeth to demand Mary's restoration, but he did not himself believe in this demand and was probably more effective in preserving her life. He probably discouraged the idea of exile for her, since it was against English interests for her to go to France; indeed he tried to get Mary's son sent to England. The options were thus narrowing, with enforced abdication and imprisonment without trial looking more likely. But restoration remained conceivable. There were intense negotiations with the queen's supporters, presumably about the conditions on which this might be possible.

One essential precondition for restoration was divorce from Bothwell. This would have meant personal shame and disgrace for Mary, especially since by the time of Carberry she probably knew that she was pregnant. She could not bastardize her child. There is also no evidence that the confederates seriously offered to restore her if she would agree to a divorce. From the outset they claimed that she was refusing to abandon Bothwell, and milked this refusal for all it was worth. It was the formal rationale for her arrest warrant (16 June). A rumour was circulated that the lords had intercepted a letter from Mary to Bothwell written on the night of her arrival, 'calling him her dear hart' and saying that she would not leave him. This letter, never produced, was suspected even at the time to have been 'invented' (Melville, 185). It was not the last time that letters would be fabricated to blacken Mary's reputation.

Gradually, then, the confederates reached a consensus that Mary should be deposed, though this cost them some defections, notably Argyll. They ascertained from Throckmorton that English objections would be pro forma. On 24 July lords Lindsay and Ruthven presented the queen with deeds of abdication, telling her that she would be killed if she did not sign. Mary was then prostrate with illness, having on top of everything else suffered a recent miscarriage. She received messages from Throckmorton and others advising her that she should sign to save her life, since a deed extorted under duress would be invalid. She signed.

The effect of Mary's deeds of abdication was to make her son king (he was crowned on 29 July), and to appoint an interim regency council until Moray could return from France and assume the regency. The regime now had no further use for her. Perhaps Moray scrupled to order her murder; perhaps Elizabeth's lobbying on her behalf was effective. At any rate, the regent seemingly intended to keep the 24-year-old queen in prison for the rest of her life.

In the later months of 1567 Mary, in her enforced seclusion, gradually recovered her physical and mental health. On 2 May 1568 she escaped from Lochleven Castle and was met by Lord Seton and some of the Hamiltons. Both they and the regent rushed to arms. Mary offered Moray a compromise settlement if he would accept her restoration, but he refused. Mary's initial support came mainly from the Hamiltons and Argyll, though many more supporters would have rallied to her in time. The queen's forces headed for the stronghold of Dumbarton, and Moray was based at Glasgow, so a battle ensued at Langside near Glasgow (13 May). It was lost by Mary's commander, Argyll, whose fainting fit prevented the reinforcement of his advance guard. Few were killed, but the queen's forces were scattered and many captured.

The queen now panicked. 'Efter the tincell [loss] of this battaill hir majeste tint curage, quhilk sche did never befoir, and tok sa gret fear that sche rested never untill sche was in England' (Melville, 202). Her party initially made for Dumbarton, but finding the way blocked they turned to the south, led by Lord Herries. Mary later recalled with a shudder the frantic night ride, without food or drink for the first twenty-four hours. Finally she reached Herries' house, Terregles, near Dumfries, where she stayed a day or two, and resolved to go to England to seek Elizabeth's support. On 16 May she embarked near Dundrennan and crossed the Solway Firth in a fishing boat, landing at Workington.

Mary's decision can easily be criticized, but her other options were hardly attractive. In retrospect it is evident that her best bet was to remain in Scotland as a focus for a regrouped queen's party. Her mistake was not to recognize that Langside was an indecisive defeat. Here she was evidently swayed by her long and desperate flight after the battle. Although the queen herself made the decision at Terregles, it was a natural extension of Herries' decision to flee southwards from Langside; the momentum of Mary's flight from Langside carried her across the Solway. Her critics have sometimes urged that she should have gone to France, where she had estates, friends, and relatives. But even if a ship could have been found, France offered merely a comfortable refuge for an exile, not military assistance to restore her to her protestant throne. Mary still accepted Scotland's link with England and relied on regaining the support of the Anglo-Scottish protestant establishment. To that end it was natural that she should go to England. At best, English arms and diplomacy would restore her; at worst, she could always go on to France later. It was hardly likely that Elizabeth would deny her that right.

Mary in England: the shaping of English policy, 1568–1570

Elizabeth, who had initially welcomed Mary's escape from Lochleven, was in a dilemma. Her standing with continental powers, and perhaps her domestic position too, would suffer if she appeared to sanction rebellion. But Moray and his colleagues were her most reliable friends. Mary herself was not necessarily an enemy, but if her restoration would involve Moray's destruction, this would harm English interests. The English government quickly got Mary into its hands and away from the Catholic earl of Northumberland. She was well guarded, but it was not yet entirely clear that she was a prisoner—largely because she herself did not wish to leave. Still, Elizabeth stressed that she was not to go to France.

Elizabeth's attitude to Mary was driven mainly by realpolitik—a wish to promote her own and her regime's interests. She had not forgotten Mary's claim to the English throne in 1558, nor her failure to ratify the treaty of Edinburgh. Mary was thus a potential enemy. But Elizabeth also experienced other feelings: a wish for friendship with her closest relative, and a sense of solidarity with a fellow monarch afflicted by rebels. She was never vindictive towards her. She later told the parliament that petitioned for Mary's execution (12 November 1586) that she wished 'that we were but as two milk-maids, with pails upon our arms', so that she might forgive her offence (Neale, 2.117). Her chief adviser, Cecil, focused on realpolitik alone. He was clear that Mary could not be restored unconditionally, but the main line of English policy in the summer and autumn of 1568 was to work for a conditional restoration. The treaty of Edinburgh would be ratified, Moray's position guaranteed, and the queen limited by a great council and parliament. It would be a signal achievement of English diplomacy.

