Book Review ~ Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser


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“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.



Henry II of France

Thanks to my love of Mary, Queen of Scots and the TV show Reign, I would never have thought about Henry II of France. I’m sure I would’ve come across him at some point in my life, but I wouldn’t have researched him as much as I have now.

We all know him as the father of Mary, Queen of Scots first husband, Francis. In the TV show, he seems like a very interesting character. If you’ve seen the TV show, you would know what I mean.

young henry
Young Henry

On 31 March 1519 in the royal Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, Henry was born to King Francis I of France and Claude, Duchess of Brittany (daughter of King Louis XII of France).

At the Battle of Pavia on 24 February 1525, Francis I of France was captured by the forces of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and held prisoner in Spain.

For Francis I to gain his release, it was agreed that Henry and his older brother, Francis III of Brittany, was to be sent to Spain in his place. Both brothers remained in captivity for over four years and did not return to France until 1530, after the conclusion of the Peace of Cambrai.

henry and catherine de' medici
Henry and Catherine de’ Medici

On 28 October 1533, Henry married Catherine de’ Medici when they were both fourteen-years-old. However, the following year he became romantically involved with a thirty-five-year-old widow, Diane de Poitiers.

diane de poitiers
Diane de Poitiers

Henry and Diane had always been very close, even when Henry was six-years-old, Diane embraced Henry fondly before he was sent off to Spain. The bond returned after his return to France. Their bond was one of care and nurturing on her part, and trust and belonging on his.

Henry’s regard of Diane was advertised when, during a jousting tournament, he insisted that his lance carry her ribbon instead of his wife’s. Diane also became Henry’s most trusted confidante and perhaps his mistress, and for the next twenty-five-years, she wielded considerable influence behind the scenes, even signing royal documents. She was extremely confident, mature and intelligent, leaving Catherine powerless to intervene. However, she did insist that Henry sleep with Catherine in order to produce heirs.

Henry’s sister, Madeleine, married James V of Scotland (Mary, Queen of Scots father) on 1 January 1537. Unfortunately, due to her poor health, she died on 7 July 1537. You can read all about James V of Scotland here.

After a game of tennis on 10 August 1536, the Dauphin, Duke of Brittany and Henry’s elder brother, Francis, died. This led to Henry becoming heir apparent to the throne.

On 19 January 1544, Catherine gave birth to a son, Francis. Then on 2 April 1545, a girl by the name of Elizabeth.

francis i
Francis I of France

On Henry’s twenty-eighth birthday, 31 March 1547, his father Francis I passed away at the Chateau de Rambouillet. It is said that “he died complaining about the weight of a crown that he had first perceived as a gift from God”. He was entombed with his first wife, Claude, Duchess of Brittany, in Saint Denis Basilica.

Henry was crowned, Henry II of France on 25 July 1547 at Reims Cathedral by Charles of Lorraine.


Catherine gave birth to three more children; Claude on 12 November 1547, Louis on 3 February 1549, but died on 24 October that same year. And Charles on 27 June 1550.

Five-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, was sent to France after the marriage agreement between herself and Francis (Henry’s eldest son), was finalised. The French fleet, sent by Henry, commanded by Nicolas de Villegagnon, sailed with Mary from Dumbarton on 7 August 1548 and arrived a week or more later at Roscoff or Saint-Pol-de-Leon in Brittany.

Catholic Valois propaganda: a haloed Henri II, attended by France and crowned by Fame, effortlessly tramples Heresy under foot in this engraving by Jean Duvet, ca. 1548

Henry’s reign was marked by wars with Austria and the persecution of Protestants, mainly Calvinists knows as Huguenots. Henry was known for severe punishments, burning at the stake or cutting off their tongues for uttering heresies. Even those only suspected of being Huguenots could be imprisoned.

The Edict of Chateaubriant on 27 June 1551, called upon the civil and religious courts to detect and punish all heretics and placed severe restrictions on Huguenots, including the loss of one-third of their property to informers, and confiscations. It was also forbidden to sell, import or print any unapproved book.

Also, during the reign of Henry, that Huguenot attempts at establishing a colony in Brazil were made, with the short-lived formation called France Antarctique.

The Eighth Italian War or the Habsburg-Valois War of 1551-1559, began when Henry declared war against Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, with the intent of recapturing Italy and ensuring French, rather than Habsburg, domination of European affairs.

the peace of chateau-cambresis
The Peace of Chateau-Cambresis

Even though Henry was happy to persecute Protestants at home, it did not prevent him from becoming allied with German Protestant princes at the Treaty of Chambord on 15 January 1552.

The continuation of his father’s Franco-Ottoman alliance allowed Henry to push for French conquests towards the Rhine while a Franco-Ottoman fleet defended southern France. The attempted French invasion of Tuscany on 2 August 1554 was defeated at the Battle of Marciano. However, an early offensive into Lorraine was successful, Henry captured the three episcopal cities of MetzToul, and Verdun, and secured them by defeating the Habsburg army at the Battle of Renty on 12 August 1554.

henry ii
Henry II of France

After Charles, Holy Roman Emperor, abdicated from the throne, the Habsburg empire was split between Philip II of Spain and Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor. The focus of Henry’s conflict with the Habsburgs then shifted to Flanders, where Philip II of Spain, in conjunction with Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, defeated the French at the Battle of St. Quentin on 27 August 1557.

England’s entry into the war later that year led to the French capture of Calais, and French armies plundered Spanish possessions in the Low Countries. Nonetheless, Henry was forced to accept the Peace of Chatau-Cambresis, which he relinquished any further claims to territories in Italy.

This agreement was signed between Henry and Elizabeth I of England on 2 April 1559, and then between Henry and Philip II of Spain the next day at Le Chateau-Cambresis.

Under these new terms, Henry restored Piedmont and Savoy to Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, but retained Saluzzo, Calais, and the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Spain retained Franche-Comte.

Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy married Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry, sister of Henry. Philip II of Spain married Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth of Valois.

francis ii and mary, queen of scots
Francis II and Mary, Queen of Scots

On 24 April 1558, Henry’s fourteen-year-old son Francis married fifteen-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots. The union was intended to give the future King of France not only the throne of Scotland, but also a claim to the throne of England. Henry had Mary sign secret documents, illegal in Scottish law, that would ensure Valois rule in Scotland even if she died without an heir. Mary’s claim to the English throne quickly became an issue when Mary I of England died later in 1558.

On 30 June 1559, at the Place des Vosges at the Hotel des Tournelles, a tournament was held to celebrate the Peace of Chateau-Cambresis with his long-time enemies, the Habsburgs of Austria, and also to celebrate the marriage between his daughter, Elisabeth of Valois to King Philip II of Spain.

Tournament between Henry II and Gabriel Montgomery

Henry was an avid participant in jousts and tournaments, except this time he was wounded in the eye by a fragment of the splintered lance of Gabriel Montgomery, captain of the King’s Scottish Guard.

As Henry lay dying, Queen Catherine limited access to his bedside, even denying his mistress Diane de Poitiers, even though he repeatedly asked to see her.

Despite the efforts of Ambroise Pare, the royal surgeon, Henry died of septicemia on 10 July 1559.

Following his death, Catherine sent Diane into exile, where she lived in comfort on her own properties until her death on 25 April 1566.

monument of the heart of henry ii
The Monument to the Heart of Henry II

It was the practice to enclose the heart of the King in an urn, The Monument to the Heart of Henry II is in the collection of the Louvre, but was originally in the Chapel of Orleans beneath a pyramid. Unfortunately, the original bronze urn holding Henry’s heart was destroyed during the French Revolution (like a lot of things), so a replica was made in the 19th century.

Henry was succeeded by his sickly fifteen-year-old son, now Francis II of Frances, together with his wife, Mary, Queen of Scots, who had been his childhood friend and fiancée since her arrival at the French court when she was five.

