Marlene Dietrich

This is why I wanted to start a history blog, so I can come across people or events I’ve never heard about. When I was looking up #OnThisDay, I came across an actress by the name of Marlene Dietrich, born Marie Magdalene Dietrich. Looking up pictures of her, she seemed like a classy lady, I needed to know more.

Well, wasn’t I surprised on what I found out.


On 27 December 1901, Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine (who was from a wealthy Berlin Family who owned a jewellery and clock making firm), and Louis Erich Otto Dietrich (a police lieutenant), had their second daughter, Marie Magdalene Dietrich in the neighbourhood of Rote Insel in Schoneberg, now a district of Berlin.

Their first daughter, Elisabeth, was a year older than Marie Magdalene Dietrich.

In 1907, Marie’s father dies and his best friend, Eduard von Losch, an aristocratic first lieutenant in the Grenadiers, courted his widowed wife, Wilhelmina, and in 1916 they married. Eduard never officially adopted Elisabeth and Marie, so their surnames remained Dietrich. He died not long after marrying Wilhelmina due to injuries from the first world war.

She changed her name at the age of eleven. Her family nickname was Lena and Lene, so she joined her two first names to form “Marlene”.

From 1907 to 1917, she attended the Auguste-Viktoria Girls’ School, graduating in 1918 at Victoria-Luise-Schule. She studied violin, and hoped to one day be a concert violinist. Her first job was playing violin in a pit orchestra for silent films in 1922, but she was fired after only four weeks.

Auguste-Viktoria Girls’ School

I have read that she faked having an injured wrist to get out of it. Also, Weimar Berlin introduced her to the “nightlife”, which she couldn’t resist.

Marlene was bisexual, quietly enjoying the thriving gay scene of the time and drag balls of the 1920s Berlin. She also defied conventional gender roles through her boxing at Turkish trainer and prize fighter, Sabri Mahir, boxing studio in Berlin, which opened to women in the late 1920s.

I don’t know how Marlene went from playing the violin to acting, (could be the “nightlife”) but her earliest professional stage appearances were as a chorus girl on tour with Guido Thielscher’s Girl-Kabarett vaudeville-style entertainments, and in Rudolf Nelson revues in Berlin.

In 1922, Marlene auditioned unsuccessfully for theatrical director and impresario Max Reinhardt’s drama academy. However, not long after, she was working in his theatres as a chorus girl and playing small roles in dramas. She made her film debut playing in a bit part in the film “The Little Napoleon” in 1923. At first, she didn’t attract any special attention.

Marlene Dietrich and husband Rudolf Sieber aboard the Normandie in 1937 (
Rudolf Sieber and Marlene Dietrich

In 1923, while on the set of Tragodie der Liebe, she met her future husband, Rudolf Sieber. They married in a civil ceremony in Berlin on 17 May 1923. And on 13 December 1924, she gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Maria Elisabeth Sieber.

Throughout the 1920’s, Marlene continued to work on stage and in film both in Berlin and Vienna. On stage, she had roles in varying importance in Frank Wedekind’s “Pandora’s Box”, William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, as well as George Bernard Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah” and “Misalliance”.

What attracted most attention was her roles in musicals and revues such as “Broadway”, “Es Liegt in der Luft”, and “Zwei Krawatten”. By the late 1920s, Marlene was playing big parts on screen, “Café Elektric” 1927, “Ich Kusse Ihre Hand, Madame” 1928, and “Das Schiff der Verlorenen Menschen” 1929.

It wasn’t until 1929 that Marlene landed her breakthrough role of Lola Lola, a cabaret singer who caused the downfall of a hitherto respectable schoolmaster, played by Emil Jannings, in the UFA-Paramount co-production of “The Blue Angel” 1930. Director Josef von Sternberg took credit for having discovered Marlene. The film also introduced her signature song “Falling in Love Again”, which she recorded for Electrola and later made further recordings in the 1930s for Polydor and Decca Records.

Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel

On the success of “The Blue Angel” and with the encouragement and promotion from director Josef von Sternberg, who was already established in Hollywood, Marlene moved to the United States under contract to Paramount Pictures. The studio set to market Marlene as a German answer to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Swedish sensation, Greta Garbo.

On her arrival to America, Josef von Sternberg welcomed her with gifts, including a green Rolls-Royce Phantom II, which later appeared in their first US film, “Morocco”.

Between 1930 and 1935, Marlene starred in six films directed by Josef von Sternberg with Paramount. They worked together to create the image of a glamourous and mysterious femme fatale, also encouraging her to lose weight and coaching her intensively as an actress. Not sure if it was her drive to become a famous actress, but she would willingly follow his sometimes-imperious direction in a way that a number of other performers resisted.

In the film “Morocco” she was again cast as a cabaret singer. The films most memorable moment was when Marlene was performing a song dressed in a man’s white tie and kissing another woman, both provocative and unheard of for that era. “Morocco” earned Marlene her first and only Academy Award nomination.

In 1931 the film “Dishonored” was released, a major success with Marlene cast as a Mata Hari-like spy. “Shanghai Express” released in 1932, which was dubbed by critics as “Grand Hotel on wheels”, was Josef von Sternberg and Marlene’s biggest box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1932. Winning best cinematography at the 5th Academy Awards.

Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express

Marlene and Josef von Sternberg worked together again on the romance “Blonde Venus”. But in 1933, for the first time in three years, Marlene worked without Josef von Sternberg on the romantic drama “Song of Songs”. Under the direction of Rouben Mamoulian, she played a naïve German peasant.

The last two films Marlene did with Josef von Sternberg were “The Scarlet Empress” 1934, and “The Devil Is a Woman” 1935, both being the most stylized of their collaborations, were their lowest-grossing films.

Later on, Marlene remarked that she was at her most beautiful in “The Devil Is a Woman”.

The Devil is a Woman 27
The Devil is a Woman

Josef von Sternberg was exceptionally skilled in lighting and photographing Marlene perfectly. He knew how to use light and shadow to it’s advantage. This combined with the precise detail to set design and costumes, made these films visually stylish in cinema history.

Critics debate if it was Josef von Sternberg or Marlene that made this possible, but they do say that once Paramount fired Josef and he no longer worked with Marlene, things were no longer the same.

I believe it’s both that made their films visually pleasing. You make a film with everyone working together to create something special.

For Josef and Marlene to create seven films together is a feat on its own. Maybe, they could’ve made more, we will never know.

Marlene’s first film after her partnership with Josef von Sternberg was with Frank Borzage’s “Desire” in 1936. A success that gave Marlene an opportunity to try romantic comedy. Her next film, “I Loved a Soldier” in 1936, was scrapped several weeks into production due to script problems, scheduling confusion and the studio’s decision to fire director, Ernst Lubitsch.

Annex - Dietrich, Marlene (Knight Without Armor)_NRFPT_01
Knight Without Armour

Not long after, she received an extravagant offer that lured her away from Paramount Pictures to make her first colour film, “The Garden of Allah” (1936) with independent producer David O. Selznick, receiving $200,000. Then to Britain for Alexander Korda’s production, “Knight Without Armour” in 1937, receiving a salary of $450,000. Which, at the time, made her one of the best paid film stars.

While she was in London, officials of the Nazi Party approached Marlene, offering her a lucrative contract to return to Germany as a foremost film star in the Third Reich. She refused their offer and applied for a US citizenship in 1937.

While both films were well received at the box office, her vehicles were costly to produce and her public popularity had declined. Also around this time, she was placed 126th in box office rankings.

She returned back to America and Paramount Pictures to film another romantic comedy, “Angel” in 1937, by director Ernst Lubitsch. Unfortunately, the film was poorly received, which led to Paramount to buy out the remainder of her contract.

In May 1938, American film exhibitors proclaimed her “box office poison”, which she also shared with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Mae West, Katharine Hepburn, Norma Shearer, Dolores del Rio and Fred Astaire to name a few.

With the encouragement from Josef von Sternberg in 1939, she accepted producer Joe Pasternak’s offer to play in her first film in two years. A cowboy saloon girl, Frenchie, in the western-comedy “Destry Rides Again”, opposite James Stewart. Even though she was significantly paid less than previous roles, the bawdy role revived her career. Even her song she introduced in the film, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have”, became a success when she recorded it for Decca.

Destry Rides Again opposite James Stewart

She played similar roles in “Seven Sinners” in 1940, and “The Spoilers” in 1942, both opposite John Wayne.

Besides acting, Marlene was also known for having strong political convictions. In the late 1930, Marlene, director Billy Wilder and several other Germans, started a fund to help Jews and dissidents to escape Germany. Her entire salary for “Knight Without Armour”, $450,000, was put into escrow to help the refugees.

In 1939, after applying in 1937, she becomes an American citizen and renounces her German citizenship.

In December 1941, the United States join World War II. Marlene was one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943, reportedly having sold more war bonds than any other star.

Marlene and Rita Hayworth Hollywood Canteen on 17 November 1942

During two extended tours for the USO in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, the United Kingdom, and France. Then even going into Germany with General James M. Gavin and General George S. Patton. When asked why she had gone within in a few kilometres of German lines, she replied, “aus Anstand” (“out of decency”). Director Billy Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower.

Singing a soldiers cast on 24 November 1944

Her performance, with Danny Thomas as her opening act for the first tour, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw (a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in berlin in the 1920s) and a pretend “mindreading” act, which director and close friend, Orson Welles, had taught her. She would inform the audiences that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!” And what do you know, American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of her act. I wonder what their thoughts were on the film “Morocco”?

