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Mary, Queen of Scots

Gaelic Pure Scotch Whisky, like Mary, Queen of Scots will forever be associated with Scottish life.

Gaelic Pure Scotch Whisky is a genuine Scottish product. Our whisky and ales are as authentically Scottish as some of the famous individuals described in these pages. To further capture the spirit of Scotland, please read on...

Mary, Queen of Scots was born in 1542 and died in 1587 at the hands of an executioner, she was also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland. Mary was the second cousin of Queen Elizabeth 1 of England and was queen consort of France from 10 July 1559 to 5 December 1560.

Mary, was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland, and she was a mere 6 days old when her father died and she succeeded to the Scottish throne. Mary clearly couldn't rule as an infant but was neverthless crowned nine months later. Mary enjoyed the majority of her childhood in France whilst Scotland was ruled by regents, and in 1558, she married Francis, Dauphin of France. This was the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France. He eventually ascended to the French throne as King Francis II in 1559 thus making Mary queen consort of France, until she was widowed in only a year later. Following her husbands death, Mary returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith in 1561, and began her rule as queen regnant. Four years passed and she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, but their marriage was not a happy affair. In 1567, his residence was destroyed by an explosion, and Darnley was found murdered in the grounds.

James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell, was believed to have organised Darnley's death, but he was acquitted of the charge and a month later he married Mary. Following an uprising against Mary and Bothwell, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. She was forced to abdicate the throne in favour of her one year old son James who had been fathered by Darnley. After a failed attempt to regain her throne, she fled seeking the protection of her second cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth's throne as her own and was considered to be the legitimate monarch of England by many English Catholics, including participants in a rebellion known as the Rising of the North. Seeing her as a threat, Elizabeth had Mary confined in various castles and manor houses in the interior of England. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of treasonous acts against Elizabeth, and was executed.

Mary's childhood and early reign

A popular legend surrounding Mary's birth, states that King James, hearing on his deathbed that his wife had given birth to a daughter, sadly exclaimed, "It came with a lass, it will pass with a lass!" The House of Stewart into which Mary was born had gained the Scottish throne of Scotland by the marriage of Marjorie Bruce, the daughter of Robert the Bruce, to Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland. The Crown had come to his family through a woman, and would be lost from his family through a woman. The dying Kings legendary statement did come true much later, not through Mary though, whose son by one of her Stewart cousins became king, but through his descendant Anne, who became Queen of Great Britain.

Mary was baptised at the nearby Church of St Michael not long after she had been born. Rumours started to circulate that she was rather weak and frail, but the English diplomat, Ralph Sadler, saw the youngster at Linlithgow Palace in March 1543, unwrapped by her nurse, and wrote, "it is as goodly a child as I have seen of her age, and as like to live." This comment managed to put the gossips to rest.

As Mary was far too young to rule when she inherited the throne, Scotland was ruled in her stead by regents until she became an adult. From the start, there were two different claims to the Regency, one from Catholic Cardinal Beaton, and the other from the Protestant Earl of Arran, who was next in line to the throne. Beaton's claim was based largely on a version of the late King's last will and testament that his opponents argued was a forgery. Arran, with the support of his friends and family, became the regent until 1554 when Mary's mother managed to remove and succeed him.

The Treaty of Greenwich

King Henry VIII of England took the opportunity of the regency to propose a marriage between Mary and his own son, Prince Edward, clearly hoping for a union of Scotland and England. When Mary was a mere six months old, the Treaty of Greenwich was signed, which stated that at the age of ten Mary would marry Edward and move to England, where Henry could supervise her upbringing. The treaty provided that the two countries could remain legally separate and that if the couple should fail to have children the temporary union would be dissolved. However, Cardinal Beaton once again rose to power and started to push a pro-Catholic pro-French agenda, which enraged the King of England, as Henry wanted to undermine and break the Scottish alliance with France. Beaton wanted to move Mary away from the coast to the relative safety of Stirling Castle. Regent Arran resisted this move, but backed down when Beaton's armed supporters started to gather at Linlithgow. The Earl of Lennox then escorted Mary and her mother to Stirling in 1543 with 3,500 armed men to protect them. Mary was crowned Queen in the castle chapel on 9 September 1543.

Just before Mary's coronation, Scottish merchants set off for France and were arrested at the order of Henry, and their goods were siezed. The Scottish arrests caused a great deal of anger in Scotland, and Arran joined Beaton and became a Catholic. The Greenwich Treaty was rejected by the Scottish Parliament in December. The rejection of the marriage treaty and the renewal of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland caused Henry to embark on what has become known as his "Rough Wooing" of Scotland, this was a military campaign designed to impose the marriage of Mary to his son. English forces conducted a series of raids on Scottish and French territory. In May 1544, the English Earl of Hertford raided Edinburgh, and the Scots swiftly took Mary to Dunkeld for her safety.

