On this day in 1542, 6 day-old Mary Stuart became Mary, Queen of Scots with the passing of her father, King James V of Scotland. Mary spent most of her younger years in France and was married to the 12 year-old Dauphin Francis at the age of 14; after four years of blissful teenage marriage, Francis died (of old age, presumably) and Mary remarried her half-cousin Lord Darnley – all in all, a fairly typical adolescence for a European royal at the time.
Mary’s life diverged from the typical shortly after, however. Her husband/cousin Lord Darnley was blown up in 1567, and the suspected killer – the Earl of Bothwell – married Mary. Soon after, an uprising against the royals resulted in Mary’s imprisonment in Loch Leven. Mary’s cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, was aware that Mary was regarded as the legitimate heir to the British throne; in order to keep Mary locked up, Elizabeth accused Mary of conspiring to kill Lord Darnley and tried to prove her guilt with a series of apparently forged letters to the Earl of Bothwell. In 1569, Catholic insurgents attempted to place Mary on the throne and kill Elizabeth during the Rising of the North, somehow confirming Elizabeth’s fears.
After 18 years of imprisonment, Mary was found guilty of conspiring against Queen Elizabeth and was beheaded. The unfortunate tale of Mary, Queen of Scots divided British society (and still does today): Protestants intensely disliked her, whilst Catholics made her out to be a saintly figure who, like Christ, remained calm in the face of certain death. Although she was essentially a tragically manipulated player in a much larger game amongst scheming royals, Mary’s courage and dignity during her life and execution elevated her to the status of cult hero in England – and a model of resilience in the face of difficult circumstances.
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