Eighteen months later on 5 December 1560, Francis II passed away, and Mary returned to Scotland the following summer. Francis was succeeded by his ten-year-old brother, Charles IX. Queen Catherine de Medici acted as regent.







Holyrood Palace

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This week is Holyrood week, but what actually is Holyrood week?

Queen Elizabeth II of England spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer, where she carries out official engagements and ceremonies meeting Scots from all walks of life.

It was Queen Victoria of England, after the purchase of Balmoral, who began the custom of staying in Holyrood Palace for a week in July.

So, typical of myself, I need to know more about this magnificent Palace in a country I want to live in, Scotland.

drawing 1
The quadrangle designed by Sir William Bruce, drawn in the 1850s and as it appears today.

Holyrood Palace, also known as Palace of Holyroodhouse, is located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle.


Founded in 1128 as a religious house by David I of Scotland. Legend has it, while out hunting, the King had a vision of a stag with a glowing cross between its antlers. Seeing this as a message from God, he had an abbey built on the very same spot. “Holy Rood”, the name of the Abbey, and subsequently the Palace, means “Holy Cross”.

As time went by, the church proved to be too small for the requirements of the community. Over 35 years from around 1195, extensive monastic buildings were added. Including cloisters, a chapter house, a refectory and guest houses. The enlarged abbey prospered, and from an early date contained royal chambers for use by the sovereign.

In 1370, David II of Scotland became the first of several Kings of Scots to be buried at Holyrood.

james ii of scotland
James II of Scotland

James II of Scotland was not only born at Holyrood on 16 October 1430, but it was also at Holyrood he was crowned on 25 March 1437, married Mary of Guelders on 3 July 1449, and laid to rest after his death on 3 August 1460.

James II son and heir, James III of Scotland, was married to Margaret of Denmark in Holyrood on 13 July 1469.

The early royal residence was in the abbey guesthouse, which most likely stood on the site of the present north range of the Palace, west of the abbey cloister, and by the later 15th century already had dedicated royal apartments.

But it wasn’t until James IV of Scotland who decided to convert these royal chambers into a Palace after his marriage to Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England, on 8 August 1503 at Holyrood.

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

Unfortunately, nothing survives today of the early Palace buildings. It appears that they were laid out around a quadrangle. Main rooms, including the royal lodgings and the chapel were on the first floor, and a tower was added on the south side. Work also began on the Palace gardens, and in 1507 a loch beside the Abbey was drained.

During the reign of James V of Scotland, work began in 1528 on a huge rectangular tower, rounded at the corners, to provide new royal lodgings at the north-west corner of the Palace. Equipped with a drawbridge and protected by a moat, the tower provided a high degree of security and is now the oldest part of the Palace surviving today.

The west front of the Palace was rebuilt to house additional reception rooms. The elegant design incorporated a double-towered gateway, parapets and large windows. The south side was remodelled and included a new chapel.

Now onto my favourite Queen… Mary, Queen of Scots.

mary, queen of scots
Mary, Queen of Scots

The royal apartments in the north-west tower of the Palace were occupied by Mary from her return to Scotland in 1561 to her forced abdication on 24 July 1567.

She had an archery shooting field erected in her private gardens to allow her to practice, also hunting deer in Holyrood Park.

Holyrood is also famous for multiple interviews with the notorious (and someone who I actually despise), John Knox.

It was also in Holyrood that she married her second and third husbands. In the chapel on 29 July 1565 she married Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. And in the great hall on 15 May 1567 she married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell.

What I think is most famous about Holyrood during Mary, Queen of Scots time was the murder of her private secretary, David Rizzio, on 9 March 1566 in the Queen’s private apartments.

murder of david rizzio
Murder of David Rizzio

Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley and several nobles entered the apartment via the private stair from Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley’s own apartments below. Bursting in on Mary, David Rizzio and four other courtiers who were at supper, they began to drag David Rizzio through the bedchamber into the outer chamber, where he was stabbed 56 times in front of a devastated Queen.

You can read more about this, and my favourite Queen, in my Mary, Queen of Scots blogs, part one and part two.

Many royals since Mary, Queen of Scots have stayed and renovated Holyrood Palace like her son James IV + I of Scotland and England, Charles II of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Charles V of the United Kingdom.

As I mentioned earlier, and the reason why I’m writing this post; Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom spends one week at the beginning of summer at Holyrood, during which time investitures are held in the gallery, audiences are held in the morning room, and garden parties are hosted. The 16th century Historic Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots and the State Apartments, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public throughout the year, except when members of the Royal Family are in residence.


A ceremony called “Ceremony of the Keys” is a very ancient ritual that happens every time the Sovereign visits the City. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh presents Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom with the keys of the city, who then returns the keys and says, “I return these keys, being perfectly convinced that they cannot be placed in better hands than those of the Lord Provost and Councillors of my good City of Edinburgh”.

elizabeth ii
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom during her week long visit to Holyrood Palace.


There is no ancient building, and a Palace at that, without a ghost story. Holyrood Palace is home to the naked ghost of Bald Agnes (Agnes Sampson), stripped and tortured in 1592 after being accused of witchcraft. It is rumoured she roams the palace.


There is a lot more to Holyrood Palace then just the information that I have given you, but I think just knowing the beginnings and the end is enough… For now anyway.





James VI + I of Scotland and England

Now that we have talked about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots (which you can read here), now begins the story of her son, James VI of Scotland. Who would also be James I of England.

henry and mary
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots

On 19 June 1566, James was born to Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley at Edinburgh Castle. Both Mary and Henry were great-grandchildren of Henry VII of England through his eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor, also older sister of Henry VIII of England.

As the eldest son and heir apparent of the monarch, he automatically became Duke of Rothesay, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.

mary and james vi
James and Mary, Queen of Scots

On 17 December 1566, he was baptised “James Charles” or “Charles James”, in a Catholic ceremony held at Stirling Castle. His godparents were Charles IX of France (represented by John III, Count of Brienne), Elizabeth I of England (represented by Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford), and Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy (represented by ambassador Philibert du Croc). Mary, thank goodness, refused to let the John Hamilton, Archbishop of St Andrews, spit in the child’s mouth, as was then the custom.

The entertainment, devised by Frenchman Bastian Pagez, features men dressed as satyrs and sporting tails, to which the English guests took offence, thinking the satyrs “done against them”. Satyrs are a class of lustful, drunken woodland gods. In Greek art, they were represented as a man with horse’s ears and tail, but in Roman representations, as a man with goat’s ears, tail, legs and horns.

On 10 February 1567, James’s father, Henry Stuart, was murdered at Kirk o’ Field, perhaps revenge for his murder of Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio. On his father’s death, James inherited his titles of Duke of Albany and Earl of Ross.

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

Between 21 and 23 April 1567, Mary visited ten-month-old James 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.

Mary was already unpopular, and her marriage to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who was widely suspected of murdering Henry, heightened widespread hatred towards her.

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

In June 1567, Protestant rebels arrested Mary and imprisoned her in Loch Leven Castle, forcing to abdicate the throne on 24 July 1567, now making her infant son, King James VI of Scotland and her illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, his regent.

The care of James was entrusted to John Erskine, Earl of Mar and his wife, Annabella Murray, Countess of Mar, “to be conserved, nursed, and upbrought” in the security of Stirling Castle.

At thirteen months old on 29 July 1567, James was anointed King of Scotland at the Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling, by Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney. The sermon at the coronation was preached by none other than John Knox. In accordance with the religious beliefs of most of the Scottish ruling class, James was brought up as a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland, the Kirk. To me, this just shows why they wanted to get rid of Mary, a Catholic, to begin with.

george buchanan
George Buchanan

The Privy Council selected George Buchanan, Peter Young, Adam Erskine (Abbot of Cambuskenneth), and David Erskine (Abbot of Dryburgh), as James’s preceptors or tutors. As James’s senior tutor, George Buchanan subjected James to regular beatings, but also installed in him a lifelong passion for literature and learning. He sought to turn James into a God-fearing, Protestant King who accepted the limitations of monarchy, as outlined in his treatise, “De Jure Regni apud Scotos”.