This required three-cornered negotiations between Elizabeth, Mary, and Moray. The idea took shape during the summer of a conference to inquire into Mary's and Moray's charges against each other and to resolve their differences. Neither proved keen, and each wanted the conference to concentrate on hearing their own charges against the other. Mary also hesitated to compromise her sovereign status. But she agreed to the conference on being given the impression that she was going to be restored whatever the outcome; at worst the English might insist on guarantees for Moray's position. Moray, however, was told that if Mary were proven guilty of murder she would not be restored.

The conference convened at York in early October, with Moray present in person but Mary confined in Bolton. Mary's commissioners, principally Leslie and Herries, treated the conference as being about how Elizabeth was going to restore their mistress. The English commissioners, led by Norfolk, also began that way, and were impressed by Mary's case. Compromise was in the air. But Moray had other ideas, sensing that if Elizabeth were forced to choose between him and Mary, she would choose him. He had brought with him the casket letters, documents which purported to prove her adultery with Bothwell and complicity in Darnley's murder. In November Elizabeth moved the conference to Westminster, whereupon it became almost wholly an inquiry into Mary's guilt. Moray, after much hesitation, made a formal murder accusation on 26 November. Mary's commissioners protested her innocence but soon withdrew (6 December), realizing that continued co-operation could not benefit her.

It was then, with no hostile witnesses present, that Moray produced the casket documents (7 December). His aim was twofold: to convince the English commissioners of Mary's guilt, and to show Elizabeth that compromise between him and Mary was now impossible, he having accused his sister of murder. The first aim seems to have failed, since Norfolk, the chief commissioner, was soon seeking to marry Mary; but the second and more important aim succeeded. In political terms her actual guilt or innocence mattered little, so long as the English accepted that Moray and his regime were committed to maintaining her guilt.

The casket letters, consisting of eight letters (written in French but surviving only in translations) and twelve French love-sonnets supposedly written by Mary to Bothwell early in 1567, and two draft contracts of marriage, are crucial to any understanding of Mary's career and reputation. If genuine, they prove Mary's adultery and complicity in the murder of Darnley. It is obvious, however, that they have been extensively tampered with, largely by blending Mary's genuine letters with existing material from other sources. The sonnets date on stylistic grounds from about 1520. A passage about 'mes subjects' spoils the metre and is an obvious interpolation, while they contain various passages that could not have been written by Mary. Of the letters, four are flowery love letters which probably come from the same source as the sonnets—most likely one of the romantic manuscript collections that circulated in Renaissance courts. The other four letters are Mary's own, straightforward and businesslike in tone, but with places, dates, and addresses manipulated, and passages interpolated. Letter two is the only really important one. It purports to have been written in late January 1567 by Mary in Glasgow to Bothwell in Edinburgh, describing her mission to fetch Darnley to his fate at Kirk o' Field. Most of the text is probably genuine, though some passages suggest that it was addressed to someone other than Bothwell. The forgers' demonstrable practice of interpolation means that the passages alluding to adultery and murder cannot be accepted as evidence of Mary's guilt.

The letters' provenance is also suspicious. Morton testified in December 1568 that George Dalgleish, Bothwell's servant, had been captured on 20 June 1567 with a casket containing them. Yet Dalgleish's deposition, dated 26 June, had mentioned neither casket nor letters. The dossier probably evolved gradually. In July 1567 a single letter was mentioned that sounds like a more explicit version of letter two than the one which eventually emerged. George Buchanan, drafting Mary's indictment during 1567, mentioned only a letter or letters from Glasgow (presumably a version of letter two) in June, but by the autumn the evidence against her was being described as numerous letters written on different occasions. Forgery of legal documents was frequent, and Mary's italic hand easy to simulate. Once the production of an incriminatory dossier had been decided, the necessary skills would easily have been procured.

The documents were not intended for publication, only for private use by the English commissioners. They did not even have to be convincing, so long as they were plausible and forced the necessary breach between Moray and Mary. The same applies to the ‘book of articles’, the narrative indictment of Mary by Buchanan that was presented along with the letters; it was wildly inaccurate, but the English commissioners could not know this. Even when Buchanan's lies were published (1571), they did not generate the kind of debate that modern scholars would have expected. Sixteenth-century polemicists primarily used a priori reasoning to support entrenched positions, and when Buchanan was condemned it was on the grounds that his partisanship made him untrustworthy.

The original casket documents returned to Scotland in 1569. Their last known possessor was the first earl of Gowrie; after his execution in 1584 they disappeared. They may or may not have come into James VI's hands, and much has occasionally been made of his apparent failure to publish them. All that can safely be said is that if the letters were forgeries, it was against his interest to expose the fact while Mary lived.

After inspection of these dramatic documents, the York–Westminster conference ended in anticlimax. Elizabeth declared (10 January 1569) that nothing had been sufficiently proved by either side against the other. But her actions were far from even-handed. It seems that Cecil had been resigned to the necessity for Mary's restoration before the conference, but seized upon Moray's evidence as a means of avoiding it. Moray went home to govern Scotland, with a £5000 English subsidy; Mary remained in England, although she had no further reason to stay. She was now unambiguously a prisoner, and was moved to more secure (if insalubrious) accommodation, Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire.

Mary's imprisonment was obviously illegal. She was accused of no crime in England, and Elizabeth's jurisdiction over her was questionable. But political reality was pressing. Early in 1569 Elizabeth had the theoretical option of allowing her to go to France, where she would probably have been welcomed politely but not aided, especially since her scandalous protestant marriage. By 1572, when France and England signed a formal alliance, Mary would have become a back number. However, Moray's regime in Scotland was precarious and memories of the Franco-Scottish alliance were green. It was unthinkable that the French should be given another opportunity to dabble in Scotland. In fact Elizabeth in early 1569 was still discussing another scheme for Mary's restoration to Scotland; Moray dragged his feet and rejected it in October.