In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project. A musical propaganda broadcast designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene was the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for the Musak project. She recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including “Lili Marleen”, a favourite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Major General William J. Donovan, head of the OSS, wrote to Marlene, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for us”.

When the war ended in Europe, Marlene was reunited with her sister Elisabeth, her sister’s husband and their son. They had lived in the German city of Belsen throughout the war years, running a cinema that was frequented by Nazi officers and officials who oversaw the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

She vouched on behalf of her sister and brother-in-law, sheltering them from possible prosecution as Nazi collaborators. But Marlene would later omit the existence of her sister and her nephew from all accounts of her life, completely disowning them and claiming to be an only child.

Marlene’s mother remained in Berlin during the war.

In November 1947, Marlene received the Medal of Freedom. She said this was her proudest accomplishment. She was also awarded by the French government the Legion d’honneur, for her wartime work.

Marlene’s film acting career, however, never regained her former screen glory, but she continued acting in films for such as;

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright” 1950

Fritz Lang’s “Rancho Notorious” 1952

Billy Wilder’s “A Foreign Affair” 1948 and “Witness for the Prosecution” 1957

Orson Welles’s “Touch of Evil” 1958

Caricature by Hans_Georg Pfannmüller (1954)

Besides those films, she worked almost exclusively as a highly paid cabaret artist from the early 1950s until mid-1970s, performing live in large theatres in major cities worldwide.

In 1953, she was offered $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. A short show consisting only of a few songs.

A dress designed by Jean Louis, heavily beaded evening gown of silk soufflé, which gave the illusion of transparency. It was daringly sheer for this time, but of course Marlene pushes boundaries. This “nude dress” created a lot of publicity.

Her performance, or dress, was so successful that, not only was her Las Vegas contract was renewed but, she was signed to appear at the Café de Paris in London the following year.

During the mid-1950s, Marlene employed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger. They refined her nightclub act into more of a theatrical one-woman show, with more songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. This arrangement helped disguise her limited vocal range as she was a contralto, which is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type.

500 Marlene Dietrich illusion dressShe would often perform the first part of her show in a body-hugging dress and a swansdown coat, and later change to a top hat and tails for the second half. This allowed her to sing songs usually associated with male singers, like “One for My Baby” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”.

Can you imagine 50 or more years ago from this time period, a woman dressed in “men’s clothing”. I would love to be there to see people’s reaction, she seems like a woman who was setting trends not following.

In 1960, Marlene returned to West Germany for a concert tour that was met with mixed response. Despite a consistently negative press, protests by chauvinistic Germans who felt like she betrayed her homeland, chanting “Marlene Go Home!”, and two bomb threats, her performance attracted huge crowds. Even though she wasn’t welcomed by all the German people, she was warmly welcomed by other Germans including Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, who was as an opponent of the Nazis.

The tour was an artistic triumph, but a financial failure. She was emotionally drained by the hostility she encountered, leaving convinced she would never visit again. East Germany, however, received her well. Around this time, she also went on tour in Israel, which was also well received. She would also become the first woman and German to receive the Israeli Medallion of Valor in 1965, “in recognition for her courageous adherence to principle and consistent record of friendship for the Jewish people”.

Marlene in Israel 1960

During her engagement at the Queen’s Theatre, she recorded her concert album “Dietrich in London” in 1964.

Marlene and Burt Bacharach recorded four albums and several singles together between 1957 and 1964. It was an interview in 1971, where she credited Burt Bacharach for giving her the inspiration to perform during those years.

Burt Bacharach left Marlene and devoted his time to song writing. She later wrote in her memoir;

“From that fateful day on, I have worked like a robot, trying to recapture the wonderful woman he helped make out of me. I even succeeded in this effort for years, because I always thought of him, always longed for him, always looked for him in the wings, and always fought against self-pity…He had become so indispensable to me that, without him, I no longer took much joy in singing. When he left me, I felt like giving everything up. I had lost my director, my support, my teacher, my maestro”.

Between 1967 and 1968, she performed on Broadway twice and won a special Tony Award in 1968.

In November 1972, “I Wish You Love”, a version of Marlene’s Broadway show titled “An Evening With Marlene Dietrich”, was filmed in London. It was broadcast in the UK on the BBC and in the US on CBS in January 1973.

Marlene was paid $250,000 for her cooperation but was unhappy with the result.

Marlene, Rudolf Sieber and daughter Maria
Marlene, Rudolf Sieber and daughter Maria

Now, I bet you are wondering about her personal life. Even though her professional celebrity was carefully crafted and maintained, her personal life was kept out of public view.

She was married once to assistant director Rudolf Sieber, who later became an assistant director at Paramount Pictures in France. He was responsible for foreign language dubbing. Their only child, Maria Riva, would later become an actress, primarily working in television. In 1948, when Maria gave birth to a son, Marlene was dubbed “the world’s most glamourous grandmother”.

Marlene had an unending string of affairs, some short-lived, some lasting decades. They often overlapped and were almost all known to her husband.

She had an affair with Gary Cooper while filming “Morocco” in 1930, even though he was already having an affair with Mexican actress, Lupe Velez.

Gary Cooper and Marlene in Moro

Another of her famous affairs was with John Gilbert, famous for his alleged affair with Greta Garbo. When he suddenly died on 9 January 1936 of a heart attack, Marlene was devastated, claiming it was one of the most painful events of her life.

Marlene also had a brief affair with American actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., even though he was married to Joan Crawford.

Another love affair was with co-star James Stewart while working together on “Destry Rides Again”. It ended once filming did.

In 1938 she met writer Erich Maria Remarque, beginning an affair. In 1941, while supporting Allied troops in World War II she started another affair with French actor and military hero, Jean Gabin. It ended in the mid-1940s.

In the early 1940s, she also had an affair with John Wayne, her co-star in two films.

Marlene and John Wayne

Yeah, this woman had affairs with nearly everyone, and I didn’t mention all of them. In no way am I judging her, but bloody hell, she could’ve at least divorced her husband and lived a free life.

There is a phrase that Marlene used, “Sewing Circles”, which was to describe the underground, closeted lesbian and bisexual film actresses and their relationships in Hollywood.

The names of this “Marlene’s Sewing Circle” were Ann Warner (wife of Jack L. Warner, one of the owners of Warner studios), Lili Damita (an old friend of Marlene’s from Berlin and wife of Australian actor Errol Flynn), actresses Claudette Colbert and Dolores del Rio that Marlene considered the most beautiful women in Hollywood.

During her stay in Paris in the 1950s, Marlene was close friends with French singer Edith Piaf. There were rumours of something more than friendship between the two.

Edith Piaf and Marlene

There is lots of rumours surrounding Marlene and her affairs. Especially with her so called “rival” Greta Garbo. Whether it is true or not, only Marlene knows.

Marlene’s family was brought up to follow the Lutheran religion, but she abandoned it as a result of her experiences as a teenager during World War I. After hearing preachers from both sides invoking God as their support she is quoted, “I lost my faith during the war and can’t believe they are all up there, flying around or sitting at tables, all those I’ve lost”.

However, according to her daughter, Maria Riva, Marlene was always travelling with a satchel containing many religious medallions, showing her desire to keep her faith.

I think it’s fine to question religion, some, if not all, doesn’t make any sense. Some people, just want to know why.

In 1965 she survived cervical cancer and suffered from poor circulation in her legs, becoming increasingly dependent on painkillers and alcohol.

At the Shady Grove Music Fair in Maryland, United States in 1973, Marlene had a stage fall injuring her left thigh. She also fractured her right leg in August 1974. She told writer and critic in 1973, “Do you think this is glamourous? That it’s a great life and that I do it for my health? Well it isn’t. Maybe once, nut not now”. She also explained that she continued to perform only for the money. At least she is honest.

Her show business career, however, ended after she fell of stage and broke her thigh during a performance in Sydney, Australia on 29 September 1975. The following year, Rudolf Sieber, her husband, died from cancer on 24 June 1976.

Her last on-camera film was a cameo appearance in “Just a Gigolo” in 1979. Starring David Bowie and directed by David Hemmings, which she sang the title song.

Marlene in Just a Gigolo

During the final 11 years of her life, still dependant on alcohol and painkillers, she withdrew to her apartment at 12 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. She would only allow a select few, including family and employees, to enter the apartment. She also became a prolific letter-writer and phone-caller. Her autobiography, “Nehmt nur mein Leben” (“Take Just My Life”) was published in 1979.

In 1982, Marlene agreed to participate (but not to be filmed) in a documentary about her life title “Marlene”, released in 1984. The director, Maximillian Schell, was only allowed to record her voice, using interviews he conducted as the basis of the film. “Marlene” won several European film prizes and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary in 1984.

Sadly, on 6 May 1992 at the age of 90, Marlene died of renal failure at her flat in Paris. Her funeral ceremony was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris, a Roman Catholic church on 14 May 1992. Her funeral service was attended by approximately 1,500 mourners in the church itself, including several ambassadors from Germany, Russia, United States, United Kingdom, and other countries, with thousands outside.

Her closed coffin rested beneath the alter draped in the French flag and adorned with a simple bouquet of white wildflowers and roses from French President, Francois Mitterrand. Her three medals, including France’s Legion of Honour and the US Medal of Freedom, were displayed at the foot of her coffin, military style.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall (on 9 November 1989) Marlene instructed in her will that she wished to be buried in her birthplace, Berlin, near her family. On 16 May 1992, her body was flown there to fulfil her wish.

Marlene’s grave in Berlin

She was buried at the Stadtischer Friedhof III, Berlin-Schoneberg, next to the grave of her mother and near the house where she was born.


