Book Review ~ Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser

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goodreads link

 

synopsis

“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”.

review

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.

EN MA FIN EST MON COMMENCEMENT

(In my end is my beginning)

My star rating is:

5

 

 

 

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Mary, Queen of Scots’ Husbands

Francis II of France

francis ii of france

Father:

Henry II of France

Mother:

Catherine de’ Medici

House:

Valois-Angouleme

Born:

19 January 1544

Chateau de Fontainebleau, France

Died:

5 December 1560

Ear Infection

Orleans, France

Burial:

23 December 1560

Basilica of St Denis, France

Religion:

Roman Catholic

Spouse:

Mary, Queen of Scots

24 April 1558

King of France:

10 July 1559 – 5 December 1560

Coronation:

21 September 1559

King Consort of Scotland:

24 April 1558 – 5 December 1560

 

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

henry stuart, lord darnley

Father:

William Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox

Mother:

Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

House:

Stuart (Darnley branch)

Born:

7 December 1545

Temple Newsam, Yorkshire, England

Died:

10 February 1567

Assassination

Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh, Scotland

Burial:

14 February 1567

Holyrood Abbey, Scotland

Religion:

Roman Catholic

Spouse:

Mary, Queen of Scots

29 July 1565

Child:

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

Father:

Patrick Hepburn, 3rd Earl of Bothwell

Mother:

Agnes Sinclair

Born:

c 1534

Edinburgh, Scotland

Died:

14 April 1578

Dragsholm Castle, Denmark

Burial:

Farevejle Church, Dragsholm, Denmark

Religion:

Protestant

Spouse:

Anna Throndsen

c 1559

Lady Jean Gordon

24 February 1566 – (div) 7 May 1567

Mary, Queen of Scots

15 May 1567

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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Mary, Queen of Scots ~ The Young Queen

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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Timeline of Marie Antoinette

1755

2 November

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna is born in Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria, Holy Roman Empire to Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Theresa of Austria.

1756

Seven Years’ War starts between France & England. Austria & France join forces.

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Marie Antoinette 1762

1763

Seven Years’ War ends. The same year, to maintain the alliance between France and Austria, they arrange that Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin of France and King Louis XV’s grandson, marry Marie Antoinette.

1770

19 April

Maria Antonia was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France at the Augustinian Church in Vienna, with her brother Archduke Ferdinand standing in for the Dauphin.

14 May

Maria Antonia met her husband at the edge of the forest of Compiègne. Upon her arrival in France, she adopted the French version of her name: Marie Antoinette.

16 May

A further ceremonial wedding took place in the Palace of Versailles and, after the festivities, the day ended with the ritual bedding.

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Celebrations of the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste at Royal Chapel of Versailles.

1774

10 May

King Louis XV of France dies of smallpox.

1775

11 June

Louis-Auguste is crowned King Louis XVI of France at Reims Cathedral.

1778

19 December

Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI give birth to their first child, Marie Therese of France.

1780

29 November

Empress Maria Therese, mother of Marie Antoinette, dies from pneumonia.

1781

22 October 1781

Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI give birth to their child child, Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France.

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The Royal Family 1781

1785

27 March

Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI give birth to their third child, Louis Charles (later King Louis XVII of France).

1786

9 July

Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI give birth to their fourth child, Sophie Helene Beatrix of France.

1787

19 June

Not yet a year old, Sophie Helene Beatrix of France dies from tuberculosis.

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This State Portrait of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children, Marie Thérèse, Louis Charles (on her lap), and Louis Joseph holding up the drape of an empty bassinet signifying the recent death of Marie’s fourth child 1787

1789

5 May

Beginning of the French Revolution.

4 June

Louis Joseph also dies from tuberculosis. The title Dauphin of France goes to his brother, Louis Charles.

1791

21 June

An escape was ultimately attempted, but the entire family was arrested less than twenty-four hours later at Varennes and taken back to Paris within a week. The escape attempt destroyed much of the remaining support of the population for the King.

1792

10 August

In a context of civil and international war, King Louis XVI of France, was suspended and arrested at the time of the Insurrection. One month later, the absolute monarchy was abolished.

21 September

The First French Republic was proclaimed.

1793

21 January

King Louis XVI of France is executed on the guillotine

14 October

Marie Antoinette was tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal.