Moreover, the main danger that Mary eventually posed to Elizabeth came in the form of assassination plots. There was no reason why these should cease once Mary was free. So long as she was a prisoner, any plotters seeking to place her on the English throne had to prevent her gaolers killing her; Mary was effectively a hostage for Catholic good behaviour. To Elizabeth's councillors, who worried about what would happen if the English queen died (she had a serious illness early in 1572, for instance), the detention of her rival also offered the prospect of a breathing-space in which to settle the succession.

So Elizabeth, encouraged by hawkish councillors, kept Mary in captivity to retain the initiative. The rising of the northern earls in late 1569, and Elizabeth's excommunication by the pope in 1570, closed Mary's prison door more firmly by showing that her religious and dynastic position threatened her cousin's throne. In 1570 there were still fitful negotiations for her restoration, but soon Cecil was exploring the possibility of returning Mary to Scotland for imprisonment or execution there. Intermittent discussions continued until 1576, but the Scots were unwilling.

Mary in England: efforts at release, 1568–1572

Mary in England had two choices, once it was clear that Elizabeth intended neither to restore her nor to allow her to go to France. First, she could try to rehabilitate herself with the Anglo-Scottish protestant establishment, which had tolerated her for some four years, though most of it had never welcomed her. Mary had some benefits to offer Elizabeth: Scottish stability; legitimacy; links with the continental powers. If Mary had pursued this course it might have been politically advantageous for her to convert to protestantism. Second, she could become actively hostile to Elizabeth, capitalizing on her Catholicism and her direct claim to the English throne on the assumption of Elizabeth's illegitimacy. This would involve throwing in her lot with the militant Counter-Reformation movement and with Spain, in order to attempt to overthrow and replace Elizabeth.

What Mary in fact did was to adopt both options. She always publicly professed friendship and loyalty towards Elizabeth, even offering to sign the bond of association (1584); but she did also plot against her. As early as 24 September 1568 she wrote to the queen of Spain, offering to risk her life for the re-establishment of Catholicism in England if she had foreign aid. She surely recognized that the two stances were inconsistent; but whether she fully grasped what effect it would have on English attitudes to her is questionable. The point, to her, was that both options were legitimate. The plots were genuine, and when plotting she really did want to overthrow Elizabeth; but the negotiations with Elizabeth were genuine too. If a deal had been struck to restore her to her Scottish throne, she might well have performed her side of the bargain in good faith. What she did not foresee was that the English would see it differently. They regarded her plotting as sincere, and her professions of friendship towards Elizabeth as hypocritical.

Mary's main immediate aim between 1569 and 1571 was to marry the duke of Norfolk. This was originally discussed as part of a plan to restore her to Scotland under Elizabeth's auspices, but although Norfolk was a protestant the match increasingly acquired a Catholic cast. Norfolk, politically naïve, was manoeuvred into heading a faction at the English court that would oust Cecil and reverse his policy of confrontation with Spain. The bid for Mary's hand was intended to procure Cecil's disgrace. Elizabeth consequently vetoed it in mid-September 1569. Norfolk, frustrated, left the court in disgrace, and was soon arrested (October). This was followed by the rising of his Catholic supporters, the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland (November–December). Mary was hurriedly moved south to Coventry to forestall any rescue attempt.

The Norfolk match revived after his release in August 1570. It was now definitely subversive. In early 1571 Mary wrote to the banker and papal agent Roberto Ridolfi denouncing the French and soliciting Spanish aid. She also wrote to France seeking aid, and to Elizabeth assuring her that her hopes of the English succession rested on the queen. She was thus pursuing not two but three incompatible policies. But her most significant line of action concerned what came to be known as the Ridolfi plot. This called simultaneously for an uprising of English Catholics, the release of Mary, and an invasion of England by the Spanish army in the Netherlands. Elizabeth would be arrested by Norfolk, who would marry Mary and place her on the English throne. The scheme was grandiosely and incompetently co-ordinated by Ridolfi with the support of Mary's ambassador, Leslie. Mary gave her full approval in March 1571. The English government gradually unravelled the plot during the summer, and Norfolk was arrested in September.

The year 1572 was a turning point—one of the worst periods for Mary's career, through a concatenation of English, Scottish, Dutch, and French events over which she had no control. Norfolk was convicted of treason in January, though Elizabeth hesitated to put him to death. The English parliament of May–June wanted Mary executed, or at least excluded from the succession. Elizabeth was forced to have Norfolk executed to deflect the clamour. A commission was established for Mary's trial also, but nothing came of it. By the end of 1572, stability had returned to English politics. Mary's continental friends also suffered setbacks. The Spanish position in the Netherlands was shaken by an uprising in April 1572 and Mary's French hopes were simultaneously shattered by the Anglo-French treaty of Blois, in which she was not mentioned.

Mary's most solid prospects in 1570–71 lay in Scotland, where her party had recovered from the disasters of 1567 and 1568. In late 1569 Moray's regency began to crumble, and in January 1570 he was assassinated by a Hamilton. Civil war was renewed, with the 'queen's party' looking strong. But they were not a cohesive group. To the extent that they really were Mary's friends, their war aims involved her restoration; and instead of offering this, the English sent troops to support the 'king's party'. The leading Marian nobles gradually made their peace with successive regents, and by 1572 those who remained in arms were hoping to do the same. The last nobles surrendered in February 1573. A few diehards remained holed up in Edinburgh Castle, but it fell to English artillery in May. Mary's cause was at its lowest all over Europe. Almost a decade elapsed before it showed signs of revival.

