Did you know that Mary Queen of Scots had three husbands?
Her first husband was Francis II of France, who she married when she was just fifteen years old. After Francis’ death, she married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Darnley was murdered a few months after they were married, and Mary later married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell.
Mary was 5 when she first met the four-year-old Dauphin, her betrothed husband.
According to most contemporaries, they were close and affectionate with one another even as children. They traveled from one royal palace to another – Fontainebleau to Meudon, or to Chambord or Saint-Germain. They were always attended to by a retinue of servants and, even then, Mary had developed a fondness for animals, especially dogs, which was to continue throughout her life.
Francis was the eldest son of Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici, making him heir to the French throne at the time of their marriage.
Francis and Mary knew each since before they married – Mary grew up in the French royal court after her father, King James V of Scotland died when she was only 5 days old.
In 1559, Henry II of France, died at the age of 40. Francis and his new wife became king and queen of France less than a year after their wedding ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
But in June of 1560, Mary’s mother died in Scotland at the age of 45. And just six months later, her young husband also died of an ear infection on December 5th 1560.
Mary would go back to claim her throne in Scotland, leaving Charles – Francis’s younger brother who was only 10 years old at the time-to inherit his brothers title and position as king.
Henry Stuart – Lord Darnley
In July of 1565, she wed a cousin named Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, a weak, vain, and unstable young man; like Mary, he was also a grandchild of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret.
Why Mary wed Darnley remains a mystery. He was superficially charming and, unlike most men, taller than the queen. He was also fond of courtly amusements and thus a nice change from the dour Scottish lords who surrounded her. But he never seemed to care for Mary and sought far more power than she was willing to give him.
Aged 22, Mary described her 19-year-old groom as ‘the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen.’
However, this newfound love turned dark quickly, and Mary’s initial happiness soon faded. Within two months of the wedding, she became pregnant with future King James I.
When she was six months pregnant in March of 1566, Darnley joined a group of Scottish nobles who broke into her supper-room at Holyrood Palace and dragged her Piedmontese secretary, David Riccio, into another room and stabbed him to death.
They claimed Riccio had undue influence over her foreign policy but, in reality, they probably meant to cause Mary, from watching this horrific crime, to suffer a miscarriage, thus losing her child and her own life as well since one usually meant the other in the 16th century.
Mary certainly believed that Darnley, angry because she had denied him the crown matrimonial, wanted to kill her and the child, thus becoming King of Scots. But it is unlikely that, had he been successful, Darnley would have long survived his wife.
After Riccio’s death, the nobles kept Mary prisoner at Holyrood Palace. Entering the later stages of her pregnancy, she was desperate to escape and – somehow – won over Darnley and they escaped together. Three months later the future James VI of Scotland was born and congratulations came from all over Europe.
In December 1566 James was baptized in the Chapel Royal of Stirling Castle. Mary, once the fragile last hope of the Stuart dynasty, was just 23 years old and had fulfilled one of a monarch’s greatest duties – providing a healthy son and heir.
The nobles who had plotted with Darnley now felt betrayed by him; after all, they had captured the queen and her potential heir, murdered her dear friend, and were in a position to demand anything. But Darnley’s decision to help Mary escape infuriated them.
In February of 1567 they had Darnley’s house, Kirk o’ Field, blown up; Darnley’s strangled body was found in the garden.
James Hepburn – 4th Earl of Bothwell
Many nobles were implicated in the murder of Lord Darnley, most particularly James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell.
In the immediate aftermath of Darnley’s murder, he met with Mary about six miles outside of Edinburgh.
He had 600 men with him and asked to escort Mary to his castle at Dunbar; he told her she was in danger if she went to Edinburgh. Mary, unwilling to cause further bloodshed and understandably terrified, followed his suggestions.
Bothwell’s noble friends had previously pressed her to marry him and he, too, had told her she needed a strong husband who could help unify the nobles behind her. Mary had refused the proposal then, preferring to marry Darnley, but now she knew herself to be powerless. She also had an infant son to consider.
So she consented to wed Bothwell, hoping that this would finally stabilize the country. Also, Bothwell showed Mary an agreement the nobles had signed which indicated they were prepared to accept him as their overlord. In May 1567 they wed at Holyrood and Mary wrote to the foreign courts that it was the right decision for her country.
But the nobles were still not to be trusted. Now, they were angry that Bothwell would be all-powerful and they decided to wage war against him. Barely a month after the marriage, rebel nobles and their forces met Mary’s troops at Carberry Hill, 8 miles south-east of Edinburgh. The nobles demanded that Mary abandon Bothwell, whom they had earlier ordered her to wed. She refused and reminded them of their earlier order.
To avoid the bloodshed of battle, she turned herself over and the rebels took her to Edinburgh while Bothwell struggled to rally troops of his own. Mary was taken to Lochleven Castle and held prisoner in that island fortress; fearing for her own life, she became desperately ill.
She was forced to sign a document abdicating the crown in favor of her year-old son. At the end of that month, July 1567, James was crowned king and James Stewart, the Earl of Moray, Mary’s half-brother, became Regent.
Bothwell died a prisoner at Dragsholm Castle in Denmark in 1578.
By running to England, Mary hoped Elizabeth I would protect her from harm. Unfortunately, this choice turned out to be very poorly thought out; instead of safety, Mary became a prisoner of her cousin the queen. For nineteen years she was kept under lock and key until she was finally executed in 1587 for conspiring against Elizabeth.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "The Husbands of Mary Queen of Scots" https://englishhistory.net/tudor/relative/husbands-of-mary-qos/, October 28, 2022