Tragic Facts About The Life Of Mary, Queen Of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular Mary, debuted in December 2018 to considerable reviews and made $15.6 million at the box office. But one of the biggest qualms people have about the movie is its historical inaccuracy. Still, you’ve got to give Hollywood credit for even bringing Mary Stuart’s unbelievable story to light in the present day. From the moment she was born, Mary would face one tragedy after another – and it seemed that being the Queen of Scots wouldn’t help in the slightest. Here are some tragically true facts about Mary, Queen of Scots.

She may have been the Queen of Scots, but wait until you find out why she wouldn’t have had a Scottish accent…

Mary Was Six Days Old When She Became Queen

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Born Mary Stuart on December 8, 1542, she was the only legitimate child of Scottish King James V and his French second wife, Mary of Guise. After the Battle of Solway Moss, King James V had fallen ill and was already on his deathbed when his daughter Mary was born.

He is said to have collapsed, which historians believe was caused by a fever contracted from drinking contaminated water on the battlefield. So six days after her birth, Mary ascended the throne as the new Queen of Scotland, relying on regents to rule until she took full command at 19.

Mary Got Engaged At Five Years Old

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Immediately, there were people vying to secure Mary’s hand in marriage in an effort to gain control of Scotland. Under the Treaty of Greenwich, she was initially arranged to marry English King Henry VIII’s son Edward, but that was canceled once Henry decided to arrest some Scottish merchants headed to France.

Over mutual distrust of England, Scotland formed an alliance with France. French King Henry II agreed to offer Scotland military support on promise that their countries would unite under the marriage of Mary to his son, Francis II. Mary was sent to live in the French court at age five.

Mary Was Queen Consort Of France For A Year

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Mary and Francis lived a charmed life and got along well growing up together. They formally married when she was 16 and he was 14 in 1558. A year later, they both became King and Queen of France when Henry II died in a freak jousting accident.

Their reign came to an abrupt end in 1560 when Francis contracted a middle ear infection. It got so bad that an abscess formed in his brain and killed him. His ten-year-old brother ascended the throne and a grief-stricken Mary returned to her native Scotland nine months later.

Of course, Mary had another marriage – and she’d come out of that one as a murder suspect!

Mary’s Second Husband Was The Worst

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In February 1565, Mary met her half-first cousin Lord Darnely and fell head over heels, believing him to be "the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen" (he was over six feet tall). They got married five months later, making Darnley the king consort of Scotland. Then his true colors came to light.

Underneath his alleged good looks, Darnley proved himself to be a vain, arrogant man with a violent streak encouraged by alcohol. He demanded the Crown Matrimonial, which would make him co-sovereign of Scotland, but Mary refused. Things only got worse from there.

Lord Darnley Had Mary’s Secretary Killed Right In Front Of Her

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Mary became pregnant within a year of marrying Lord Darnley, though their marriage remained strained. Darnley grew jealous of Mary’s friendship with her personal secretary, David Rizzio, and he believed that Rizzio was the one who impregnated Mary.

In March 1566, Darnley conspired to have Rizzio killed. He interrupted a dinner party where he accused a five-months-pregnant Mary of adultery before having someone murder Rizzio right before her eyes. Darnley denied involvement with the murder, but Mary hardly trusted him after that. Later, two of his accomplices wrote to Mary’s court saying that Darnley had initiated the murder.

Mary Was A Suspect In Lord Darnley’s Death

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Mary’s son James was born in June 1566, but her marriage with Darnley was irrevocably broken after Rizzio’s murder. On top of that, Darnley wasn’t well-liked among others in the Scottish court.

Eight months later, Darnley allegedly had syphillis and went to Kirk o’Field to recover. Despite their differences, Mary visited the ailing Darnley daily until she had to attend a wedding February 1567. While she was away, an explosion occured underneath Darnley’s sleeping chambers but he was mysteriously found strangled to death outside in an orchard. It wasn’t long before fingers were pointed at Mary.