Life in captivity, 1568–1583

Although deposed and incarcerated, Mary was always treated as a queen. She maintained her own household under her keepers' supervision, corresponded freely (until 1585), and received guests. Her position could be regarded as house arrest rather than imprisonment. Her household aimed to be a royal court, with privy and presence chambers, dais, throne, and cloth of state. She usually had about forty servants, and guarding them was an administrative challenge—some were armed with swords and even pistols. Closest to her were her secretaries, gentlewomen of the chamber, and (usually) a Catholic priest under the guise of an almoner. One of the four Maries, Mary Seton, served her until 1583, when in poor health she retired to a French convent. As dowager queen of France, Mary enjoyed large revenues (though reduced in 1576). She paid her servants' wages, while her keepers (subsidized haphazardly by the English government) provided their food and accommodation. The head of her French council, James Beaton, exiled archbishop of Glasgow, skilfully maintained her diplomatic presence in France. Her household's funds were remitted via the French embassy in London. The Guises stayed in contact, and in 1574 provided her with a new secretary, Claude Nau.

For most of the period 1569–84, Mary's keeper was the sixth earl of Shrewsbury, a wealthy midland magnate. She was treated as his personal guest; he and his formidable countess, Bess of Hardwick, were her regular companions. Mary and Bess spent many hours in embroidery, producing a large output which influenced the decorative fashions of the Sheffield region for generations. Mary spent fourteen years in Sheffield (1570–84), mainly alternating between Shrewsbury's adjacent residences of Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Lodge. She was occasionally allowed to visit the spa at Buxton, a social centre where she once met Cecil, now Lord Burghley, and twice met Leicester. In Shrewsbury's household she acquired some new relations when in 1574 Darnley's brother Charles married Bess's daughter Elizabeth Cavendish. Their daughter Arabella was born in 1575, and Mary involved herself with her welfare, trying unsuccessfully to get her the earldom of Lennox. Mary was embroiled in the Shrewsburys' marital breakdown in 1583, with Bess spreading the wild rumour that she had borne a child to Shrewsbury. Her health, never good, declined markedly during this period. She suffered from recurrent vomiting and abdominal pains that have been attributed to porphyria—a hereditary condition that may also have contributed to her mental problems in 1566–7. She fretted at being deprived of fresh air and exercise. Arthritis in her arms and legs became severe, and by the 1580s she could often hardly walk.

Mary's diplomatic prospects revived briefly in 1576 when Don John of Austria, Philip II's dashing half-brother, became governor of the Netherlands. His martial image was such that he seemed likely to subdue the rebellious Netherlands and then lead a crusade against England, culminating in his marriage to Mary, whom he would place on the English throne. Mary herself was never committed to the idea, rightly seeing it as improbable. Don John's governorship collapsed in 1577 and he died the next year.

Mary continued to take a strong interest in Scotland. As James grew up, she looked forward to a time when he would espouse her cause like a dutiful son. Despite her self-presentation on the continent as a committed Catholic, for Scottish audiences she retained her pose as a tolerant politique. James later recalled that 'in all her letters (whereof I received many) she never made mention of religion, nor laboured to perswade me in it' (Workes, 301). She attended protestant services regularly, and was never a recusant. Her servants were mainly Catholic but some, including her steward Andrew Melville, were protestants. She did not adopt the Gregorian calendar reform of 1582. As with her pluralist approach to politics, she probably saw both her religious positions—commitment to the Counter-Reformation and willingness to compromise with protestants—as legitimate.

Mary's last serious effort to rehabilitate herself with the protestant establishment came in the early 1580s, when her son showed signs of rejecting English tutelage. The association scheme, devised by Mary in October 1581 and discussed between February 1583 and October 1584, would have freed Mary and restored her to a nominal joint sovereignty with her son. She offered to live in England and resign the executive government to him. In three-cornered negotiations she skilfully persuaded both James and Elizabeth that the other favoured the scheme, but it was eventually called off when they both realized that this was not so. An Anglo-Scottish league was soon being discussed, and was concluded in June 1586 without reference to Mary.

Plots against Elizabeth, 1583–1586

Even while the association scheme was being discussed, Mary was moving into the final stage of her career as a plotter. She was probably involved (her trusted agents certainly were) in the Throckmorton plot, exposed in November 1583, by which the duc de Guise would invade England with Spanish support in order to place her on the English throne. After her son disappointed her over the association scheme, plotting became her main political activity. She was playing for high stakes; the risks were great but so were the benefits. She knew that she had nearly been executed over Ridolfi. It would be anachronistic to say that she should have refrained from plotting because it was dangerous; she thought the risks worthwhile.

The mid-1580s saw increasing international tension, with prospects of Spanish support for plots better than they had been since 1572. After the assassination of William of Orange in July 1584 the Dutch resistance against Spain began to crumble, and English armed intervention in the Netherlands became increasingly likely; it finally came in August 1585. This sharpened Anglo-Spanish conflict, increasing Mary's symbolic value if not her ability to take initiatives. Her French background was a problem to Spain, as was her son's heresy. In early 1586 Philip II was already planning to invade England and depose Elizabeth. In negotiations with the pope he agreed that Mary would be placed on the English throne, but married to a husband of Philip's choice, and succeeded not by James but by Philip's nominee (he intended to nominate his eldest daughter, Isabella). Philip's reservations about Mary were reciprocated. In the 1570s she had often placed high hopes in France, and had been hesitant about any pro-Spanish moves that might alienate France. Nevertheless, on 20 May 1586 in connection with the Babington plot, Mary informed the Spanish ambassador of her intention to bequeath her kingdoms and rights to Philip if James remained protestant. On 23 November 1586, after her conviction for treason, she announced this to the pope in a letter which, because it became public, Philip regarded as a suicide note.