On 2 May 1568, Mary, Queen of Scots escaped from her imprisonment at Lochleven Castle, leading to several years of sporadic violence. At the Battle of Langside on 13 May, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, defeated Mary’s troops forcing her to flee to England, where she was subsequently kept in confinement by Elizabeth I of England.

On 23 January 1570, regent James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, was assassinated by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh. The next regent was James’s paternal grandfather, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, who was carried fatally wounded into Stirling Castle a year later after a raid by Mary’s supporters. John Erskine, Earl of Mar, “took a vehement sickness” and died on 28 October 1572 at Stirling.

james 1574
James 1574

James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, was elected in office and proved in many ways the most effective of James’s regents, but he made enemies by his greed. He fell from favour when Frenchman Esme Stewart, Sieur d’Aubigny, first cousin of James’s father, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, arrived in Scotland and quickly established himself as the first of James’s powerful favourites.

On 2 June 1581, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, was belatedly charged with complicity in Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley’s murder and executed.

For one more year, fifteen-year-old James remained under the influence of his paternal grandfather.

Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, was a Protestant convert, but he was distrusted by Scottish Calvinists (reformers), who noticed the physical displays of affection between himself and James, even going as far as to say that Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, “went about to draw the King to carnal lust”.

On 22 August 1582 the Protestant William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie and Archibald Douglas, 8th Earl of Angus, lured James into Ruthven Castle, imprisoned him and forced Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox to leave Scotland. This became known as the “Ruthven Raid”. During James’s imprisonment, John Craig, whom James had personally appointed Royal Chaplain in 1579, reprimanded him so sharply from the pulpit for having issued a proclamation offensive to the clergy, “that the king wept”.

In June 1583 James was freed from Ruthven Castle, and now at the age of seventeen, took increasing control of his kingdom.

In 1584, James had the Parliament of Scotland pass the Black Act, bringing the Kirk under royal control with two bishops. This met strong opposition forcing him to concede that the General Assembly should continue to ruin the church, but Presbyterians reacting against the formal mass were opposed by an Episcopalian faction.

James also denounced the writings of his former tutor, George Buchanan.

james 1586
James 1586

On 6 July 1586 James signed the Treaty of Berwick with England. That, and the execution of his mother in 1587, which he described as a “preposterous and strange procedure”. This, as sad as it sounds, cleared the way for his succession for the English throne. Something his mother was trying to obtain majority of her life.

Elizabeth I of England was unmarried and childless, which made James her most likely successor. Securing the English succession became a foundation of his policy.

This next part I’m about to reveal got slightly under my skin, maybe because I’ve researched more on Mary, Queen of Scots, his mother, but during the Spanish Armada crisis of 1588, he assured Elizabeth I of his support as “your natural son and compatriot of your country”. Maybe he said this only for the sake of the English throne, but to say this a year after your biological mothers execution (8 February 1587)… It just didn’t sit well with me. Then again, he was brought up without his mother present, in the care of certain “gentlemen” who poisoned his mind with false accusations of how his father was murdered.

anne of denmark
Anne of Denmark

Throughout James’s youth he was praised for his chastity, since he showed little interest in women. After the loss of his paternal grandfather, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, he continued to prefer male company, (this in the future would come up with historians debating on his sexuality). However, a suitable marriage was necessary to reinforce not only the Scottish monarchy, but hopefully the English as well.

The choice fell on fourteen-year-old Anne of Denmark, second eldest daughter of Protestant King Federick II of Denmark. Shortly after a proxy marriage in Copenhagen on 20 August 1589, Anne sailed for Scotland but, due to fierce storms, was forced to the coast of Norway. On hearing that the crossing had been abandoned, James sailed, in what seems like a romantic gesture, from Leith with 300-strong retinue to fetch Anne personally.

James and Anne were married formally on 23 November 1589 at the Bishop’s Palace in Oslo, then returning to Scotland on 1 May 1590, after stays at Elsinore and Copenhagen and meeting with Tycho Brahe.

It seems the marriage between James and Anne were loving towards each other, in the early years of their marriage, James seems always to have showed Anne patience and affection. They had seven children but only three survived to adulthood:

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales

19 February 1594 – 6 November 1612

Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia

19 August 1596 – 13 February 1662

Margaret Stuart

24 December 1598 – March 1600

Charles I of England

19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649

Robert Stuart

18 January 1602 – 27 May 1602

Mary Stuart

8 April 1605 – 16 September 1607

Sophia Stuart

22 June 1606 – 23 June 1606

suspected witches kneeling before king james, 1597
Suspected witches kneeling before King James, 1597

It was on his visit to Denmark that sparked his interest in the study of witchcraft and witch-hunts. He attended the North Berwick witch trials, the first major persecution of witches in Scotland under the Witchcraft Act of 1563. On this occasion, several people, most notably Agnes Sampson, were convicted of using witchcraft to send storms against James’s ship.

James became obsessed with the threat posed by witches and wrote “Daemonologie” in 1597, inspired by his personal involvement that opposed the practice of witchcraft. This book is believed to be one of the main sources used by William Shakespeare in the production of “Macbeth”.

James personally supervised the torture of women (you read that right), who were accused of being witches. And we all know the “truth” always comes from torture (sarcasm).

However, in 1599 his views became doubtful. In a letter written in England to his son Henry, James congratulates the prince on “the discovery of yon little counterfeit wench. I pray God ye may be my heir in such discoveries… most miracles now-a-days prove but illusions, and ye may see by this how wary judges should be in trusting accusations”.

the true law of free monarchies
The True Law of Free Monarchies

In 1597-1598, James wrote “The True Law of Free Monarchies” and “Basilikon Doron” (“Royal Gift”), in which he argues a theological basis for monarchy. In “The True Law of Free Monarchies” he sets out the divine right of Kings, explaining that Kings are higher beings than other men for Biblical reasons, though “the highest bench is in the sliddriest to sit upon”. It also proposes an absolute theory of monarchy, by which a King may impose new laws by royal entitlement but must also pay heed to tradition and to God, who would “stirre up such scourges as pleaseth him, for punishment of wicked Kings”.

He also maintains that the King owns his realm as a feudal lord owns his fief, because Kings arose “before any estates or ranks of men, before any parliaments were holden, or laws made, and by them was the land distributed, which at first was wholly theirs. And so it follows of necessity that kings were the authors and makers of the laws, and not the laws of the Kings.”

basilikon doron
Basilikon Doron

“Basilikon Doron” (“Royal Gift”) was written as a book of instructions for then four-year-old Prince Henry, and provides a more practical guide to kingship. It is considered to be well written and perhaps the best example of James’s prose. His advice concerning parliaments, which he understood as merely the King’s “head court”, foreshadows his difficulties with the English Commons; “Hold no Parliaments, but for the necesitie of new Lawes, which would be but seldome”, he tells his young son Henry.

In the 1580s as well as the 1590s, James promoted the literature of his native country. In 1584 he published his treatise, “Some Rules and Cautions to be Observed and Eschewed in Scottish Prosody” at the age of eighteen. It was both a poetic manual and a description of the poetic tradition in his mother tongue of Scots, applying Renaissance principles. He also made statutory provision to reform and promote the teachings of music, seeing the two in connection, even urging the Scottish burghs to reform and support the teaching of music in “Sang Sculis”.

James was both patron and head of a loose circle of Scottish Jacobean court poets and musicians knows as the “Castalian Band”, which included William Fowler and Alexander Montgomerie (being a favourite of the King), among others. James himself a poet was happy to be seen as practising member of the group.

