Mary, Queen of Scots (AKA Mary Stuart) is one of history’s most disastrous queens. From the time she became an infant monarch to her tragic demise, Mary attracted attention. And she still does. For centuries, novels, television shows (see the CW's Reign for an example), and even songs have reviled and romanticized her. So behind all the legends and mythology surrounding her, what are the important facts about Mary Stuart?
Born in 1542 and killed in 1587, Mary’s four-and-a-half decades on Earth were as dramatic as they were tumultuous. She was a Scottish queen reared in France, a Catholic ruler to an increasingly Protestant kingdom, and a terrible judge of men – it seemed the deck was stacked against Mary at every turn.
But if she had problems holding onto her throne, her cousin Elizabeth Tudor didn't make things any easier. Mary, Queen of Scots’s family tree revealed that she was a direct descendant of Henry VII and thus a claimant to Elizabeth I’s English throne. That fact loomed over their relationship: Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth were the original cousin frenemies. Their rivalry would end in death for the ill-fated Scottish queen.
The biography of Mary, Queen of Scots is heartbreaking. She was a queen who only actually ruled Scotland for just shy of six years. But in those six years, enough drama and trauma ensued to ensure that she would go down in history as one of the most storied queens of all time.
Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace outside of Edinburgh on December 7 or 8, 1542 – she succeeded her father to the throne six days later. James V had unfortunately died from disease some believe he may have contracted from drinking contaminated water. So the infant Queen relied on regents – including her formidable French mother Marie of Guise – to rule on her behalf. She would not take full command of her throne until she was 19 years old.
Mary's mother secured a marriage with the royal house in France, which was part of an "Auld Alliance" with Scotland. Following the principle "my enemy's enemy is my friend," France and Scotland had been building an alliance for centuries through their shared hatred of England. So Mary of Guise sent 5-year-old Mary to the French court for safe keeping. Her intended, the heir to the French throne, was barely out of diapers – Francis was 3. For the next several years, Mary's happy home became the French court, replete with intrigue, luxury, and politics.
Mary and Francis properly married when she was 15. It proved to be a happy – if brief – marriage, and it is unclear if it was ever consummated.
Mary's first husband was the young dauphin, or heir, to the French throne, Francis II. So when her father-in-law King Henry II died in a tragic jousting accident in 1559, young Francis took the throne with Mary as his queen. The reign was brief; Francis would die only 17 months later of an ear condition. Without her husband, the French court lost the charms and delights it had once held for Mary. Catherine de Medici became regent, ruling in the stead of her 10-year-old son Charles. As a result, Mary soon returned to Scotland to take up her royal duties.
Mary knew that her second marriage had to count, so she chose Lord Darnley, a handsome cousin with an impeccable pedigree and a legitimate claim to both the Scottish and English thrones, as her second husband. Though Mary was attracted to his looks as much as his connections – she once described him as the "lustiest and best proportioned man" she had seen – the marriage proved to be a disaster. Darnley quickly proved himself to be a vain cad and drunkard. Moreover, Darnley probably had syphilis.