16 October

After being found guilty, Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine at 12:15pm.

Her head was one of those that Marie Tussaud was employed to make death masks of. Her body was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery located close by in rue d’Anjou.

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That was just a small taste of the life of Marie Antoinette.

I cannot wait to read Marie Antoinette – The Journey by Antonia Fraser to learn more about this fascinating woman.

 

 

 

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Children of Marie Antoinette

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For whatever reason, since the day Marie Antoinette and the future King Louis XVI of France married on 16 May 1770, the marriage was never consummated. However, that all changed seven years later in August 1777.

Eight months later, in April 1778, it was suspected that the Queen was pregnant, which was officially announced on May 16.

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Marie Therese

On 19 December 1778, Marie Antoinette gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Marie Therese.

Her second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage early in July 1779, as confirmed by letters between the Queen and her mother, although some historians claim this may be because of irregular menstrual cycle that she mistook as a miscarriage.

In March 1781 it was confirmed she was pregnant, and on 22 October 1781 she gave birth to a son, Louis Joseph Xavier Francois, Dauphin of France.

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Louis Joseph

Marie Antoinette suffered another miscarriage on her 28th birthday on 2 November 1783.

On 27 March 1785 she gave birth to another son, Louis-Charles. Who would later become Dauphin of France after his elder brothers’ death on 4 June 1789.

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Louis Charles

There was a lot of controversy around the legitimacy of Louis-Charles, the fact that the birth occurred exactly nine months after Swedish diplomat Count Axel von Fersen, returned from America and was accepted into the Queen’s private society. There were claims that the two were romantically involved, but since most of their correspondence has been lost or destroyed, there is no conclusive evidence.

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Sophie Helene

A second daughter, and her last child, Sophie Helene Beatrix was born on 9 July 1786.

Unfortunately, she died a month short of her first birthday on 19 June 1787.

 

 

 

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Marie Antoinette ~ Early Years as Queen

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Upon the death of King Louis XV of France on 10 May 1774, Louis-Auguste ascended the throne as King Louis XVI of France and Navarre and Marie Antoinette became Queen of France and Navarre.

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Royal monogram of Marie Antoinette as Queen of France

It would seem at first that the new Queen of France had limited political influence with her husband, who with the support of his two most important ministers, Chief Minister Jean-Frederic Phelypeaux, Count of Maurepas, and Foreign Minister Charles Gravies, Count Vergennes, blocked several of her candidates from assuming important positions, including Etienne Francois, Duke of Choiseul, who was an advocate for the marriage between the new King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

However, she did play a decisive role in the disgrace and exile of the most powerful of Louis XVI’s ministers, Emmanuel-Armand de Richelieu, Duke of Aiguillon.

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Petite Trianon

Two weeks after the death of King Louis XV of France, on 24 May 1774 Louis XVI gave Marie Antoinette an estate, the Petit Trianon, and free rein to renovate it. Not long after, rumours started to circulate that she had plastered the walls with gold and diamonds.

She would come to the Petit Trianon not only to escape the formality of court life, but also to shake off the burden of her royal responsibilities. At Versailles, she was under considerable pressure and judgement from both her family and the court, and the Petit Trianon was her place of ease and leisure where she could rest from those trials.

800px-marie_antoinette_young7Though the country was facing a grave financial crisis and the population was suffering, Marie Antoinette spent heavily on fashion, luxuries and gambling.

Rose Bertin, celebrated French fashion designer, created dresses for her, and hair styles such as poufs up to 90 cm high, and the panache, a spray of feather plumes.

She and her court also adopted the English fashion of dresses made of indienne (a material banned in France from 1686 until 1759), percale and muslin.

By the time of the Flour War of 1775 due to the high price of flour and bread, a series of riots had damaged her reputation among the general public. Likewise, her reputation was no better than that of the favourites of the previous Kings. In fact, many in the country were beginning to blame her for the degrading economic situation, suggesting the country’s inability to pay off its debt was the result of her wasting the crown’s money. Through correspondence, Marie Antoinette’s mother, Empress Maria Theresa, expressed concern over her daughter’s spending habits, citing the civil unrest it was beginning to cause.