Quick Facts ~ Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent




Thomas Holland


c. 1314


26 December 1360


Robert de Holland, 1st Baron Holand


Maud la Zouche


Joan of Kent


Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent

John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter

Joan, Duchess of Brittany

Maud, Countess of Ligny

Titles and Styles:

The Earl of Kent




Quick Facts ~ Christina of Saxony




Christina of Saxony


25 December 1461

Torgau, Saxony


8 December 1521

Odense, Denmark


St Canute’s Cathedral, Odense

(from 1807)


Ernst, Elector of Saxony


Elisabeth of Bavaria




Roman Catholic


John of Denmark






Christian II of Denmark

1 July 1481



Elizabeth of Denmark

24 June 1485

Francis of Denmark

15 July 1497


Queen consort of Denmark

21 May 1481 – 20 February 1513

Queen consort of Norway

1483 – 20 February 1513

Queen consort of Sweden

6 October 1497 – August 1501


Queen consort of Denmark

18 May 1483

Copenhagen Cathedral




Brothers Grimm

We all know who the Grimm Brothers are, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers and together authors of a collection of folklore stories during the 19th century.

jacob and wilhelm grimm
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

On 4 January 1785 Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was born, followed a year later on 24 February 1786 Wilhelm Carl Grimm was born. Both boys were born in Hanau in Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel within the Holy Roman Empire (present-day Germany), to Philipp Wilhelm Grimm and Dorothea Grimm. They were second and third eldest of nine children, three of whom died in infancy. In 1791 when their father, Philipp Wilhelm Grimm, a jurist, was employed as a district magistrate in Steinau, the family moved with him to the countryside. They became prominent members of the community, residing in a large home surrounded by fields.

Biographer Jack Zipes writes that “the brothers were happy in Steinau and clearly fond of country life”.

The Grimm children were educated at home by private tutors, receiving strict instruction as Lutherans that instilled in both a lifelong religious faith. Later on, they would attend local schools.

jacob and wilhelm grimm lived in this house in steinau from 1791 to 1796.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm lived in this house in Steinau from 1791 to 1796.

On 10 January 1796 Philipp Wilhelm Grimm dies of pneumonia, plunging his family into poverty forcing them to relinquish their servants and large house. Their mother, Dorothea Grimm, became depended on financial support from her father and sister, who was first lady-in-waiting at the court of William I, Elector of Hesse.

At the age of eleven and being the eldest son, Jacob was forced to assume adult responsibilities, shared with Wilhelm, for the next two years. The two boys obeyed the advice from their grandfather, who continually encouraged them to be hardworking.

In 1789, Jacob and Wilhelm left Steinau and their family to attend the Friedrichsgymnasium (a school) in Kassel, paid and arranged by their aunt. That year their grandfather died, so they were without a male provider, this forced them to start relying on each other resulting in the brothers to become exceptionally close.

The two brothers differed in personality; Jacob was introspective while Wilhelm was outgoing, although he often suffered from ill-health. In Kassel, they became highly aware of their inferior social status comparative to “high-born” students who received more attention. However, sharing a strong work ethic, they excelled in their studies, each brother graduating at the head of his class. Jacob in 1803 and Wilhelm in 1804.

After graduation, the brothers attended the University of Marburg, which was small with about 200 students. The brothers became painfully aware that students of lower social status were not treated equally. They were disqualified from admission because of their social standing and had to request dispensation to study law. Wealthier students received stipends, but the brothers were excluded even from tuition aid. Their poverty kept them from student activities or university social life. Ironically, however, their outsider status worked in their favour, also pursuing their studies with extra vigour.

friedrich carl von savigny
Friedrich Carl von Savigny

While at the university, the brothers were inspired by their law professor, Friedrich Carl von Savigny, who awakened in them an interest in history and philology, and they turned to studying medieval German literature. They also shared Friedrich Carl von Savigny’s desire to see unification of the 200 German principalities into a single state.

Through Friedrich Carl von Savigny and his circle of friends, German romantics such as Clemens Brentano and Ludwig Achim von Arnim, the brothers were introduced to the ideas of Johann Gottfried Herder, who though that German literature should revert to simpler form, which he defined as “Volkspoesie” (natural poetry) as opposed to “Kunstpoesie” (artistic poetry).

The brothers dedicated themselves with great enthusiasm to their studies, even Wilhelm wrote in his autobiography, “the ardour with which we studied Old German helped us overcome the spiritual depression of those days”.

Jacob was still financially responsible for his mother, brother, and younger siblings in 1805, so he accepted a post in Parish as research assistant to Friedrich Carl von Savigny. On his return to Marburg, he was forced to abandon his studies to support the family, whose poverty was so extreme that food was often scarce, so he took a job with the Hessian War Commission.

Wilhelm wrote a letter to his aunt at this time of their circumstances, “We five people eat only three portions and only once a day”.

Jacob found full-time employment in 1808 when he was appointed court librarian to the King of Westphalia and went on to become librarian in Kassel. After their mother passed away that year, he became fully responsible for his younger siblings. He arranged and paid for his younger brother, Ludwig Emil Grimm’s studies at art school and for Wilhelm’s extended visit to Halle to seek treatment for heart and respiratory ailments, following which Wilhelm joined Jacob as librarian in Kassel.

About this time, Jacob and Wilhelm began collecting folk tales in a cursory manner and on Clemens Brentano’s request. According to biographer Jack Zipes, “the Grimms were unable to devote all their energies to their research and did not have a clear idea about the significance of collecting folk tales in this initial phase”.

During their employment as librarians, which paid little but afforded them ample time for research, Jacob and Wilhelm experienced a productive period of scholarship, publishing a number of books between 1812 and 1830. They published their first volume of 86 folk tales, “Kinder – und Hausmarchen”, followed quickly by two volumes of German legends and a volume of early literary history. They also went onto publish works about Danish and Irish folk tales and Norse mythology, while continuing to edit the German folk tale collection.

These works became so widely recognised that the brothers received honorary doctorates from universities in Marburg, Berlin and Breslau (now Wroclaw).

In 1825 Wilhelm married a long-time family friend, Henriette Dorothea Wild, who also supplied the brothers with stories. Jacob never married but continued to live in the household with Wilhelm and Henriette. You can see that the brothers had a very close bond, it might be due to their upbringing, but to continue into their adulthood, shows how close they really were.

In 1830, Jacob and Wilhelm were overlooked when the post of chief librarian came available, which disappointed them greatly. They moved the household to Gottingen in the Kingdom of Hanover where they took employment at the University of Gottingen, Jacob as a professor and head librarian and Wilhelm as a professor.

jacob grimm lecturing
Jacob Grimm lecturing

During the next seven years, Jacob and Wilhelm continued to research, write and publish. In 1835 Jacob published the well-regarded “Deutsche Mythologies” (German Mythology). Wilhelm continued to edit and prepare the third edition of “Kinder – und Hausmarchen” for publication.

Jacob and Wilhelm taught German studies at the University of Gottingen, becoming well-respected in the newly established discipline.

After joining in protest with the Gottingen Seven, in 1837 they lost their university posts.

The 1830s were a period of political upheaval and peasant revolt in Germany, leading to the movement for democratic reform knows as “Young Germany”. Jacob and Wilhelm weren’t directly aligned with the Young Germans, but five of their colleagues reacted against the demands of King Ernest Augustus I, who dissolved the parliament of Hanover in 1837 and demanded oaths of allegiance from civil servants, including professors at the University of Gottingen. For refusing to sign the oath, the seven professors were dismissed and three were deported from Hanover, including Jacob who went to Kassel. Wilhelm, Henriette and their four children later joined him there.

Friedrich Carl von Savigny and Bettina von Arnim appealed successfully to Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1840 on behalf of the Grimm brothers, who were offered posts at the University of Berlin. In addition to teaching posts, the Academy of Sciences offered them stipends to continue their research.

Once they had established their household in Berlin, they directed their efforts towards the work on the German dictionary while continuing to publish their research.

Jacob turned his attention to researching German legal traditions and the history of the German language, which was published in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Wilhelm began researching medieval literature while editing new editions of “Kinder – und Hausmarchen”.

After the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, Jacob and Wilhelm were elected to the civil parliament. Jacob becoming a prominent member of the National Assembly at Mainz. However, their political activities were short-lived, as their hope dwindled for a unified Germany and their disappointment grew.

Also, in the late 1840s, Jacob resigned his university position and saw the publication of “Geschichte der deutschen Sprache” (The History of the German Language). Wilhelm continued at his university post until 1852. After retiring from teaching, Jacob and Wilhelm devoted themselves to the German Dictionary for the rest of their lives.

On 16 December 1859 Wilhelm died of an infection in Berlin. Jacob became increasingly reclusive, deeply upset at his brother’s death. And no doubt, it’s obvious by the love they had for each other. Jacob continued to work on the dictionary until his death on 20 September 1863.

Biographer Jack Zipes writes on the Grimm brothers’ dictionary and of their very large body of work, “Symbolically the last word was Frucht (fruit)”.

the graves of the brothers grimm in schöneberg, berlin
The graves of the Brothers Grimm in Schöneberg, Berlin.






Book Review ~ Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser


goodreads link



“She was the quintessential queen: statuesque, regal, dazzlingly beautiful. Her royal birth gave her claim to the thrones of two nations; her marriage to the young French dauphin promised to place a third glorious crown on her noble head.

Instead, Mary Stuart became the victim of her own impulsive heart, scandalizing her world with a foolish passion that would lead to abduction, rape and even murder. Betrayed by those she most trusted, she would be lured into a deadly game of power, only to lose to her envious and unforgiving cousin, Elizabeth I. 

