Prodigies: Mary, Queen of Scots

Episode Summary

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) became a queen at a mere six days old, when monarchs were mostly men. She led a complicated life in the public eye and navigated the drama of being royalty until her untimely death.

Episode Notes

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) became a queen at a mere six days old, when monarchs were mostly men. She led a complicated life in the public eye and navigated the drama of being royalty until her untimely death.

History classes can get a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason. When we were students, we couldn’t help wondering... where were all the ladies at? Why were so many incredible stories missing from the typical curriculum? Enter, Womanica. On this Wonder Media Network podcast we explore the lives of inspiring women in history you may not know about, but definitely should.

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know–but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Educators, Villains, Indigenous Storytellers, Activists, and many more.  Womanica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Luvvie Ajayi Jones. I’m a New York Times Best Selling author and host of the podcast Professional Troublemaker. I’m so excited to be your guest host for this month of Womanica! 

This month we’re highlighting Prodigies: women who achieved greatness at a young age. 

Today we’re talking about a woman who became a queen at a mere six days old. She ruled at a time when monarchs were mostly men. And she led a complicated life in the public eye and navigated the drama of being royalty until her untimely death. 

Let’s talk about Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Mary Stuart was born on December 8, 1542 at Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian, Scotland. Unfortunately, Mary’s birth was quickly followed by tragedy. Six days after she was born, her father, James the fifth of Scotland, died of unknown causes. 

Infant Mary became the Queen of Scotland overnight. By September 9, 1543, she was officially crowned. Of course, being an infant queen meant that for a time, her mother Mary of Guise ruled on her behalf. 

Mary Stuart was well-connected – Henry VIII was her great-uncle and Elizabeth Tudor was her cousin. Being well-connected however, came with its challenges. 

Following a defeat at battle, the English and the Scots drew up a treaty declaring that Mary should marry the future Edward VI so that Scotland and England could make peace. Mary was barely a year old at the time, and Edward was six. This plan was quickly squashed when Scottish parliament rejected it in favor of an alliance with France. 

To say Henry, Edward VI’s father, was unhappy would be an understatement. In retaliation Henry ordered attacks on Scotland that would later be called the Rough Wooing. Among the attacks encompassed in the Rough Wooing were incidents involving setting fire to James V’s burial ground and crop burnings. 

During these raids, Mary was sent to live in France and was betrothed to the then-Prince Francis of France.

Despite Henry’s best efforts, Mary’s marriage to Francis happened. In 1558, at the ripe young age of fifteen, she was married. The following year, Francis succeeded to his father’s throne which meant that Mary was both the Queen of France and the Queen of Scotland. 

Francis’ reign was short-lived. He died, still a teenager, less than two years after their marriage from an ear infection. 

Although she was dissuaded against it, Mary, now a teenage widow, returned to Scotland following the death of Francis. At the time, Scotland was in the midst of the Reformation period in which Catholicism and Protestantism were at odds. 

Mary herself was a Catholic. And Scotland had been a Catholic country. But, while Mary had been a way, the country had become a Protestant country. Mary’s half-brother James advised that she align with the Protestants despite her own religious leanings. Mary was able to rule successfully. But a few years into her return she fell in love with and subsequently married her Catholic second cousin, Lord Darnley. 

Lord Darnley was charming in their courtship but as soon as they were married, things drastically changed. His approach was to be well-behaved until a ring was on her finger. Quickly, Darnley became a drunken disaster and Mary was left to rule alone. 

He also became jealous of Mary’s secretary and friend David Rizzio. David and Mary both took an interest in music and poetry and their friendship was something that Darnley’s fragile masculinity simply could not handle. 

While Mary was pregnant, Darnley, accompanied by a number of conspirators, rushed into her dining chambers in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, threatened her, and then stabbed David to death in front of her. 

Several months after David’s death, Mary’s son James Stuart was born in Edinburgh [ED-in-BRUH] Castle. To the alarm of Protestants in her country, she had her son baptized in keeping with the Catholic tradition. 

Less than a year after James’ birth, Lord Darnley was murdered just outside of Edinburgh. James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell was accused of the murder but was acquitted. He then went on to become Mary’s next husband. Some historians claim that the marriage was forced upon Mary and that Bothwell raped her. 

Married life with her late husband’s alleged murderer wasn’t much better than it was with Darnley. He was described as a “rash and hazardous young man” and had a fierce temper. Not only was her marriage unhappy, but the people of Scotland were also displeased with the Queen’s decision to marry so soon after the death of her former husband. 

Her marriage to Bothwell meant the beginning of the end for Mary. In 1567, Scottish rebels attacked her army at Carberry Hill and she surrendered. Mary was then imprisoned in Lochleven  Castle and forced to abdicate the throne to her one-year-old son, James. 

Mary experienced short-lived freedom when she escaped and made a last-ditch effort to regain her throne in the battle of Langside. Her troops were defeated and with hope of sympathy from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, she fled to England. Elizabeth was always paranoid about Mary’s claim to power in England. And so, Elizabeth placed Mary under house arrest, where she spent the next 19 years imprisoned in England. 

In 1587 at age 44, Mary was found guilty of plotting against Elizabeth and was beheaded at Fotheringhay  Castle. 

For more information, find us on Facebook and Instagram @womanicapodcast. 

Special thanks to creators Jenny and Liz Kaplan for inviting me to guest host.

Talk to you tomorrow!