“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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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”.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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”.
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…
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The name “Stewart” originates from the political position of office similar to a governor, known as steward. It was adopted as the family surname by Walter Stewart, 3rd High Steward of Scotland. Prior to this, family names were not used, instead they had patronyms, a name derived from the name of a father or ancestor. For example, the first two High Stewards were known as FitzAlan and FitzWalter respectively. The gallicised spelling (to make or become French in language) was first borne by John Stewart of Darnley, after his time in the French wars.
During the 16th century, the French spelling of Stuart was adopted by Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was living in France. She authorized the change to ensure the correct pronunciation of the Scots version of the name Stewart, the letter “w” would have made it difficult for French speakers.
The spelling of Stuart was also used by her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He was the father of James VI and I, so the official spelling Stuart for the British royal family derives from him.
Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, married Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce. He also played an important part in the Battle of Bannockburn, gaining further favour.
Their son, Robert, was heir to the House of Bruce, the lordship of Cunningham and the Bruce lands of Bourtreehill. When his uncle, David II, died childless on 22 February 1371, he inherited the Scottish throne as Robert II.
In 1593, James IV of Scotland hoped to secure peace with England by marrying King Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret Tudor. The birth of their son, James V, brought the House of Stewart into the line of descent of the House of Tudor, and the English throne.
Margaret Tudor later married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, and their daughter, Margaret Douglas, was the mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.
In 1565, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, married his half-cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, the daughter of James V and Mary of Guise.
Both Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, had strong claims to the English throne, through their mutual grandmother, Margaret Tudor. This led to the accession of the couple’s only child, James, as King of Scotland, England and Ireland on 24 March 1603. However, this was a Personal Union, as the three kingdoms shared a monarch, but had separate governments, churches, and institutions.
This personal union did not prevent an armed conflict, known as the Bishops’ Wars, breaking out between England and Scotland in 1639. This was to become part of the cycle of political and military conflict that marked the reign of Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland, terminating in a series of conflicts known as the War of the Three Kingdoms.
Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna is born in Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria, Holy Roman Empire to Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Theresa of Austria.
Seven Years’ War starts between France & England. Austria & France join forces.
Seven Years’ War ends. The same year, to maintain the alliance between France and Austria, they arrange that Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin of France and King Louis XV’s grandson, marry Marie Antoinette.
Maria Antonia was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France at the Augustinian Church in Vienna, with her brother Archduke Ferdinand standing in for the Dauphin.
Maria Antonia met her husband at the edge of the forest of Compiègne. Upon her arrival in France, she adopted the French version of her name: Marie Antoinette.
A further ceremonial wedding took place in the Palace of Versailles and, after the festivities, the day ended with the ritual bedding.
King Louis XV of France dies of smallpox.
Louis-Auguste is crowned King Louis XVI of France at Reims Cathedral.
Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI give birth to their first child, Marie Therese of France.
Empress Maria Therese, mother of Marie Antoinette, dies from pneumonia.
22 October 1781
Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI give birth to their child child, Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France.
Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI give birth to their third child, Louis Charles (later King Louis XVII of France).
Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI give birth to their fourth child, Sophie Helene Beatrix of France.
Not yet a year old, Sophie Helene Beatrix of France dies from tuberculosis.
Beginning of the French Revolution.
Louis Joseph also dies from tuberculosis. The title Dauphin of France goes to his brother, Louis Charles.
An escape was ultimately attempted, but the entire family was arrested less than twenty-four hours later at Varennes and taken back to Paris within a week. The escape attempt destroyed much of the remaining support of the population for the King.
In a context of civil and international war, King Louis XVI of France, was suspended and arrested at the time of the Insurrection. One month later, the absolute monarchy was abolished.
The First French Republic was proclaimed.
King Louis XVI of France is executed on the guillotine
Marie Antoinette was tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal.
After being found guilty, Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine at 12:15pm.
Her head was one of those that Marie Tussaud was employed to make death masks of. Her body was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery located close by in rue d’Anjou.
That was just a small taste of the life of Marie Antoinette.
Princess Charlotte of Wales, to me, isn’t a well-known royal like many others, but I do think her story is important. Because of her death during childbirth and being an only legitimate child of King George IV of England (still Prince of Wales during her lifetime), we wouldn’t have a Queen Victoria.