Here is her story, a queen who lost a throne for love, a monarch pampered and adored even as she was led to her beheading, the unforgettable woman who became a legend for all time”.


To say that I couldn’t put this book down, would be an understatement. All I wanted to do was find out more on Mary and the people around her.

It was a bit slow to begin with, I think it was mainly due to the fact that I wanted to only hear about Mary and no one else, but I began to start appreciating Antonia Fraser setting the scene.

We don’t just learn about Mary, but what it was like during that time period. Why she needed, at such a young age, to escape her homeland of Scotland for France.

I think what shocked me, which shouldn’t because I knew the TV show Reign got it completely wrong, was Francis II. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, because I really think you should read this book if you want the truth on Mary, Queen of Scots.

Even when she returned to Scotland, there were a lot of things that made me angry, mainly John Knox, but it is this notion of people giving false information that ruins her character for the future. This smear on her name is mainly due with the “Casket Letters” and her involvement in the death of her second husband. Not only are we affected by it today, but her son was brought up thinking his mother was an evil murderer.

I won’t go too much into it, because the temptation (if possible) to travel back in time and give a good smack behind the head to these people is tempting.

The only problem I have with this book, and I believe it has been brought up by a few people, is the translation in the book… There isn’t any.

There are a few lines that are in either French or sometimes in another language, and instead of having the translation as a footnote, it’s nowhere to be found. Which means I have to stop reading and search the translation up online.

Not a big deal, but it was annoying at times.

I cannot recommend this book enough. If it’s possible, I would make everyone read about this incredible woman, give them a new and correct way of looking at Mary, Queen of Scots. Antonia Fraser did a magnificent job on describing characters, settings, feelings and everything else in between. I will definitely be picking up more of her books.


(In my end is my beginning)

My star rating is:






Mary, Queen of Scots ~ Casket Letters

mary, queen of scots
Mary, Queen of Scots

The Casket Letters were eight letters and some sonnets said to have been “written” by Mary, Queen of Scots to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, between January and April of 1567. These letters and sonnets were produced as evidence against Mary by the Scottish lords who opposed her rule. These letters were also taken to imply that Mary colluded with James Hepburn in the murder of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

supposedly the casket that the “casket letters” were stored in.
Supposedly the casket that the “Casket Letters” were stored in.


henry stuart, lord darnley
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

On 10 February 1567 Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots is found under mysterious circumstances, even though there was an explosion, he was actually found strangled with no burn marks at the Kirk o’ Field in Edinburgh.

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was the prime suspect, but was “let off” by Scottish Parliament.

I believe because of two major reasons was why Mary ended up marrying her husband’s murderer.

Firstly, James Hepburn actually kidnapped Mary. It might’ve been in a calm manner, but somehow convinced her to go to Dunbar Castle for her safety. However, James Hepburn raped Mary, which for some odd reason back then means she had to marry him.

Secondly, James was able to show to Mary the Ainslie bond, where majority of her nobles signed that James was suitable for a husband to Mary.

Three months after the death of Henry Stuart, Mary married James Hepburn on 15 May 1567.

james hepurn, 4th earl of bothwell
James Hepurn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

After Mary’s nobles, majority of those who signed the Ainslie bond, raised an army against the marriage, on 15 June 1567 Mary surrendered at the Battle of Carberry Hill and was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle. On 24 July 1567, Mary abdicated the throne of Scotland. Her infant son was crowned King James VI of Scotland on 29 July 1567, her illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray was made Regent of Scotland.

james stewart, 1st earl of moray
James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray

Not long after the coronation of James VI, James Stewart, who was in London, told Guzman de Silva, Spanish ambassador to England, that he had heard of the finding of a letter in Mary’s own handwriting to James Hepburn, which implicated her in the murder to Henry Stuart. He however did not reveal this to Queen Elizabeth I of England.

At the end of August 1567, Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London, had heard that letters in Mary’s handwriting urging James Hepburn to hurry up with the killing of Henry Stuart had been found in a box of James Hepburn’s papers. Edmund Grindal sent this news to the Reformer Henry Bullinger in Geneva.

It was said, because of the discovery of these letters, was the reason why Mary abdicated from the throne, fearing public knowledge.

On 4 December 1567, James Stewart summoned his Privy Council. They made and signed a statement in preparation for the Parliament to enact Mary’s abdication, which stated the letters demonstrated Mary’s involvement in the murder.

“in so far as by diverse her previe letters writtin and subscrivit with hir awin hand and sent by hir to James erll Boithvile chief executor of the said horrible murthour, …, it is maist certain that sche wes previe, art and part (complicit) and of the actuale devise (plot) and deid of the foir-nemmit murther of her lawful husband the King our sovereign lord’s father”.

mary, queen of scots escaping from loch leven castle
Mary, Queen of Scots escaping from Loch Leven Castle

On 2 May 1568 Mary, with the aid of George Douglas, brother of Sir William Douglas who is the castle’s owner, escaped Lochleven Castle and made her way to England. I think she did this because she believed that Elizabeth I would help her regain the throne.

Mary’s status was uncertain, as she had been accused of crimes and misrule. Elizabeth I ordered an inquiry into the question of whether Mary should be tried for the murder of Henry Stuart, as accused by the Scottish Lords who had deposed Mary the year before. James Stewart came to England to show Elizabeth the so called “casket letters”.

thomas howard, 4th duke of norfolk
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

At a conference in York nearly a year later in October 1568, James Stewart produced the Casket Letters, headed by Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.

On 7 December 1568, James Stewart also showed the Casket Letters at Westminster. The letters, sonnets, divorce and marriage contract were examined at Hampton Court on 14 December 1568, and the handwriting compared with Mary’s letters to Elizabeth I. The evidence produced by the Scottish Earls, who were now sworn to secrecy by the English Privy council, was perhaps bewildering;

“the whole writings lying altogether upoun the counsel table, the same were showed one after another by hap [chance], as the same did ly on the table, than with any choyse made, as by the natures thereof, if time had so served might have been”.

elizabeth i
Elizabeth I of England

Elizabeth neither wished to accuse Mary of murder nor acquit her. Mary was unable to have her say during trial as she was refused the right to be present, however, her accusers including her illegitimate half-brother James Stewart, were permitted to be present.

Not only was Mary not allowed to be present during these accusations, but she was also refused access to the letters to review or to study them.

Mary vehemently denied writing them, arguing that her handwriting was not difficult to imitate, insisting they were forgeries. It has been said that Mary Beaton, who was one of the “Four Mary’s”, had written these letters. Mary Beaton’s mother was a mistress to none other than James Hepburn himself.

Yet, as Elizbeth had wished, the inquiry reached the conclusion that nothing was proven. The outcome of the enquiry was to prolong doubts about Mary’s character that Elizabeth used to prevent the Queens meeting.


My Thoughts

I don’t believe Mary actually wrote those letters or sonnets. It could be in her writing some of them, but I don’t believe they were sent to James Hepburn. It’s obvious, well to me anyway, that they tried to put Mary in a bad light, especially after her marriage with James Hepburn.

To think, her close friend and confidante Mary Beaton, was also “in on it”, was also quite sad. Mary seems like she couldn’t trust anyone.

If you want to know more about Mary and details before and after the casket letters, part one will be posted on Monday 26/3 and part two on Wednesday 28/3.




Mary, Queen of Scots’ Husbands

Francis II of France

francis ii of france


Henry II of France


Catherine de’ Medici




19 January 1544

Chateau de Fontainebleau, France


5 December 1560

Ear Infection

Orleans, France


23 December 1560

Basilica of St Denis, France


Roman Catholic


Mary, Queen of Scots

24 April 1558

King of France:

10 July 1559 – 5 December 1560


21 September 1559

King Consort of Scotland:

24 April 1558 – 5 December 1560


Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

henry stuart, lord darnley


William Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox


Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox


Stuart (Darnley branch)


7 December 1545

Temple Newsam, Yorkshire, England


10 February 1567


Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh, Scotland


14 February 1567

Holyrood Abbey, Scotland


Roman Catholic


Mary, Queen of Scots

29 July 1565


James VI + I of Scotland and England

King Consort of Scotland:

29 July 1565 – 10 February 1567


James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

james hepburn, 4th earl of bothwell


Patrick Hepburn, 3rd Earl of Bothwell


Agnes Sinclair


c 1534

Edinburgh, Scotland


14 April 1578

Dragsholm Castle, Denmark


Farevejle Church, Dragsholm, Denmark




Anna Throndsen

c 1559

Lady Jean Gordon

24 February 1566 – (div) 7 May 1567

Mary, Queen of Scots

15 May 1567




Mary, Queen of Scots ~ In My End


francis and mary
Francis and Mary

After the death Mary’s first husband, Francis II of France, on 5 December 1560 from a middle ear infection that led to an abscess in his brain, Mary was left to decide what to do next. Stay in France, where she would be allowed to have her own estate as the Queen Dowager of France, or return to her home land, Scotland.

Having lived in France since the age of five, Mary had little direct experience of the dangerous and complex political situation in Scotland. Especially as a Catholic, she was regarded with suspicion by many of her subjects, as they had converted to Protestant not a year before. Even her illegitimate half-brother, James, Earl of Moray, was a leader of the Protestant.

Despite the religious differences, Mary suggested to her half-brother, James, that she has no qualms over Scotland being Protestant, as long as she is permitted to practise her faith privately. Even though James, Earl of Moray, and majority of the people had no problem, there was one.

