Mary, Queen of Scots (7/8 December 1542 – 8 February 1587), also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, was queen regnant of Scotland from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567 and queen consort of France from 10 July 1559 to 5 December 1560.
She was the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England, as her paternal grandmother,Margaret Tudor, was Henry VIII’s sister.
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.
With her marriage agreement in place, five-year-old Mary was sent to France to spend the next thirteen years at the French court.
Vivacious, beautiful, and clever (according to contemporary accounts), Mary had a promising childhood. While in the French court, she was a favourite with everyone, except Henry II’s wife Catherine de’ Medici.
After the death of Henry VIII’s elder daughter, Queen Mary I of England, in November 1558, she was succeeded by her only surviving sibling, Elizabeth I. Under the Third Succession Act, passed in 1543 by the Parliament of England, Elizabeth was recognised as her sister’s heir, 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.
When Henry II died on 10 July 1559 from injuries sustained in a joust, fifteen-year-old Francis became King of France, with Mary, aged sixteen, as his queen consort.
King Francis II died on 5 December 1560, of a middle ear infection which led to an abscess in his brain. Mary was grief-stricken.Her mother-in-law, Catherine de’ Medici, became regent.
Widowed, Mary returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith on 19 August 1561. Four years later, she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, but their union was unhappy. In February 1567, his residence was destroyed by an explosion, and Darnley was found murdered in the garden.
James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was generally believed to have orchestrated Darnley’s death, but he was acquitted of the charge in April 1567, and the following month he married Mary. On 24 July 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favour of James, her one-year-old son by Darnley.
After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southwards seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics, including participants in a rebellion known as the Rising of the North. Perceiving her as a threat, Elizabeth had her confined in a number of castles and manor houses in the interior of England. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth, and was subsequently executed.
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