Unsurprisingly, Mary would end up in prison – but not before she got married a third time…

She Was Exonerated Almost 500 Years Later

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Mary was a prime suspect in Darnley’s death, especially because of Rizzio’s murder months earlier. It was determined several weeks later, however, that some of Darnley’s own kinsmen – who were also upset about Rizzio – had carried out the king consort’s death. Still, many suspect Mary was behind it all.

In 2015, someone submitted an official inquiry into Mary, Queen of Scots’ involvement with Darnley’s death. Professor Sue Black of the University of Dundee performed a contemporary investigation of the murder, based on accounts and illustrations of the 16th-century crime scene and determined that there was no way Mary could have been involved.

Mary’s Third Husband Forced Her To Marry Him

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James Hepburn a.k.a. Earl of Bothwell, was an advisor in Mary’s court and another prime suspect in Darnley death. On April 12, 1567, Bothwell was acquitted of the murder through the Ainsile Tavern Bond, signed by more than two dozen lords and bishops, which also supported his quest to wed Mary.

He then intercepted her on her way to Edinburgh and took her to his castle at Dunbar. It’s widely believed that he pretty much abducted and “took advantage” of her in this incident. Regardless, they were married by May 15, a mere 12 days after his hasty divorce from his first wife.

Mary Was Imprisoned And Forced To Abdicate The Throne

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Mary’s third marriage, of course, was disastrous. She didn’t have the support she thought she did, as many believed she shouldn’t have married the man accused of killing her husband. The marriage discredited Mary’s authority among many Scottish nobles who didn’t trust Bothwell.

Enough people turned against them and Mary was denounced as a adulteress and murderer. She was eventually imprisoned at a castle on an island in the middle of Loch Leven, where she miscarried twins. On July 24, 1567, she was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favor of her first-born, James. Meanwhile, Bothwell was driven into exile.

It technically wouldn’t be Mary’s only stint in prison either, as you’ll see soon…

Mary Never Saw Her Son James Again

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In 1567, after she was forced to give up her throne to her son and sent away to prison, Mary would never see him again for the rest of her life. Anointed the King of Scots at just over a year old, James would also never really get to know his mother.

Contrary to his mother’s Catholic upbringing, James was brought up as Protestant in accordance with the religious beliefs of most of the Scottish ruling class. According to some reports, he learned from his own tutor that Scotland was right in dethroning his mother.

She Still Managed To Break Out Of Prison

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After a year, Mary successfully broke out of prison. George Douglas, brother of Sir William Douglas who owned Loch Leven Castle, helped Mary make her great escape. On May 2, 1568, May Day festivities had most of the island drunk off wine. It was the perfect distraction for Mary to walk out of the castle in plain sight.

The former Douglas assisted Mary to a boat that was waiting to take her to freedom at the castle of Niddry. Mary enjoyed her freedom for about two weeks before her supporters were defeated in a battle against her half-brother Lord Moray, who was serving as infant King James’ regent.

Her Cousin Elizabeth Betrayed Her For Over A Decade

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Mary’s cousin Elizabeth I reigned over England since 1558. But many believed that Mary was the rightful heir to the English throne since her paternal grandmother was Margaret Tudor, which made Mary the senior surviving legitimate descendant of Henry VII.

Pen pals throughout much of their lives, Elizabeth even acknowledged Mary’s claim to the English throne. She was even there to welcome Mary after her escape from prison. But after Mary became the focus of English Catholic and Spanish plots to overthrow Elizabeth, the latter locked Mary up in various castles throughout England for almost 20 years.

And after all that time essentially locked up, her demise would be unanimous – even after she tried standing up for herself.

Elizabeth Employed Spies To Gather Evidence Against Mary

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As Mary frequently became the center of plots to take out Elizabeth, the Queen of England had to employ her own secret service to take out conspirators and keep an eye on Mary. Elizabeth hired lawyer Francis Walsingham as her spy master.