As well as spending lavishly, in early 1774 Marie Antoinette began to befriend some of her male admirers, such as Pierre Victor, Baron of Besenval, Francois-Henri de Franquetot, Duke of Coigny and Count Valentin Esterhazy, and formed deep friendships with various ladies at court. Most noted was Marie Therese Louise of Savoy, Princess of Lamballe, related to the royal family through her marriage into the Penthievre family. On 19 September 1774, she was appointed her superintendent of her household, and appointment she soon transferred to her new favourite, Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, Duchess of Polignac.

Also, in 1774 Marie Antoinette to under her patronage her former music teacher, the German opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, who remained in France until 1779.

 

 

 

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Marie Antoinette ~ Dauphine of France

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After the Seven Years’ War (17 May 1756 – 15 February 1763), and the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, Empress Maria Theresa decided to end hostilities with her long-time enemy, King Louis XV of France.

Their common desire to destroy the ambitions of Prussia and Great Britian, and to secure a definitive peace between their respective countries, led them to seal their alliance with a marriage between Empress Maria Theresa’s daughter, Maria Antonia, and King Louis XV of France’s eldest surviving grandson and heir, Louis-Auguste, Duke of Berry and Dauphin of France.

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Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor

On 19 April 1770 Maria Antonia married by proxy to the Dauphin of France at the Augustinian Church in Vienna, with her brother Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este standing in for the Dauphin.

It wasn’t until the 14 May 1770 that she finally met her husband at the edge of the forest of Compiegne. Upon her arrival in France, she adopted the French version of her name; Marie Antoinette.

On 16 May 1770 a ceremonial wedding took place in the Palace of Versailles an, after the festivities, the day ended with the ritual bedding. However, the lack of a marriage consummation will plague both Louis-Auguste and Marie Antoinette for the next seven years.

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Marie Antoinette in hunting attire 1771

The initial reaction to the newlyweds, particularly Marie Antoinette, was mixed.

There were people who believed the Dauphine to be beautiful, personable and well-liked by the common people. It was proven after her first successful official appearance in Paris on 8 June 1773

Then there were others who were opposed to the alliance with Austria, and others for personal reasons.

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Madame du Barry

There was one, Madame du Barry, King Louis XV of France’s mistress and someone who had considerable political influence over him. In 1770 she was instrumental in ousting Etienne Francois, duc de Choiseul, who had helped orchestrate the Franco-Austrian alliance and Marie Antoinette’s marriage, and also exiling her sister, the duchesse de Gramont, on of Marie Antoinette’s ladies-in-waiting.

Louis-Auguste’s aunts persuaded Marie Antoinette to refuse to acknowledge Madame du Barry, which some saw as a political blunder that jeopardised Austria’s interests at the French court. Austrian ambassador to France, Florimond Claude, comte de Mercy-Argenteau, was sending Empress Maria Theresa secret reports on Marie Antoinette’s behaviour. After word of how she was refusing to acknowledge Madame du Barry, they pressured Marie Antoinette to change that, which she grudgingly agreed to do on New Years’ Day 1772.

Even though all she said was, “There are a lot of people at Versailles today”, it was enough for Madame du Barry, who was satisfied with this recognition, and the crisis passed.

Two days after the death of King Louis XV of France (who died on 10 May 1774), the new King Louis XVI of France exiled Madame du Barry to the Abbaye de Pont-aux-Dames in Meaux, pleasing his wife and aunts.

However, two and a half years later at the end of October 1776, Madame du Barry’s exile ended and was allowed to return to her beloved chateau at Louveciennes, but she was never permitted to return to Versailles.

 

 

 

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Childhood of Marie Antoinette

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On 2 November 1755 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, Maria Antonia was born to Empress Maria Theresa, ruler of the Habsburg Empire, and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor.

She had many siblings before her. In total, Empress Maria Theresa gave birth to sixteen children, thirteen of whom survived to adulthood.

Maria Antonia’s godparents were King Joseph I of Portugal and his wife, Mariana Victoria. Archduke Joseph and Archduchess Maria Anna acted as proxies for their newborn sister.

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Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor

Shortly after her birth, Maria Antonia was placed under the care of the governess of the imperial children, Countess von Brandeis. She was raised together with her three-year older sister, Maria Carolina, with whom she had a lifelong close relationship.

She might’ve had a difficult relationship with her mother, but they both did love each other.

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Archduchesses Maria Antonia in a pink dress and Maria Carolina in blue.

