The quote in the headline in attributed to Marias Stuart, queen of the Scots, who on the 8th of February met her death through beheading at Fotheringhay Castle, sentenced for conspiring to murder her the cousin of her father as well as regent of England, Elizabeth I. As the only surviving child of James V of Scotland – son of Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII – and Mary of Guise, Mary became queen at the tender age of 6 days and Scotland came to be ruled by a council of regency, not least since Mary Stuart from the age of 5 lived in France where she had been married to the dauphin, one day to become Francis II. She returned to Scotland in 1561 after only a short time on the French throne as Francis died in 1560, only a year after being crowned king.
The execution of Mary, which took place on this day 428 years ago, is connected to her claim to the English throne as a successor to the childless Elizabeth I. to the chagrin of Elizabeth, Mary shortly after her return from France, had married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (I will return to this at some point), an arrogant and self-absorbed man who also was her cousin through the half-sister of her father, Margaret Douglas. Together they had the son James, who in other words was of blood royal though both parents, which almost made his claim to the throne stronger than that of Elizabeth. Mary demanded that James should be named heir to the English throne, but Elizabeth was of the opinion that as soon as she named an heir, her days would be counted, not least due to the strong support enjoyed by Mary from the English Catholics.
Mary, who can´t, even with an endless amount of good will, be said to have been a good monarch, fled to England after a number of very strange decisions and events which included the murder of Lord Darnley, where she hoped to enjoy the protection and support of Elizabeth. This, however, was not to happen and Mary instead found herself under house arrest for the next 19 years, during which Mary committed herself to one conspiracy after another directed against Elizabeth. What was finally to become her undoing was the so called Babington plot which entailed a Spanish invasion led by Elizabeth´s former brother in-law, Philip II. It has to be said that Elizabeth over the years had had an enormous forbearance with a number of attempts to overthrow her, in which Mary more as a rule than an exception had been involved, but now it had to end.
Mary was arrested August 11th and was sentenced to death on October 25th based on evidence gathered by the master spy of Elizabeth, Sir Francis Walsingham. On February 8th she was finally beheaded in the Great Hall of Fotheringhay Castle. It took several blows with the axe to separate her head from her body, and it´s said that her small lap dog had hidden under her skirts during the execution where it was found soaked in blood and had to be thoroughly bathed to remove the blood. When the executioner lifted up Mary´s severed head, the long auburn locks were revealed as a wig, and the now 44 year old Mary turned out to have very short, completely grey hair.
When Elizabeth was informed of the execution of Mary, she claimed that she had been misunderstood, and that her intention had never been to take Mary´s life. Maybe the reminder of her own mother death was too strong, as well as the knowledge that if some queens could be executed, so could they all. That if find the quote to be an appropriate headline for this post is because that she was right of sorts. When Elizabeth passed away on the 24th of March 1603, Mary´s son, James VI of Scotland, took the throne as James I of England.
Mary, Queen of Scots and the murder of Lord Darnley – Alison Weir
Mary, Queen of Scots – Antonia Fraser
Calendar of State papers, 1587