Charlotte’s death was felt among the British people, who went into deep mourning. They saw Charlotte as a sign of hope and a contrast to both her father and grandfather, King George III of England, who were both seen as mad.
Charlotte didn’t come from happily married parents, actually, it was the complete opposite.
George, Prince of Wales, in 1794 sought for a suitable bride. It wasn’t to secure the succession to the throne, nor to find love, it was because he was promised if he married his income will increase. He chose his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, who he never met before, but when they did finally meet, both were repelled by each other. Even so, the marriage went ahead on 8 April 1795.
George later stated that they only had sex three times. Being separated within weeks, though they still lived under the same roof.
On 7 January 1796, one day short of nine months after her parents wedding, Princess Charlotte of Wales was born in Carlton House, London.
While Prince George was mildly unhappy that it wasn’t a boy, King George III was actually pleased, he also hoped that the birth of Charlotte would reconcile her parents. The complete opposite happened; Prince George made a will that his wife had no role in the upbringing of their child.
Caroline demanded better treatment after giving birth to the second-in-line to the throne, but Prince George not only gave all his worldly goods to his mistress, Maria Fitzherbert, and giving Caroline only one shilling, but he also would only let her see Charlotte in the presence of a nurse and a governess.
If it wasn’t for the sympathetic household who disobeyed Prince George, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be alone with Charlotte. She was even bold enough to ride through the streets of London in a carriage with her daughter, to the delight and applause of the crowds. Since Prince George never visited his daughter, this went all unnoticed to him.
On 11 February 1796, in the Great Drawing Room at Carlton House by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Moore, she was christened Charlotte Augusta after her grandmothers, Queen Charlotte of England and Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick-Luneburg.
As Charlotte grew up to be healthy and happy, her parents continued to battle each other. In a time period where the English law considered the fathers’ rights to minor children paramount over the mothers, saw in August 1797 Caroline leaving Carlton House and her daughter, establishing herself in a rented home near Blackheath. She did visit Charlotte and the young child was allowed to visit her mother at Blackheath, even if she wasn’t allowed to stay overnight.
Prince George decided he wanted Carlton House to himself after his affections returned to his mistress, Maria Fitzherbert. Eight-year-old Charlotte was moved to Montague House, adjacent to Carlton House. Her new governess, Lady de Clifford, was fond of Charlotte and too good natured to discipline her, who had grown into an exuberant tomboy. Lady de Clifford even brought her grandson, George Keppel, three years younger than Charlotte, as a playmate.
King George III in 1805 began making plans for Charlotte’s education, with not only a large staff of instructors, but also the Bishop of Exeter, who instructed her in the faith that King George III believed one-day Charlotte would defend as queen.
Charlotte on the other hand, chose to learn only what she wanted to learn, which was piano taught to her by composer Jane Mary Gust. She became an exceptional pianist.
In 1807, Caroline was accused of adultery with artist Sir Thomas Lawrence and having a child with him. Interesting how a woman can be tried for adultery, but not the man…
Prince George hoped that “The Delicate Investigations”, as it was called, would uncover evidence of adultery that would permit him to a divorce.
Ten-year-old Charlotte was aware of it all, and was deeply saddened that she was not allowed to see her mother. Fortunately, this all changed when the investigators found no evidence of Caroline having a second child and having an affair with the artist who painted both Caroline and Charlotte in 1800.
During her teen years, Charlotte was a free spirit. Even though her father was proud of her horsemanship, the members of the court considered her behaviours undignified. Like allowing her ankle-length under drawers to show. She also identified herself a lot with Jane Austen’s Marianne in Sense and Sensibility.
Charlotte and King George III were very close and fond of each other. When in late 1810, she was deeply saddened to hear the news of his decline in health and sanity. This led to her father on 6 February 1811, sworn before the Privy Council as Prince Regent.
Prince George was raised under strict rules, which he continuously rebelled at, so there is no surprise that his daughter was exactly the same. At the age of fifteen, she was required to spend most of her time at Windsor with her maiden aunts. But Charlotte was at an age where she was interested in boys, and while at Windsor she became infatuated with her first cousin, George FitzClarence, illegitimate son of the Duke of Clarence. It was to be a short love, for George FitzClarence was to be sent to Brighton to join the regiment.