Due to the increasing likelihood of James’s succession to the English throne, by the late 1590s, his championing of native Scottish tradition was reduced to some extent. William Alexander, and other courtier poets, started to anglicise their written language, to make them easier to spell, pronounce, and understand in the English language, which followed James to London after 1603.

James’s role as active literary participant and patron made him a defining figure in many respects for English Renaissance poetry and drama, which reached a pinnacle of achievement in his reign. However, his patronage of the high style (the study and interpretation of texts) in the Scottish tradition, which included his ancestor James I of Scotland, became largely sidelined.

I wonder if his love of literature was an inheritance from his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots? Who loved poetry, having a great extent in her library.

In August 1600, one last Scottish attempt against James’s person occurred when he was apparently assaulted by Alexander Ruthven, William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie’s younger brother, at Gowrie House, the seat of the Ruthvens. Alexander Ruthven was run through by James’s page, John Ramsay, 1st Earl of Holderness. William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie was also killed in the ensuing quarrel. Given James’s history with the Ruthvens and the fact that he owed them a great deal of money, his account of the circumstances was not universally believed. There were also few surviving witnesses…

gowrie conspiracy
Gowrie Conspiracy

Elizabeth I was the last of Henry VIII’s descendants, and James, through his mother and father, had Tudor blood in him through his great-grandmother, Margaret Tudor, who was Henry VIII’s older sister. Just like his mother before him, he was seen as Elizabeth’s most likely heir. In the last years of Elizabeth’s life, from 1601 certain politicians, notably her chief minister, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury maintained a secret correspondence with James to prepare him in advance for a smooth succession. It was obvious Elizabeth I was dying, so Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury sent James a draft proclamation of his accession to the English throne in March 1603.

the union of the crowns was symbolised in james's personal royal heraldic badge after 1603, the tudor rose dimidiated with the scottish thistle ensigned by the roy
The Union of the Crowns was symbolised in James’s personal royal heraldic badge after 1603, the Tudor rose dimidiated with the Scottish thistle ensigned by the roy

On 24 March 1603 Elizabeth I died in the early hours, later that same day, James was proclaimed King James I of England.

James left Edinburgh for London on 5 April 1603, promising to return every three years, a promise that didn’t keep. Along the route to London, local lords received him with lavish hospitality. James was amazed by the wealth of his new land and subjects, claiming that he was “swapping a stony couch for a deep feather bed”. At Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury’s house, Theobalds in Hertfordshire, James was so in awe that he bought it there and then.

James arrived in the capital on 7 Mary 1603, nine days after Elizabeth I’s funeral.

Due to the smooth transition, his new subjects flocked to see him, relieved that the succession had triggered neither unrest nor invasion. On his arrival to London, he was mobbed by spectators, eager to see their new sovereign.

On 25 July 1603, James’s English coronation took place with elaborate stories provided by dramatic poets, such as Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson. An outbreak of plague restricted festivities, but “the streets seemed paved with men. Stalls instead of rich wares were set out with children, open casements filled up with women”, wrote Thomas Dekker.

However, the kingdom James succeeded had its problems. Monopolies and taxation had engendered a widespread sense of grievance. The costs of the war in Ireland had become a heavy burden on the government, which had debts of £400,000.

Despite the smooth, warm welcoming to the start of his succession, James did have two conspiracies on his life in the first year of his reign. The Bye Plot and Main Plot, which led to the arrest of Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham and Sir Walter Raleigh, among others. Those who hoped for a change in government were disappointed at first when he kept Elizabeth I’s Privy Councillors in office, as secretly planned by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, but James soon added long-time supporter Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton and his nephew Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk to the Privy Council. As well as five Scottish nobles.

sir robert cecil
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury

The early years of James VI’s reign and the day-to-day running of the government was managed by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, assisted by experienced Thomas Egerton, 1st Viscount Brackley, whom made Lord Chancellor, and Thomas Sackville, soon Earl of Dorset and continued as Lord Treasurer. Due to this, James was free to concentrate on bigger issues, like a closer union between England and Scotland, matters of foreign policy, as well as enjoying his leisure pursuits, particularly hunting, like his mother enjoyed in her time.

James’s ambition to build a personal union of the Crowns of Scotland and England to establish a single country under one monarch, one parliament, and one law, a plan that met opposition in both realms.

“Hath He not made us all in one island, compassed with one sea and of itself by nature indivisible?”, James told the English Parliament. However, in April 1604, the Commons refused his request to be titled “King of Great Britain” on legal grounds. On 7 July 1604, James had angrily prorogued Parliament after failing to win its support either for full union or financial subsidies. “I will not thank where I feel no thanks due… I am not of such a stock as to praise fools… You see how many things you did not well… I wish you would make use of your liberty with more modesty in time to come”, he had remarked in his closing speech.

In October 1604, he assumed the title “King of Great Britain” by proclamation rather than by law, though Sir Francis Bacon told him that he could not use the style in “any legal proceeding, instrument or assurance”, and the title was not used on English statues. By James, the Parliament of Scotland was forced to use his new title, and it was used on proclamations, coinage, letters, and treaties in both realms.

His success was in foreign policy. Never actually has he been at war with Spain, he devoted his efforts to bringing the long overdue, Anglo-Spanish War to an end, and a peace treaty was signed between the two countries on 18 August 1604, thanks to the skilled diplomacy on the part of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, which James celebrated by hosting a lavish banquet. However, the freedom of worship for the Catholics in England continued to be a major objective of Spanish policy, causing constant dilemmas for James who was distrusted abroad for repression of Catholics while at home being encouraged by the Privy Council to show even less tolerance towards them.

anglo-spanish treaty
Anglo-Spanish Treaty


On the eve of the state opening of the second session of James’s first English Parliament on 4-5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes, and English Catholic, was discovered in the cellars of the parliament buildings. He was guarding a pile of wood not far from 36 barrels of gunpowder which Guy Fawkes intended to blow up Parliament House to following day and cause the destruction, as James put it, “not only… of my person, nor of my wife and posterity also, but of the whole body of the State in general”.


The sensational discover of the “Gunpowder Plot” produced a mood of national relief at the delivery of the King and his sons. The co-operation between monarch and Parliament following the “Gunpowder Plot” was uncommon, but it was Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury who exploited this to extract higher subsidies from the ensuing Parliament.

guy fawkes discovery in the gunpowder plot
Guy Fawkes discovery in the Gunpowder Plot

The men who plotted to blow up Parliament were:

Guy Fawkes

Robert Catesby

Thomas Percy

John Wright

Christopher Wright

Thomas Wintour

Robert Wintour

Robert Keyes

Thomas Bates

John Grant

Ambrose Rookwood

Francis Tresham

Sir Everard Digby

Robert Catesby and Tomas Percy were killed trying to escape capture, however, their bodies were exhumed and decapitated and their head exhibited on spikes outside the House of Lords.

On a cold day on 30 January 1606, Sir Everard Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant and Thomas Bates were tied to hurdles, (wooden panels) and dragged through the crowded streets of London to St Paul’s Churchyard. Sir Everard Digby who mounted the scaffold first, asked the spectators for forgiveness while refusing the attentions of a Protestant clergyman. He was stripped of his clothing, and wearing on a shirt, climbed the ladder to place his head through the noose. He was quickly cut down, and while still fully conscious, was castrated, disembowelled, and the quartered. This also happened to Robert Wintour, John Grant and Thomas Bates.

On 31 January 1606, Guy Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes were also hanged, drawn and quartered, ironically opposite the building they had planned to blow up. Robert Keyes did not wait for the hangman’s command and jumped from the gallows, but he survived the drop and was led to the quartering block. However, where Robert Keyes failed, Guy Fawkes did not. He managed to jump from the gallows and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the gruesome drawn and quartered.

