Mary, Queen of Scots, also Mary Stuart (1542-1587), daughter of James V, king of Scotland, by his second wife, Mary of Guise.
Born in Linlithgow in December 1542, Mary became queen before she was a week old. Raised in France, in 1558 she was married to the Dauphin, who succeeded to the French throne as Francis II in 1559 but died the next year. Mary returned to Scotland in 1561. Although Roman Catholic, at first she accepted the Protestant-led government that she found in place. Her chief minister was her half brother James Stuart, whom she soon afterward created Earl of Moray.
Mary's marriage in 1565 to her cousin, the Catholic Scottish nobleman Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, was performed with Roman Catholic rites. The marriage aroused Protestant feelings and was the signal for an insurrection by Moray and a Scottish noble family who hoped to be joined by the whole Protestant party. Their hope was disappointed, however, and the queen, taking the field in person, at once quelled the revolt. Her triumph was scarcely over when misunderstandings began to arise between her and Darnley. She had given him the title of king, but he now demanded that the crown be secured to him for life and that, if the queen died without children, it should descend to his heirs.
Before Moray's rebellion Mary's secretary and adviser had been David Rizzio, a court favorite and a Roman Catholic. The king was now persuaded that Rizzio was the obstacle to his designs upon the crown. Acting on this belief, he entered into a formal compact with Moray; Lord Patrick Ruthven; James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton; and other leaders of the Protestant party. The result of this conspiracy was the murder of Rizzio in 1566. Early in 1567 the house in which Darnley lay sick was blown up by gunpowder, probably at the instigation of the Scottish nobleman James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who, since Moray's revolt and still more since Rizzio's murder, had been favored by the queen. Darnley was discovered strangled close by the scene of the explosion. It was suspected that Mary herself was not wholly ignorant of the plot. Evidence substantiating this theory is reflected in incriminating letters and sonnets, allegedly written by Mary to Bothwell and found later that year in a silver casket. Bothwell was brought to a mock trial and acquitted; soon afterward he divorced his wife and married Mary in a Protestant ceremony.
This step at once turned the Scottish nobles against Mary. She was able to lead an army against them, and although it was equal in number to the confederate army, it was visibly inferior in discipline. On June 15, 1567, Mary's forces were defeated at Carberry Hill, and she was forced to abandon Bothwell and surrender herself to the confederate lords. On July 24, at Lochleven, she was prevailed upon to sign an act of abdication in favor of her son, who was crowned as James VI five days afterward at Stirling. Escaping from her island-prison at Lochleven on May 2, 1568, she was able within a few days to assemble an army of 6000 men. On May 12 her army was defeated by the regent Moray at Langside, near Glasgow. Four days afterward, in spite of the entreaties of her best friends, Mary crossed Solway Firth and sought refuge at the court of Elizabeth I, queen of England, only to find herself a prisoner of Elizabeth for life.
Of the ensuing intrigues to effect her deliverance and to place her on the throne of England, the most famous was that of Mary's page, Anthony Babington, who plotted to assassinate Elizabeth. The conspiracy was discovered, and Mary was brought to trial in October 1586. She was sentenced to death on October 25, but not until February 1, 1587, did Elizabeth sign the warrant of execution, which was carried out a week later.1