Queen of Scots: unsettled life of romance, intrigue

Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland in 1542 when she was only nine months old. James V of Scotland, her father, had died within a week of her birth at Linlithgow Palace. Her coronation took place at Stirling Castle, where she then remained for most of her childhood. Henry VIII of England saw in the infant Mary a future bride for his son, Edward, and demanded that she should be brought to England as soon as possible, and sent an army to Scotland in an episode known as the ``Rough Wooing.'' The Scots appealed to France for help, and at the age of six, the queen was taken to France for safety.

Nine years later, she fell for the charms of the Dauphin Francis and they were married in 1558. A year later, Francis ascended to the throne of France, which meant that Mary was now queen of two countries. She was also a strong contender - and the obvious Roman Catholic claimant - for the succession to the English throne through her great-grandfather, Henry VII.

Within two years of her marriage, Francis died and Mary was left a childless widow. The French court was now dominated by Catherine de M'edicis, the Queen Mother.

Mary became isolated. There was no role for her except as a dowager, so reluctantly she resolved to leave the French court and return to Scotland - a land increasingly split by religious differences, complicated by Scottish nobles who constantly changed their allegiances to advance their fortunes. In this unsettling climate, Mary was a pawn in the battle between Catholics, Protestants, and politicians.

Catholic politicians tried to engineer a Catholic marriage, while at the same time politicians on both sides of the border endeavored to find her a Protestant husband. Mary settled the issue by marrying tall, dark, and handsome Lord Darnley. But she soon found him arrogant, impetuous, and unduly fond of slipping out of the Palace of Holyroodhouse for an evening carousing in the taverns of Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

They had little in common, and Mary's attentions became centered on a young musician, David Rizzio. Not only did she promote him to be her secretary, but treated him with such distinction that her husband's jealousy was aroused - so much so that he joined a party of nobles in a successful conspiracy to kill his rival.

Mary concealed her wrath from Darnley, but some believe she engineered his death. Suspicion against the Queen flared into open denunciation with Mary's third marriage - to the Earl of Bothwell, as he was known to have been a party to Darnley's assassination. A rebel army took her prisoner at Carberry Hill, and she was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle.

Even in her darkest hours in prison she was not without friends. A brave young admirer risked his life by removing the prison keys from his master's pocket and the Queen, disguised as a country woman, walked out undetected toward a boat that supporters had waiting on the shore of the loch.

Some 6,000 men gathered around her to battle the anti-Catholic forces at Langside, near Glasgow. Mary's forces were defeated, and in desperation Mary fled to England to cast herself upon the mercy of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. She found no mercy. Instead, she was held prisoner for 19 years and finally beheaded.

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