Not long after George FitzClarence leaving did Charlotte have eyes for someone else, Lieutenant Charles Hesse of the Light Dragoons. It is said he is the illegitimate son of Charlotte’s uncle, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany.
Lady de Clifford was worried of Prince George finding out his daughter and Charles Hesse were secretly meeting each other. Caroline, on the other hand, was delighted by her daughter’s love. She even encouraged their romance by allowing them alone time in a room in her apartments. Besides Prince George, most people in the royal family were aware of this, but said and did nothing because they weren’t fond of the way he was treating his daughter. Unfortunately, the romance ended when Charles Hesse left to join the British forces in Spain.
In 1813, when Charlotte was seventeen, her father began to seriously consider her marriage. His advisors decided on William, Hereditary Prince of Orange, the son and heir-apparent of Prince William VI of Orange. If this marriage was to go ahead, it would increase the British influence in Northwest Europe.
At her father’s birthday party on 12 August, Charlotte was not impressed when she first met William. He was completely intoxicated, even though so was her father and many of the guests. Undeterred by this, on 12 December, Prince George had arranged a meeting between Charlotte and William at a dinner party. While the dinner party was still going, Prince George asked for her decision, she replied that she had liked what she had seen so far. Prince George took this as an acceptance and quickly called in William to inform him.
Over several months, negotiations took place for the marriage contract. Charlotte did not want to leave Britain, and with the diplomats having no desire to see two thrones united, came to the agreement that Britain would go to the couple’s oldest son, while the second son would inherit the Netherlands. If there was only one son, the Netherlands would pass onto the German branch of the House of Orange. The marriage contract was signed by Charlotte on 10 June 1814.
It was a party at the Pulteney Hotel in London, Charlotte would meet her true love, even if she didn’t really know it yet. Lieutenant-General in the Russian cavalry, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Charlotte invited Leopold to call on her, an invitation he happily took up. They remained for three quarters of an hour together, longer than what was proper or normal. After, Leopold wrote a letter to Prince George, apologising for any indiscretion. Prince George was impressed by the letter, but probably saw nothing else in it since his daughter had signed her marriage contract.
Caroline was opposed of the match between her daughter and William, Prince of Orange. Even having the support of the public, who, while Charlotte was out in public, urged her not to abandon her mother by marrying William. Charlotte went to William and said that if they wed, her mother had to stay with them. William would not agree to this, leaving Charlotte to break the engagement.
After hearing the news his daughter had broken off the engagement, he ordered for her to remain at her residence of Warwick House, adjacent to Carlton House, until she could be conveyed to Cranbourne Lodge at Windsor, where she would only be allowed to see her grandmother the Queen. Hearing this, Charlotte escaped to her mother’s house. But it wasn’t long until her uncle, Duke of York, came with a warrant to escort her back to her father, with force if need be. Reluctantly, she concurred.
Despite her isolation in Cranbourne Lodge, Charlotte found life surprisingly agreeable, slowly becoming reconciled with her situation.
Towards the end of July 1814, Prince George visited his daughter to inform her, that her mother was about to leave England for an extended stay on the Continent. Charlotte was upset by the news, but knew that whatever she said to her mother, she wouldn’t change her mind. She was saddened even more by her mother’s last words before leaving; “For God knows how long, or what events may occur before we meet again”.
Unfortunately, Charlotte would never see her mother again.
In late August, Charlotte was permitted to visit the seaside. She had hoped it would be the fashionable Brighton, but Prince George refused sending her instead to Weymouth. Even though it was not her choice to visit Weymouth, while arriving in her carriage, Charlotte was received by adoring crowds. It showed that the people loved her, and knew one day they would see her as their queen.
Charlotte spent most of her time in Weymouth exploring and shopping. She must’ve had a clear of mind, for when she returned home in December, her father and herself reconciled any differences.