English actions towards Mary were also provocative. The English council on 19 October 1584 sponsored a bond of association by which thousands of loyal Englishmen swore to defend their queen, and to 'prosecute to death' any 'pretended successor' in whose name any assassination attempt might be made. Subscriptions flooded in. With the Act for the Security of the Queen's Royal Person (27 Eliz. I c. 1, debated from 1 December 1584 to 13 March 1585) this was modified: instead of lynch law, a special commission would be established for the trial of the 'pretended successor'. The act also confined itself to Mary (who was of course not named), in contrast to the original bond which would also have excluded her son. In January 1585 she was imprisoned more strictly under Sir Amyas Paulet. She was allowed no correspondence except via the French ambassador, and that was inspected by Paulet. In December she was moved to Chartley Hall in Staffordshire.

A new plot took shape in May–June 1586 around Anthony Babington, a Catholic gentleman who had been a page to Mary's former gaoler Shrewsbury. It involved a Catholic uprising, assassination of Elizabeth, and invasion by Spain. Sir Francis Walsingham's double agents knew of the plot throughout, and fostered it carefully in the hope that Mary would commit herself to it. A channel of communication with Mary was arranged, with packets of coded letters hidden in beer barrels; unknown to the plotters, Walsingham saw all Mary's correspondence. The plot was thus a frame-up, a point of which Mary's defenders sometimes complain. It is not, however, obvious that the English government was obliged to nip the plot in the bud to prevent Mary from incriminating herself. The frame-up was directed almost as much against Elizabeth as against Mary.

Babington could never have organized an uprising; his preliminary enquiries showed that most Catholics would support the government. The assassination, however, was perfectly conceivable and some of those in the plot were committed to it. Under surveillance, Babington wrote to Mary (6 July) proposing invasion, rescue, and 'dispatch of the usurper' by 'six noble gentlemen' (Pollen, Babington Plot, 21–2). Mary replied (17 July), endorsing the plot in detail and making numerous recommendations. The plot as she saw it was that English Catholics would make military preparations, alleging self-defence against the 'Puritans'. Elizabeth would then be assassinated—'sett the six gentlemen to woork' (ibid., 41). Immediately thereafter, Mary herself would be rescued, and defended until a Spanish army could arrive. This 'Bloody Letter' (as Thomas Phelippes, the code-breaker, dubbed it) gave Walsingham enough evidence against Mary, but he hoped for more. He had her letter sent on to Babington, with a forged postscript asking for the names of the six gentlemen and the intended assassination method. However, the postscript was never effective; Babington had made only a general interim reply (3 August) by the time the authorities pounced. He and most of the plotters were rounded up on 14 August. Mary's secretaries, Claude Nau and Gilbert Curle, were arrested on the 11th and her papers seized. It was they who had written out and encoded the 'Bloody Letter'; their confessions (5 September) authenticated it, as did Babington's own. The evidence of Mary's complicity in the plot could not be suppressed, as it was needed to convict the other plotters.

Trial and execution, 1586–1587

Burghley and Walsingham dragged Elizabeth reluctantly into appointing (9 September) a commission for Mary's trial in terms of the act of 1585. Elizabeth was never told that the plot had been a frame-up, and to her the danger seemed immediate. Mary was moved to Fotheringhay Castle for the trial. In a two-day hearing (14–15 October) she defended herself with skill and dignity, but the evidence was clear and the verdict never in doubt. The trial was continued to the Star Chamber at Westminster (25 October), where the commissioners pronounced that:

the aforesaid Mary pretending title to the crown of this realm of England, hath compassed and imagined within this realm of England, divers matters tending to the hurt, death and destruction of the royal person of our sovereign lady the Queen.

Steuart, 61

Mary was thus condemned for plotting political assassination. She herself always claimed to be a martyr for her religion, and it was said after her death that she had been offered a pardon in return for conversion to protestantism. The truth was, as the English authorities made clear to her on the scaffold, that she was welcome to convert to protestantism but would still be executed. If her pose as a Catholic martyr was genuine, it was because political Catholicism encouraged the assassination of its opponents.

The verdict had brought Mary several steps nearer the block, but there was now a pause—mainly to overcome Elizabeth's reluctance, but also to assess the international situation. One way of pressurizing Elizabeth was to summon a parliament, and this her councillors persuaded her to do in early September when the Babington plot was in the headlines. Parliament met on 29 October, explicitly to consider Mary's position. Elizabeth absented herself; she must have guessed that parliament would launch itself at Mary's throat, and it duly did, petitioning forcefully for her execution (12 and 24 November). On 4 December the sentence of death was publicly proclaimed, stressing parliament's responsibility. The likely reaction in France and Scotland had to be gauged. Henri III sent a special ambassador to intercede for Mary, but it soon emerged that France could or would do little. Scotland was more of a problem, politically volatile and deeply involved. James VI's honour required him to make a display of diplomatic activity on his mother's behalf, which he duly did. But although he huffed and puffed, his only effective move would have been to break the Anglo-Scottish league, imperilling his own succession claim. By mid-December Elizabeth saw that he would not do this. His final appeal (26 January 1587) urged clemency on the feeble grounds that it would damage his reputation among his own subjects if Mary were executed and he took no action.

On 1 February 1587 Elizabeth finally signed the long-prepared warrant authorizing Mary's execution. She gave it to William Davison, Walsingham's recently appointed colleague as principal secretary, with vague and contradictory instructions. She also told Davison to get Walsingham to write to Paulet and his colleague Sir Dru Drury (1 February) asking them to assassinate Mary—as the bond of association conceivably committed them and others to do. Paulet had been willing to kill her to forestall a rescue attempt; but (as Davison predicted to the queen) they refused outright assassination, either on principle or fearing that an assassin would become a scapegoat. The episode reveals much about Elizabeth: most relevantly, it shows that she was no longer aiming to keep Mary alive, merely to preserve her own reputation. Elizabeth was genuinely distraught by the execution; her claim that it had been against her wishes was not strictly true, but may be understandable when it is recalled how long and how hard she had resisted the pressure for it.