In May 1546, Beaton was murdered by Protestant lairds, and on 10 September 1547, nine months after the death of Henry VIII, the Scots suffered a bloody defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. Mary's guardians, fearing for her safety, sent her to Inchmahome Priory, and went to the French for assistance.

The French king, Henry II, proposed to unite France and Scotland by marrying the young queen to his three year old son, the Dauphin Francis. To secure French military help, and a French dukedom for himself, Arran quickly agreed to the marriage. In February 1548, Mary was moved, for reasons of safety, to Dumbarton Castle. The English left a trail of devastation and misery behind them once more, seizing the town of Haddington. In June, the French help arrived at Leith to besiege and ultimately take Haddington. On 7 July 1548, a Scottish Parliament held at a nunnery near the town agreed to a French marriage treaty.

Mary and her life in France

With her marriage agreement in place, five year old Mary was sent to France to spend the next thirteen years at the French court. The French naval fleet sent by Henry II, sailed with Mary from Dumbarton on 7 August 1548 and arrived a week or so later at Roscoff or Saint-Pol-de-Léon in Brittany. She was accompanied by her own court including two illegitimate half brothers, and four other girls her own age, all named Mary, who were the daughters of some of the richest and noblest families in Scotland. Janet, Lady Fleming, who was Mary Fleming's mother and James V's half sister, was appointed governess.

According to reports at the time, Mary was spirited, beautiful, and rather clever, and had quite a promising childhood. While staying at the French court, she was a favourite with most people, except Henry II's wife Catherine de' Medici. Mary learned to play lute and a type of harpsichord, she excelled in prose and was a gifted poet who enjoyed horse riding, falconry, and needlework, and was taught French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Greek, in addition to speaking her native Scots. Her future sister in law, Elisabeth of Valois, became a very close friend who Mary remembered fondly in her later life". Her maternal grandmother, Antoinette de Bourbon, was another strong influence on her childhood, and became one of her main advisors.

Mary was eloquent, and especially tall by sixteenth century standards at about 5 feet 11 inches, while Henry II's son and heir, Francis, stuttered and was very short. On 4 April 1558, Mary signed a secret agreement bequeathing Scotland and her claim to England to the French crown if she died without producing a child. Twenty days later, she married the Dauphin at Notre Dame de Paris, and Francis became king consort of Scotland.

Mary's claim to the English throne

After the death of King Henry VIII's elder daughter, Queen Mary I of England, often referred to as Bloody Mary because of her merciless persecution of Protestants, she was succeeded by her only surviving sister, Elizabeth I. Under the Third Succession Act, passed by the English Parliament, Elizabeth was the heir of Mary I of England, and Henry VIII's last will and testament had excluded the Stuarts from succeeding to the English throne. Yet, in the eyes of many Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate, and Mary Stuart, as the senior descendant of Henry VIII's elder sister, was the rightful queen of England. Henry II of France proclaimed his eldest son and his daughter in law king and queen of England, and in France they quartered the royal arms of England with their own. Mary's claim to the English throne was a lasting and thorny problem between her and Elizabeth I.

When Henry II died in 1559 from jousting injuries, The 15 year old Francis became King of France, with Mary, aged 16, as his queen consort. Two of Mary's uncles, the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, were now very dominant in French politics, and were enjoying an ascendancy referred to by some historians as la tyrannie Guisienne.

In Scotland, the power of the Protestant Lords was rising at the expense of Mary's mother, who could now only maintain effective control through her use of French troops. The Protestant Lords invited English troops into Scotland in a bid to secure Protestantism, and a Huguenot rising in France, called the Tumult of Amboise, in March 1560 made it impossible for the French to send further support. Instead, the Guise brothers sent ambassadors to try and negotiate a settlement. On 11 June 1560, their sister Mary of Guise died, and so the question of the succession and future Franco-Scots relations became even more pressing a matter. Under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, signed by Mary's representatives on 6 July 1560, France and England undertook to withdraw troops from Scotland and France and recognised Elizabeth's right to the throne of England. However, the 17 year old Mary, still in France and grieving for her mother, refused to ratify the treaty.

Mary's return to Scotland

King Francis II died on 5 December 1560, of a middle ear infection which led to an abscess in his brain. Her mother in law, Catherine de' Medici, became regent for the late king's ten year old brother Charles IX, who inherited the French throne.

