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.



House of Stewart

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

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots

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

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

family tree

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

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

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

robert ii of scotland
Robert II of Scotland

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

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

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

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

James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise

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

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

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


List of Scottish Monarchs

If you don’t know already, I love Scotland.

Everything about this country and its people, it just brings me joy.

So, when I was thinking about what to post next, it had to be something about this amazing country. I’ve already posted about Mary, Queen of Scots, so who else… Why not all of them.


Here is a list of all the monarchs.


Royal Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Scotland used from the 12th century to 1603. Used by the Kings of Scots up until the Union of the Crowns in 1603 under King James VI & I, of Scotland and England.
House of Alpin
848 – 1034

house of alpin

House of Dunkeld
1034 – 1286
house of dunkeld
House of Sverre
1286 – 1290
house of sverre
First Interregnum
1290 – 1292
House of Balliol
1292 – 1296
house of balliol
Second Interregnum
1296 – 1306
House of Bruce
1306 – 1371house of bruce
House of Stewart/Stuart
1371 – 1651house of stewart stuart
Third Interregnum
1651 – 1660
House of Stuart
1660 – 1707

house of stuart





Maid of Norway

feature image


If you don’t know already, I love Scotland. And when I get obsessed over something, I need to know everything about it. Especially the history.

I was happening to scroll through the internet to find out what to post next, and that’s how I stumbled across Margaret, Maid of Norway.

I don’t know what it was, but I was intrigued instantly just by the brief description of her very short life. To be honest, I’m annoyed with myself that I’ve never heard of her before.

So, who is the Maid of Norway?

When the treaty arranging the marriage between Margaret’s parents, Eric II of Norway and Margaret of Scotland was signed at Roxburgh, Scotland on 25 July 1281, Margaret of Scotland’s youngest brother, David, had already died the previous month. This left Alexander III of Scotland with only one legitimate son, Alexander.

(I know, the similar names started to slowly confuse me as well).

eric ii of norway
Eric II of Norway

This led to the treaty including a provision for the children of Margaret of Scotland and Eric II of Norway to succeed to the Kingdom of Scotland.

If it happens that the King of Scotland dies without a lawful son, and any of his sons does not leave lawful issue (not sons), and Margaret has children (not sons), by the King of Norway, she and her children shall succeed to the Kingdom of Scotland … or she, even if she is without children, according to Scottish law and custom.

Alexander III of Scotland also made similar arrangements when arranging the marriage between his son, Alexander, to Margaret, daughter of Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders. The treaty arranging the marriage, signed in December 1281, included a lengthy and complex document setting out the customs and usages which determined the succession. As well as general statement of principles, the annex includes specific examples of the rights of “A and M” and their children in particular cases. The document, while confusing in places, appears to favour primogeniture for male heirs, or their descendants, and proximity of blood for female heirs and their descendants.

On 9 April 1283, Margaret was born at Tonsberg, Norway. However, her mother, Margaret of Scotland, died during or shortly after giving birth.

The following year on 28 January 1284, Alexander III’s remaining child, Alexander, died. Leaving only the King’s granddaughter, Margaret, heir to the Scottish throne.

alexander iii of scotland
Alexander III of England

Alexander III summoned all thirteen Earls of Scotland and twenty-four Barons at Scone, Scotland on 5 February 1284. The signatories agreed to recognise Margaret as “domina and right heir” if neither Alexander had left a posthumous child and the King had left no children at the time of his death.

I don’t believe they thought either it will come to fruition or that Margaret would rule alone. Probably when the time came, rule along with her future husband, whoever that may be.

Alexander III had decided to remarry to Yolande de Dreux, but died shortly afterwards as the result of an accident on 19 March 1286 without any children.

After Alexander III of Scotland was buried at Dunfermline Abbey of 29 March 1286, the magnates and clerics of the realm assembled at Scone, Scotland in parliament to select the Guardians of Scotland who would keep the Kingdom for the right heir. At this time, Yolande de Dreux was pregnant. However, it is uncertain what happened to Yolande de Dreux’s child. Most likely she had a miscarriage, although other accounts say that her child was still-born at Clackmannan on St. Catherine’s Day (25 November 1286), with the Guardians of Scotland in attendance to witness the event. There are also other accounts that she wasn’t pregnant at all. Whatever the case, there was no other children by Alexander III.

