Awesome Historical Women: Mary Queen of Scots
I’m not going to lie, Mary Queen of Scots is my home girl.
If I could pick one historical lady that I would want to party with, it would be Mary. I know that if Mary lived in modern times she would have a really, REALLY excellent reality show on Bravo, like something out of the Real Housewives franchise, only with more people getting blown up. It would have amazing ratings.
Mary was like a ye olde version of Regina George from Mean Girls. She was pretty and popular and spent most of her childhood being told that she was the best thing since sliced bread, and she was like “Yea, makes sense”. She even had four ladies in waiting that followed her around all named Mary, so she basically had her own version of the Plastics. But even Regina George didn’t have minions named after her, so Mary wins there too.
Mary’s life was basically a telenovela, only with less evil twins and more blowing up of husbands.
From the moment of her birth, Mary’s life was filled with drama. Her father died mere days after she was born from wounds suffered at the Battle of Solway Moss. Mary soon became a pawn in a powerful game being played by famous beheading aficionado Henry the Eighth. He wanted her to marry his son Edward and unite England and Scotland (a hope that would be realized with Mary’s son James).
Mary’s mother, the clever Marie de Guise, was very definitely not feeling this idea for many reasons, including a clause in the marriage agreement that if signed would mean that Scotland would be turned over to England in the event of little Mary’s death. And considering her mom had at one point turned down Henry’s matrimonial advances with the reputed quip that her neck was too small, it’s pretty obvious she feared for Mary’s life.
As a war raged around her, Mary and her four Marys were sent off to France, where Marie de Guise’s powerful Guise family lived, to one day marry the dauphin. The French court was awesome for Mary. Mary was very pretty and clever and everyone loved her immediately. She spent her early years at one of the most refined courts in Europe, living it up. Sadly for Mary, this would probably be the happiest time in her life.
After the death of her husband, her father-in-law and her mother, Mary headed back home to Scotland. She hadn’t been back since she left as a child, and Scotland couldn’t have been less like France.
Imagine going from the ritzy world of Gossip Girl to Amish Country. It was sort of like that. Scotland was heavily Protestant at the time, which wasn’t great for the Catholic Mary.
Also not great was John Knox, a fiery Protestant preacher who had become popular in Scotland. His “best seller” at the time was a pamphlet on the evils of women rulers that so pissed off Mary’s cousin Elizabeth that she was like “screw him then!” and banished him from England.
While France was all parties and having her powerful uncles take care of things, Scotland was a political mess. There were the feuds between families, the loyalties to England and religious tension, just to name a few problems she suddenly had to face. Mary relied on her half-brother James, which didn’t turn out to be her best decision. Still, Mary managed to hold her own, even in verbal battles with Knox.
Sadly for her though, her inability to meet up with Cousin Elizabeth and her terrible taste in men would be her undoing.
First, she married Lord Darnley, who was very handsome and very terrible. He was so terrible that Mary refused him the crown matrimonial. Soon the jealous Darnley threw in with a plot to kill Mary’s bestie, her secretary David Rizzio. The conspirators stormed into Mary’s chambers at night while she was 8 months pregnant, killed poor Rizzio right in front of her face, and even pointed a gun at her pregnant belly. Girlfriend’s reaction to this: “No more tears now, I will think upon revenge.”
And revenge she got! Because eventually Darnley was blown up under mysterious circumstances. The debate as to her culpability in the murder continues, but it seems almost a foregone conclusion that her next husband Lord Bothwell had a hand in it.
After marrying Bothwell and the murder of Darnley, the people of Scotland had had enough of Mary’s shenanigans. Despite waging battles to win back her throne, Mary ended up breaking out of Scottish jail and heading for England.
Mary, for some reason, was positive that Elizabeth would be on her side and would help her get her throne back. Instead Elizabeth imprisoned her for the rest of her life. Uncool cuz!
Mary was a very active woman, taking great pleasure in all kinds of hunting and sport. Jane Dunn, author of Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens even put forth the theory that Mary’s dramatic changes in mood might have been due to bipolar disorder.
Confined to castles with nothing to do but embroider bitchy metaphors, Mary had to get her excitement any way she could. Her methods of choice were continual escape attempts and throwing in with whatever plot against Elizabeth might win her freedom.
What it ended up winning was her death. According to Dunn, there was at least a decent chance that Mary could have escaped death if only she would have admitted her treachery against Elizabeth. But Mary, ever dramatic and aware of her place upon history’s stage, was looking towards the future. She decided it would be better to recast herself as a martyr for her faith than be remembered a traitor. So she was beheaded wearing red, the color of Catholic martyrs, with her faithful friends and servants by her side.
After she was beheaded, it was written that her little dog ran out from under her skirts. Apparently the dog missed her so much that it refused to eat after Mary’s execution, until it too eventually died. Mary apparently had that effect on people.
Most people that met her, even enemies, were immediately taken in and charmed by her. This is probably how she got people to agree to help her bust out of confinement so often, and also how she kept lifelong servants and friends. According to Dunn, Mary’s almost supernatural charm might have been one of the reasons Elizabeth put off ever meeting her cousin face to face.
I can’t really explain what it is about Mary that I love so much. She wasn’t the political genius her cousin Elizabeth was. She didn’t redefine the image of female monarchs; conversely she probably confirmed negative judgments about women rulers. But she was tough and melodramatic and fabulous.
This is a woman who escaped confinement heavily pregnant by reputedly being lowered out a tower window on chairs. She played golf a few days after Darnley was murdered. She was soft-hearted and prone to trust, but could be catty, tactless and impulsive. I just get the feeling if Mary was around today, she would throw Diddy-level parties. Perhaps what I like about Mary was that she was flawed in a compellingly human way.
Images courtesy of The CW/Reign