Maria Antonia spent her formative years between the Hofburg Palace and Schönbrunn, the imperial summer residence in Vienna, where at the age of seven on 13 October 1762, she met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was two months her junior.

Despite the private tutoring she received, the results of her schooling were less than satisfactory. At the age of ten, she could not write correctly in German or in any language commonly used at court, such as French and Italian, and conversations with her were stilted.

However, under the teaching of Christoph Willibald Gluck, she developed into a good musician. She learned to play the harp, the harpsichord and the flute. She sang during the family’s evening gatherings, as she also had a beautiful voice.

 

Stay tuned for more on Marie Antoinette’s life.

 

 

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Battle of Hastings (1066)

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In 911 Charles III, also called “the simple”, King of West Francia and Lotharingia allowed a group of Vikings, let by Rollo, to settle in Normandy. Their settlement proved a success, with the Vikings quickly adapting to the indigenous culture, renouncing paganism and converting to Christianity, and intermarrying with the local population. Over time, the boundaries of the duchy extended to the west.

edward the confessor
Edward the Confessor

King Æthelred II “the unready” of England married Emma of Normandy, sister of Richard II, Duke of Normandy, in 1002. Their son, Edward the Confessor, spent many years in Normandy, then in 1042 he finally succeeded to the throne of England. Edward drew heavily on his former hosts for support, bringing in Norman courtiers, soldiers, and clerics, appointing them to positions of power, particularly in the Church.

On 23 January 1045, Edward married Godwin, Earl of Wessex’s daughter, Edith, but their union would be childless. Edward would also embroil in conflict with Godwin, Earl of Wessex and his sons. There is dispute that at this time, especially with no children, Edward encouraged William of Normandy’s ambitions for the English throne.

On 5 January 1066 Edward died leaving no clear heir, this led to several contenders to lay claim to the English throne. After the death of Godwin, Earl of Wessex on 15 April 1053, his eldest son Harold, the now Earl of Wessex was Edward’s immediate successor. Harold was the richest and most powerful of the English aristocrats.

Harold was elected King by the Witenagemot of England and on 6 January, was crowned by Archbishop of York, Ealdred, although Norman propaganda claimed that the ceremony was performed by the uncanonically elected Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury. Probably to say that his coronation didn’t “technically” happen.

harold godwinson
Harold Godwinson

At once, Harold was challenged by two powerful neighbouring rulers.

William of Normandy claimed that he had been promised the throne of England by Edward, and that Harold had actually sworn agreement to this.

Harald III of Norway, commonly known as Harald Hardrada, was the other contender. His claim to the throne was based on an agreement between his predecessor, Magnus I of Norway, and the earlier King of England Harthacanute, whereby, if either died without heir, the other would inherit both English and Norway.

William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada immediately set about assembling troops and ships for separate invasions.

In early 1066 Harold’s exiled brother, Tostig Godwinson, raided south-eastern England with a fleet he had recruited in Flanders, later joined by other ships from Orkney. Threatened by Harold’s fleet, Tostig moved north and raided in East Anglia and Lincolnshire. He was driven back to his ships by the brothers Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria. Deserted by most of his followers, he withdrew to Scotland, where he spent the middle of the year recruiting fresh forces.

Harald Hardrada invaded northern England in early September, leading a fleet of more than 300 ships carrying perhaps 15,000 men. Harald Hardrada’s army was further augmented by the forces of Tostig, who supported the Norwegian King’s bid for the throne. Advancing on York, the Norwegians occupied the city after defeating a northern English army under Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria on 20 September at the Battle of Fulford.

battle of fulford
Battle of Fulford

The English army was organised along regional lines, with the fyrd, or local levy, serving under a local magnate – whether an earl, bishop, or sheriff.

The fyrd was composed of men who owned their own land and were equipped by their community to fulfil the king’s demands for military forces. For every five hides, or units of land nominally capable of supporting one household, one man was supposed to serve. It appears that the hundred was the main organising unit for the fyrd. As a whole, England could furnish about 14,000 men for the fyrd, when it was called out. The fyrd usually served for two months, except in emergencies. It was rare for the whole national fyrd to be called out; between 1046 and 1065 it was only done three times, in 1051, 1052, and 1065. The king also had a group of personal arms-men, known as housecarls, who formed the backbone of the royal forces. Some earls also had their own forces of housecarls. Thegns, the local landowning elites, either fought with the royal housecarls or attached themselves to the forces of an earl or other magnate. The fyrd and the housecarls both fought on foot, with the major difference between them being the housecarls’ superior armour. The English army does not appear to have had a significant number of archers.

