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The Mary, Queen of Scots You Don’t Know


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Teresa Limjoco, MD - Regina Magazine - published on 08/19/14 - updated on 06/08/17

When she refused, Darnley’s friends convinced him she was having an affair with her secretary, David Rizzio. On March 9, 1566, Rizzio was murdered in the presence of Mary – by then five months pregnant – as they dined at Holyrood Palace. Darnley, emerging from behind a tapestry, seized Mary to restrain her as Rizzio was stabbed before her eyes by a band of conspirators.

Hence, Mary became Darnley’s captive at Holyrood Palace. Banned from having attendants, she pretended to miscarry and pleaded for her midwife. Realizing his stake in the matter through his unborn offspring, Darnley relented and granted her request.

Under such stress, Mary would soon give birth to James VI of Scotland and I of England. She was delighted with her son, and the fact that she now had a male heir.

Murder and Palace Intrigue

For his part, the vicious Darnley would soon perish in a plot involving the brash Earl of Bothwell and some Scottish lords.

On the night of 9 February, 1567, the Old Provost’s Lodging in Edinburgh where Darnley was staying was reduced to rubble in an explosion. Next morning two corpses were found in a garden below – Darnley, in his nightshirt, and his valet. Because their bodies were unmarked, Elizabeth’s spies reported that they escaped before the explosion but had then been killed, possibly by asphyxiation, by Bothwell’s men.

An ‘Unseemly’ Marriage

Mary’s astuteness helped her deal with Darnley and the unruly lords, but she was also ready to forgive, trust again and reward those who showed sympathy to her causes: safeguarding her throne and promoting peace in Scotland.

In a palace full of intrigue and murder, she trusted Bothwell – an unwise choice, as it turned out. He kidnapped her and held her captive in Dunbar Castle. Not one laird came to Mary’s rescue during these twelve days of captivity. Feeling deserted by all, and fearing for herself and her child, Mary agreed to wed Bothwell – who’d allegedly raped her so she’d have to marry him to save her honor.

In any event, her decision to marry the arrogant, profane Bothwell was considered most unseemly, following too closely on Darnley’s murder. Was it merely a desperate bid for self-preservation and protection for her infant son?

Perhaps Mary grew weary of the endless turbulence around her, but the affair sullied her standing even among supporters. Whatever the reason, now the Scottish lords were jealous of Bothwell, and Mary was on a rollercoaster to ruin. She escaped to England the next year, hoping for sympathy from Elizabeth.

It was not to be. “Good Queen Bess” had Mary arrested; she was held for nineteen years. Her son was taken from her, and raised Protestant under the watchful eye of "Gloriana."

The Murder of a Catholic Queen

Nevertheless, born to rule, even in captivity Mary avidly embraced her queenly role and right. She never relinquished her claim to the Scottish throne despite schemes to depose her. And she remained a faithful daughter of the Church to the end. Her faith especially deepened in her last two decades of house confinement.

Mary was sentenced to death for plotting to assassinate Elizabeth.

Today, more unbiased scholars maintain that it was impossible for her to have been directly involved in the conspiracy, but the verdict was likely decided even before her trial. Removing Mary permanently from the scene was the longstanding goal of Elizabeth’s chief counselor and Mary’s nemesis, William Cecil (Lord Burghley).

On September 9, 1587, her execution day, she was denied access to a Catholic priest. The Protestant minister who saw her even dared to convert her. When the executioner begged her forgiveness, as was customary, she told him, ‘I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.’

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