I’m not going to go into too much detail of the “Gunpowder Plot”, there is a lot more to this story than who was executed. Stay tuned until the anniversary on 5 November…

members of the gunpowder plot being hanged, drawn and quartered
Members of the Gunpowder Plot being hanged, drawn and quartered
james 1606
James 1606

As James’s reign progressed, his government faced growing financial pressures due partly to creeping inflation, but also to the extravagance and financial incompetence of James’s court. On 9 February 1610, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury proposed a scheme known as the “Great Contract”, whereby Parliament in return for ten royal concessions, would grant a lump sum of £600,000 to pay off the King’s debts, plus an annual grant of £200,000. The ongoing negotiations became so long-drawn-out, that James eventually lost patience and dismissed Parliament on 31 December 1610. He told Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, “Your greatest error hath been that ye ever expected to draw honey our of gall”.

The same pattern was repeated with the “Addled Parliament” on 5 April 1614, which James dissolved after a mere nine weeks on 7 June 1614, when the Commons hesitated to grant him the money he required.

Until 30 January 1621, James ruled without Parliament, employing officials such as the merchant Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, who were perceptive at raising and saving money for the crown, selling baronetcies and other dignities, many created for the purpose, as an alternative source of income.

Another potential source of income was the prospect of a marriage between Charles, Prince of Wales and Maria Anna of Spain. The policy of the “Spanish Match”, as it was called, was not only to gain money from the Spanish dowry, but also to maintain peace with Spain and avoid the additional costs of war. Peace could be maintained as effectively by keeping the marriage negotiations alive, which explains why James prolonged the negotiations for almost a decade.

james 1620
James 1620

The “Spanish Match” was supported by the Howards and other Catholic-leaning ministers and diplomats, known together as the “Spanish Party”.

When Sir Walter Raleigh was released from imprisonment in 1616, he embarked on a hunt for gold in South America with strict instructions from James not to engage the Spanish. Unfortunately, Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition was a disastrous failure with his son, Walter, was killed fighting the Spanish. On his return to England, James had him executed to the anger of the people, who opposed the conciliation of Spain.

James’s policy for the “Spanish Match” was futher jeopardised by the “Thirty Years’ War” and after his Protestant son-in-law, Frederick V, Elector Palatine, husband of Elizabeth Stuart, was ousted from Bohemia by the Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II in 1620. Simultaneously the Spanish troops invaded Frederick V’s home territory in Rhineland.

James called a Parliament on 20 November 1621 to fund a military expedition in support of Frederick V, Elector Palatine. The Commons on the one hand granted subsidies inadequate to finance serious military operations, and on the other, remembering the profits gained under Elizabeth I by naval attacks on Spanish gold shipments, called for a war directly against Spain. Roused by Sir Edward Coke, they outlined a petition asking, not only for war with Spain, but also for Charles, Prince of Wales, to marry a Protestant, and for enforcement of the anti-Catholic laws. James told them not to interfere in matter of royal prerogative or they would risk punishment, which of course provoked them into issuing a statement protesting their rights, including freedom of speech. Urged on by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham and the Spanish ambassador Diego Sarmiento de Acuna, Count of Gondomar, James ripped the protest out of the record book and dissolved Parliament on 18 December 1621.

charles, prince of wales 1623
Charles, Prince of Wales 1623

In early 1623 the now twenty-two-year-old Charles, Prince of Wales along with George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, decided to travel to Spain incognito to win Maria Anna of Spain directly. The mission proved to be a feeble mistake. Not only did the Spanish confront them with terms that included the repeal of anti-Catholic legislation by Parliament, but Maria Anna of Spain detested Charles. Though a treaty was signed, Charles and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham returned to England in October, immediately renounced the treaty, much to the delight of the English people.

Due to their failure to an alliance with Spain, Charles and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham now turned James’s Spanish policy upon its head and called for a French match and a war against the Habsburg empire. To raise money for this expedition, they persuaded James to call upon Parliament, which he did on 12 February 1624. For once, the outpouring of anti-Catholic sentiment in the Commons was echoed in court, where control of policy was shifting from James to Charles and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who pressured James to declare war and engineered the impeachment of Lord Treasurer Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, when he opposed the plan on grounds of cost.

James still refused to declare or fund a war against Spain, yet Charles believed the Commons had committed themselves to finance it, a stance that was contributed to his problems with Parliament in his own reign.


james 1621
James 1621

After the age of fifty, James suffered progressively from arthritis, gout and kidney stones. He also lost his teeth and was a heavy drinker. James was often seriously ill during the last years of his life, rarely able to visit London. This led to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham to consolidate his control of Charles to ensure his own future. When one King is dying, you look to the future.

There is one theory that James may have suffered from porphyria, a disease of which his descendant, George II of the United Kingdom, exhibited some of the same symptoms. It is also said that his mother had this in her later years of her life. James described his urine to physician Theodore de Mayerne as being the “dark red colour of Alicante wine”. The theory is dismissed by some experts, particularly in James’s case, because he had kidney stones which can lead to blood in the urine, resulting in it being the colour red.

In early 1625, James was plagued by severe attacks of arthritis, gout, fainting fits, and in March 1625 fell seriously ill with tertian ague resulting in a stroke.

On 27 March 1625 while at his favourite country lodge, Theobalds House, James suffered a violent attack of dysentery before passing away. George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham was at his bedside.

On 7 May 1625 James’s funeral was a magnificent but disorderly affair. Bishop John Williams of Lincoln preached the sermon, “King Solomon died in Peace, when he had lived about sixty years… and so you know did King James”. The sermon was later printed as “Great Britain’s Solomon”.


James was buried in Westminster Abbey. For many years his position of his tomb was lost or forgotten, until an excavation in the 19th century finally discovered where his lead coffin was, in Henry VII’s vault.






James V of Scotland

James V of Scotland is familiar to me because of my love of Mary, Queen of Scots. But what do we really know about the father of my favourite Queen?

james two
James V of Scotland

On 10 April 1512 at Linlithgow Palace, Scotland, James was born to King James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor, elder sister of King Henry VIII of England. He was also the only legitimate child of James IV to survive infancy.

The following day, James was baptized, receiving the titles of Duke of Rothesay and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.

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

On 9 September 1513 at the Battle of Flodden Field, his father, James IV, was killed, leaving James V King of Scotland at the age of seventeen months old.

James was crowned in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on 21 September 1513.

Of course, being too young to rule on his own, the country was ruled by regents. First by his mother, Margaret Tudor, until she remarried the following year to Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Then by John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany, and Robert Maxwell, 5th Lord Maxwell, a member of the Council of Regency who was also bestowed as Regent of Arran, the largest island in the Fifth of Clyde.

In February 1517, on the way from Stirling to Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, there was an outbreak of the plague in the city. James, nearly five-years-old, was then moved to the care of Antione d’Arces at nearby rural Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh.

craigmillar castle
Craigmillar Castle

At Stirling, now ten-year-old James, had a guard of 20 footmen dressed in his colours, red and yellow. When he would go to the park below the Castle, “by secret and in right fair and soft wedder (weather)”, 6 horsemen would scour the countryside two miles roundabout for intruders.

Poets would also write their own nursery rhymes for James, advising him on royal behaviour.

James’s education was in the care of the University of St Andrews, which still exists today and is the oldest of the four ancient universities of Scotland, and the third oldest university in the English-speaking world.

university of st andrews
University of St Andrews

In the autumn of 1524, twelve-year-old James dismisses his regents and proclaimed an adult ruler by his mother. Several new court servants were appointed, including a trumpeter, Henry Rudeman.