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Harold had spent mid-1066 on the south coast with a large army and fleet waiting for William to invade. The bulk of his forces were militia who needed to harvest their crops, dismissing them and the fleet on 8 September, Harold dismissed the militia.

Learning of the Norwegian invasion, he rushed north gathering forces as he went. On 25 September at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold took the Norwegians by surprise and defeating them.

Both Harald and Tostig were killed, leaving the Norwegians with such a great loss that only 24 of the original 300 ships were required to carry away the survivors. The English victory came at a great cost, as Harold’s army was left in a battered and weakened state. Perfect for William.

battle of stamford bridge

William spent almost nine months preparing and assembling a large invasion fleet and an army gathered from Normandy and the rest of France, including large parties from Brittany and Flanders. It took him this long because he had to construct a fleet from nothing.

According to some Norman chronicles, he also secured diplomatic support, although the accuracy of the reports has been a matter of historical debate. The most famous claim is that Pop Alexander II gave a papal banner as a token of support, which only appears in William of Poitier’s account, and not in more contemporary narratives.

Whatever Williams prerogative was, he mustered his forces at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and was ready to cross the English Channel by 12 August. However, the crossing was delayed, either because of unfavourable weather or to avoid being intercepted by the powerful English fleet.

A few days after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the Normans crossed to England and landed at Pevensey in Sussex on 28 September. A few ships were blown off course and landed at Romney, where Normans fought the local fyrd. After landing, William’s forces built a wooden castle at Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding area. More fortifications were erected at Pevensey.

The exact numbers and composition of William’s forces are unknown. A contemporary document claims that William had 776 ships, but this may be an inflated figure. Figures given by contemporary writers are highly exaggerated, varying from 14,000 to 150,000. Modern historians have offered a range of estimates for the size of William’s forces, either 7,000–8,000 men, 1,000–2,000 of them cavalry, or 10,000–12,000 men, or 10,000 men 3,000 of them cavalry, or 7,500 men.

William’s army consisted of cavalry, infantry and archers or crossbowmen, with about equal numbers of cavalry and archers and the foot soldiers equal in number to the other two types combined.

chainmail hauberks
Chainmail Hauberks

The main armour used was chainmail hauberks, usually knee-length with slits to allow riding, some with sleeves to the elbows. Some hauberks may have been made of scales attached to a tunic, with the scales made of metal, horn or hardened leathers. Headgear was usually a conical metal helmet with a band of metal extending down to protect the nose. Horsemen and infantry carried shields. The infantryman’s shield was usually round and made of wood, with reinforcement of metal. Horsemen had changed to a kit-shaped shield and were usually armed with a lance. The couched lance, carried tucked against the body under the right arm, was a relatively new refinement as was probably not used at Hastings, the terrain was unfavourable for long cavalry charges. Both the infantry and cavalry usually fought with a straight sword, long and double-edged. The infantry could also use javelins and long spears. Some of the cavalry may have used a mace instead of a sword. Archers would have used a self bow or a crossbow, and most would not have had armour.

You can see in the picture to the left of a tapestry of what the soldiers looked like.

After the victory of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold let much of his forces in the north including Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, and marched the rest of his army south to deal with the Norman invasion. Harold stopped in London and was there for about a week before arriving in Hastings. On the night of 13 October, Harold camped at Caldbec Hill near what was described as a “hour-apple tree”. This location was about 8 miles (13 kilometres) from William’s castle at Hastings.

Although Harold was hoping to surprise the Normans like he did the Norwegians, William’s scouts reported the English arrival to William. The exact events preceding the battle are obscure, with contradictory accounts in the sources, but all agree that William led his army from his castle and advance towards Harold. Harold had taken a defensive position at the top of Senlac Hill (present-day Battle, East Sussex), about 6 miles (9.7 kilometres) from William’s castle.

The exact number of soldiers on Harold’s side is unknown. Of course, contemporary records do not give reliable figures. Some Norman sources give 400,000 to 1,200,000 men on Harold’s side, while the English sources generally give very low figures, perhaps to make the English defeat seem less devastating.

