Mary, Queen of Scots had a good start: she was wearing the crown early and upgraded it at a young age under the watchful eye of many an interested party but once she started making decisions for herself? Ah, that’s when her life took dramatic twists and turns that ultimately took the crown off her head. Actually, those decisions got her whole head taken off, but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Mary Stuart about age 16 wedding the Francis and before her life turned quite contrary. "MaryStuartbyClouet" by François Clouet - Royal CollectionNative nameRoyal Collection of the United KingdomLocationUnited KingdomEstablishedafter Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Mary Stuart about age 16 before her life turned quite contrary.
(François Clouet – Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons)

Once upon a time in a rugged Renaissance land lived a king and a queen…

640px-Linlithgow_Palace by Alex Sanz flickr

Linlithgow Palace in Scotland where Mary was born, looks very storybookish…maybe Brothers Grimm but a            storybook nonetheless.                                                                                                                                                                (credit:Alex Sanz via Flckr)

Papa King, James V, Mama Queen Marie de Guise, he was out of the picture pretty quickly. (unknown artist, wikimedia commons)

Papa King, James V, Mama Queen Marie de Guise– he was out of the picture pretty quickly.
(unknown artist, wikimedia commons)

The fair Princess, Mary Stewart, quickly became the Fair Queen when her papa died right after her birth (which was pretty much following in the family business of baby rulers.)

YoungMaryStuart Francois Clouet age 13ish

Mary Stuart about age 13 by Francois Clouet                                (wickimedia commons)


Baby then toddler Mary was whisked from castle to castle by her mother who was trying to keep her safe (mostly from the English who would like nothing more than for her to NOT be Queen). In a spiffy piece of bargaining five year-old Mary and her four friends…the Marys (can’t make this up, People, fact is often cooler than fiction) were sent off to France where she was promised to the Dauphin, Francis.

Stirling Castle, one of the Keep-Mary-Safe places

Stirling Castle, one of the Keep-Mary-Safe places

The Coterie of Marys had a fairly decent next few years in France. Mary–now frenchified to Stuart— was treated very well and raised with Francis. She was educated, spent a great deal of time with her mother’s family and lived about ten years of princessy bliss cared for by Francis’ mother, Catherine Di Medici and regularly doted on by King Henri II. Okay, so Catherine was concerned because Mary would be the NEXT Queen of France and Henri was interested because he thought Mary was the rightful heir to the English throne.

What? We go over all this in detail during the podcast (or listen to our Tudor episodes numbers 22, 24, 43 and 44) but basically Catholics thought that any of Henry VIII’s marriages AFTER Catherine of Aragon –wife number one, mother of Queen Mary I of England– were null and void. Any children produced, they believed, were illegitimate. Mary Stuart was a direct and legitimate descendant of a Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister was her grandmother)…badda bing- she should be Queen of England after Mary I not Elizabeth who was the daughter of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Clear? Good. Now back to Mary…

Francis and Mary wed, then Papa Henri died in a jousting accident making Francis and Mary King and Queen (well there was a bit more to it, just listen to the podcast).

Francis and Mary about the age that they got married, Francois Clouet

Francis and Mary about the age that they got married, Francois Clouet

Great! They will rule happily ever after!

Not exactly. After a year and a half of their reign Mama Marie back in Scotland was dead and no one was guarding the roosters there anymore; Francis was dead, and Mary, not having gotten pregnant wasn’t really necessary in France. Several potential marriages were discussed but Mary decided it was time she went back to Scotland.

At first she was doing a decent job of balancing the Protestant and Catholic struggles, brought a little class to the joint and was doing a fair job of telling Queen Elizabeth I she wasn’t just her cousin but also her friend. No rivals here, ‘Cuz.

And then a man. *sigh* A man by the name of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He was her 2nd cousin by marriage and she was smitten…or she thought it was a wise political move to marry him- so she did.

Mary Stuart and James Darnley, quite a fetching pair

Mary Stuart and James Darnley, quite a fetching pair, right? He looks full of himself, doesn’t he?

This bad decision quickly turned sour. Darnley was, well, the best word is petulant. And greedy, greedy is good, too. His attempts to usurp Mary’s power quickly put them at odds. To complicate matters: Mary was pregnant. HIGH drama ensued: there was a plot by Darnley that landed one man dead, Baby James was born and then another foiled plot led to a very curious murder of yet another man: Lord Darnley himself. *cue dramatic music*

Twice widowed and single mother Mary made a few more poor choices- she ignored pressure from both the public and Queen Elizabeth to bring the obvious suspect in the murder to trial. In fact in the most dramatic move yet- she married him mere weeks after he kidnapped HER. (Seriously, go listen to the episode.)