By the oaths taken on 5 February 1284, this made Margaret heir at three years of age. That same year, Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale had rebelled with the aid of his son the Earl of Carrick.

The Bruces captured strongholds in Galloway, and as well as bolstering their position in the south-west where their rivals the Balliols also had influence, may have been making a bid for the crown.

Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale seems to have overestimated his chances of successfully pressing his claim. Further support does not appear to have been forthcoming, and it is difficult to prove that even Bruce allies such as the Stewarts decided to back them, in spite of what some historians have inferred from the Turnberry Band of September 1286. The rebellion thus quickly fizzled out, though no drastic action was taken against the Bruces after they had handed back the castles they had seized. In this way, the Guardians of Scotland possibly hoped to maintain the peace in Scotland between the competing claims of Robert Bruce and John Balliol, without jeopardising their ultimate loyalty to the realm, and probably to Margaret as the more generally accepted heir.

edward i of england
Edward I of England

It seems the Scots were displaying any desire to bring Margaret to Scotland, it was in fact her father, Eric II of Norway, who raised the question. He sent official ambassadors to Edward I of England, who was in Gascony, in May 1289, with papers referring to Margaret as “Queen”. The negotiations from this time forward continued between Edward I of England, who returned back to England, Eric II of Norway, excluding the Scots until Edward I of England met with Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale and some of the Guardians of Scotland at Salisbury, England in October 1289.

The Scots, however, were in a weak position since Eric II of Norway arranged the marriage between his daughter Margaret and Edward I of England’s son, Edward.

The Guardians of Scotland singed a Treaty of Salisbury, which agreed that Margaret would be sent to Scotland before 1 November 1290, and that any agreement on her future marriage would be deferred until she was in Scotland.

Edward I of England and the Guardians of Scotland continued their negotiations, based on the collective assumption that Margaret would be Queen and the young Edward King, but all these plans were brought to nothing.

On 26 September 1290 while sailing to Scotland, seven-year-old Margaret died of the effects of sea-sickness in the Orkney Islands. Her remains were taken to Bergen, Norway and interred beside her mother in the wall on the north side of the choir in Christ Church, Bergen, Norway.

Since Margaret was never crowned or otherwise inaugurated, and never set foot on Scottish soil, there is some doubt about whether she should be regarded as a Queen of Scots.

Let me know what you think in the comments. I think this is a fine line, where on one side I believe she should have the title as Queen of Scots. There was no other royal higher above her, even if she hadn’t set foot on Scottish soil or officially crowned.

On the other hand, she wasn’t crowned. And isn’t being crowned what makes you King or Queen?

Whatever the case, even though Margaret lived such a short life, she left a mark.

“Margaret, Queen of Scotland and daughter of Norway” Stained glass window located in central Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland at Lerwick Town Hall.






House of Tudor ~ Family Tree

The Tudor family tree from King Henry VII of England to King James VI + I of Scotland and England.


family tree


Kings and Queens of England

Henry VII of England

Henry VIII of England

Edward VI of England

Mary I of England

Elizabeth I of England

James I of England (James VI of Scotland)





The Anarchy ~ Civil War

In August 1139, the Angevin invasion finally arrived.

Empress Matilda

Baldwin de Redvers crossed over from Normandy to Wareham in an initial attempt to capture a port to receive the Empress Matilda’s invading army, but Stephen’s forces forced him to retreat into the south-west.

dowager queen adeliza
Dowager Queen Adeliza

However, the following month, Matilda was invited by the Dowager Queen Adeliza, second wife of Henry I of England, to land at Arundel instead, and on 30 September 1139, Robert of Gloucester and Matilda arrived in England with 140 knights.

While Matilda stayed at Arundel Castle, Robert of Gloucester marched north-west to Wallingford and Bristol, hoping to raise support for the rebellion and to link up with Miles of Gloucester, who renounced his fealty to Stephen.

Once Stephen heard of the news, he promptly moved south, besieging Arundel and trapping Matilda inside the castle. He then agreed to a truce proposed by his brother, Henry of Blois. The full details of the truce are unknown, but the results were that Stephen released Matilda from the siege and then allowed her and her household of knights to be escorted to the south-west, where they were reunited with Robert of Gloucester. The reasoning behind this, a somewhat ludicrous decision, remains unclear. Contemporary chroniclers suggested that Henry of Blois argued that it would be in Stephen’s own best interests to release Matilda and concentrate on attacking Robert of Gloucester, Stephen may have also seen Robert of Gloucester instead of Matilda as his main opponent.