Recent historians have suggested figures of between 5,000 and 13,000 for Harold’s army at Hastings, and most historians argue for a figure of 7,000-8,000 English troops. These men would have been a mix of the fyrd and housecarls.

Few individual Englishmen are known to have been at Hastings, about 20 named individuals can reasonably be assumed to have fought on Harold’s side, including Harold’s brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, and two other relatives.

Harold’s army consisted entirely of infantry. The core of the army was made up of housecarls, full-time professional soldiers. Their armour consisted of a conical helmet, a mail hauberk, and a shield, which might be either kite-shaped or round. Most housecarls fought with the two-handed Danish battle-axe, but they could also carry a sword. The rest of the army was made up of levies from the fyrd, also infantry but more lightly armoured and not professionals. Most of the infantry would have formed part of the shield wall, in which all the men in the front ranks locked their shields together to block the opposition from advancing. Behind the shield wall would have been axemen and men with javelins as well as archers. You can imagine what they do. It is also possible that some of the higher-class members of the army rode to battle, but when battle was joined, they dismounted to fight on foot.

With many of the primary accounts contradicting each other, it is impossible to provide a description of the battle that is beyond dispute. It is known that the winning side can exaggerate and the losing side can down play an event.

The only undisputed facts are that the fighting began at 9am on Saturday 14 October 1066, and that the battle lasted until dusk.

On the day of this battle, sunset was at 4:54pm, making the battlefield mostly dark by 5:54pm and in full darkness by 6:24pm. Moonrise that night wasn’t until 11:12pm, so once the sun set, there was little light on the battlefield.

William of Jumieges, one of the earliest writers on the subject of the Norman Conquest, reports that William of Normandy kept his army armed and ready against a surprise night attack for the entire night before.

The battle took place 7 miles (11km) north of Hastings at the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex, between two hills – Caldbec Hill to the north and Telham Hill to the south. The area was heavily wooded, with a marsh nearby.

The name traditionally given to the battle is unusual since there were several settlements much closer to the battlefield than Hastings. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called it the battle “at the hoary apple tree”. Within forty years, the battle was described by the Anglo-Norman chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, as “Senlac”, a Norman-French adaptation of the Old English word “Sandlacu”, which means “sandy water”. This may have been the name of the stream that crosses the battlefield. However, by 1087, the battle was referred to as “bellum Hasestingas” or “Battle of Hastings” in the Domesday Book.

Sunrise was at 6:48am that morning, and reports of the day record that is was unusually bright. Unfortunately, the weather conditions are not recorded or found. Also, not to our knowledge is the which route that the English army took to the battlefield. Several roads are possible, one could be an old Roman road that ran from Rochester to Hastings, has long been favoured because of a large coin hoard found nearby in 1876. Another possibility is a Roman road between London and Lewes and then over local tracks to the battlefield.

Some accounts of the battle indicate that the Normans advanced from Hastings to the battlefield, but the contemporary account of William of Jumieges, places the Normans at the site of the battle the night before.

Historians have gone back and forward to what was exactly true. We might know 100%, until then, only the men from then will only know.

battle dispositions
Battle Dispositions

Harold’s forces deployed in a small, dense formation at the top of steep slope, with their flanks protected by woods and marshy ground in front of them. The line may have extended far enough to be anchored on a nearby stream. The English formed a shield wall, with the front ranks holding their shields close together or even overlapping to provide protection from attack. And of course, sources differ on the exact site that the English fought on. Some sources state the site of the abbey, but some newer sources suggest it was Caldbec Hill.

However, more is known about the Norman deployment. William appears to have arranged his forces in three groups, or “battles”, which roughly corresponded to their origins. The left units were the Bretons, along with those from Anjou, Poitou and Maine. This division was led by Alan the Red, a relative of the Breton court. The centre was held by the Normans under the direct command of William, and with many of his relatives and kinsmen grouped around the ducal party. The final division, on the right, consisted of the Frenchmen, along with some men from Picardy, Boulogne, and Flanders. The right was commanded by William fitzOsbern and Count Eustace II of Boulogne. The front line was made up of archers with a line of foot soldiers armed with spears behind. There were probably a few crossbowmen and slingers in with the archers. The cavalry was held in reserve, and a small group of clergymen and servants situated at the base of Telham Hill was not expected to take part in the fighting.

