Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth: Catholic vs. Anglican

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  • 0:07 Claims to Scotland and France
  • 1:03 Claim to England
  • 2:36 Return to Scotland
  • 3:52 Imprisoned in England
  • 5:29 Treason and Execution
  • 6:30 Effects of Mary's Death
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the conflict between Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England that eventually led to Mary's execution. It will also highlight the conflict between Catholicism and Protestant England.

Claims to Scotland and France

Mary, Queen of Scots is either one of history's most tragically misunderstood women or one of its greatest villainesses. Either way, she was a huge thorn in the flesh of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart, was born in 1542 as the daughter of James V, King of Scotland. James died when Mary was still an infant, and thus her tumultuous rule began.

Mary Stuart and her father James V
Queen Mary James V

At a very young age, Mary was betrothed to the heir of the French throne, Francis II. To make sure this marriage occurred, young Mary was sent to France to be raised and trained as the future Queen of France. Although she was the true Queen of Scotland, from this point on, the Scottish people would see her more as French than Scotch. It's also important to note that through all this, Mary was raised as a devout Catholic.

Claim to England

As if being the Queen of Scotland and the future Queen of France wasn't enough, Mary was also in the English line of succession. Now, this gets a bit confusing, so we'll go slowly through this part.

Mary was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, the older sister of King Henry VIII of England. After the death of Henry VIII, his daughter, Mary I of England, eventually took the throne. This Mary, also a devout Catholic, persecuted Anglican Protestants, earning herself the nickname Bloody Mary. When Bloody Mary died without a male heir, Mary, Queen of Scots tried to assert her right to the English throne. Her right to the throne was strongly supported by the Catholics of England. However, instead of Mary, Queen of Scots, England recognized Henry VIII's other daughter, Elizabeth, as their new queen.

This is where it gets really interesting. Elizabeth was Henry's daughter through his second wife, Anne Boleyn, whom he married after divorcing his first wife. In the eyes of many Catholics, his divorce and remarriage were completely invalid. Since these Catholics refused to recognize the marriage, they considered Elizabeth illegitimate and unworthy to wear the crown. They wanted to see the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, take the throne. Despite this Catholic desire, Elizabeth was awarded the throne, and Mary had to be content with only Scotland and France.

Return to Scotland

In 1560, Mary's husband, King Francis II of France, died. Since Mary had not produced an heir, the French crown passed to the king's brother. Mary now found herself kicked to the curb. No longer wearing the French crown, Catholic Mary returned to Scotland. Upon her arrival in Scotland, John Knox, a powerful Protestant, denounced Mary's right to rule.

Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth sought the throne after the death of Mary I
Tudor Family Members

Perhaps to pacify the Scottish people, and maybe in an effort to get closer to the English throne, Mary married the nephew of King Henry VIII. Mary outwardly despised her husband and when he suspiciously died, many suspected she had played a role in his demise. When she then married the chief suspect in her husband's death, the people of Scotland had had enough. Mary's crown was taken from her and given to her son James VI. Mary was forced to leave Scotland and fled to England in hopes that her cousin, Elizabeth I, would help her out. She reasoned, since Elizabeth was her cousin and a fellow queen, that she just might be sympathetic. Sadly, Mary couldn't have been more wrong. This move took her from the frying pan to the fire.

Imprisoned in England

Remember, Mary was from the royal bloodline of England. Since she was Catholic, she was also the perfect person to lead a rebellion against Anglican Elizabeth and her crown. This was a threat Elizabeth was not willing to tolerate. She had worked long and hard to create peace between her Catholic and Anglican subjects, and she was not willing to let anyone disturb it.

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