Mary Stuart was born in December, 1542 and when she was six days old she inherited the crown from her 30-year-old father King James V, who died after a humiliating defeat by the English at the Battle of Solway Moss.
Henry VIII wanted Mary to marry his five-year-old son Edward, to bring the English and Scottish crowns together. Her French Roman Catholic mother, Mary of Guise, didn’t like the idea and had her 9-month old daughter crowned at Stirling Castle in 1543.
Furious at this, Henry VIII arranged a series of military raids, causing devastation in the Borders – his so-called ‘rough wooing.’
To protect Mary, the Scots arranged her engagement to 4-year-old Francis, heir to the French throne. She sailed to safety in France when she was five. When she was fifteen, she married Francis; and also became claimant to the English throne, in opposition to her cousin, Elizabeth.
Following a jousting accident that killed the French king, fifteen-year-old Francis succeeded and his wife Mary was crowned Queen Consort of France. Sadly, Francis died of an infection a year later and Mary Stuart arrived at the port of Leith, Scotland in August 1561.
Protestant leader John Knox saw her arrival as a problem. A year earlier Scotland had broken with Rome and established Protestantism as the national religion. Knox’s tract The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women’ raged against female rulers.
Despite the perceived schism between the two religious factions, Mary took a pragmatic approach and was tolerant of the Protestant faith, making efforts to win over her people.
Still, she needed a husband. She rejected Queen Elizabeth’s choice, Lord Dudley, and married her cousin Lord Darnley, who proved to be immature and weak. He plotted to kill Rizzio, Mary’s Italian-born private secretary. He fathered her son, James.
Mary came to Jedburgh in 1566, caught a chill and nearly died here.
On recovering, some three months later, Lord Darnley was murdered in suspicious circumstances at Kirk O’ Field, Edinburgh. The Earl of Bothwell was accused and Mary came to his defence and indeed later married him in a Protestant ceremony. A group of lords rebelled against the marriage. At a stand-off at Carberry Hill in East Lothian, Mary refused to abandon Bothwell and gave herself up to the rebels in return for his escape to safety. She was then forced to abdicate in favour of her son, James.
In 1568, Mary escaped and gathered an army of some 6,000 supporters. Her troops were beaten by her half-brother’s forces and she fled to England to seek help from her cousin, Elizabeth I, who determined to hold her captive for 19 years.
Letters suggesting Mary’s role in the Babbington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth and seize her throne condemned her. Her son James signed a treaty with Elizabeth while his mother was taken to Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, tried and found guilty of treason. Elizabeth signed Mary's death warrant on 1 February, 1587.
On 8 February, Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded, though it took the executioner two strokes to commit the fatal deed.
She was buried at Peterborough Cathedral. Then, when her son James came to the English throne on Elizabeth’s death 16 years later, he had her remains transferred to Westminster Abbey, where the rival queens now lie in the same chapel.
James became the king of both Scotland and England and the Stuart dynasty ruled Britain for over a century.