William’s disposition of his forces implies that he planned to open the battle with archers in the front rank weakening the enemy with arrows, followed by infantry who would engage in close combat. The infantry would create openings in the English lines that could be exploited b a cavalry charge to break through the English forces and pursue the fleeing soldiers.

The opening of the battle saw the Norman archers shooting uphill at the English shield wall, to little effect. Shooting at an uphill angle meant that the arrows either bounced off the shields of the English or overshot their targets and flew over the top of the hill. Since the English lacked archers this in turned effected the Normans archers, as there were few English arrows to be gathered up and reused.

view of the battlefield looking towards senlac hill
View of the battlefield looking towards Senlac Hill

After the attack from the archers, William sent the spearmen forward to attack the English. They were met with a barrage of missiles, not arrows but spears, axes and stones. Since the infantry were unable to force openings in the shield wall, the cavalry advanced in support. Just like the infantry, the cavalry also failed to make headway, and a general retreat began, blamed on the Breton division on William’s left.

william lifting his helmet at the battle of hastings to show that he still lives
William lifting his helmet at the Battle of Hastings to show that he still lives

A rumour started that William had been killed, which added to the confusion. However, when the English forces began to pursue the fleeing invaders, William rode through his forces, showing his face and yelling that he was in fact still alive. William then led a counter-attack against the pursuing English forces.

It is unknown if the English pursuit was on the orders of Harold or if it was spontaneous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the bayeux tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the death of Harold’s brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, occurring just before the fight around the hillock. This may mean that it was the brothers who led the English pursuit.

However, in the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the Battle of Hastings), it tells a different story of the death of Gyrth. It says the William slew Gyrth in combat, perhaps thinking that Gyrth was actually Harold.

Another theory is from William of Poitiers, who states that the bodies of Gyrth and Leofwine were found near Harold’s, implying that they died late in the battle. However, if they did die early in battle, their bodies could’ve been taken to Harold, thus accounting for their bodies being found near his body after the battle.

Whenever they died, the known fact is, they died.

Just like his brothers, the exact moment of Harold’s death is also up for debate. It appears that he perished late in the battle, although accounts in the various sources are contradictory. William of Poitiers only mentions his death without giving any details on how it occurred. The Tapestry isn’t helpful, as it shows a figure holding an arrow sticking out of his eye next to a failing fighter being hit with a sword. Over both the figures is a statement, “Here King Harold has been killed”. That’s great, but which one, one or the other or both?

king harolds death
“Here King Harold has been killed”

The earliest written mention of the traditional account of Harold dying from an arrow to the eye, dates to the 1080s written by an Italian monk, Amatus of Montecassino.

However, the means of Harold’s death, the fact remains, Harold’s death left the English forces leaderless so they began to collapse. Many of them fled, but the brave soldiers of the royal household gathered around Harold’s body and fought to the end.

The Normans began to pursue the fleeing troops, and except for a rearguard action at a site known as the “Malfosse”, the battle was over. Exactly what happened at “Malfosse”, or “Evil Ditch”, and where it took place, in unclear. It occurred at a small fortification or set of trenches where some Englishmen rallied and seriously wounded Eustace of Boulogne, before being defeated by the Normans.

Two days after the battle Harold’s body was identified, either by his armour or marks on his body. His personal standard was presented to William, later sent to the papacy. The bodies of the English dead, including some of Harold’s brothers and housecarls, were left on the battlefield, although some were removed by relatives at a later date. The Norman dead were buried in a large communal grave, which has not been found.

There is one story of Harold’s mother, Gytha, offered William the weight of Harold’s body in gold for its custody, but was refused. It is also said that William ordered Harold’s body to be thrown into the sea, but whether that took place is unclear. Another story states that Harold was buried at the top of a cliff. Waltham Abbey, which had been founded by Harold, later claimed that his body had been secretly buried there. And of course, there are legends that Harold didn’t die at all, but escaped and became a hermit of Chester…

On 25 December 1066, William was acclaimed King of England and crowned by Ealdred, Archbishop of York.

Despite the submission of the English nobles, resistance continued for several years, but that’s is another story.

 

 

 

 

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