Another theory is that Stephen released Matilda out of chivalry. Stephen was certainly known for having a generous, courteous personality, and women were not normally expected to be targeted in Anglo-Norman warfare.

stephen of blois
Stephen of Blois

Stephen faced a military dilemma at Arundel, the castle was considered almost impregnable, and he may have been worried that he was tying down his army in the south whilst Robert of Gloucester roamed freely in the west.

Although Matilda had a few defections, she now controlled a compact block of territory stretching out from Gloucester and Bristol south-west into Devon and Cornwall, west into the Welsh Marches and east as far as Oxford and Wallingford, threatening London.

She had also established her court in Gloucester, close to Robert’s stronghold of Bristol, but far enough away for her to remain independent of her half-brother.

Stephen’s mission was to reclaim back the region. He started by attacking Wallingford Castle, which controlled the Thames corridor. Held securely by Brien FitzCount, Stephen found it too well defended. He left behind some forces to blockade the castle and continued west into Wiltshire to attack Trowbridge, taking the castles of South Cerney and Malmesbury en route.

Meanwhile, Miles of Gloucester marched east to Wallingford, attacking Stephen’s rear-guard forces and threatening an advance on London. This led to Stephen giving up on his western campaign and returning east to stabilise the situation and protect his capital.

At the beginning of 1140 Nigel, Bishop of Ely, who castles Stephen had confiscated the previous year, rebelled against Stephen as well. Nigel hoped to seize East Anglia and establishing a base of operations in the Isle of Ely.

Stephen responded quickly, taking an army into the fens and using boats lashed together to form a causeway that allowed him to make a surprise attack on the isle. Even though Nigel escaped to Gloucester, his men and castle were captured. Order was once restored temporarily in the east. Nothing is permanent.

henry of blois
Henry of Blois

Robert of Gloucester’s men retook some of the territory that Stephen had taken in his 1139 campaign. In an effort to negotiate a truce, Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois, held a peace conference at Bath, where Robert of Gloucester represented Empress Matilda, while Matilda of Boulogne and Archbishop Theobald represented Stephen. The conference collapsed over the insistence by Henry of Blois and the clergy that they should set the terms of any peace deal, which Stephen found unacceptable.

Ranulf, 3rd Earl of Chester, was still upset that his rights to Carlisle and Cumberland were handed over to David I of Scotland’s son, Henry. So he devised a plan for dealing with the problem by ambushing Henry of Scotland whilst he was travelling back from Stephen’s court to Scotland after Christmas. However, Stephen responded to these rumours by escorting Henry of Scotland personally north, this proved to be the last straw for Ranulf.

Under the guise of a social visit, Ranulf seized Lincoln Castle in a surprise attack. Ranulf had actually claimed previously that he had rights to the castle.

Stephen then set out to Lincoln where they agreed to a truce, probably to keep Ranulf from joining Empress Matilda. Ranulf was allowed to keep the castle.

However, once Stephen had returned to London he received news that Ranulf, his brother and their family were relaxing in Lincoln Castle with a minimal guard force, a ripe target for a surprise attack. Abandoning the truce, Stephen saw this opportunity gathering his army again and sped north, but not quite fast enough. Ranulf must’ve got wind, escaping Lincoln Castle and declared his support for Empress Matilda. Stephen was forced to place the castle under siege.

Battle Plan

While Stephen and his army were besieging Lincoln Castle at the start of 1141, Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf advanced on Stephen’s position with a somewhat larger force. When news of this reached Stephen, he held a council to decide whether to give battle or withdraw to gather more soldiers. Stephen decided to stay and fight, resulting in the Battle of Lincoln on 2 February 1141.

Stephen commanded the centre of his army, with Alan of Brittany on his right and William of Aumale on his left. Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf’s forces had superiority in cavalry and Stephen dismounted many of his own knights to form a solid infantry block; he joined them himself, fighting on foot in the battle.

Stephen wasn’t a gifted public speaker, so that was delegated to Baldwin of Clare, who delivered a rousing declaration.

After an initial success in which William of Aumale’s forces destroyed the Angevin’s Welsh infantry, the battle went badly for Stephen. Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf’s cavalry encircled Stephen’s centre, which he found himself surrounded by the enemy army.

