• Why is Mary famous?

    Who was Mary Queen of Scots?
    Mary was known as Queen of Scots because she was Queen of Scotland. For a short time she was also Queen of France. She might have become Queen of England too. Mary's life was full of romance but sadness too. She became famous across Europe, especially after her execution in 1587, for plotting (it was said) against England's Queen Elizabeth I.

    When did she live?
    Mary was born in 1542, when Henry VIII was King of England. Her father was King James V of Scotland. Mary became Queen of Scotland as a baby. She was Queen until 1567, when she gave up the crown and left Scotland. She spent many years a prisoner in England, where she was put to death on 8 February 1587.

    A sad life
    Mary never knew her father, who died soon after her birth. As a little girl, she was sent away from her mother to France. Her first husband died two years after their wedding. Her second husband was murdered. Her third husband ran off with her, then deserted her. The Scots rejected her, and the English locked her up. Mary Queen of Scots' sad life ended when she was beheaded in 1587.

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  • Princess in Scotland

    Where was Mary born?
    Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace in Scotland on 8 December 1542. Mary's father was King James V of Scotland. Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, was French. Mary was related to the English king, Henry VIII, through her English grandmother, a member of the Tudor family.

    How did Mary become Queen?
    Poor people liked King James. But the Scots nobles turned against him. When in 1542 the Scots and English met in battle at Solway Moss (on the border between the two countries), some Scots nobles refused to fight. The English won, James was broken-hearted and died soon after. His daughter Mary was only six days old. In 1543 she was crowned Queen at Stirling Castle.

    Escape to France
    Mary's mother knew a Queen would need a husband. England's King Henry VIII wanted Mary to marry his son Edward, so he would get to rule Scotland as well. Most Scots hated this idea, and instead said Mary should marry a French prince. France and Scotland were allies (friends). When bad-tempered Henry sent an English army to Scotland, little Mary (aged 5) was quickly sent away by ship to France.

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  • Queen of France

    Life in France
    Mary liked France. She was pretty and clever, and spoke French well. The French king Henry II called her 'the most perfect child I have ever seen'. But Mary missed her mother, who had stayed in Scotland to help run things there.

    Learning to be a princess
    In France, Mary learned to be a princess. She learned Italian, Spanish and Latin. She wrote poetry, loved music and dancing, and was good at needlework. She went horse-riding and hunting. When she was 7, her mother came to visit, and this made Mary very happy.

    A future husband
    Mary grew up with Prince Francis, son of the French king. Francis was a year younger than Mary, smaller and not very strong, but Mary liked him. Their future was all arranged. One day, Mary and Francis would be married, and be King and Queen of France.

    Mary becomes Queen
    Mary and Francis were married in 1558. She was 15, he was 14. In England, 1558 was the year that Elizabeth I became Queen, at the age of 25. In 1559, King Henry of France was badly injured while jousting. He died. This meant Francis became King. Mary was now Queen of France and Queen of Scotland.

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  • Queen of Scotland

    Why did Mary leave France?
    After only a few months as King, Francis became ill. In December 1560 he died. What was Mary to do? She was very sad, because her mother had also died. She decided to return to Scotland. On the ship taking her across the sea, she wrote a sad poem, 'Farewell, my dearest homeland'. She was miserable to leave France.

    Unhappy return
    After the comforts of French palaces, Scotland seemed cold and uncivilized. Mary was lonely. She spoke French, and so found Scots talk hard to understand. She grew tired of people telling her what to do - especially the preacher John Knox. He argued with her about religion. Mary was a Catholic, while many Scots were Protestants. Knox tried to persuade Mary to become a Protestant too, but she refused.

    Life at Holyroodhouse
    Mary was happiest in Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh. Her father and mother had made the palace like a French castle. Mary felt at home, with French servants, music and dancing. On fine days, she rode out hunting and hawking.

    Mary marries again
    In England, Queen Elizabeth I refused to marry anyone. But Mary wanted to marry again. Who should she choose as her husband? A Spanish prince? An English duke? A lord from Sweden? Whoever she chose would be called King of Scotland.

    On 29 July 1565, Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Darnley was a handsome nobleman, and like Mary, he was related to the Tudor royal family of England. At first Mary loved Darnley. But few people thought she had chosen wisely.

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  • Mary flees to England

    Soon Mary was pregnant. However, her happiness did not last. Darnley became violently jealous of David Rizzio, Mary's Italian secretary. Rizzio often played cards with Mary. One evening Darnley and his friends rushed into the room, seized Rizzio and stabbed him to death!

    A baby and another murder
    Mary's love for Darnley changed to fear. She gave birth to a son in June 1566, naming him James. One day, he would be King of Scotland. But she wanted to end her marriage to Darnley.