Meanwhile, Davison sealed the execution warrant as soon as he received it, and convened the leading councillors (3 February). At Burghley's prompting they agreed on its immediate implementation without further reference to the queen. The warrant was sent up to Fotheringhay and practical preparations made. Mary was informed on the evening of 7 February that she was to be executed. She was ready for the news and took it calmly, stressing her view that she was being condemned for her religion. On the morning of 8 February 1587 she mounted the scaffold in the great hall of Fotheringhay, attended by two of her women servants. Denied the services of a Catholic priest, she refused protestant ministrations with dignity and made her own Latin prayers. The axe severed her head with three blows.

Posthumous reputation

Mary's execution prompted a howl of protest from Catholic Europe, presenting her as a martyr for her faith. This was offset by the grim English insistence that she had died for treason, not religion. There were mass demonstrations of sorrow in Paris, and of joy in London. The execution achieved its purpose, since plots against Elizabeth's life ceased. It is sometimes said that the Spanish Armada (1588) was a reprisal for Mary's death, but plans for the Armada were already well under way.

Contrasting images of the dead queen—a tragic Catholic martyr, or a murderous traitor—were sharply etched. Yet the images soon became blurred. There were occasional Catholic reports of miracles at Mary's tomb, but her dubious past ruled out canonization. As the prospect of her son's succession grew during the 1590s, Catholic writers deserted her cause while protestants discreetly glossed over her faults. When James at last succeeded Elizabeth, Mary's image was at its most anodyne. In 1606 he commissioned a tomb for his mother in Westminster Abbey; her remains were transferred there from Peterborough Cathedral (where she had been buried on 1 August 1587) on the tomb's completion in 1612. Her verse epitaph by the crypto-Catholic earl of Northampton avoided controversy. James's successful succession, by drawing a line under the succession disputes of the 1590s, nevertheless enabled Catholics to revive the notion of Mary as martyr—an image which enjoyed fitful circulation for much of the seventeenth century.

There matters rested until the revolution of 1688, when dynastic strife intensified partisan arguments about Mary. Buchanan was translated, while Jacobite sympathizers began to expose his untruths. But the polite muting of religious passion among the most prominent eighteenth-century writers soon led to the creation of an 'unfortunate' Mary. There was keen debate over the casket letters, but those on both sides could treat her as a victim of circumstances, or perhaps of her own tragically flawed nature—a precursor of the later flowering of Marian romanticism. Religion regained prominence in nineteenth-century views of the queen. Assaults on her once again tended to come from protestants—or, in the prominent case of J. A. Froude, from a disillusioned former Anglo-Catholic. Religion also anchored Mary's story to a broader historical perspective: the triumph of the Reformation, of Anglo-Scottish union, and ultimately of the Enlightenment and modern progress. In the leading British fictional representation of her, that of Sir Walter Scott in The Abbot (1820), her Catholicism was emphasized. While romantically alluring, she was also ultimately wrong—a historical dead end.

But a more modern Mary was already under construction, a Mary who could float free of long-term historical context. In his play Maria Stuart (1800), Friedrich Schiller created the first dramatically satisfying Mary, both guilty and sympathetic. When he allowed her to meet Elizabeth, as everyone wished she had, he personalized their story. The broader significance of the two queens for subsequent British history never concerned Schiller's German audience, and it declined in British significance too. Scott's novel led to one opera, but Schiller's play inspired three, including Donizetti's classic Maria Stuarda (1835). Schiller gave Mary a stage triumph in death over Elizabeth which showed that the latter, however charismatic in her own way, could no longer match Mary's romantic appeal. For the liberal Schiller, the passionless Elizabeth and her scheming sidekick Burghley were archetypes of repression and tyranny. This was a crucial reversal, since for Buchanan it had precisely been Mary's unbridled passions that made her a tyrant; his ideal would have been Elizabeth's rational triumph over desire. The 'virgin queen' now symbolized only sterility and frustration, while Mary's sexual activity was celebrated as life-affirming.

This gave Mary one of her most important modern roles: as a popular image in women's fantasy. In the twentieth century this required her to have a worthy sexual partner, and she was duly provided with an upgraded Bothwell, a masterful, wickedly attractive libertine. Neither Scott nor Schiller had put Bothwell on stage, but he now came to dominate Mary's story and his alleged romantic and sexual relationship with her was embroidered. Buchanan had asserted that Bothwell had raped Mary in September 1566; to him this was just another piece of mud to sling, but novelists fused it imaginatively with the real rape at Dunbar to perpetrate a genre of ugly romances (including one of literary merit, Margaret Irwin's The Gay Galliard, 1941) in which Mary responded passionately to Bothwell's violent advances.


Twentieth-century research on Mary was marked by the decline of religious partisanship and by fresh directions in scholarship. Many traditional assumptions were overturned by M. H. Armstrong Davison's detailed textual analysis of the casket letters in 1965. By demonstrating how far they had been manipulated by Mary's accusers, he freed scholars from any obligation to believe in her guilt over Darnley's murder. Antonia Fraser seized the opportunity thus presented and produced a detailed and highly sympathetic biography in 1969 which has enjoyed both a wide general readership and a high reputation among scholars ever since. The studies of noble politics published by Gordon Donaldson between 1965 and 1983 offered factional, rather than primarily religious, interpretations of the conflicts of Mary's reign, and demonstrated the extent of Scottish support for her after her deposition and even into the 1580s. The fourth centenary of Mary's death produced two new scholarly contributions in 1988. Jenny Wormald attempted to reduce the issue to one of Mary's personal incompetence, while Michael Lynch edited a collection of essays taking a more nuanced view of her; Lynch later produced a review article comprehensively rebutting Wormald's central claims.