Many of Stephen’s supporters, including Waleron de Beaumont and William of Ypres, fled from the field at this point, but Stephen fought on. Defending himself first with his sword then when that broke, with a borrowed battle axe. Finally, he was overwhelmed by Robert of Gloucester’s men and captured. He was then taken from the field into custody.

Robert of Gloucester took Stephen back to Gloucester where Empress Matilda was. He was then moved to Bristol Castle, traditionally used or holding high-status prisoners. At the beginning to his imprisonment he was left in relatively good conditions, but his security was later tightened and he was kept in chains.

After the capture of Stephen, Empress Matilda now began to take the necessary steps to have herself crowned Queen, which would require the agreement of the church and her coronation at Westminster.

Before Easter Henry of Blois summoned a council at Winchester, where he made a private deal with the Empress Matilda that he would deliver the support of the church, if she agreed to give him control over church business in England. He handed over the royal treasury, rather depleted except for Stephen’s crown, to the Empress, and excommunicated many of Stephen’s supporters who refused to switch sides as easily as Stephen’s own brother.

However, Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury was unwilling to declare Empress Matilda Queen of England so rapidly. A delegation of clergy and nobles, headed by Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, travelled to see Stephen in Bristol and consult about their moral dilemma. Should they abandon their oaths of fealty to Stephen? Given the circumstances, Stephen agreed he was prepared to release his subjects from their oath of fealty to him.

After Easter, the clergy gathered again in Winchester to declare the Empress “Lady of England and Normandy” as a precursor to her coronation. However, while Empress Matilda’s own followers attended the event, few other major nobles seem to have attended and a delegation from London prevaricated.

Stephen might be losing some support, but not from the one who mattered. His wife, Matilda, wrote to complain and demand Stephen’s release. Empress Matilda advanced to London to stage her coronation in June, where her position became dangerous. Despite securing the support of Geoffrey de Mandeville, who controlled the Tower of London, forces loyal to Stephen and his wife Matilda, remained close to the city and he citizens were fearful about welcoming the Empress Matilda.

On 24 June, shortly before the planned coronation, the city rose up against Empress Matilda and Geoffrey de Mandeville. They just fled in time making a chaotic retreat to Oxford.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey of Anjou invaded Normandy again and, in the absence of Waleran of Beaumont who was still fighting in England, Geoffrey of Anjou took all the duchy south of the River Seine and east of the Risle.

Unfortunately, no help was coming from Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, who appears to have been preoccupied with his own problems with France. The new French King, Louis VII, had rejected his father’s regional alliance, improving relations with Anjou and taking a more aggressive line with Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, which would result in war the following year.

Geoffrey of Anjou’s success in Normandy and Stephen’s weakness in England began to influence the loyalty of many Anglo-Norman barons, who feared losing their lands in England to Robert of Gloucester and Empress Matilda, and their possessions in Normandy to Geoffrey of Anjou. Many started to leave Stephen’s faction.

His friend and advisor Waleron de Beaumont, was one of those who decided to defect in mid-1141, crossing into Normandy to secure his ancestral possessions by allying himself with the Angevins, and bringing Worcestershire into the Empress Matilda’s camp.

Waleron de Beaumont’s twin brother, Robert of Leicester, effectively withdrew from fighting in the conflict at the same time.

Other supporters of Empress Matilda were restored in their former strongholds, such as Bishop Nigel of Ely, and others still received new earldoms in the west of England. The royal control over the minting of coins broke down, leading to coins being struck by local barons and bishops across the country.

Like I said earlier, Stephen’s wife, Matilda, played a critical part in keeping his cause alive during his captivity. Matilda gathered Stephen’s remaining lieutenants around her and the royal family in the south-east, advancing into London when the population rejected Empress Matilda. Stephen’s long-standing commander, William of Ypres, remained with Matilda in London; William Martel, the royal steward, commanded operations from Sherborne in Dorset, and Faramus of Boulogne ran the royal household.

Matilda appears to have generated genuine sympathy and support from Stephen’s more loyal followers. To say a woman cannot rule alone, were idiots when it came to both the Matildas.

Henry of Blois’ alliance with Empress Matilda proved short-lived, as they soon fell out over political patronage and ecclesiastical policy; the bishop met Stephen’s wife Matilda at Guildford and transferred his support to her. Personally, I wouldn’t trust someone who can easily change sides.