To say I despise this man is an understatement. John Knox not only had it out for Mary before he even met her, but his views are what we call today, sexist. His stance on religion was Protestant, and even though Mary had no problem with people believing what they wanted to believe in, he still had a problem with her being Catholic.

I’ve read a few of his “comments” about Mary, and all I can say is, if time travel was a possibility, I would go back in time and punch him in the face. Sometimes, violence is the answer. See if he still thinks a woman is feeble and witless.

mary 1
Mary 1558-1560

Nine months after the death of Francis, Mary sailed back to Scotland, arriving in Leith on 19 August 1561.

Her privy council of 16 men, appointed on 6 September 1561, retained those who already held the offices of state and was dominated by the Protestant leaders from the reformation crisis of 1559-1560, who were Archibald Campbell, 5th Earl of Argyll, Alexander Cunningham, 5th Earl of Glencairn, and James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray. Only four of the councillors were Catholic, who were John Stewart, 4th Earl of Atholl, George Hay, 7th Earl of Erroll, William Graham, 2nd Earl of Montrose, and George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, who was Lord Chancellor.

elizabeth i
Elizabeth I of England

The question still remained on who will inherit the English throne after Elizabeth I. Mary, having a link with the Tudor dynasty through her paternal grandmother, Margaret Tudor, believed she had the right to the throne.

She sent William Maitland of Lethington as an ambassador to the English court to put the case from Mary as the heir presumptive to the English throne. Even though Elizabeth refused to name a potential heir, fearing that to do so would invite conspiracy to displace her with the nominated successor, she did assure William Maitland that she knew no one with a better claim than Mary.

Mary desperately wanted to meet her cousin face to face, hoping to convince her in person to name her heir. In late 1561 and early 1562, arrangements were made for the two Queens to meet in England at York or Nottingham in August or September 1562, but Elizabeth sent Sir Henry Sidney in July to cancel because of the civil war in France.

After the death of her first husband, Francis II, there wasn’t just one obstacle on deciding to stay in France or return to Scotland, it was also, being only eighteen, who she will marry next.

don carlos
Don Carlos

While still in France, there was an attempt on her part in negotiating a marriage to Don Carlos, the mentally unstable heir apparent of King Philip II of Spain, whose second wife was none other than Francis II sister, Elisabeth of Valois.

Elizabeth I even suggested Mary marrying her favourite, Robert Dudley, 1t Earl of Leicester, whom Elizabeth trusted and thought she could control. She sent Thomas Randolph, an ambassador, to tell Mary that if she would marry and English nobleman, Elizabeth would “proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our next cousin and heir”. The proposal came to nothing, not least because the intended bridegroom was unwilling.

pierre de bocosel de chastelard
Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard

There was a French poet at Mary’s court, Pierre de Boscosel de Chastelard, who was apparently besotted by Mary. In early 1563, he was discovered during a security search hidden underneath her bed, apparently planning to surprise her when she was alone, declaring his love to her. Mary was horrified and banished him from Scotland. Ignoring the edict, two days later he forced his way into her chamber as she was about to disrobe. She, of course, reacted with fury and fear, her half-brother, James Stewart, rushed into her room after hearing her cries for help. After arriving she shouted, “Thrust your dagger into the villain!”, which James Stewart refused to do as he was already under restraint.

Pierre de Boscosel de Chastelard was tried for treason, and beheaded. It is claimed he was part of a plot to discredit Mary by tarnishing her reputation.

henry stuart, lord darnley
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Mary had briefly met her English-born first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in February 1561 when she was in mourning for Francis II in France. Henry Stuart’s parents, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, and Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, who were Scottish aristocrats as well as English landowners, had sent him to France ostensibly to extend their condolences while hoping for a potential match between their son and Mary.

Both Mary and Henry were grandchildren of Margaret Tudor, eldest sister of Henry VIII of England, and patrilineal descendants of the High Stewards of Scotland. Henry shared a more recent Stewart lineage with the Hamilton family as a descendant of Mary Stewart, Countess of Arran, a daughter of James II of Scotland.

The next time they met was on 17 February 1565 at Wemyss Castle in Scotland, which is said that Mary fell in love with the “long lad”, (as Elizabeth I called him as he was over six feet tall, perfect for Mary’s height).

henry and mary
Henry and Mary

On 29 July 1565, Mary and Henry married at Holyrood Palace, even though both were Catholic and a papal dispensation for the marriage of first cousins had not been obtained.

English statesmen William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, had worked to obtain Henry’s licence to travel to Scotland from his home in England. Although Elizabeth I’s advisors had brought Mary and Henry together, she also felt threatened by it because of their descendants of her aunt. This gave them a stronger claim to the English throne, more so if they have children. Not only was Elizabeth I threatened, but angry the marriage went ahead without her permission, as Henry was both her cousin and an English subject. You will see this is a trend for Elizabeth, she does not take kindly to people marrying without her consent.

However, Mary’s intent on the marriage seems to have stemmed from passion rather than a calculated move.

Not only did the marriage anger Elizabeth I, but also convinced her half-brother, James Stewart, to join with other Protestant lords, including Archibald Campbell, 5th Earl of Argyll and Alexander Cunningham, 5th Earl of Glencairn, in open rebellion.

On 26 August 1565, Mary set out from Edinburgh to confront them, four days later, James Stewart entered Edinburgh, but left soon afterward having failed to take the castle. Mary returned to Edinburgh the following month to raise more troops.

In what has become known as the Chaseabout Raid, Mary and her forces “chased” James Stewart and the rebellious lords, roaming around Scotland without ever engaging in direct combat. Mary’s numbers were boosted after the release and restoration to favour of George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly’s son (same name as father), and James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, from exile in France. Unable to muster sufficient support, James Stewart left Scotland in October 1565 for sanctuary in England.

Mary broadened her privy council, bringing in both Catholics, John Lesley, Bishop of Ross and Simon Preston of Craigmillar, and Protestants, the new Lord Huntly, Alexander Gordon, Bishop of Galloway, John Maxwell of Terregles and Sir James Balflour.

david rizzio
David Rizzio

It might have been love that joined Henry and Mary, but it wasn’t long before Henry grew arrogant. Not content with his position as King consort, he demanded the Crown Matrimonial, which would have made him a co-sovereign of Scotland, with the right to keep the Scottish throne for himself if he outlived Mary. Of course, Mary refused, which resulted in a strain in their marriage, even though they conceived by October 1565.

As well as wanting power, he was also a jealous man, especially of that between the friendship of Mary with her Catholic private secretary, David Rizzio, who was rumoured (probably John Knox) to be the father of her child.

By March 1566, Henry had entered into a secret conspiracy with Protestant lords, including the nobles who had rebelled against Mary in the Chaseabout Raid. On 9 March 1566, a group of the conspirators, accompanied by Henry, murdered David Rizzio in front of the pregnant Mary at a dinner party in Holyrood Palace, it is said that he was stabbed 56 times.

the murder of rizzio by john opie 1787
The Murder of Rizzio by John Opie 1787

Over the next two days, a disillusioned Henry switched sides, and Mary received James Stewart at Holyrood. On the night of 11th or 12th March, Mary and Henry escaped from the palace and took temporary refuge in Dunbar Castle before returning to Edinburgh on 18 March 1566. The former rebels, James Stewart, Archibald Campbell, 5th Earl of Argyll and Alexander Cunningham, 5th Earl of Glencairn, were restored to the council.

mary and james vi
Mary and James VI

On 19 June 1566, Mary gave birth to a son, James, in Edinburgh Castle. But due to the murder of David Rizzio, this was unable to save the marriage.

In October 1566, while staying at Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, Mary made a journey on horseback of at least four hours, each way, to visit James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell at Hermitage Castle, where he lay ill from wounds sustained in a skirmish with border reivers (basically a group raiders).



james hepburn, 4th earl of bothwell
James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

Even though the ride was later used as evidence by Mary’s enemies that the two were lovers, though no suspicions were voices at the time and Mary had been accompanied by her councillors and guards.

Immediately after her return to Jedburgh, she suffered a serious illness that included frequent vomiting, loss of sight and speech, convulsions and periods of unconsciousness. She was thought to be near death or dying. Her miraculous recovery from 25 October 1566 onwards was credited to the sill of her French physicians. Today we are still not sure what her illness was. Diagnoses include physical exhaustion and mental stress, haemorrhage of a gastric ulcer, and porphyria.

At the end of November 1566 at Craigmillar Castle, near Edinburgh, Mary and leading nobles held a meeting to discuss the “problem of Darnley”. Divorce was discussed, but a bond was probably sworn between the lords present to remove Henry by other means.

“It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth … that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them; … that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend”.

Henry feared for his safety, with reason, and after the baptism of his son at Stirling shortly before Christmas, he went to Glasgow to stay on his father’s estates. At the start of his journey, he was afflicted by a fever, quite possibly from either smallpox, syphilis, or the result of poison. He remained ill for some weeks.

In late January 1567, prompted by Mary, Henry returned to Edinburgh. He recuperated from his illness in a house belonging to the brother of Sir James Balfour at the former abbey of Kirk o’ Field, just within the city wall. A reconciliation seemed to appear when Mary would visit Henry daily.

On the night of 9 February 1567, Mary visited Henry in the early evening and then attended the wedding celebrations of a member of her household, Bastian Pagez. In the early hours of 10 February 1567, an explosion devastated Kirk o’ Field. Henry was found dead in the garden, apparently smothered. Even though there were no visible marks of strangulation or violence on the body, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, William Maitland of Lethington, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, and Mary herself were among those who came under suspicion.