Meanwhile the commanding position enjoyed by Fraser's biography among general readers has permitted sympathy with Mary's tragedy to flourish unchecked. Fraser's own conclusions were generally judicious, but were so presented as to allow the emergence of a popular MaryElizabeth story that unequivocally favoured Mary. This was noticeable, for instance, in the film Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), with its Schiller-inspired meetings between the two queens. A jealous Elizabeth tricked Mary into an unsuitable marriage; she imprisoned her unjustly; she (or her scheming ministers) framed her deceitfully over the Babington plot; she executed her although lacking jurisdiction to do so.

But one can respect Mary and even regret her execution while still recognizing that this is mostly unfair to Elizabeth. She did not want the Darnley marriage. The evidence of Mary's plotting, however obtained, was genuine—and if Mary's plots had succeeded she would have become queen of England and Elizabeth would have been killed. This is also relevant to the legalities of Mary's captivity; freeing her would have harmed English political interests. Mary was well aware of the rules of the political game in which she was engaged, and in claiming that Elizabeth had no jurisdiction over her, she was playing another card in that game. She lost the game, but need not lose our respect: Elizabeth won, but by the rules of the game she won fairly. Elizabeth was the more skilled player, and also held more of the cards. However, the game itself was not of their making; both queens saw themselves as being forced by circumstances into enmity. In happier times they might have met and been friends. Mary's deep and long-standing wish for such a friendship is a striking memorial to her character.

One should thus turn the spotlight away from Elizabeth and towards her ministers, associates, and protégés: Burghley, Walsingham, Moray, Morton, and ultimately James VI. They shared a coherent Anglo-Scottish religious and political programme. Could Mary ever have found a place in it? Critics have argued that her downfall was due primarily to her own errors, notably her marriage to Darnley, flight to England, and plotting against Elizabeth. But a cannier politician than Mary could have been forgiven for misreading the tortuous English diplomacy of early 1565. Flight to England looks less foolish in the light of Elizabeth's repeated efforts to negotiate her restoration, abandoned only in 1570. Mary's plots were all undertaken after she had seen other avenues close; she knew the risks, but would not abandon hope. She was not an outstanding politician, but she scored some notable successes: integrating herself with the Scottish regime in 1561, seeing off the MorayHamilton challenge in 1565, and outmanoeuvring the Riccio murderers in 1566. Her personal breakdown in 1567 can hardly be called a political error, however disastrous its consequences.

From the moment that Mary returned to Scotland, she was in a minefield. The Anglo-Scottish protestant establishment found a French Catholic queen with a claim to the English throne highly inconvenient. It tolerated her at first because it had to, but it allowed her minimal room for her own initiatives, as the reaction to her second marriage showed. After she had angered the establishment twice—over Darnley and over the plan to forfeit Moray early in 1566—her enemies were determined to pounce on even the slightest mistake. Her sex, too, was obviously crucial. Darnley was a problem only because a male consort, however useless and insufferable, was expected to play a political role. Darnley's tragedy was that he never had the chance to grow up. Mary's was quite different. Any woman ruler, even Elizabeth, had to appeal to the emotions of a patriarchal world; Mary did so forcefully. Her charisma, intelligence, and determination to maintain her status were frequently noted and impossible to ignore. The English parliament of 1572 complained that she had written to Norfolk with 'great discourses in matters of State (more than woman's wit doth commonly reach unto)' (Neale, 1.249). Her religion was just tolerant and flexible enough to make her a passable ruler of a protestant Scotland, and a plausible candidate to rule a protestant England; but it was still the wrong religion and her persistent attempts to advance her career were fraught with danger. A woman's political career also depended on marriage, and many men wanted to marry her. Yet few were politically suitable—certainly not Darnley, Bothwell, or Norfolk. In late sixteenth-century Britain an attractive, talented, and ambitious woman with Mary's background was bound to make more enemies than friends. Only by jettisoning ambitions, principles, or both would she stand a chance of success—and failure could easily be fatal. Mary remained true to herself, and paid the price. Ultimately one is left with a historical Mary remarkably close to the popular image: a romantic tragedy queen.