On All Saints’ Day in 1524, an English diplomat, Thomas Magnus, gave an impression of the new Scottish court at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, “trumpets and shamulles did sounde and blewe up mooste pleasauntely”. Thomas Magnus also witness the young King singing, playing with a spear at Leith, and with his horses. He was also given the impression that James preferred English manners over French fashions.

archibald douglas, 6th earl of angus
Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus

Things changed in 1525 when Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and second husband to James’s mother, Margaret Tudor, took custody of James and held him as prisoner, exercising power on his behalf for three years.

There were several attempts to free James.

On 25 July 1526, Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch, ambushed the King’s forces at the Battle of Melrose, and was routed off the field. Another attempt on 4 September 1526 at the Battle of Linlithgow Bridge, failed again to relieve the King from the clutches of his step-father.

James finally escaped his step-father’s care in 1528 and assumed the reins of government himself at sixteen-years-old.

His first action as King was to remove Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, from the scene. The Douglas family, excluding his half-sister Margaret who was safely in England, were forced into exile. James besieged their castle at Tantallon, then subdued the Border rebels and the chiefs of the Western Isles.

As well as taking advice from his nobility and using the services of John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany, in France and at Rome, James had a team of professional lawyers and diplomats, including Adam Otterburn and Thomas Erskine of Haltoun, and his purse-master and yeoman of the wardrobe, John Tennent of Listonschiels, was sent on an errand to England, though on arrival, he got a frosty reception.

By tightening control over royal estates and from the profits of justice, customs and feudal rights, James increased his income. A large amount of his wealth went towards building work at Stirling Castle, Falkland Palace, Linlithgow Palace and Holyrood. He also built up a collection of tapestries, inherited from his father, James IV.

falkland palace
Falkland Palace

The only way to secure your throne is to have heirs.

As early as August of 1517, a clause of the Treaty of Rouen provided that if the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland was maintained, James should have a French royal bride.

Yet, the daughters of Francis I of France were either promised already or sickly. To remind Francis I of his obligations, James’s envoys began to look elsewhere from the summer of 1529. From Catherine de’ Medici, Duchess of Urbino, and Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary, the sister of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

Two French ambassadors, Guillaume du Bellay, sieur de Langes, and Etienne de Laigue, sjeur de Beauvais, who had just been in Scotland, told the Venetian ambassador in London that James was thinking of marrying Christina of Denmark. Francis I of France’s sister, Marguerite d’Angouleme, suggested her sister-in-law Isabella of Navarre, who was of the same age as James.

mary of bourbon
Mary of Bourbon

On 6 March 1536, a contract was made between James and Mary of Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Vendome, to marry with a dowry of a French Princess.

James decided to visit France in person, so on 1 September 1536 he sailed from Kirkcaldy with the Archibald Campbell, 4th Earl of Argyll, George Leslie, 4th Earl of Rothes, Malcolm Fleming, 3rd Lord Fleming, Cardinal David Beaton, John Roul, the Prior of Pittenweem, James Douglas, 7th Lord of Drumlanrig, and 500 others, using the Mary Willoughby as his flagship.

He first went to visit Mary of Bourbon at St. Quentin in Picardy, then went south to meet King Francis I of France. In October 1536, during his stay in France, James went boar-hunting at Loches with Francis, Francis’s son the Dauphin, Henry, King Henry II of Navarre and Ippolito II d’Este, and Italian cardinal.

madeleine of valois
Madeleine of Valois

Even though James was contracted to marry Mary of Bourbon, he was smitten with the delicate Madeleine of Valois, Francis I’s daughter. Initially the French King refused, citing her illness and the harsh climate of Scotland, which he feared would prove fatal to his daughter’s already failing health. However, James continued to press Francis I for Madeleine’s hand, and despite his reservations and nagging fears, Francis I reluctantly granted permission to the marriage after Madeleine herself made her interest in marrying James very obvious.

On 1 January 1537, James V of Scotland married Madeleine of Valois in Notre Dame de Paris. The wedding was a great event, Francis I made a contract with six painters for the splendid decorations, and there were days of jousting at the Chateau de Louvre.

James and Madeleine returned home to Scotland with the King’s Scottish fleet, accompanied with ten great French ships, on 19 May 1537, first arriving at Leith. As they sailed northwards, some Englishmen had come aboard off Bridlington and Scarborough. While the fleet was off Bamburgh on 15 May 1537, three English fishing boats supplied fish, and the King’s butcher landed in Northumbria to buy meat. The English border authorities were dismayed by this activity.

As Madeleine’s father stressed on her poor health, on 7 July 1537 Madeleine died from tuberculosis soon after their arrival in Scotland.

On 12 June 1538, James married Mary of Guise, daughter of Claude, Duke of Guise, and widow of Louis II d’Orleans, Duke of Longueville, by proxy. Mary already had two sons from her first marriage, Francis and Louis.

james v and mary of guise
James V and Mary of Guise

In 1540, in his ship the Salamander, James sailed to Kirkwall in Orkney, then Lewis, first making a will in Leith, knowing this to be “uncertane aventuris”. The purpose of his voyage was to show the royal presence and hold regional courts called, “justice ayres”.

In the years of 1540 and 1541, saw two male children born to James and Mary of Guise. James, Duke of Rothesay, born 22 May 1540, and Robert or Arthur, Duke of Albany, born 12 April 1541. However, on 21 April 1541, both boys died.

Domestic and international policy was affected by the Reformation, especially after Henry VIII of England broke from the Catholic Church. James did not tolerate heresy, and during his reign a number of outspoken Protestants were persecuted. One in particular was Patrick Hamilton, who was burned at the stake as a heretic at St Andrews in 1528.

henry viii
Henry VIII of England

James’s treasurer, James Kirkcaldy of Grange, tried to persuade him against the persecution of Protestants and to meet with King Henry VIII of England in York. Although Henry VIII sent his tapestries to York in September 1541 ahead of a meeting, James did not come. The lack of commitment to this meeting was regarded by English observers as a sign that Scotland was firmly allied to France and Catholicism, particularly by the influence of Cardinal David Beaton, Keeper of the Privy Seal, and as a cause for war.

To make matter worse, in July 1541, James assumed the style of “Lord of Ireland”, a challenge to Henry VIII’s lately created, “King of Ireland”.

It wasn’t until James’s mother, Margaret Tudor, died on 18 October 1541 that there would be any semblance of peace with England, so war broke out.

On 24 August 1542, the Scots won a victory at the Battle of Haddon Rig. The Imperial ambassador in London, Eustace Chapuys, wrote on 2 October 1542 that the Scottish ambassadors ruled out a conciliatory meeting between James and Henry VIII in England until the pregnant Mary of Guise delivered her child. Henry VIII would not accept this condition and mobilised his army against Scotland.

On 31 October 1542, James was with his army at Lauder, although he hoped to invade England, his nobles were reluctant. He then returned to Edinburgh, on his journey he wrote a letter in French to his wife mentioning he had three days of illness.

The next month on 24 November 1542, his army suffered a serious defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss. Shortly after on 6 December 1542, James took ill. Some account this was a nervous collapse caused by the defeat or, as some historians consider, just an ordinary fever.

mary, queen of scots
Mary, Queen of Scots

Whatever the cause of his illness, James was on his deathbed at Falkland Palace when on 8 December 1542, Mary was born. When James heard he had a girl he responded, “it came wi a lass, it’ll gang wi a lass” (“it began with a girl and it will end with a girl”).
This could mean he was referring to the Stewart dynasty’s accession to the throne through Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce, who married Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland.

James died at midnight on 15 December 1542, at Falkland Palace. According to Sir George Douglas of Pittendreich, in James’s delirium he lamented the capture of his banner and Oliver Sinclair at Solway Moss more than his other losses.

James was buried at Holyrood Abbey alongside his first wife, Madeleine of Valois, and his two infant sons by Mary of Guise, in January 1543.


