IV: Mary, Queen of Bad Decisions

Perhaps one of the most prolific monarchs of history, Mary Queen of Scots definitely didn’t have the best life. Although becoming Queen at 6 days old may seem like a child’s dream, Mary’s turbulent life was cut short when she was executed by her cousin Elizabeth I in 1587. Was this because of poor decisions made by Mary and those she surrounded herself with? Or was it just poor luck? I can think of five decisions made by Mary throughout her life which may have contributed to her downfall.

Let’s start at the beginning: Mary was sent to France aged 5 and betrothed to Francis II, Dauphin of France. This marriage was heavily influenced by the then King of France, Henry II. He would sign treaties with Mary during her teenage years that would make Scotland subordinate to France. Scotland would be unaware of these treaties until after the death of Mary.

1560 was a hard year for Mary – it saw her husband Francis die of illness, and her mother also passed away. Possibly because of these events, thinking there was nothing left for her in France, Mary made the decision to leave, head back to Scotland, and attempt to take the English throne.

When back in Scotland, Mary chose to marry again, setting her sights on Lord Darnley. On paper, this made a lot of sense – he had a genuine claim to the English and Scottish throne. Mary even described him as ‘the lustiest and best-proportioned man’! Although he provided her with a son (the future King), he was not without scandal. He was exposed as a scoundrel and likely had syphilis. Apparently, not only Mary thought he was a catch!

Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley c. 1565

After Darnley’s death in 1567, Mary had to choose another match. Tensions were growing, and this was arguably the most important choice so far. She chose the Earl of Bothwell, who had a growing influence on her since she arrived in Scotland. They married on 15 May 1567 under Protestant rites – Mary had given up her Catholicism for this marriage, which had been a cornerstone for her throughout her life. After Mary’s imprisonment, Bothwell was captured after exile and died of ‘insanity’ in Denmark 10 years later.

Lastly, the Babington Plot of 1586. This arguably sealed the deal of Mary’s execution. Whilst imprisoned, she chose to authorise the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I so she could be placed on the throne. When a letter was found confirming this, Mary could no longer plead innocence – she was beheaded the following year.

En ma Fin gît mon Commencement… 
In my End is my Beginning…

A saying Mary embroidered in cloth whilst in prison

Mary had an extremely interesting life and although while I feel I have barely touched the surface, I hope I have contributed something to the endless discussion of her. I do also want to point out that this is focussed perhaps on her more negative choices, but in reality, she was an extremely brave, confident and loyal woman.

Let me know what you think, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on which of the above contributed to Mary’s downfall the most!

Bye for now,

Lucinda

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