Mary returned to Scotland nine months after her husband's death, arriving in Leith in 1561. Mary had lived in France since the age of five, and was somewhat out of touch with the dangerous and complex political workings of her Scottish homeland. As a devout Catholic, she was regarded with considerable suspicion by many of her subjects, as well as by Elizabeth, her father's cousin. Scotland was torn between Catholic and Protestant factions, and Mary's illegitimate half brother, the Earl of Moray, was a leader of the Protestant group. The Protestant reformer John Knox also spoke out against Mary, condemning her for hearing Mass, dancing, and dressing far too elaborately. She summoned him to appear before her to make a forcefully reproachful protest with him, but when this proved to be unsuccessfull, she had him charged with treason, but he was acquitted and later released.

Much to the disgust of the Catholic faction, Mary tolerated the newly established Protestant ascendancy, and kept her half brother Lord Moray as her chief advisor. Her privy council of 16 men, appointed in 1561, retained those who already held the offices of state and was dominated by Protestant leaders, only four of the councillors were Catholic. Some believe this state of affairs proves that, Mary's failure to appoint a council sympathetic to Catholic and French interests was an indication that she was more interested with the English throne over the internal problems of Scotland. Even the one significant later addition to the council was another Protestant whom Mary did not even like. In this, she was acknowledging her lack of effective military power in the face of the Protestant lords, while also following a policy which strengthened her links with England. She joined with Lord Moray in the destruction of Scotland's leading Catholic magnate, Lord Huntly, in 1562 after he led a rebellion in the Highlands against her.

Mary then sent William Maitland of Lethington as an ambassador to the English court to put the case for Mary as the heir presumptive to the English throne. Elizabeth refused to name a potential heir, fearing that to do so would cause others to conspire against her with the named successor. However, Elizabeth assured Maitland that she knew no one with a better claim than Mary. In late 1561 and early 1562, arrangements were made for the two queens to meet in England at York or Nottingham, but Elizabeth sent an envoy to cancel in July because of the civil war in France.

Mary then began to search out a new husband from the royalty of Europe. However, when her uncle the Cardinal of Lorraine began negotiations with Archduke Charles of Austria without her knowledge, she angrily objected and the negotiations were stopped. Her own attempt to negotiate a marriage to Don Carlos, the heir apparent of King Philip II of Spain, was rebuffed by Philip. Elizabeth attempted to neutralise Mary by suggesting that she marry English Protestant Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, whom Elizabeth trusted and thought she could control. She sent an ambassador to tell Mary that if she would marry an English nobleman, Elizabeth would "proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our next cousin and heir". This proposal came to nothing, not least because the intended bridegroom was rather unwilling.

A French poet at Mary's court, was absolutely besotted by Mary. He was once discovered during a security search, hidden underneath her bed, apparently planning to surprise her when she was alone and declare his love for her. Mary was horrified and banished him from Scotland. He ignored the order, and two days later, he forced his way into her chamber as she was about to undress. She reacted with anger and fear, and when Moray rushed into the room, in reaction to her cries for help, she shouted, "Thrust your dagger into the villain!", which Moray refused to do as the poet was already restrained by other guards. The poor poet was tried for treason, and beheaded. Some have claimed that the poets love for the Queen was not genuine, and was in fact part of a Huguenot plot to discredit Mary by tarnishing her reputation.

Mary's abdication and imprisonment in Scotland

Between 21 and 23 April 1567, Mary visited her son at Stirling for the last time. On her way back to Edinburgh on 24 April, Mary was abducted by Lord Bothwell and his men and taken to Dunbar Castle, there have been reports that he may have raped her there. On 6 May, Mary and Bothwell returned to Edinburgh and on 15 May, at either Holyrood Palace or Holyrood Abbey, they were married according to Protestant rites. Bothwell and his first wife, Jean Gordon, who was the sister of Lord Huntly, had divorced twelve days before.

Originally Mary believed that many nobles supported her marriage, but things soon turned sour between Mary, her consort and his old peers, and the marriage was very unpopular. Catholics considered the marriage unlawful, since they did not recognise Bothwell's divorce or the validity of the Protestant service. Both Protestants and Catholics were shocked that Mary should marry the man accused of murdering her husband. Twenty six Scottish peers, known as the confederate lords, turned against Mary and Bothwell and raised an army against them. Mary and Bothwell confronted the lords at Carberry Hill on 15 June, but there was no battle as Mary's forces became too insignificant owing to desertion during negotiations. Bothwell was given safe passage from the field, and the lords took Mary to Edinburgh, where crowds of spectators denounced her as an adulteress and a murderer. The following night, she was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. Between 20 July and 23 July, Mary miscarried twins. On 24 July, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one year old son James. Moray was made regent, while Bothwell was sent into exile in Denmark where he became insane and died in 1578.