Elizabeth wrote to Mary of the rumours; “I should ill fulfil the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not … tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought”.

kirk o' field drawn for william cecil shortly after the murder of henry stuart, lord darnley, 1567
Kirk o’ Field drawn for William Cecil shortly after the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, 1567

By the end of February, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was generally believed to by guilty of Henry’s assassination. Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox and Henry’s father, demanded that James Hepburn be tried before the Estates of Parliament, to which Mary agreed, but his request for a delay to gather evidence was denied.

After a seven-hour trial on 12 April 1567, in the absence of Matthew Stewart and with no evidence presented, James Hepburn was acquitted. A week later, James Hepburn managed to convince more than two dozen lords and bishops to sign the Ainslie Tavern Bond, in which they agreed to support his aim to marry Mary. No, that doesn’t make you look guilty at all…

mary depicted with her son, james vi and i; in reality, mary saw her son for the last time when he was ten months old.
Mary depicted with her son, James VI and I; in reality, Mary saw her son for the last time when he was ten months old.

Between 21 and 23 April 1567, Mary visited her ten-month-old son at Stirling unbeknownst to her, for the last time. On her way back to Edinburgh on 24 April, Mary was abducted, willingly or not, by James Hepburn and his men and taken to Dunbar Castle, where he may have raped her. On 6 May, James Hepburn with Mary in tow returned to Edinburgh and on 15 May, at either Holyrood Palace or Holyrood Abbey, they were married according to Protestant rites. Twelve days previously, James Hepburn divorced his first wife, Jean Gordon, who was the sister of George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly.

Originally Mary believed that many nobles supported her marriage, but things soon turned sour between James Hepburn, now created Duke of Orkney, and his former peers, and the marriage proved to be deeply unpopular. Catholics considered the marriage unlawful, since they did not recognise James’s divorce or the validity of the Protestant service. Both Catholics and Protestants were shocked that Mary should marry the man (even if acquitted) who was accused of murdering her husband. Also, didn’t he rape her?

However, and I’m not surprised, the marriage was emotional, and Mary became downhearted.

Twenty-Six Scottish peers, known as the confederate lords, turned against Mary and James Hepburn, raising an army against them. On 15 June 1567, they confronted the lords at Carberry Hill, but there was no battle as Mary’s forces dwindled away through desertion during negotiations. James Hepburn was given safe passage from the field, and the lords took Mary to Edinburgh, where crowds of spectators denounced her as an adulteress and murderer. The following night, she was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. Between 20 and 23 July 1567, Mary miscarried twins, and on 24 July, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son, now James VI of Scotland, his uncle, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, became his regent.

James Hepburn was driven into exile and later imprisoned in Denmark. He became insane and died in 1578. Well deserved if you ask me.

mary, queen of scots escaping from loch leven castle
Mary, Queen of Scots escaping from Loch Leven Castle

On 2 May 1568, Mary escaped from Loch Leven castle, with the aid of George Douglas, brother of William Douglas, 6th Earl of Morton who was the castle’s owner. Managing to raise an army of 6,000 men, she met James Stewart’s smaller forces at the Battle of Langside on 13 May. Unfortunately, Mary was defeated forcing her to flee 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, local officials took her into protective custody at Carlisle Castle.

Mary must have expected Elizabeth to help her regain her throne, but Elizabeth was cautious, ordering an inquiry into the conduct of the confederate lords and the question of whether Mary was guilty of her second husband’s murder. In mid-July 1568, English authorities moved Mary to Bolton Castle, because it was further from the Scottish border but not too close to London.

A commission of inquiry, or conference as it was known, was held in York and later Westminster, between October 1568 and January 1569. In Scotland, Mary’s supporters fought a civil war against the now regent, James Stewart and his successors.

As an anointed Queen, Mary refused to acknowledge the power of any court to try her and refused to attend the inquiry at York personally (she sent representatives), but Elizabeth forbade her attendance anyway.

As evidence against Mary, James Stewart presented the “so-called” casket letters. Eight unsigned letters purportedly from Mary to James Hepburn, two marriage contracts, and a love sonnet or sonnets said to have been found in a silver-gilt casket just less than 30 cm long, decorated with the monogram of King Francis II.

mary beaton
Mary Beaton

Mary vehemently denied writing them, arguing that her handwriting was not difficult to imitate, insisting they were forgeries. It has been said that Mary Beaton, who was one of the “Four Mary’s”, had written these letters. Mary Beaton’s mother was a mistress to none other than James Hepburn himself.

These letters are widely believed to be crucial as to whether Mary shares the guilt for Henry’s murder. The chair of the commission of inquiry, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, described them as horrible letters and diverse fond ballads, and sent copies to Elizabeth, saying that if they were genuine, they might prove Mary’s guilt.

The authenticity of the casket letters has been the source of much controversy among historians. It is impossible now to prove either way, as the originals that were written in French, were probably destroyed in 1584 by Mary’s son, James. The surviving copies, in French and translated in English, do not form a complete set. There are also incomplete printed transcriptions in English, Scots, French, and Latin from the 1570s.

Besides these incriminating letters, other documents scrutinised included James Hepburn’s divorce from Jean Gordon. James Stewart had sent a messenger in September to Dunbar to get a copy of the proceedings from the town’s registers.

Mary’s biographers such as, Antonia Fraser (our March book of the month), Alison Weir and John Guy, have come to the conclusion that either the documents were complete forgeries, or incriminating passages were inserted into genuine letters. Or, that the letter was written to James Hepburn by some other person, or by Mary to some other person. John Guy points out that the letters are disjointed, and that the French language and grammar employed in the sonnets are too poor for a writer with Mary’s education. However, there are certain phrases of the letters (including verses in the style of Pierre de Ronsard), and certain characteristics of style would be compatible with known writings of Mary.

My personal thoughts, I believe them to be forgeries. Not because I love Mary, Queen of Scots, but it just doesn’t make sense. If she really did write love letters and what not, why did she keep it instead of burning them? It all just seems like one big plot to get rid of Mary.

The casket letters did not appear publicly until the conference of 1568, although the Scottish privy council had seen them by December 1567. Mary had been forced to abdicate and held captive for the best part of a year in Scotland. The letters were never made public to support her imprisonment and forced abdication. Historian, Jenny Wormald, believes this reluctance on the part of the Scots to produce the letters, and their destruction in 1584, whatever their content, constitute proof that they contained real evidence against Mary. Whereas, Alison Weir thinks it demonstrates the lords required time to fabricate them.

thomas howard, 4th duke of norfolk
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

At least, some of Mary’s contemporaries who saw the letters had no doubt that they were genuine. Among them was Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who secretly conspired to marry Mary in the course of the commission, although he denied it when Elizabeth alluded to his marriage plans, saying “he meant never to marry with a person, where he could not be sure of his pillow”.

After a study of the casket letters and comparison of the penmanship with examples of Mary’s handwriting, the majority of the commissioners accepted them as genuine. Elizabeth, as she had wished, concluded the inquiry with a verdict that nothing was proven, either against the confederate lords or Mary. For overriding political reasons, Elizabeth wished neither to convict nor acquit Mary of murder, and there was never any intention to proceed judicially. The conference as intended as a political exercise. In the end, James Stewart returned to Scotland as its regent, and Mary remained in custody in England. Elizabeth had succeeded in maintaining a Protestant government in Scotland, without either condemning or releasing her fellow sovereign.

In Antonia Fraser’s opinion, it was one of the strangest “trials” in legal history, ending with no finding of guilt against either party with one let home to Scotland while the other remained in custody.

embroidery done by mary in captivity
Embroidery done by Mary in captivity

On 26 January 1569, Mary was moved to Tutbury Castle and placed in the custody of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and his formidable wife, Bess of Hardwick. Elizabeth considered Mary’s designs on the English throne to be a serious threat and so confined her to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury’s properties, including Tutbury, Sheffield Castle, Wingfield Manor and Chatsworth House, all located in the interior of England, halfway between Scotland and London, and distant from the sea.


mary in captivity c1578
Mary in captivity c1578

Mary was permitted her own domestic staff, which never numbered fewer than sixteen, and needed thirty carts to transport her belongings from house to house. Her chambers were decorated with fine tapestries and carpets as well as her cloth of state, on which she had the French phrase “En ma fin est mon commencement” (“In my end is my beginning”) embroidered. Her bedlinen was changed daily, and her own chefs prepared meals with a choice of thirty-two dishes served on silver plates. She was occasionally allowed outside under strict supervision, spent seven summers at the spa town of Buxton, and spent much of her time doing embroidery.

Her health declined, perhaps through porphyria or lack of exercise, and by the 1580s, she had severe rheumatism in her limbs, rendering her lame.

In May 1569, Elizabeth attempted to mediate the restoration of Mary in return for guarantees of the Protestant religion, but a convention held at Perth rejected the deal overwhelmingly. Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, continued to scheme for a marriage with Mary, leaving Elizabeth to imprison him in the Tower of London between October 1569 and August 1570.

Early the following year on 23 January 1570, James Stewart assassinated. James’s death coincided with a rebellion in the North of England, led by Catholic earls, which persuaded Elizabeth that Mary was a threat. English troops intervened in the Scottish civil war, consolidating the power of the anti-Marian forces. Elizabeth’s principal secretaries, Sir Francis Walsingham and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, watched Mary carefully with the aid of spies placed in Mary’s household.

mary in captivity c1580
Mary in captivity c1580

In 1571, Sir Francis Walsingham and William Cecil, Lord Burghley uncovered the Ridolfi Plot, which was a plan to replace Elizabeth with Mary, with the help of Spanish troops and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. On 2 June 1572, Thomas Howard was executed, and the English Parliament introduced a bill barring Mary from the throne, to which Elizabeth refused to give her royal assent. Maybe because of this, or to discredit Mary, the casket letters were published in London.