  • Lettres, instructions et mémoires de Marie Stuart, reine d'Écosse, ed. A. Labanoff, 7 vols. (1844)
  • J. Anderson, ed., Collections relating to the history of Mary, queen of Scotland, 4 vols. (1727–8)
  • Reg. PCS, 1st ser., vol. 1
  • T. Thomson, ed., A diurnal of remarkable occurrents that have passed within the country of Scotland, Bannatyne Club, 43 (1833)
  • Memoirs of his own life by Sir James Melville of Halhill, ed. T. Thomson, Bannatyne Club, 18 (1827)
  • J. H. Pollen, ed., Papal negotiations with Mary queen of Scots during her reign in Scotland, 1561–1567, Scottish History Society, 37 (1901)
  • C. Nau, The history of Mary Stewart from the murder of Riccio until her flight into England, ed. J. Stevenson (1883) [Mary's own memoirs as told by her secretary]
  • R. Keith, History of the affairs of church and state in Scotland from the beginning of the Reformation to the year 1568, ed. J. P. Lawson and C. J. Lyon, Spottiswoode Society, 1 (1844) [incl. numerous documents]
  • J. Stevenson, ed., Selections … illustrating the reign of Mary, queen of Scotland, MDXLIII–MDLXVIII, Maitland Club, 41 (1837)
  • J. B. A. T. Teulet, ed., Relations politiques de la France et de l'Espagne avec l'Écosse au XVIème siècle: papiers d'état, pièces et documents inédits, new edn, 5 vols. (Paris, 1862)
  • John Knox's History of the Reformation in Scotland, ed. W. C. Dickinson, 2 vols. (1949)
  • J. H. Pollen, Mary queen of Scots and the Babington plot, Scottish History Society, 3rd ser., 3 (1922)
  • Lord Herries [John Maxwell], Historical memoirs of the reign of Mary queen of Scots, ed. R. Pitcairn, Abbotsford Club, 6 (1836)
  • I. B. Cowan, ed., The enigma of Mary Stuart (1971) [anthology of extracts from contemporary and later writings]
  • W. A. Gatherer, ed., The tyrannous reign of Mary Stewart: George Buchanan's account (1958)
  • The historie and cronicles of Scotland … by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie, ed. A. J. G. Mackay, 3 vols., STS, 42–3, 60 (1899–1911)
  • A. F. Steuart, ed., Trial of Mary, queen of Scots, 2nd edn (1951)
  • James I, The workes of the most high and mighty prince, James, by the grace of God kinge of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland (1616)
  • A. Fraser, Mary, queen of Scots (1969)
  • M. Lynch, ed., Mary Stewart: queen in three kingdoms (1988) [also published as Innes Review, 38 (1987)]
  • G. Donaldson, All the queen's men: power and politics in Mary Stewart's Scotland (1983)
  • M. Loughlin, ‘The career of Maitland of Lethington, c.1526–1573’, PhD diss., U. Edin., 1991
  • M. H. Armstrong Davison, The casket letters (1965)
  • G. Donaldson, The first trial of Mary, queen of Scots (1969) [the conference of 1568–9 incl. text of Moray's ‘Book of articles’]
  • E. Furgol, ‘The progresses of Mary, queen of Scots, 1542–1548 and 1561–1568’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 117 (1987), 219–31 [with daily itinerary in attached microfiche]
  • J. D. Leader, Mary, queen of Scots, in captivity (1880)
  • J. E. Phillips, Images of a queen: Mary Stuart in sixteenth-century literature (1964)
  • R. H. Mahon, The tragedy of Kirk o' Field (1930)
  • C. Read, Mr Secretary Walsingham and the policy of Queen Elizabeth, 3 vols. (1925)
  • M. Levine, The early Elizabethan succession question, 1558–1568 (1966)
  • J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliaments, 2 vols. (1953–7)
  • J. E. Lewis, Mary, queen of Scots: romance and nation (1998) [literary works about her, to c.1900]
  • P. Collinson, The English captivity of Mary, queen of Scots, Sheffield History Pamphlets (1987) [incl. chronology and documents]
  • M. Lynch, ‘Queen Mary's triumph: the baptismal celebrations at Stirling in December 1566’, SHR, 69 (1990), 1–21
  • H. Smailes and D. Thomson, The queen's image: a celebration of Mary, queen of Scots, Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1987)
  • J. Wormald, Mary, queen of Scots: a study in failure (1988)
  • M. Lynch, ‘Mary, queen of Scots: a new case for the prosecution’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 41 (1990), 69–73 [review of Wormald]
  • M. Lee, ‘The daughter of debate: Mary, queen of Scots, after 400 years’, SHR, 68 (1989), 70–79
  • J. E. A. Dawson, ‘Mary, queen of Scots, Lord Darnley, and Anglo-Scottish relations in 1565’, International History Review, 8 (1986), 1–24
  • A. S. MacNalty, Mary, queen of Scots: the daughter of debate (1960) [has appendix on her medical history]


  • BL, Cotton MSS, letters and MSS
  • BL, Sloane MSS, letters and papers [mainly copies]
  • Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, letters and MSS
  • Morgan L., letters
  • Scottish Catholic Archives, Edinburgh, letters to James Beaton
  • W. Sussex RO, letters to Elizabeth I


  • coins, 1542–65 (electrotype replicas), Scot. NPG
  • crayon drawing, 1555, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France
  • double portrait, silver medal, 1558 (with François II), Scot. NPG
  • P. Sacquio, bronze bust, 1559–1560, Scot. NPG
  • F. Clouet, two drawings, 1560, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
  • miniature, 1560–65, Uffizi, Florence
  • double portrait, silver medal, 1565 (with Darnley), Scot. NPG
  • miniature, 1575–1580, St Mary's College, Blairs, Aberdeen
  • N. Hilliard, miniature, 1578, Royal Collection [see illus.]
  • double portrait, oils, 1583 (with James I), Blair Castle, Tayside region
  • oils, 1604–1620, Trustees of St Mary's College, Blairs, Aberdeen
  • C. and W. Cure, alabaster tomb effigy, 1606–1616, Westminster Abbey; replicas, NPG, Scot. NPG
  • watercolour drawing, 1608 (The execution of Mary), Scot. NPG
  • oils, 1610 (Sheffield or Oudry type; after N. Hilliard), Hatfield House, Hertfordshire; versions, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire; NPG
  • oils, 1610–1615, Scot. NPG
  • J. Barry, group portrait, etching, pubd 1808 (after J. Barry), NG Ire.
  • A. Duncan, double portrait, line engraving, 1830 (with Chastelard; after H. S. Fredelle), NG Ire.
  • D. Allen, pencil and chalk drawing, Scot. NPG
  • D. Allen, pencil, ink, and wash drawing, Scot. NPG
  • J. Primavera, medal, BM; electrotype, NPG, Scot. NPG
  • chalk drawing, Scot. NPG
  • double portrait, oils (with Darnley; after a miniature type, 1660–1665), Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
  • line engraving, NPG
  • oils, Scot. NPG
  • oils (after F. Clouet), Scot. NPG
  • oils (Anamorphosis), Scot. NPG
  • pen-and-ink drawing, NPG
  • pencil and chalk drawing, Scot. NPG
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