On this day in history : 29th July 1565 – Mary, Queen of Scots, marries her cousin, Henry Stuart Lord Darnley…. It is the second of her three marriages – and is not a popular, or happy union….

Mary was just 15-years-old when she was first married to Francis II of France – the pair had been betrothed for ten years…. Mary’s father, King James V of Scotland had died when she was five days old – and so her French mother, Marie de Guise, had returned to France, taking her baby daughter with her…. Growing up in the French royal court Mary knew her intended husband well….a union that had been arranged by her mother…. Francis, being the eldest son of King Henry II of France, was heir to the French throne….

Mary and Francis (from Catherine de’Medici’s book of hours c.1558) – Public domain

The wedding took place in Norte Dame Cathedral in 1558; within a year King Henry II had died and the newly wed Francis and Mary became King and Queen of France…. However, on the 5th of December 1560 Francis was to die from an ear infection…. Mary returned to Scotland to claim the Scottish throne – and Francis’s 10-year-old brother became the King of France….

In February 1565 Mary was to meet her cousin, Henry Stuart Lord Darnley, at Wemyss Castle – it was ‘love at first sight’…. After a whirlwind romance they were married in the chapel at Holyrood Palace just five months later; he was 19, she was 22…. Being first cousins it meant the marriage would strengthen their claims on both the Scottish and English thrones…. But not everybody was pleased…. Darnley’s mother, Queen Elizabeth I of England, was far from happy – and both Scottish and English Protestants were angered….

Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots – Painting c.1565 – Public domain

Within two months Mary was pregnant with the future King James VI….but Mary and Darnley’s happiness was not to last…. He may have had the looks – but Darnley was not a pleasant character…. He liked to live the good life, drank too much and was a womaniser…. He was arrogant, jealous and quick-tempered…. It did not take long for him to become a hated man in Scotland….

Darnley in his late teens – Public domain

On the 9th of February 1567 Darnley was found dead outside of a lodging house near to the Kirk O’Field…. A large quantity of gun powder had been used to cause an enormous explosion that had torn the building apart…. Darnley was discovered outside in his nightgown – it looked as though he had been strangled…. Nearby two servants also lay dead – and there was a chair and a length of rope….

1567 drawing of Kirk o’ Field after the murder of Darnley – Public domain

There were those who believed Mary had been involved in Darnley’s murder….she had certainly visited him the night before…. Unhappy in her marriage but being Catholic divorce was not an option – she may have looked for another way out…. Also suspected was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who was arrested and tried for the murder – only to be acquitted through lack of evidence…. Meanwhile Mary’s popularity was rapidly declining….

Just over three months later, on the 15th of May 1567, Mary married the Earl of Bothwell…. With a force of 800 men Bothwell had kidnapped Mary whilst she was travelling between Linlithgow and Edinburgh and had taken her to Dunbar Castle – saying it was for her own safety…. Stories differ to what happened between the two – some believe Mary gave herself willingly to him – others say Bothwell raped her…. Nevertheless, the pair were married; Bothwell and his first wife, Jean Gordon, had divorced just twelve days earlier….

Portrait of the Earl of Bothwell, 1566 – Public domain

Scottish nobility was deeply divided by the union – to the point of confrontation…. The two opposing sides were to clash at Carberry Hill on the 15th of June; Bothwell fled, Mary was never to see him again – he died as a prisoner at Dragshold Castle, Denmark, in 1578….

Mary herself fled to England – to seek the protection of Elizabeth I – only to find herself a prisoner for the next nineteen years…. On February the 8th 1587 Mary was executed at Fotheringhay for plotting against the Queen…. She was 46-years-old….

A scaffold was erected in the Great Hall…. The first blow of the executioner’s axe struck the back of her head…. The second severed her neck but not enough to decapitate her…. The executioner cut through and then lifted her head high by her auburn locks with the words “God save the Queen”…. Only it turned out Mary was wearing a wig – her head fell to the floor – revealing short grey hair!

Mary, Queen of Scots – Portrait by Francois Clouet – Public domain

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