Plots cantered around Mary continued. Pope Gregory XIII endorsed one plan in the latter half of the 1570s, to marry her to the governor of the Low Countries and half-brother of Philip II of Spain, Don John of Austria, who was supposed to organise the invasion of England from the Spanish Netherlands.

After the Throckmorton Plot of 1583, Sir Francis Walsingham introduced the Bond of Association and the Act for the Queen’s Safety, which sanctioned the killing of anyone who plotted against Elizabeth and aimed to prevent a putative successor from profiting from her murder.

james iv ages twenty
James IV, here aged twenty

In 1584, Mary proposed an “Association” with her now eighteen-year-old son, James VI. She announced that she was ready to stay in England, to renounce the Pope’s bull of excommunication and to retire, abandoning her pretensions to the English Crown. She even offered to join an offensive league against France, her childhood home. For Scotland, she proposed a general amnesty, agreed that James should marry with Elizabeth’s knowledge and agreed that there should be no change in religion. Her only condition, was the immediate alleviation of the conditions of her captivity.

James VI went along with the idea for a while, but then rejected it and signed an alliance treaty with Elizabeth, abandoning his mother. Elizabeth also rejected the “Association” because she did not trust Mary to cease plotting against her during the negotiations.

Elizabeth obviously has trust issues, and shame on James. I know he really didn’t know his mother, and probably heard horrid rumours about her but, c’mon.

In February 1585, William Parry was convicted of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth, without Mary’s knowledge, though her agent Thomas Morgan was implicated. In April of that year, Mary was placed in the stricter custody of Sir Amias Paulet, and at Christmas, she was moved to moated manor house at Chartley.

drawing of the trial of mary, queen of scots, 14–15 october 1586
Drawing of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, 14–15 October 1586

On 11 August 1586, after being implicated in the Babington Plot, Mary was arrested while out riding and taken to Tixall. In a successful attempt to entrap Mary, Sir Francis Walsingham had deliberately arranged for her letters to be smuggled out of Chartley. Mary was misled into thinking her letters were secure (why, since in her position she should trust no one), while in reality they were deciphered and read by Sir Francis Walsingham.

From these letters, it was clear that Mary had sanctioned the attempted assassination of Elizabeth. She was moved to Fotheringhay Castle in a four-day journey ending on 25 September 1586. On 14 October, Mary was put on trial for treason under the Act for the Queen’s Safety before a court of 36 noblemen, including William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury.

Mary denied the charges, telling her triers, “Look to your consciences and remember that the theatre of the whole world is wider than the kingdom of England”. She protested that she had been denied the opportunity to review the evidence, that her papers 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.

On 25 October 1586, Mary was convicted and sentenced to death with only one commissioner, Edward la Zouche, 11th Baron Zouche, expressing any form of disagreement. Nevertheless, 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 discreditable precedent and was fearful of the consequences, especially if, in retaliation, Mary’s son, James VI, formed an alliance with the Catholic powers and invaded England.

Elizabeth asked Sir Amias Paulet, 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 he would not make “a shipwreck of my conscience, or leave so great a blot on my poor posterity”.

On 1 February 187, Elizabeth finally signed the death warrant, and entrusted it to William Davison, a privy councillor. Two days later, ten members of the Privy Council of England, having been summoned by William Cecil, Lord Burghley without Elizabeth’s knowledge, decided to carry out the sentence at once.

the execution scene, drawn by eyewitness robert beale
The execution scene, drawn by eyewitness Robert Beale

On the evening of 7 February 1587 at Fotheringhay, Mary was told that she was to be executed the next morning. She spent the last hours of her life in prayer, distributing her belongings to her household, and writing her will and a letter to King Henry III of France.

The scaffold that was erected 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 (because comfort is important…), and three stools, for her and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent, who were there to witness the execution.

The executioners, one named Bull and his assistant, knelt before her and asked forgiveness, as it was typical for the executioner to ask the pardon of the one being put to death, for their conscious. She replied, “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles”. Her servants, Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle and the executioners, helped Mary to remove her outer garments, revealing a velvet petticoat and a pair of sleeves in crimson brown, the liturgical colour martyrdom in the Catholic Church, with a black satin bodice and black trimmings.

As she disrobed she smiled and said that she “never had such grooms before… nor ever put off her clothes before such company”. She was blindfolded by Jane Kennedy with a white veil embroidered in gold, knelt down on the cushion in front of the block, on which she positioned her head and stretched out her arms.

Her last words were, “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum” (“into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”).

This next part always makes me cringe, Mary was not beheaded with a single strike. The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. The second blow severed her neck, except for small bit of sinew, which the executioner cut through using the axe. The executioner held the head aloft and declared, “God save the Queen”. At that moment, the auburn tresses 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 Mary, a Skye Terrier, is said to have been hiding among her skirts, unseen by the spectators. Following her beheading, the dog was covered in her blood and refused to be parted from her body, until it was forcibly taken away and washed.

Items supposedly worn or carried by Mary at her execution are of doubtful provenance. They say that all her clothing, the block and everything she touched by her blood, was burnt in the fireplace of the Great Hall to obstruct relic-hunters.

When the news of Mary’s execution reached Elizabeth, she became outraged and asserted that privy councillor, William Davison, had disobeyed her instructions not to part with the warrant and that the Privy Council had acted without her authority. Elizabeth’s indecisiveness and deliberately vague instructions gave her plausible deniability to attempt to avoid the direct stain of Mary’s blood. William Davison was arrested and thrown into the Tower of London, and found guilty of misprision. Of course, he was released nineteen months later after William Cecil, Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham interceded on his behalf.

death mask of mary
Death mask of Mary

Mary’s request to be buried in France was refused by Elizabeth. Her body was embalmed and left in a secure lead coffin until her burial, in a Protestant service, at Peterborough Cathedral on 30 July 1587. Her entrails, removed as part of the embalming process, were buried secretly within Fotheringhay Castle.

On 28 October 1612,  Mary’s body was exhumed when her son now also King of England after Elizabeth’s death, ordered that she be reinterred in Westminster Abbey in a chapel opposite the tomb of Elizabeth I.



tomb of mary at westminster abbey 2
Tomb of Mary at Westminster Abbey from above

In 1867, her tomb was opened in an attempt to discover the resting place of James, he was ultimately found with Henry VII, but many other descendants, including Elizabeth of Bohemia, Price Rupert of the Rhine and the children of Queen Anne of Great Britain, were interred in her vault.

tomb of mary at westminster abbey

So that is the end of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was really hard to write her execution, when you take away facts and figures, you realise she was an actual person. I felt like from the beginning of her life, other people’s actions affected how she lived and ultimately died.

Getting to know her just this little bit more, has given me more of an appreciation of her character and situation.



Mary, Queen of Scots ~ The Young Queen

baby mary

On 8th December 1542, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Mary, Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace, Scotland, to King James V of Scotland and his second wife, Mary of Guise.

It’s disputed on the exact date of her birth, according to John Lesley, Bishop of Ross, who had special access to official records, it’s said she was born on the 7th. Suggesting that she was actually born on the 7th, but changed to the 8th to coincide with the feast of the Virgin Mary.

Not long after her birth, she was baptised at the nearby Church of St Michael.

Whatever the date was, she was born prematurely and was the only legitimate child of James V to survive him. She was also the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England through her paternal grandmother, Margaret Tudor, Henry’s elder sister.

james v
James V of Scotland

On the news of his wife, Mary of Guise, giving birth to a daughter, James V on his deathbed said; “it cam wi’ a lass and it will gang wi’ a lass!” Meaning the House of Stewart had gained the throne of Scotland through the marriage of Marjorie Bruce, 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 through a woman. This legendary statement came true, not through Mary, but through her descendant, Queen Anne.

For more details on the House of Stewart, click here.

Six days later after her birth, on 14 December 1542, James V died, leaving the tiny infant as Queen of Scotland. James V’s death was perhaps the effects of a nervous collapse following the defeat from the Battle of Solway Moss, or from drinking contaminated water while on campaign.

Rumours plagued that Mary was a weak and frail baby, some went as far to say she was dead. It wasn’t until in March 1543, when Ralph Sadler, and English diplomat, saw the infant at Linlithgow Palace. Mary of Guise asked the nurse to unwrap Mary to prove she was indeed alive and healthy. Ralph Sadler later wrote to Henry VIII, “it is a goodly a child as I have seen of her age, and as like to live”.

james hamilton, 3rd earl of arran
James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran

Due to the fact that Mary was only six days old when she inherited the throne, Scotland was ruled by regents until she became an adult. From the beginning, there were two claims to the regency: one from Cardinal David Beaton, whose claim was based on a version of James V’s will that his opponents dismissed as forgery. And the other from the Protestant James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, who was next in line to the throne.

James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, with the support of his friends and relations, became the regent until 1554, until Mary’s mother managed to remove and succeed him.

Henry VIII of England took the opportunity to seize Scotland by proposing a marriage between Mary and his own son and heir, Edward. When Mary was six-months-old on 1 July 1543, the Treaty of Greenwich was signed, which promised at the age of ten, Mary would marry Edward and move to England, where Henry VIII would keep a close eye on her upbringing. The treaty also stated that the two countries would remain legally separate and that if the couple should fail to have children the temporary union would dissolve.