Mary's escape and imprisonment in England

On 2 May 1568, Mary escaped from Loch Leven with the assistance of George Douglas, brother of Sir William Douglas, who owned the castle. She managed to raise an army of approximately 6000 men, and met Moray's smaller forces at the Battle of Langside on 13 May. She was defeated and escaped to the south; after spending the night at Dundrennan Abbey, she crossed the Solway Firth into England by fishing boat on 16 May. She landed at Workington in Cumberland in the north of England and stayed overnight at Workington Hall. On 18 May, she was taken into protective custody at Carlisle Castle by local the officials.

Quite surprisingly, Mary expected Queen Elizabeth to help her regain her Scottish throne. Elizabeth was cautious, and ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the confederate lords and the question of whether Mary was guilty of the murder of Darnley. Mary was moved by the English authorities to Bolton Castle in 1568, because it was further from the Scottish border but not too close to London. A commission was held in York and later Westminster between October 1568 and January 1569. In Scotland, her supporters fought a civil war against Regent Moray and his successors.

Mary's Death

On 11 August 1586, Mary was arrested after being implicated in the Babington Plot. In a successful attempt to entrap her, Walsingham had arranged for Mary's letters to be smuggled out of Chartley. Mary was misled into thinking her letters were secure and private, while in reality they were deciphered and read by Walsingham. From these letters it was clear that Mary had sanctioned the attempted assassination of Queen Elizabeth. She was moved to Fotheringay Castle in a four day journey ending on 25 September, and in October was put on trial for treason under the Act for the Queen's Safety before a court of 36 noblemen. Mary denied all charges and claimed in her defence that she was denied the opportunity to review the evidence or her papers that had been removed from her, that she was denied access to legal counsel and that as a foreign anointed queen she had never been an English subject and thus could not be convicted of treason.

Mary was convicted on 25 October and sentenced to death. However, Elizabeth hesitated to order her execution, even in the face of pressure from the English Parliament to carry out the sentence. She was concerned that the killing of a queen set a bad precedent, and was worried about the consequences, especially if, Mary's son James formed an alliance with the Catholic powers and invaded England in retaliation. Queen Elizabeth even asked Mary's final custodian, if he would contrive a clandestine way to shorten the life of Mary, which he refused to do on the grounds that his conscience would not permit this course of action. On 1 February 1587, Elizabeth signed the death warrant, and entrusted it to William Davison, a privy councillor. On the 3rd, ten members of the Privy Council of England, having been summoned by Cecil without Elizabeth's knowledge, decided to carry out the sentence at once.

Mary's execution

At Fotheringhay on the evening of 7 February 1587, Mary was told that she was to be executed the very next morning. She spent the last hours of her life deep in prayer, giving her belongings to her household, and writing her will and a letter to the King of France. The scaffold that was built in the Great Hall was two feet high and draped in black. It was reached by two or three steps and furnished with the block, a cushion for her to kneel on and three stools, for her and the earls of Shrewsbury and Kent, who were there to witness her execution. The executioners knelt before her and asked her for forgiveness. She replied, "I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles." Her servants and the executioners helped Mary to remove her outer garments, revealing a velvet petticoat, satin bodice and a pair of sleeves all in dark red, the liturgical colour of martyrdom in the Catholic Church. As she disrobed she smiled and said that she "never had such grooms before ... nor ever put off her clothes before such a company". Mary was blindfolded with a white veil embroidered in gold, and knelt down on the cushion in front of the block. She positioned her head on the block and stretched out her arms. Her last words were, "In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum", which translates to "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit".

Mary was not beheaded with a single downward swing of the axe. The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. The second blow severed her neck, except for a small bit of sinew, which the executioner cut through using the axe. Afterward, he held her head up and declared, "God save the Queen." According to reports, the auburn hair in his hand turned out to be a wig and the head fell to the ground, revealing that Mary had very short, grey hair. A small dog owned by the queen, a Skye terrier, is said to have been hiding among her skirts, unseen by the spectators. Following the execution, it refused to be parted from Mary's body and was covered in her blood, until it was forcibly taken away and washed. Items supposedly worn or carried by Mary at her execution are, according to contemporary accounts, gone forever and that all her clothing, the block, and everything touched by her blood was burned in the fireplace of the Great Hall to defeat those who would seek souvenirs of her or the occasion of her death.