James was succeeded by his six-day-old daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.

baby mary queen of scots
Mary, Queen of Scots





Anne of Denmark

If you’ve read my previous blog on James VI + I of Scotland and England, you would know who Anne of Denmark was. For those who didn’t, she is his wife.

But who is this Queen of Scotland and England?

frederick ii of denmark and sophie of mecklenburg-gustrow
Frederick II of Denmark and Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow

On 12 December 1574 Anne was born at Skanderborg Castle, Denmark. Another daughter to King Frederick II of Denmark and Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow. Another girl was a blow to her father, who so desperately wanted a son, like all monarchs it seems. Don’t despair for King Frederick II, a son was born three years later, the future Christian IV of Denmark.

Anne along with her sister, Elizabeth of Denmark, were sent to be raised by her maternal grandparents, Ulrich, Duke of Mecklenburg and Elizabeth of Denmark, Duchess of Mecklenburg at Gustrow in Germany. Unlike the Danish court, where Frederick II was notorious for large meals, heavy drinking and marital infidelity, Gustrow provided Anne and Elizabeth with a prudent and stable life during her early childhood. Later their younger brother, Christian, was sent to be brought up at Gustrow, but two years later in 1579, the Danish Privy Council called the Rigsraad, successfully requested his removal to Denmark, along with Anne and Elizabeth.

Largely due to Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow, Anne enjoyed a close and happy family upbringing in Denmark.

james vi of scotland
James VI of Scotland

James VI of Scotland was looking for a future bride. At first, he looked towards Catherine de Bourbon, sister of the Huguenot King Henry III of Navarre, even though she was eight years his senior she was also favoured by Elizabeth I of England.

Then he set his eyes towards Denmark, who he favoured as a kingdom reformed in religion and a profitable trading partner. Scottish ambassadors had at first concentrated their suit on Elizabeth of Denmark, but Frederick II betrothed her to Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, promising the Scots instead “for the second [daughter] Anna, if the King did like her, he should have her”.


On 4 April 1588 King Frederick II of Denmark died, which left Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow in a difficult position, when she found herself in a power struggle with the Rigsraad (Danish Privy Council) for control of the nearly eleven-year-old King Christian IV of Denmark.

However, Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow proved a more diligent marriage negotiator than Frederick II. Overcoming obstacles on the amount of the dowry and the status of Orkney, she sealed the agreement by July 1589.

It also seems that Anne was thrilled by the match. On 28 July 1589, an English spy, Thomas Fowler, reported that Anne was “so far in love with the King’s Majesty as it were death to her to have it broken off and hath made good proof divers ways of her affection which his Majestie is apt in now way to requite”. Thomas Fowler’s claim that James preferred men over women would have been hidden from the now fourteen-year-old Anne.

Whatever the rumours were, James required a royal match to preserve the Stuart line. He explained, “God is my witness, I could have abstained longer than the weal of my country could have permitted, [had not] my long delay bred in the breasts of many a great jealousy of my inability, as if I were barren stock”.


On 20 August 1589, Anne was married by proxy to James at Kronborg Castle. The ceremony ending with James’ representative, George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, sitting next to Anne on the bridal bed.

Ten days after the proxy wedding, Anne set sail for Scotland. Unfortunately, due to fierce storms, was forced to the coast of Norway, then traveling by land to Oslo for refuge. She was accompanied by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal and other of the Scottish and Danish embassies.

On 12 September 1589, Richard Preston, 1st Earl of Desmond, had landed at Leith reporting that “he had come in company with the Queen’s fleet three hundred miles, and was separated from them by a great storm: it was feared that the Queen was in danger upon the seas”.

Alarmed, James called for national fasting and public prayers. He also sent out a search party to find Anne, carrying a letter he had written to her in French, “Only to one who knows me as well as his own reflection is a glass could I express, my dearest love, the fears which I have experienced because of the contrary winds and violent storms since you embarked…”.

When James was informed that the Danes had abandoned the crossing for the winter, in what now James’s one romantic episode of his life, he sailed to Leith with a three-hundred-strong retinue to fetch his wife personally. On 19 November 1589, James arrived in Oslo after travelling by land from Flekkefjord via Tonsberg. According to a Scottish account, James presented himself to Anne, “with boots and all”, and disarming her protests, gave her a kiss in the Scottish fashion.

On 23 November 1589, James and Anne were formally married at the Old Bishop’s Palace in Oslo, “with all the splendour possible at that time and place”. Leith minister David Lindsay conducted the ceremony in French so both Anne and James could understand. Leith minister David Lindsay described Anne as “a Princess both godly and beautiful… she giveth great contentment to his Majesty”. After a month of celebrations, the newly married couple Kronborg Castle in Elsinore on 22 December 1589, where they were greeted by Sophie of Mecklenburg-Gustrow, twelve-year-old King Charles IV, and his four regents. On 7 March 1590, they moved onto Copenhagen and attended the wedding of Anne’s sister, Elizabeth to Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick, then two days later, sailing for Scotland.

On 1 May 1590, Anne finally arrived in Scotland. After a welcoming speech in French by James Elphinstone, 1st Lord Balmerino, Anne stayed in the King’s Wark while James went alone to hear a sermon by Patrick Galloway in the Parish Church. Anne made her state entry into Edinburgh five days later in a solid silver coach brought over from Denmark, while James rode alongside her on horseback.

Coat of arms of Anne of Denmark as Queen consort of Scotland

On 17 May 1590, Anne was crowned in the Abbey Church at Holyrood, the first Protestant coronation in Scotland. During the seven-hour ceremony, her gown was opened for presiding minister Robert Bruce to pour “a bonny quantity of oil” on “parts of her breast and arm”, anointing her as Queen. This ceremony was objected fervently as a pagan and Jewish ritual, but James insisted that it dated from the Old Testament. James handed the crown to Chancellor John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane, who placed it on Anne’s head. She then declared an oath to defend the true religion and worship of God and to “withstand and despise all papistical superstitions, and whatsoever ceremonies and rites contrary to the word of God”.

henry fredrick
Henry Fredrick

It seems like all marriages of this time, Anne was under pressure to provide James and Scotland with an heir, preferably a male one even though there has been Queens of England and Scotland. With the passing of time and still no sign of pregnancy, this provoked renewed Presbyterian libels on the theme of James’ fondness for male company. There were also whispers against Anne, “for that she proves with no child”.

There was a sigh of relief when Anne gave birth to a boy on 19 February 1594, Henry Frederick.

By all accounts James and Anne were infatuated with each other in their early years of marriage, however, this evaporated quickly and the couple often found themselves at disagreements. In 1593 James was romantically linked with Anne Murray, whom he addressed as “my mistress and my love”, until her marriage to Patrick Lyon in 1595.

In “Basilikon Doron” (“Royal Gift”), James described marriage as “the greatest earthly felicitie or miserie, that can come to a man”. This was a book he had written for his four-year-old son, Prince Henry.

Not only did Anne face her husbands’ infidelity, but she also learned soon after Henry Fredrick’s birth that she would have no say in his care. James appointed as head of the nursery his former nurse, Helen Little, who installed Henry in James’ own oak cradle. In keeping with Scottish royal tradition, James insisted on placing Prince Henry in the custody of John Erskine, Earl of Mar at Stirling Castle, much to the distress of Anne.

In late 1594 Anne began a campaign for custody of Henry, recruiting a faction of supporters to her cause including John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane. Worried of the lengths to which Anne might go to, James formally charged John Erskine, Earl of Mar in writing to never surrender Henry to anyone except on orders from James himself, “because in the surety of my son consists my surety”, also never to hand over Henry to his mother even if James died. Anne demanded for this to be referred to the Council which James refused to hear about.

After James publicly reduced Anne to rage and tears over the matter, Anne was so distraught that in July 1595, she suffered a miscarriage. Even though Anne outwardly abandoned her campaign, the events would thereafter have a permanent damage on their marriage.

