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
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
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.
The 20-some-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots threatened this stability. Elizabeth wasn't about to let Catholic Mary come to town and upset the status quo. Almost as soon as Mary set foot on English soil she was placed under house arrest, being moved from castle to castle for almost 20 years. Fair or not, Elizabeth wasn't taking any chances.
Now, Mary didn't do herself any favors while under house arrest. History tells us she often boasted to anyone who would listen that she could be the queen of England. Making matters worse, in the year 1570, the Pope sided with Mary by basically calling Elizabeth a pretend queen and a Protestant criminal. This caused some real heartburn for Elizabeth and her advisers. However, since Mary hadn't officially challenged the throne, they couldn't get her on charges of treason. Also, if they sent Mary back to Scotland, the Scots would most likely kill her, and Elizabeth would be accused of selling out a fellow queen. However, if Mary stayed she just might raise enough Catholic support to overthrow Elizabeth. Fortunately for Elizabeth, Mary would seal her own fate.
Treason and Execution
In the 1580s, the Catholic Anthony Babington devised a plot to free Mary and overthrow Elizabeth. History tells us that Babington secretly wrote to Mary telling her of his plans. Mary wrote back, conveying her support of his scheme. Unfortunately for the two Catholic conspirators, their plans were found out, and Babington was quickly executed. Elizabeth's advisers, who always suspected Mary of this duplicity, now had a solid case against her.
Mary was put on trial and found guilty of plotting to kill Elizabeth. Fearing Elizabeth may not have the stomach to execute a fellow queen, let alone her cousin, Elizabeth's advisers made sure Mary's execution happened fast. On February 8, 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots was executed for treason against the English throne. Dressed in scarlet, the queen was beheaded. Her last words were reported to be, 'Into thy hands, O Lord.'
Effects of Mary's Death
Ironically, Mary's death didn't spell the end to Elizabeth's Catholic problems. In fact, it made them worse. Upon hearing that England had dared to execute a queen, many European countries were outraged. This was especially true of Spain, which was ruled by the very Catholic Phillip II. In fact, many historians believe this was the final straw that caused Phillip to send his Armada to invade England in the year 1588.
And so ends the story of Mary, Queen of Scots. During her lifetime, she was a thorn in the flesh of the English crown, and in her death, she was a rallying cry for Catholic Europe. Despite how she is remembered, she adds intrigue to the pages of history.
After finishing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Understand how Mary, Queen of Scots had claims to the French, Scottish, and English crowns
- Explain why Mary left France and why she had to later flee Scotland
- Summarize the issue Queen Elizabeth I had with Mary and how this was eventually resolved