Using a multitude of decoding methods to decipher secret messages in letters, he discovered that Mary was corresponding with a young Catholic named Anthony Babington. Walsingham employed a spy named Gifford as a double agent to intercept the letters that were delivered and sent from Mary.

Mary Reportedly Ordered Her Cousin’s Assassination

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Babington was recruited by John Ballard, a Jesuit priest who wanted to rescue Mary from her imprisonment. Babington and Ballard’s plans were easy for Walsingham to uncover – considering that they often discussed their plans in public – so he focused on using this info to implicate Mary.

Mary wrote back to Babington in code on July 17, 1586. Walsingham’s spies decoded the letter, discovering that Mary not only gave her blessing to go forth with the plot, but she also expressed her desire to be rescued – as well as ordering her rescuers to assassinate her cousin Mary.

Mary’s Defense Wasn’t Enough To Save Her

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Mary, Queen of Scots was implicated in the Babington Plot and arrested on August 11, 1586, an entire 18 years after she started the house arrest imposed by Elizabeth. The following month, she was tried for treason, denying the charges on the grounds that she was a foreign anointed queen and since she was never an English subject, she couldn’t be guilty of treason.

Mary was also denied the opportunity to review evidence and access to legal counsel. She also stated that her letters were taken without her knowledge. On October 25, she was still convicted and sentenced to death.

And as you’ll see, the death wasn’t easy…

She Viewed Herself As A Catholic Martyr Upon Her Death

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Having been brought up in France, Mary was far removed from the religious and political turmoil in her homeland. As she was raised a Catholic, Protestant and Catholic factions in Scotland were up in arms. When Mary returned to Scotland to take her place as queen back in 1561, Protestant reformer John Knox was vehemently preached against her.

So it makes sense that hours before her death, she wrote her final letter to her brother-in-law the King of France, asking for prayers “offered to God for a queen who has borne the title Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions.”

The Executioner Asked Mary For Forgiveness

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Mary, Queen of Scots, arrived to her death with dignity. Within the Great Hall at Fotheringhay Castle, a scaffold was erected and draped in black cloth. It was furnished with the block and a cushion for Mary to kneel on. Three stools were also set up; two for the witnesses and one for Mary.

As it was typical to ask the pardon of the one being put to death, the executioner knelt before Mary and asked her forgiveness to which she replied, “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.”

At The Very Least, Mary Went Out In Style

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Mary removed her outer garments before the execution. On the day of her death, Mary wore a velvet petticoat with a black satin bodice and trimmings. Her sleeves were colored crimson brown, the liturgical color of martyrdom in the Catholic Church. She was then blindfolded by a white veil with gold embroidery.

Mary then willingly knelt down on the cushion and positioned her head on the block. She stretched out her arms as she said her last words: “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum, meum,” which translates to “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Her Death Wasn’t Swift And Painless – And There Was A Puppy

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Somehow it took multiple tries to successfully behead Mary. On the first blow, the executioner missed her neck and struck her on the back of her head. With the second blow, she was almost completely decapitated, but the executioner had to cut through a bit of sinew with his axe.

After the deed was done, there were multiple reports that the queen’s small dog emerged from her skirt, terrified and drenched in blood. Other eyewitness accounts noted that Mary’s signature auburn hair was merely a wig and that she actually had short, grey hair.

Mary’s Son Became King Anyway

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Because Queen Elizabeth I feared her cousin would take her place on the English throne, Mary, Queen of Scots was met with a grisly death. Ironically, it would be Mary’s posterity that would reign anyway. As son of the Queen of Scots and great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, James was slated to accede all three thrones anyway.

Because Elizabeth died childless, Mary’s son James was named her heir apparent. During his reign, he ordered his mother’s body to be exhumed in 1612 and re-interred at Westminster Abbey. Mary’s final resting place is now opposite the tomb of her cousin Elizabeth for all of eternity.