Empress Matilda’s position was transformed by her defeat at the rout of Winchester. Following their retreat from London, Robert of Gloucester and Empress Matilda besieged Henry of Blois in his papal castle at Winchester in July.

Matilda was using the royal castle in the city of Winchester as a base for her operations, but shortly afterwards herself and William of Ypres then encircled the Angevin forces with their own army, reinforced with fresh troops from London. Empress Matilda decided to escape from the city with her close associates, Fitz Count and Reginald of Cornwall, while the rest of her army delayed the royal forces. In the subsequent battle, Empress Matilda’s forces were defeated and Robert of Gloucester himself was taken prisoner during the retreat, although Empress Matilda herself escaped, exhausted, to her fortress at Devizes.

With both Stephen and Robert of Gloucester held prisoner, negotiations were held to try to agree a long-term peace settlement, but Matilda was unwilling to offer any compromise to Empress Matilda, and Robert of Gloucester refused to accept any offer to encourage him to change sides to Stephen. Instead, in November the two sides simply exchanged the two leaders, Stephen returning to his wife, and Robert of Gloucester to Empress Matilda in Oxford.

Henry of Blois held another church council, which reversed its previous decision and reaffirmed Stephen’s legitimacy to rule, and a fresh coronation of Stephen and Matilda occurred at Christmas 1141.

At the beginning of 1142 Stephen fell ill, and by Easter rumours had begun to circulate that he had died. Possibly this illness was the result of his imprisonment the previous year, but he finally recovered and travelled north to, not only assure people of his health, but to raise new forces and to successfully convince Ranulf of Chester to change sides once again. Stephen then spent the summer attacking some of the new Angevin castles built the previous year including Cirencester, Bampton and Wareham.

During the middle of 1142 Robert of Gloucester returned to Normandy to assist Geoffrey of Anjou with operations against some of Stephen’s remaining followers there, before returning in the autumn.

st george's tower at oxford castle
St George’s Tower at Oxford Castle

Meanwhile, Matilda came under increased pressure from Stephen’s forces and had become surrounded at Oxford. Oxford was a secure town, protected by walls and the River Isis, but Stephen led a sudden attack across the river, leading the charge and swimming part of the way. Once on the other side, Stephen and his men stormed into the town, trapping Empress Matilda in the castle. Oxford Castle, however, was a powerful fortress and, rather than storming it, Stephen had to settle down for a long siege, albeit secure in the knowledge that Empress Matilda was now surrounded. Just before Christmas, Empress Matilda sneaked out of the castle, crossed the icy river on foot and made her escape past the royal army to safety at Wallingford, leaving the castle garrison free to surrender the next day. Empress Matilda stayed with Fitz Count for a period before re-establishing her court at Devizes.

The war between the two sides in England reached a stalemate in the mid-1140s, while Geoffrey of Anjou consolidated his hold on power in Normandy.

1143 started precariously for Stephen when he was besieged by Robert of Gloucester at Wilton Castle, an assembly point for royal forces in Herefordshire. Stephen attempted to break out and escape, resulting in the Battle of Wilton.

Once again, the Angevin cavalry proved too strong, and for a moment it appeared that Stephen might be captured for a second time. On this occasion, however, William Martel, Stephen’s steward, made a fierce rear guard effort, allowing Stephen to escape from the battlefield. Stephen valued William Martel’s loyalty sufficiently to agree to exchange Sherborne Castle for his safe release. This was one of the few instances where Stephen was prepared to give up a castle to ransom one of his men. That just shows his loyalty.

In late 1143, Stephen faced a new threat in the east, when Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex, rose up in rebellion against him in East Anglia. Stephen had disliked the baron for several years, and provoked the conflict by summoning Geoffrey de Mandeville to court, where Stephen arrested him. Stephen threatened to execute Geoffrey de Mandeville unless the baron handed over his various castles, including the Tower of London, Saffron Walden and Pleshey, all important fortifications because they were in, or close to, London.

 Geoffrey de Mandeville gave in, but once free he headed north-east into the Fens to the Isle of Ely, from where he began a military campaign against Cambridge, with the intention of progressing south towards London. With all of his other problems and with Hugh Bigod still in open revolt in Norfolk, Stephen lacked the resources to track Geoffrey de Mandeville down in the Fens and made do with building a screen of castles between Ely and London, including Burwell Castle.