    On the night of 10 February 1567, people in Edinburgh were woken by a loud explosion. A house had blown up! Darnley's dead body was found in a garden. Darnley had been sleeping in the house. It seemed he had run outside, and was then strangled. Another murder!

    Who killed Darnley?
    Suspicion fell on James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. Bothwell was one of Mary's advisers. But he was also very ambitious, with dreams of becoming King of Scotland himself. He had a large army. Bothwell was tried in court for Darnley's murder, but his soldiers scared everyone, and Bothwell walked away a free man.

    Mary and Bothwell
    Bothwell now wanted to marry Mary. At first, she said no. Then in the spring of 1567, Bothwell carried her off to his castle at Dunbar. Mary agreed to marry him, and the wedding took place at Holyroodhouse on 15 May 1567.

    People turn against Mary
    Mary had made a big mistake. Few Scots wanted Bothwell as their king. People turned against Mary. Some even whispered that she and Bothwell must have planned Darnley's murder.

    The Scots nobles gathered an army, and the two sides met at Carberry Hill in June 1567. But there was no battle. Bothwell deserted Mary, who was taken prisoner. Bothwell fled to Denmark, where he died in 1578, insane.

    No longer Queen
    Mary was held in Lochleven Castle. In July 1567, she agreed to give up the crown to her son, who became King James VI. Since James was still a baby, Mary's half-brother the Earl of Moray ruled Scotland as regent. After ten months, Mary escaped, with the help of Willie Douglas and his brother. Disguised as a servant, she slipped out of the castle to a waiting boat.

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  • Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth

    Mary in England
    The Queen of Scots fled south to England. She never saw Scotland or her son again. Mary hoped Queen Elizabeth I would help her. This was another mistake. Elizabeth did not want Mary, and did not know what to do with her. It might not be safe to send Mary back to Scotland, or to France, or to any other country.

    Why did Mary seem dangerous?
    The English government saw Mary as a threat to their Queen. Elizabeth had many enemies. England's biggest enemy, Spain, might try to remove Elizabeth and make Mary Queen of England.

    Remember, the two Queens were distant cousins. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry's sister Margaret Tudor. If Elizabeth died without children to succeed her, Mary (and her son James) were next in line for the throne.

    Plots against Elizabeth
    Elizabeth kept Mary a prisoner in England for 18 years. The two Queens never met. Mary wrote to Elizabeth asking to be set free. She also spent many hours doing needlework.

    In 1570 the Pope in Rome said Elizabeth was no longer the rightful queen of England. Many Catholics now believed Mary was England's lawful queen. English Catholics were blamed for plots to get rid of Elizabeth. There were spies and plotters everywhere.

    Mary's trial and death
    In 1586 English spies uncovered a new plot, to kill Elizabeth and make Mary queen, with help from Spain. The plotters were rounded up, tortured and executed. Letters from Mary seemed to link her to the plot. Mary was tried at Fotheringhay Castle. In Scotland, her son James (now 20) did little to help her. Mary was found guilty of treason. The sentence was death.

    Queen Elizabeth was reluctant to sign the death-order, but finally did so (though she later said she hadn't). On 8 February 1587, at Fotheringhay Castle, Mary Queen of Scots was executed. Her head was cut off with an axe.

    What happened to James?
    Elizabeth I never married. When she died in 1603, James VI of Scotland became James I of England too. Mary was buried in Peterborough Cathedral. In 1612, King James had a new tomb for Mary made in Westminster Abbey in London. It was close to that of Elizabeth I.

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Mary Queen of Scots Game

Mary Queen of Scots

Take part in House of Stuart game show.

Fun Facts
  • In Mary's time Edinburgh had fewer than 10,000 people.

  • Mary loved music. She played the Highland harp.

  • Willie Douglas stole the keys to Lochleven Castle to help Mary escape.

  • After Mary's death her clothes were burned so people would not take bits as souvenirs.

  • Mary wrote letters to Elizabeth in French.

  • In England Mary spent hours sewing.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

A Christian who belongs to the Church led by the Pope in Rome.

E to G

Put to death by law for a serious crime.
Loud bang when chemicals like gunpowder blow up or 'explode'.

H to L

Hunting with trained hawks (birds of prey).
A sport where knights fight on horses, with lances.
The language of Ancient Rome, still used in Mary's time.

M to O

A rich lord, such as an earl or duke.

P to S

Secret plans to do something.
A religious teacher who speaks at meetings.
Christians who split from the Catholic Church in Rome in the 1500s.
A person who rules for a child-king or child-queen until they are grown up.
A person paid to work for rich people.

T to Z

The burial place for a dead person.
Plotting or fighting against your own country.