However, Cardinal David Beaton rose back to power again and began to push a pro-Catholic pro-French agenda, which angered Henry, who wanted to break the Scottish alliance with France. We also have to remember, Mary’s first husband wasn’t born yet, quiet possibly Cardinal David Beaton was hoping there would be a future heir or higher ranked noble.

coronation of mary
Coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots

As well as breaking away from England and the treaty, Cardinal David Beaton wanted to move Mary away from the coast to the safety of Stirling Castle. At first James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, resisted the move, but backed down when Cardinal David Beaton’s armed supporters gathered at Linlithgow.

On 27 July 1543, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, escorted Mary and her mother to Stirling with 3,500 armed men. Less then two months later, Mary was crowned in the castle chapel on 9 September 1543, with “such solemnity as they do use in this country, which is not very costly” according to the report of Ralph Sadler and Henry Ray, who was Ralph Sadler’s go-between in Scotland.

What also tipped Scotland in favour of France was an incident that happened before Mary’s coronation. Scottish merchants headed for France were arrested by Henry VIII, and their goods impounded. Causing anger in Scotland, it also swayed James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran to finally join Cardinal David Beaton and become a Catholic. In December, the Treaty of Greenwich was rejected by the Parliament of Scotland.

The rejection of the marriage treaty and the renewal of the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France provoked Henry VIII’s “Rough Wooing” as they will call it. A military campaign designed to intimidate and force the marriage of Mary to his son, Edward, by mounting a series of raids on Scottish and French territory.

On 3 May 1544, Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, raided Edinburgh prompting the Scots to safely take Mary to Dunkeld.

contemporary sketch showing the deployment of hertford's forces before they burnt edinburgh in may 1544
Contemporary sketch showing the deployment of Hertford’s forces before they burnt Edinburgh in May 1544

A year later on 29 May 1546, Cardinal David Beaton was murdered by the Protestant Lairds, and then nine months after the death of Henry VIII, on 10 September 1547, the Scots suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. Fearful again for Mary’s safety, her guardians sent her to Inchmahome Priory for no more than three weeks, before turning to the French for help.

Now that France had an heir to the throne, King Henry II of France proposed to unite the two countries by marrying Mary to his three-year-old, the Dauphin Francis. The French promised military help, and a French dukedom for James Hamilton as Duke of Chatellreault, which he happily agreed to.

In February 1548, Mary was moved again to Dumbarton Castle. The English left a trail of devastation behind once more and seized the strategic town of Haddington. In June, the French cavalry arrived at Leith to besiege and ultimately take Haddington.

On 7 July 1548, the Scottish Parliament held at a nunnery near the town, agreed to a French marriage treaty.

mary of guise
Mary of Guise

With the marriage agreement finalised, five-year-old Mary was sent to France to spend the next thirteen years at the French court. This was obviously hard for Mary’s mother, as she had to leave her son behind in France to marry James V of Scotland. To send off your child must’ve been heartbreaking.

The French fleet, sent by Henry II and commanded by Nicolas de Villegagnon, sailed from Dumbarton on 7 August 1548, arriving a week or more later at Roscoff or Saint-Pol-de-Leon in Brittany. Mary was accompanied by her own court, including two illegitimate half-brothers, Robert and James, and the “four Marys”, four girls around her age, all named Mary. The “four Mary’s” were daughters of some of the noblest families in Scotland; Beaton, Seton, Fleming, and Livingston. Mary Fleming’s mother, Lady Janet Stewart, was appointed governess.

catherine de medici
Catherine de’ Medici

According to contemporary accounts, Mary was vivacious, beautiful, and clever with a promising childhood. At the French court, she was the favourite among everyone. There is rumours and speculation on the relationship between Mary and her future mother-in-law, Catherine de’ Medici. I do believe there was a special bond at the beginning, especially how Catherine saw how much Francis loved his wife-to-be. It’s not until later on in life you see that shift.

She did grow up along with the French royal children, becoming very close with Francis’s sisters, Elisabeth and Claude.

Mary learned to play lute and virginals, was competent in prose, poetry, horsemanship, falconry and needlework. She was taught French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Greek, in addition to speaking her native Scots.

Her maternal grandmother, Antionette de Bourbon, were very close. Antionette promising Mary of Guise to keep young Mary under her wing, and reporting how she was behaving and treated in France.

mary thirteen
Mary around thirteen-years-old

Portraits of Mary show that she had a small, oval-shaped head, a long and graceful neck, bright auburn hair, hazel-brown eyes under heavy lowered eyelids and finely arched brows. Smooth pale skin, a high forehead, and regular firm features. She was considered as a child pretty, but in adulthood, strikingly attractive. Luckily, when Mary was an infant she caught smallpox, but was relived to not suffer the marks.

For this time period, Mary was very tall by sixteen-century standards. By adulthood, she reached the height of 5 feet 11 inches or 1.80 m. Her future husband on the other hand was abnormally short, even for this time period. Due to the conditions of his birth, Francis was, to put it nicely, a very late bloomer. Frail and undersized, he looked up to the healthy Mary. Henry II even commented that “from the very first day they met, my son and she got on as well together as if they had known each other for a long time”. It is true, they grew up being the best of friends and companions.

On 4 April 1558, Mary signed a secret agreement bestowing Scotland and her claim to England to the French crown if she died without issue. Twenty days later, Mary married Francis at Notre Dame de Paris, making Francis King consort of Scotland.

elizabeth i
Elizabeth I of England

On 17 November 1558, Henry VIII of England’s eldest daughter, Mary I of England, 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. Yet, in the eyes of many Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate, and Mary as the senior descendant of Henry VIII’s eldest sister, was the rightful Queen of England.

Seeing this opportunity, Henry II of France proclaimed his eldest son and daughter-in-law King and Queen of England and Scotland. He even had the royal arms of England quartered with those of Francis and Mary. Mary’s claim to the English throne was a perennial sticking point between the two Queens.

I think Elizabeth would’ve let her off, believing it was the works of Henry II and his advisors, but Mary continued to claim she was heir to the English throne after Henry II’s death.

francis and mary
Francis and Mary crowned King and Queen of France

On 10 July 1559, Henry II of France died from injuries sustained in a joust, two lance fragments in the eye and neck. Henry was succeeded by Francis II and Mary as King and Queen of France.

Back home in Scotland, the power of the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, was rising at the expense of Mary’s mother, who maintained effective control only through the use of French troops.

The Protestant Lords invited English troops into Scotland in an attempt 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, Francis, Duke of Guise and Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine (brother of Mary of Guise), sent ambassadors to negotiate a settlement.

On 11 June 1560, Mary of Guise died, and so the question of future Franco-Scots relations was a pressing one. 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 recognising Elizabeth’s right to rule England. However, the seventeen-year-old Mary, still in France and grieving for her mother, refused to ratify the treaty until she could talk with her council on the matter.

Mary’s Coat of Arms while in France

coat of arms

Sadly, on 5 December 1560, Francis II of France died from a middle ear infection that led to an abscess in his brain. Mary was grief-stricken, she had not long ago lost her mother, but now her childhood friend and husband. By swift negotiations, Catherine de’ Medici, became regent for the late King’s ten-year-old brother, Charles IX of France.

Now that Mary was no longer Queen of France, what was to become of her? She could stay in France as was befitting of a widowed Queen, or she could return to her birth home, Scotland, and rule as their rightful Queen.

To see what is next installed with our favourite Queen, stay tuned for the next blog post scheduled on Friday 23 March.



House of Stewart

The name “Stewart” originates from the political position of office similar to a governor, known as steward. It was adopted as the family surname by Walter Stewart, 3rd High Steward of Scotland. Prior to this, family names were not used, instead they had patronyms, a name derived from the name of a father or ancestor. For example, the first two High Stewards were known as FitzAlan and FitzWalter respectively. The gallicised spelling (to make or become French in language) was first borne by John Stewart of Darnley, after his time in the French wars.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots

During the 16th century, the French spelling of Stuart was adopted by Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was living in France. She authorized the change to ensure the correct pronunciation of the Scots version of the name Stewart, the letter “w” would have made it difficult for French speakers.

The spelling of Stuart was also used by her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He was the father of James VI and I, so the official spelling Stuart for the British royal family derives from him.

family tree

Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, married Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce. He also played an important part in the Battle of Bannockburn, gaining further favour.

Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, Coat of Arms

Their son, Robert, was heir to the House of Bruce, the lordship of Cunningham and the Bruce lands of Bourtreehill. When his uncle, David II, died childless on 22 February 1371, he inherited the Scottish throne as Robert II.

robert ii of scotland
Robert II of Scotland

In 1593, James IV of Scotland hoped to secure peace with England by marrying King Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret Tudor. The birth of their son, James V, brought the House of Stewart into the line of descent of the House of Tudor, and the English throne.

james iv of scotland and margaret tudor
James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor

Margaret Tudor later married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, and their daughter, Margaret Douglas, was the mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

In 1565, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, married his half-cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, the daughter of James V and Mary of Guise.

James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise

Both Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, had strong claims to the English throne, through their mutual grandmother, Margaret Tudor. This led to the accession of the couple’s only child, James, as King of Scotland, England and Ireland on 24 March 1603. However, this was a Personal Union, as the three kingdoms shared a monarch, but had separate governments, churches, and institutions.

Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI + I of Scotland, England and Ireland

This personal union did not prevent an armed conflict, known as the Bishops’ Wars, breaking out between England and Scotland in 1639. This was to become part of the cycle of political and military conflict that marked the reign of Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland, terminating in a series of conflicts known as the War of the Three Kingdoms.