For a period, the situation continued to worsen. Ranulf of Chester revolted once again in the middle of 1144, splitting up Stephen’s Honour of Lancaster between himself and Prince Henry. In the west, Robert of Gloucester and his followers continued to raid the surrounding royalist territories, and Wallingford Castle remained a secure Angevin stronghold, too close to London for comfort. Meanwhile, Geoffrey of Anjou finished securing his hold on southern Normandy and in January 1144 he advanced into Rouen, the capital of the duchy, concluding his campaign. Louis VII recognised him as Duke of Normandy shortly after. By this point in the war, Stephen was depending increasingly on his immediate royal household, such as William of Ypres and others, and lacked the support of the major barons who might have been able to provide him with significant additional forces. After the events of 1141, Stephen made little use of his network of earls. It seems Stephen’s rule was conflict after conflict. But do not despair, things are about to look up for Stephen.

After 1143 the war ground on but progressing slightly better for Stephen. Miles of Gloucester, one of the most talented Angevin commanders, had died whilst hunting over the previous Christmas, relieving some of the pressure in the west. Geoffrey de Mandeville’s rebellion continued until September 1144, when he died during an attack on Burwell. The war in the west progressed better in 1145, with Stephen recapturing Faringdon Castle in Oxfordshire. In the north, Stephen came to a fresh agreement with Ranulf of Chester, but then in 1146 repeated the ruse he had played on Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1143, first inviting Ranulf of Chester to court, before arresting him and threatening to execute him unless he handed over a number of castles, including Lincoln and Coventry. As with Geoffrey de Mandeville, the moment Ranulf was released he immediately rebelled, but the situation was a stalemate: Stephen had few forces in the north with which to prosecute a fresh campaign, whilst Ranulf of Chester lacked the castles to support an attack on Stephen. By this point, however, Stephen’s practice of inviting barons to court and arresting them had brought him into some disrepute and increasing distrust. Also, how many times is he going to realise, they are just going to go back on their word once they are free.

The character of the conflict in England gradually began to shift, the civil war was coming to an end.

In 1147 Robert of Gloucester died peacefully, and the next year Empress Matilda defused an argument with the Church over the ownership of Devizes Castle by returning to Normandy, contributing to reducing the tempo of the war. The Second Crusade was announced, and many Angevin supporters, including Waleran of Beaumont, joined it, leaving the region for several years. Many of the barons were making individual peace agreements with each other to secure their lands and war gains. Geoffrey of Anjou and Empress Matilda’s son, the future King Henry II, mounted a small mercenary invasion of England in 1147 but the expedition failed, not least because Henry lacked the funds to pay his men.

 Surprisingly, Stephen himself ended up paying their costs, allowing Henry to return home safely. His reasons for doing so are unclear. One potential explanation is his general courtesy to a member of his extended family, another is that he was starting to consider how to end the war peacefully and saw this as a way of building a relationship with Henry.

Many of the most powerful nobles began to make their own truces and disarmament agreements, signing treaties between one another that typically promised an end to mutual hostilities, limited the building of new castles, or agreed limits to the size of armies sent against one another. Typically, these treaties included clauses that recognised that the nobles might, of course, be forced to fight each other by instruction of their rulers. A network of treaties had emerged by the 1150s, reducing, but not eliminating, the degree of local fighting in England.

Empress Matilda remained in Normandy for the rest of the war, focusing on stabilising the duchy and promoting her son’s rights to the English throne. The young Henry FitzEmpress returned to England again in 1149, this time planning to form a northern alliance with Ranulf of Chester. The Angevin plan involved Ranulf agreeing to give up his claim to Carlisle, held by the Scots, in return for being given the rights to the whole of the Honour of Lancaster; Ranulf of Chester would give homage to both David and Henry FitzEmpress, with Henry having seniority.

future king henry ii of england and his wife, eleanor of aquitaine
Future King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine

Following this peace agreement, Henry and Ranulf of Chester agreed to attack York, probably with help from the Scots. Stephen marched rapidly north to York and the planned attack disintegrated, leaving Henry to return to Normandy, where he was declared Duke by his father. Although still young, Henry was increasingly gaining a reputation as an energetic and capable leader. His prestige and power increased further when he unexpectedly married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152. Eleanor was the attractive Duchess of Aquitaine and the recently divorced wife of Louis VII of France, and the marriage made Henry the future ruler of a huge swathe of territory across France.

