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29 October 2014
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Mary Queen of Scots

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The nobles
Fact Files | Pocket Guide | Nobles

The nobles: background information

Understanding the role and importance of the nobles is the key to understanding the reign of Mary Queen of Scots. Here are the main points: -

The nobles were the wealthy and powerful landowning families that governed Scotland under the leadership of the monarch.

Scottish monarchs were poor, so the nobles provided soldiers for fighting wars and defending the country. They were the police, the judges and the army all rolled into one. A monarch could not rule without their help and support. This made them very powerful.

In return for their services, the monarch granted lands and titles on the noble families

Family rivalries were strong and the nobles often fought amongst themselves to gain influence and power.

The nobles believed that their primary loyalty belonged to their family, NOT the monarch.

Mary and the nobles

When Mary returned to Scotland the Protestant nobles were in a very strong position. They made sure that they formed her council and received important jobs and titles. Many even had plans to marry her and so become king.

Her marriages to Lord Darnley, and later the Earl of Bothwell, were disastrous. They upset the balance of power between the nobles and led to infighting between them.

Once Mary had given birth to a son and heir, James VI, many ruthless nobles saw no use for Mary. Indeed the opposite, if she were to die while James was still an infant THEY could rule Scotland for many years.


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