In August 1595 John Colville wrote, “There is nothing but lurking hatred disguised with cunning dissimulation betwixt the King and the Queen, each intending by slight to overcome the other”.

They might not have loved each other anymore, but they did have six more children together.


anne 1600
Anne 1600

After the “Gowrie Conspiracy” on 5 August 1600, in which the young John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie and his brother, Alexander Ruthven, were killed by James’ attendants for a supposed assault on James, triggered the dismissal of their sisters, Beatrix Ruthven and Barbara Ruthven, as ladies-in-waiting to Anne, with whom they were “in chiefest credit”. Anne, who was five months pregnant at the time, refused to get out of bed and eat unless the Ruthven sisters were reinstated. When James tried to command her, she warned him to take care how he treated her because she was not John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie.

To placate Anne, James hired a famous acrobat to entertain her, but she never gave up. Her stubborn, yet courageous, support for the Ruthven sisters over the next three years was finally taken seriously enough by the government to be regarded as a security issue.

In 1602, after the discovery that Anne smuggled Beatrix Ruthven into Holyrood, James carried out a cross-examination of the entire household. In 1603 he finally decided to grant Beatrix Ruthven a pension of £200.

henry fredrick 1608
Henry Fredrick 1608

When James left for London with John Erskine, Earl of Mar, to assume the English throne following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, Anne saw a belated opportunity to gain custody of Henry Frederick in 1603. Pregnant at this time, Anne descended on Stirling with a force of “well-supported” nobles, intent on removing the now nine-year-old Henry Frederick, who she hasn’t seen for five years. Unfortunately, John Erskine, Earl of Mar’s mother and brother would allow only Anne and no more than two attendants to enter the castle. Again, this sent Anne into such a fury that she suffered yet another miscarriage. According to David Calderwood, a Scottish divine and historian, Anne “went to bed in anger and parted with child the tenth of Mary”.

When John Erskine, Earl of Mar returned to Stirling Castle his instructions from James was that Anne should join him in the Kingdom of England. She informed James by letter that she refused to do so unless allowed custody of Henry Frederick. Maybe seeing how determined she was to have custody of her son at all costs, James finally obliged, though he reproved Anne for “forward womanly apprehensions” and described her behaviour in a letter to John Erskine, Earl of Mar as “wilfulness”.

After a brief recovery from her second miscarriage, Anne duly travelled south with Henry Frederick, which their progress causing a sensation in England.

Lady Anne Clifford, 14th Baroness de Clifford recorded that she and her mother, Lady Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland had killed three horses in their haste to see Queen Anne, and that when James met Anne near Windsor, “there was such an infinite number of lords and ladies and so great a Court as I think I shall never see the like again”.

In Scotland, Anne sometimes exploited court factionalism for her own ends, most prominently by supporting the enemies of John Erskine, Earl of Mar. As a result of this, James did not trust her with secrets of state. Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, active in the highly secret diplomacy concerning the English succession, subtly reminded James that though Anne possessed every virtue (a compliment), Eve was corrupted by the serpent (an insult). In reality, Anne had little interest in high politics unless they touched on the fate of her children or friends.

In England, Anne turned from political to social and artistic activities. Though she participated fully in the life of James’ court and maintained a court of her own, often attracting those not welcomed by James, she rarely took political sides against her husband. Whatever her private quarrels with James, in public she proved a diplomatic asset to him in England. Conducting herself with discretion and graciousness. Anne played a crucial role in conveying to ambassadors and foreign visitors the prestige of not only the Stuart dynasty, but its Danish connections.

The Venetian envoy, Nicolo Molin, wrote this description of Anne in 1606;

“She is intelligent and prudent; and knows the disorders of the government, in which she has no part, though many hold that as the King is most devoted to her, she might play as large a role as she wished. But she is young and averse to trouble; she sees that those who govern desire to be left alone, and so she professes indifference. All she ever does is to beg a favour for someone. She is full of kindness for those who support her, but on the other hand she is terrible, proud, unendurable to those she dislikes”.

anne 1614
Anne 1614

While Anne adopted a cosmopolitan lifestyle in London, James preferred to escape the capital, most often at his hunting lodge in Royston, Hertfordshire. Anne chaplain, Godfrey Goodman, later summed up James and Anne’s relationship, “The King himself was a very chaste man, and there was little in the Queen to make him uxorious; yet they did love as well as man and wife could do, not conversing together”.

Anne moved into Greenwich Palace and then Somerset House, which she renamed “Denmark House”. After 1607, James and Anne rarely lived together, by which time she had borne seven children and suffered at least three miscarriages. After narrowly surviving the birth and death of her last baby, Sophia Stuart in 1607, Anne’s decision to have no more children may have widened the gap between her and James.

The children of James and Anne:

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales

19 February 1594 – 6 November 1612

Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia

19 August 1596 – 13 February 1662

Margaret Stuart

24 December 1598 – March 1600

Charles I of England

19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649

Robert Stuart

18 January 1602 – 27 May 1602

Mary Stuart

8 April 1605 – 16 September 1607

Sophia Stuart

22 June 1606 – 23 June 1606

The death of Henry Frederick on 6 November 1612 at the age of eighteen-years-old, probably from typhoid, and the departure of sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Stuart in April 1613, after marrying Elector Frederick V of the Palatine, further weakened the ties between Anne and James.

Henry Frederick’s death hit Anne particularly hard. The Venetian envoy, Nicolo Molin, was advised not to offer condolences to Anne “because she cannot bear to have it mentioned; nor does she ever recall it without abundant tears and sighs”.

From this moment on, Anne’s health started to deteriorate, withdrawing from the centre of cultural and political activities. She staged her last known masque in 1614 and no longer maintaining a noble court. This downfall in health and lack of participation in court led to her influence over James visibly wane and James’ dependency on powerful favourites.

Although James had always had male favourites among his courtiers, he now encouraged them to play a role in the government. Anne reacted very differently to the two powerful favourites who dominated the second half of James’s English reign, Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

Anne detested Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, but she encouraged the rise of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, whom James knighted in her bedchamber. Anne developed friendly relations with George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, even calling him her “dog”. Even so, after George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham rise, he increasingly ignored her, which she became a lonely figure towards the end of her life.

anne 1617
Anne 1617

By late 1617 Anne’s illness had become debilitating. John Chamberlain, a letter writer, recorded, “The Queen continues still ill disposed and though she fain lay all her infirmities upon the gout yet most of her physicians fear a further inconvenience of an ill habit or disposition through her whole body”.

prince charles
Prince Charles

In January 1619 royal physician, Sir Theodore de Mayerne, instructed Anne to saw wood to improve her blood flow, but the exertion served to make her worse. During her illness, James visited her only three times, though Prince Charles often slept in the adjoining bedroom at Hampton Court Palace and was beside her during her last hours when she had lost her sight. With her also was her personal maid, Anna Roos, who had arrived with her from Denmark in 1590.

On 2 March 1619 at the age of forty-four, Queen Anne died of a dangerous form of dropsy. Dropsy is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the interstitium, located beneath the skin and in the cavities of the body, which can cause severe pain.

Despite his years of neglect towards Anne, James was emotionally affected by her death. He did not visit her during her dying days, nor did he attend her funeral, being sick himself, but James, according to Sir Theodore de Mayerne, was “fainting, sighing, dread, incredible sadness…”.

After a prolonged delay, on 13 May 1619, Anne was buried in the King Henry’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey. The catafalque, designed by Maximilian Colt, placed over her grave was destroyed during the civil war.

As he had done before he ever met her, James turned to verse to pay his respects;

So did my Queen from hence her court remove
And left off earth to be enthroned above.
She’s changed, not dead, for sure no good prince dies,
But, as the sun, sets, only for to rise.