In the final years of the war, Stephen too began to focus on the issue of his family and the succession. Stephen had given his eldest son, Eustace, the County of Boulogne in 1147, but interestingly it remained unclear whether Eustace would inherit England. Stephen’s preferred option was to have Eustace crowned while he himself was still alive, as was the custom in France, but this was not the normal practice in England, and Celestine II, during his brief tenure as pope between 1143 and 1144, had banned any change to this practice. The only person who could crown Eustace was Archbishop Theobald, who may well have seen the coronation of Eustace only as a guarantee of further civil war after Stephen’s death. The Archbishop refused to crown Eustace without agreement from the current pope, Eugene III, and the matter reached an impasse.

Stephen’s situation was made worse by various arguments with members of the Church over rights and privileges. Stephen made a fresh attempt to have Eustace crowned during Easter of 1152, gathering his nobles to swear fealty to Eustace, and then insisting that Theobald and his bishops anoint him King. When Theobald refused yet again, Stephen and Eustace imprisoned both him and the bishops and refused to release them unless they agreed to crown Eustace. Theobald escaped again into temporary exile in Flanders, pursued to the coast by Stephen’s knights, marking a low point in Stephen’s relationship with the church.

Henry FitzEmpress returned to England again at the start of 1153 with a small army, supported in the north and east of England by Ranulf of Chester and Hugh Bigod. Stephen’s castle at Malmesbury was besieged by Henry’s forces and Stephen responded by marching west with an army to relieve it. Stephen unsuccessfully attempted to force Henry’s smaller army to fight a decisive battle along the River Avon. In the face of the increasingly wintry weather, Stephen agreed to a temporary truce and returned to London, leaving Henry to travel north through the Midlands where the powerful Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, announced his support for the Angevin cause. Despite only modest military successes, Henry and his allies now controlled the south-west, the Midlands and much of the north of England. A delegation of senior English clergy met with Henry and his advisers at Stockbridge shortly before Easter.

Many of the details of their discussions are unclear, but it appears that the churchmen emphasised that while they supported Stephen as King, they sought a negotiated peace. Henry reaffirmed that he would avoid the English cathedrals and would not expect the bishops to attend his court.

Over the summer, Stephen intensified the long-running siege of Wallingford Castle in a final attempt to take this major Angevin stronghold. The fall of Wallingford appeared imminent and Henry marched south in an attempt to relieve the siege, arriving with a small army and placing Stephen’s besieging forces under siege themselves. Upon news of this, Stephen gathered up a large force and marched from Oxford, and the two sides confronted each other across the River Thames at Wallingford in July. By this point in the war, the barons on both sides seem to have been eager to avoid an open battle. As a result, instead of a battle ensuing, members of the church brokered a truce, to the annoyance of both Stephen and Henry.

In the aftermath of Wallingford, Stephen and Henry spoke together privately about a potential end to the war. Stephen’s son Eustace, however, was furious about the peaceful outcome at Wallingford. He left his father and returned home to Cambridge to gather more funds for a fresh campaign, where he fell ill and died the next month. That to me just seems a bit convenient. Not pointing fingers, but they are sure twitching.

Eustace’s death removed an obvious claimant to the throne and was politically “convenient” for those seeking a permanent peace in England. It is possible, however, that Stephen had already begun to consider passing over Eustace’s claim. Historian, Edmund King, observes that Eustace’s claim to the throne was not mentioned in the discussions at Wallingford, for example, and this may have added to Stephen’s son’s anger.

Fighting continued after Wallingford, but in a rather half-hearted fashion. Stephen lost the towns of Oxford and Stamford to Henry while Stephen was diverted fighting Hugh Bigod in the east of England, but Nottingham Castle survived an Angevin attempt to capture it. Meanwhile, Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois and Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, were for once unified in an effort to broker a permanent peace between the two sides, putting pressure on Stephen to accept a deal.