Husband number three: James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell- swarmy, mean and an emotional abuser. Mary sure can pick ’em.

Pretty much this. (oh please, you can google Bothwell) credit: J.J. at English Language Wikipedia

Pretty much this. (oh please. You can Google Bothwell)
credit: J.J. at English Language Wikipedia

This is when the Nobility, who were in a power struggle with Mary since the beginning of her life, had enough. She quickly fell out of favor, Bothwell was run off and Mary was imprisoned. She then made yet another really bad decision: she misinterpreted Queen Elizabeth’s intentions, fled to England for protection by her cousin and soon was imprisoned again…

…for the next 19 years.

Elizabeth could hardly let this woman who was next in line for her crown and who had so much support from Catholics to be wearing said crown party across the land. Elizabeth debated what to do with Mary and ultimately several more bad decisions of trusting the wrong people sealed Mary’s fate. Evidence real, tricked or fabricated of a plot to kill the Queen will do that.

Mary stood trial and was convicted of treason. On February 8, 1587  44 year-old Mary’s life decisions were made for her and she was executed.

Mother and Son...that never happened because he was an infant the last time she saw him.

Mother and Son…that never happened because he was an infant the last time she saw him.

16 years later the son she never really knew succeeded Queen Elizabeth to become King James VI. He had his mothers body moved so that she could be buried in Westminster Abbey.


Flickr user Lisby

Fit for a Queen.                                                          (credit: flickr user Lisby)




First: CORRECTION!!! All you wise arborists (or arborist-wannabes) caught that Susan said the wrong tree when describing a family tree. Harry Lauder Walking Stick is the correct name. Here it is, and here you can read more about it at Missouri Botanical Garden.Sierra Exif JPEG

You want more, yes, yes we know…here is all the media that we referenced in this episode (we took notes so you don’t have to!)

Papa King James V…was very paternally prolific. Here is a post from Unusual Historicals about his many illegitimate children including the Favorite turned Adversary, James Stewart, Earl of Moray.

Cybervisit Stirling Castle, one of Mary’s residences in Scotland, or if you happen to be in the neighborhood, visit her birthcastle (it’s a word) (well, now it is), Linlithgow Palace or visit in person (lucky!) or online (the rest of us) The National Museum of Scotland.

The podcast we recommended that has the episodes about pregnancy and childbirth (and a lot more great content) is…


GET THIS ONE! We both liked it, lots of info but lots of photos and paintings, too. It’s lovely.

Mary Queen of Scots, by Susan Watkins and Mark Fiennes

Mary Queen of Scots, by Susan Watkins and Mark Fiennes

Also good:


John Guy


Kids book! Fiona MacDonald and David Antram

Kids book! Fiona MacDonald and David Antram

A couple historical fictions for you….

Phillipa Gregory

And for an easy to digest view of all things Tudor as well as amazingly charming illustrations by our friend and favorite History Witch, Lisa Graves (actually she’s the only History Witch we know)

Barb Alexander and Lisa Graves




with Katherine Hepburn

1936 with Katherine Hepburn

1971 with Vanessa Redgrave

1971 with Vanessa Redgrave

Or how about the 2013 Swiss version? Yes, how about it? We couldn’t get our hands on it so we can’t recommend it but Susan was on such a failed quest she needs to know how it is!

How is it?!

How is it?!

The meta referential, The Mirror Cracked


Can you pick out the historically correct Mary Queen of Scots from the CW Show, Reign Mary Queen of Scots? And that's all you need to know about Reign.

Can you pick out the historically correct Mary, Queen of Scots from the Reign Mary, Queen of Scots? And that’s all you need to know about Reign.(Which Susan didn’t hate once she could overlook the inaccuracies and stopped moaning, “They could have done so much more with this show!”)


Here is the Last Days of Mary, Queen of Scots documentary that we talked about. Go get yourself a snack, it’s about 45 minutes long.


What about the Nursery Rhyme? Is it about Mary, Queen of Scots? Disney sure thinks so (from 3:22)…


We know, you really want to see the 1895 silent film version of The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: The 40 seconds that will traumatize any young child. If you are a young child, ask your parents before you click play. Actually, although the special effects aren’t all that special to our modern eye, it still might creep you out.

You have been warned.

QUICK! Get that image out of your head with this incomprehensible Monty Python sketch,

This episode is brought to you by the fine and generous people from (the internet’s leading provider of audio books…BACKSLASH CHICKS, you know the drill) and The Message (a creepy audio drama with a pretty nifty website by GE Podcast Theater )

…And a super special shout-out to all the wonderful people we have partnered with at Panoply