|Mary, Queen of Scots|
Much had happened in Scotland during Mary’s absence. The pro-English Protestant faction among the nobility had grown in strength and for several years had been all but in rebellion against Mary’s regent, her mother, Mary of Guise. Mary of Guise herself had died only six months before her daughter was widowed and the Protestant party had used the power vacuum to consolidate their strength. The Protestant faction was led by Mary’s illegitimate half-brother James Stewart, the son of James V and Lady Margaret Erskine. The Calvinist reformer, John Knox, was the spiritual leader of the Protestant party and in 1558 had written a treatise “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” which was not directed solely at Mary’s Reign but also that of the late (Bloody) Mary of England and her sister, Elizabeth, the newly crowned English Monarch. Knox claimed that Rule by women was an affront to God. (Today he would be made a Cardinal in grateful recognition for this insightful theological contribution.) Knox now directed his preaching against Mary for her Catholic religious practices, for her dancing and gaming, and for her frivolous dress and lifestyle. Knox was the leader among those who would give Calvinism a grim reputation—not that Calvinism itself didn’t flourish on cheerlessness even without Knox’s sourpuss preaching.
Due to her education in the French Court, Mary was a fine athlete, a brilliant linguist, and an accomplished writer, but what had been neglected in Mary’s education in France was how to rule. She was not bred to be Queen of Scotland but rather Queen consort of France and now she had no idea how to manage the complex politics of her kingdom. She failed to play the Catholic and Protestant parties off against one another to her advantage but allowed herself to be dominated by her enemies. She summoned Knox to remonstrate against him—he only mocked her by preaching at her when she tried to speak to him. She charged him with treason; he was acquitted. Mary tried to accommodate the Protestant faction and allowed them to dominate her privy-council. She kept her Protestant half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, as her chief counselor and ignored the Catholic lords. The Catholic nobles, for their part, were angry that the Queen was so sympathetic to the Protestant cause and several of them rebelled against her in 1562.
Realizing that she lacked political astuteness, Mary sensed what she needed was a savvy husband to guide her. The French proposed an Austrian but Mary refused. Mary proposed a marriage to Don Carlos, the Spanish heir, but the Spaniards refused. (Lucky too, as Don Carlos inherited his family’s gene for lunacy.) Elizabeth suggested a Protestant old boyfriend of her own, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester but the proposed groom refused. (Mary was not particularly interested anyway.)
By the way, does any of this sound like the stuff of which religious martyrs are made? Hold on, it only gets worse.
Mary eventually married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley at Holyrood Palace on July 29, 1565. Both parties were Catholic but they failed to get the necessary papal dispensations for marriage of close kin. (They were cousins through multiple family intermarriages, but both were grand-children of Margaret Tudor, the wife of James IV and thus first-cousins.)
This marriage infuriated Elizabeth as any child proceeding from the union would have a double claim to the English throne given that as descendants of Margaret Tudor both Mary and Darnley themselves had prime claims. Moreover, Darnley not only held a Scots title of nobility but an English one and Elizabeth was aggrieved that he had not sought her permission to marry as he was her subject. Mary’s half-brother, the Earl of Moray was also angry as were the Protestant nobles at the Queen having a Catholic consort, and they went into rebellion with Moray as their leader, but after several defeats by Catholic forces Moray fled to England and Elizabeth’s protection.
Mary and Darnley had a son, James, who would become James VI of Scotland and eventually James I of England—the fellow we had written about in the gunpowder plot (see posting for December 27 2012). Darnley was not a good choice for a husband. He wanted to be not merely consort to the Queen Regnant but to be given the “Crown Matrimonial” which would make him co-ruler with his wife and King in his own right should he outlive her. Mary refused and he grew angry and sullen. Darnley was not a faithful husband (which was far from uncommon in those days among the upper classes, not that our age is known for marital fidelity) and there are hints that he may have been abusive to Mary. He was also jealous of Mary’s secretary, David Rizzo. There were rumors swirling around that Rizzo, not Darnley, was the father of Mary’s child and while these rumors remain unproven they cannot be totally dismissed. Darnley and some of the Protestant party brutally murdered Rizzo in the presence of Mary who almost miscarried as a result of the trauma. The Earl of Moray returned at this point and was reconciled to his sister.
The Murder of Rizzo sealed the demise of the Mary/Darnley marriage. They separated and Mary sought counsel from her advisors as to what she should to terminate the marriage but there seems to have suddenly been a change of plans, indeed a change of the Queen’s heart. Darnley was summoned back to Edinburgh and given a house in the Kirk o’ Field—a former Abbey—in which to recuperate from health problems—possibly syphilis or the result of poison. Mary visited him there daily and it seemed they were to reconcile. Then early in the morning hours of February 10, 1567, Mary having left the house only hours before to attend a wedding of a member of her household, an explosion racked the house. Darnley’s body was found in the garden. He had not been killed in the explosion and there were no signs of physical violence or strangulation. He had apparently been smothered, a most curious death. A variety of people were suspected of involvement in the murder including Mary, her-illegitimate half-brother the Earl of Moray, the Earl of Morton, and James Hepburn, the fourth Earl of Bothwell. Now here is where it gets a bit sleazy.
If ever there was an unsavory politician, it was Bothwell. (As there have been many an unsavory politician, you imagine just how sleazy Bothwell must have been to stand out in such company.) Bothwell was Lord High Admiral of the Scots Navy and in this capacity he met and married Anna Trondson, the daughter of a Norwegian/Danish Admiral. (Norway at the time was part of the Kingdom of Denmark.) Anna travelled with her husband to Flanders and when he had gone through all his money, he forced her to sell her possessions to support his gambling and riotous living. He then sent her home to get more money from her family, but when the family heard of his abusive behavior towards her they did not permit her to return to him. Without obtaining any divorce from Anna, Bothwell then married Lady Jean Gordon in a Protestant service. Lady Jean was Catholic, but Bothwell refused to marry according to Catholic rites. Mary of Scots was enthusiastic about this match and hosted the wedding at Holyrood Palace. She also provided cloth of silver for Lady Jean’s wedding gown. Now here is where things become very murky, but the story will continue in the next posting.