Stephen and Henry FitzEmpress’s armies met again at Winchester, where the two leaders would ratify the terms of a permanent peace in November. Stephen announced the Treaty of Winchester in Winchester Cathedral. He recognised Henry FitzEmpress as his adopted son and successor, in return for Henry doing homage to him. Stephen promised to listen to Henry’s advice, but retained all his royal powers. Stephen’s remaining son, William, would do homage to Henry and renounce his claim to the throne, in exchange for promises of the security of his lands. Key royal castles would be held on Henry’s behalf by guarantors whilst Stephen would have access to Henry’s castles. And finally, the numerous foreign mercenaries would be demobilised and sent home.

Stephen and Henry sealed the treaty with a kiss of peace in the cathedral.

Stephen’s decision to recognise Henry as his heir was, at the time, of course was not necessarily a final solution to the civil war. Despite the issuing of new currency and administrative reforms, Stephen might potentially have lived for many more years, whilst Henry’s position on the continent was far from secure. Although Stephen’s son, William, was young and unprepared to challenge Henry for the throne in 1153, the situation could well have shifted in subsequent years. There were widespread rumours during 1154 that William planned to assassinate Henry, for example. Nonetheless, Stephen burst into activity in early 1154, travelling around the kingdom extensively. He began issuing royal writs for the south-west of England once again and travelled to York where he held a major court in an attempt to impress upon the northern barons that royal authority was being reasserted. After a busy summer in 1154, however, Stephen travelled to Dover to meet the Count of Flanders. Some historians believe that Stephen was already ill and preparing to settle his family affairs. Stephen fell ill with a stomach disorder and died on 25 October 1154.

Henry did not feel it necessary to hurry back to England immediately. On finally landing on 8 December 1154, however, Henry quickly took oaths of loyalty from some of the barons and was then crowned alongside Eleanor at Westminster. The royal court was gathered in April 1155, where the barons swore fealty to the new King and his sons. Henry presented himself as the legitimate heir to Henry I and commenced rebuilding the kingdom in his image. Although in reality, Stephen had tried to continue Henry I’s method of government during the war, the new government characterised the 19 years of Stephen’s reign as a chaotic and troubled period, with all these problems resulting from Stephen’s usurpation of the throne. Henry was also careful to show that, unlike his mother Empress Matilda, he would listen to the advice and counsel of others.

Various measures were immediately carried out, although, since Henry spent six and a half of the first eight years of his reign in France, much work had to be done at a distance.

England had suffered extensively during the war. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded how “there was nothing but disturbance and wickedness and robbery”. Certainly in many parts of the country, such as the South-West, the Thames Valley and East Anglia, the fighting and raiding had caused serious devastation.

The previously centralised royal coinage system was fragmented, with Stephen, Empress Matilda and local lords all minting their own coins. The royal forest law had collapsed in large parts of the country. Some parts of the country, though, were barely touched by the conflict, for example, Stephen’s lands in the south-east and the Angevin heartlands around Gloucester and Bristol were largely unaffected, and David I of Scotland ruled his territories in the north of England effectively.

Stephen’s overall income from his estates, however, declined seriously during the conflict, particularly after 1141, and royal control over the minting of new coins remained limited outside of the south-east and East Anglia. With Stephen often based in the south-east, increasingly Westminster, rather than the older site of Winchester, was used as the centre of royal government.

Among Henry’s first measures was to expel the remaining foreign mercenaries and continue the process of demolishing the unauthorised castles. Robert of Torigni recorded that 375 were destroyed, without giving the details behind the figure. Recent studies of selected regions have suggested that fewer castles were probably destroyed than once thought and that many may simply have been abandoned at the end of the conflict. Henry also gave a high priority to restoring the royal finances, reviving Henry I’s financial processes and attempting to improve the standard of the accounts. By the 1160s, this process of financial recovery was essentially complete.

The post-war period also saw a surge of activity around the English borders. The King of Scotland and local Welsh rulers had taken advantage of the long civil war in England to seize disputed lands, Henry set about reversing this trend.

In 1157, pressure from Henry resulted in the young Malcolm IV of Scotland returning the lands in the north of England he had taken during the war. Henry promptly began to refortify the northern frontier, restoring Anglo-Norman supremacy in Wales proved harder, and Henry had to fight two campaigns in north and south Wales in 1157 and 1158 before the Welsh princes Owain Gwynedd and Rhys ap Gruffydd submitted to his rule, agreeing to the pre-civil war division of lands.

I feel like this just shows, that even if you have the crown, doesn’t mean there will be peace.