In the early months of 1815, Charlotte had eyes only for one man, Leopold. Or as she called him, “the Leo”. If she was to marry, she wanted Leopold as her husband. Prince George still had hope she would change her mind and marry William, Prince of Orange, but nothing would bend her will. Faced against his daughter and the Royal family, Prince George could not refuse.
Charlotte, through intermediaries, contacted Leopold, who was delighted by the news. Unfortunately, with Napoleon renewing the conflict on the Continent, Leopold was with his regiment fighting.
Shortly before returning to Weymouth in July, Charlotte formally requested her father’s permission to marry Leopold, but he refused. With the unsettled political situation on the Continent, he could not consider such a request. Charlotte of course was frustrated, especially when Leopold did not come to Britain after the restoration of peace. He was stationed in Paris, which she deemed to be only a short journey from Weymouth or London.
It wasn’t until January 1816 when Prince George finally gave in and summoned Leopold, who was in Berlin en-route to Russia, to Britain. In late February 1816, Leopold arrived in Britain and went straight to Brighton to be interviewed by Prince George. Charlotte was invited after, and after having dinner with her father and Leopold she wrote;
“I find him charming, and go to bed happier than I have ever done yet in my life…I am certainly a very fortunate creature and have to bless God. A Princess never, I believe, set out in life with such prospects of happiness, real domestic ones like other people”.
Prince George was again impressed by Leopold, but now saw him as a perfect husband for his daughter. On 2 March, Charlotte was sent back to Cranbourne. Fearful of a repetition like William, Prince of Orange. Prince George limited Charlotte’s contact with Leopold. Only seeing each other at dinner, but never alone.
On 14 March, an announcement was made in the House of Commons. Parliament voted Leopold £50,000 per year, Claremont House for the couple, and a generous single payment to set up house.
On 2 May 1816, Princess Charlotte of Wales married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
At nine o’clock in the evening in the Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House, with Leopold dressing for the first time as a British General, and Charlotte in a £10,000 wedding dress, the couple were married. The only “mishap” was during the ceremony, Charlotte was heard giggling when Leopold promised to endow her with all his worldly goods. I don’t think this shows Charlotte as immature, more like fun and modern. This actually made me like her even more.
This could also mean that I’m actually immature, and that’s true.
The happy couple honeymooned at Oatlands Palace, the Duke of York’s residence in Surrey. Neither were well as the house was filled with the Duke of York’s dogs and the odour of animals. Nevertheless, love overpowered all of that, with Charlotte writing that Leopold was “the perfection of a lover”.
Two days after the marriage, Prince George visited the couple at Oaklands Palace. He spent two hours describing in detail of the military uniforms to Leopold, which according to Charlotte “is a great mark of the most perfect good humour”.
Charlotte and Leopold returned to London for the social season, when attending the theatre, they were treated to wild applause from the audience and singing “God Save the King” from the performers on stage.
When she was taken ill at the Opera, there was great public concern about her condition. It was later announced that she had suffered a miscarriage.
On 24 August 1816, they finally took up residence at Claremont House.
Leopold’s physician-in-ordinary, Christian Stockmar (later, as Baron Stockmar, advisor to both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), wrote that in the first six months of the marriage, he had never seen Charlotte wear anything that was not simple and in good taste. He also noted that she was calm and in control of herself, which he attributed this to Leopold’s influence. Leopold himself later wrote, “Except when I went out to shoot, we were together always, and we could be together, we did not tire”. When Charlotte became too excited, Leopold would simply say, “Doucement cherie” (“Gentry, my love”). Charlotte both accepted the correction and began calling her husband, “Doucement”.
On 7 January, Charlotte’s 21st birthday, Prince George held a huge ball to celebrate, but Charlotte and Leopold did not attend. Instead, they stayed in Claremont and preferred to have a quiet celebration.
At the end of April 1817, Leopold told Prince George that Charlotte was expecting again, this time with high prospects she will carry the baby to term.
Charlotte’s pregnancy was the subject of intense public interest. Like today, betting shops quickly set up book on what the sex of the child would be.
Charlotte spent her time quietly, she ate heavily with little exercise. When her medical team began prenatal care in August 1817, they put her on a strict diet, hoping to reduce the size of the child when born. The diet, and occasional bleeding, would weaken Charlotte. Christian Stockmar, believed this treatment was outdated, and declined to join the medical team. As a foreigner, he believed he would be blamed if anything went wrong.
It was believed Charlotte was due to have her baby on 19 October, but as October ended, she had shown no signs of giving birth.
Much of Charlotte’s day to day care was undertaken by Sir Richard Croft, who was not a physician, but an accoucheur, much in fashion among the well-to-do. On the evening of 3 November, her contractions began. Sir Richard Croft encouraged her to exercise, but would not let her eat. He sent for the officials who were to witness and attest to the royal birth.
As the 4th November became the 5th, it became clear that Charlotte was unable to give birth, Sir Richard Croft and Charlotte’s personal physician, Matthew Baillie, decided to send for obstetrician, John Sims. However, Sir Richard Croft did not allow John Sims to see Charlotte, and forceps were not used.
At nine o’clock in the evening of 5 November, Charlotte finally gave birth to a large stillborn boy. Efforts to resuscitate him were in vain. Noble observers confirmed that it was a handsome boy, resembling the royal family. They were also assured that Charlotte was doing well, and took their leave.
Charlotte heard the news calmly, stating it was the will of God. She took nourishment and seemed to be recovering. Leopold, who had remained with Charlotte throughout, apparently took an opiate and collapsed into his own bed.
It was after midnight that things started to take a turn for Charlotte, waking up vomiting violently and complaining of pains in her stomach. Sir Richard Croft was quickly called, and was alarmed to find Charlotte cold to the touch and breathing with difficulty. The accepted treatment at the time was to place a hot compress on her, but the blood did not stop. He called Christian Stockmar and urged him to bring Leopold, but he found him difficult to rouse, and went to see Charlotte, who grabbed his hand and told him, “They have made me tipsy”. He left the room, planning to try to rouse Leopold again, but was called back by Charlotte’s voice, “Stocky! Stocky!”, but as he entered her room again, he found that Charlotte had passed away.
Charlotte’s death was felt throughout the country. A former MP and future Whig Lord Chancellor, Henry Brougham wrote of the public’s reaction, “It really was as though every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child”.
The shops closed for two weeks, as did the Royal Exchange, the law courts and the docks. Even the poor and homeless tied armbands of black on their clothes. This was a princess well loved.
Prince George was in deep grief, that he was unable to attend her funeral. Caroline heard the news from a passing courier, and fainted in shock. She later stated, “England, that great country, has lost everything in losing my ever-beloved daughter”.
The greatest effect fell on Leopold, who later wrote to artist, Sir Thomas Lawrence:
“Two generations gone. Gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have also felt for Prince George. My Charlotte is gone from the country – it has lost her. She was a good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her! It was my study, my duty, to know her character, but it was my delight!”.
Leopold truly lost his one true love.
On 19 November 1817, Charlotte was buried, her son at her feet, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. A monument was erected, by public subscription, at her tomb.
Just like Christian Stockmar predicted, it wasn’t long before the public began to pin blame on someone for the tragedy. The Queen and her son, Prince George, were blamed for not being with Charlotte while she was giving birth, although Charlotte had specifically requested that they were to stay away. Even though the postmortem was inconclusive, many blamed Sir Richard Croft for his care of Charlotte. Even though Prince George refused to blame him, it wasn’t until three months after Charlotte’s death and while attending another young woman, that Sir Richard Croft snatched up a gun and fatally shot himself. The “triple obstetric tragedy” meaning the death of child, mother, and practitioner, led to significant changes in obstetric practice. With obstetricians who favoured intervention in protracted labour, including in particular more liberal use of forceps, gaining ground over those who did not.
So, even though the story of Princess Charlotte is devastating, it also saw change in childbirth and the care of the mother.
Charlotte’s death also left King George III without any legitimate grandchildren, this led the newspapers urging the King’s unmarried sons towards matrimony. One such leading article reached the King’s fourth son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, at his home in Brussels. Edward quickly dismissed his mistress, Julie de St Laurent, and proposed to Leopold’s sister, Victoria, Dowager Princess of Leiningen. Their daughter, Victoria, would later become Queen of the United Kingdom in 1837.