On this day in history….9th March 1566

On this day in history : 9th March 1566 – David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary Queen of Scots, is murdered at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh – in front of the Queen….

17th Century portrait, said to be of David Rizzio – Public domain

Rizzio was born near to Turin, Italy around 1533…. He came to the Court of Mary initially in his capacity as an accomplished singer and musician….becoming her private secretary around the time that she was embarking on her courtship with Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley – who on the 29th of July 1565 became her second husband….

In the beginning Mary was infatuated with Darnley – but it was soon to all go wrong…. Darnley was not a nice man – he was vain, arrogant, violent, a womaniser and a heavy drinker…. He also wanted all the power for himself…. Mary had been prepared to rule jointly with her husband – but he expected her to step aside…. This angered Mary – and by the end of 1565 the pair were estranged – even though by now she was pregnant….

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley – Public domain

As well as wanting the crown to himself, Darnley also wished to change the religion of Scotland from Catholicism to Protestantism…. Mary, obviously, was a devout Catholic…. He began to plot and scheme, with the help of his Protestant associates…. These were to include his father – the 4th Earl of Lennox – William Maitland – who was angered that Mary had chosen Rizzio as her private secretary and Lord Ruthren…. Also involved were the Earl of Moray, Lord Lindsay, the Clerk Register James Balfour, the Lord Justice Clerk John Bellenden and many other noblemen….

Mary and Rizzio, a fellow Catholic, became close friends – their closeness began to raise a few eyebrows within the Court and Darnley was insanely jealous…. Encouraged by his Protestant friends he came to believe that Mary and Rizzio were having an affair – he was convinced the baby she was carrying was not his but had been fathered by Rizzio….

Mary Queen of Scots – Francois Clouet – Google Art Project – Public domain

At around 8pm on Saturday the 9th of March Mary, Rizzio and a small group of friends were taking supper in a room next to the Queen’s bed chamber… After overpowering the royal guards around 80 men, led by Lord Ruthren, made their way to Mary’s rooms…. Darnley entered first and addressed his wife…. His accomplices then burst in and Lord Ruthren demanded that Rizzio go with them…. Mary, realising that he was in danger, ordered them to leave “under pain of treason”…. Ruthren told Darnley to seize Mary – and a struggle broke out as her friends and servants intervened…. Rizzio took refuge behind Mary as more of Darnley’s assassin squad appeared and attempted to stab him…. Mary was pushed aside and she was restrained by Darnley…. She could have done nothing to help Rizzio anyway – as a gun was aimed at her six- month pregnant belly…. She thought they intended to kill her too….

Rizzio was dragged screaming from the room into the adjoining audience chamber…. He was stabbed over 50 times…. After being stripped of jewellery and clothes Rizzio’s body was then thrown down the stairway….

The Murder of Rizzio, 1787 by John Opie – Public domain

On this day in history….8th February 1587

On this day in history : 8th February 1587 – Mary Queen of Scots is beheaded on the orders of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England – in what can only be described as a horrific botched execution….

Mary Stuart – Francois Clouet – Public domain

After Mary had abdicated from the Scottish throne she sought refuge in England and was initially welcomed by Elizabeth, however cautiously…. Mary was permitted to live in various castles around the land but she was continuously watched…. For nineteen years she was virtually a prisoner under house arrest….

Mary in captivity by Nicholas Hilliard c.1578 – Public domain

Then in 1586 a plot was uncovered to murder Queen Elizabeth I…. The Babington Plot, sparking a Catholic uprising, led by Roman Catholic nobleman Anthony Babington, implicated Mary and she was brought to trial…. At the two day trial, on the 14th-15th of October 1586, she was found guilty and sentenced to death…. It seems Elizabeth was reluctant to sign her cousin’s death warrant – so a rather underhand method was used to ensure that she did…. The warrant was slipped into a large pile of papers awaiting her signature and so she signed it without realising she had done so….

Drawing of the trial of Mary Queen of Scots – The digital collections of the British Library – CC0

44-year old Mary was to be executed in the Great Hall at Fotheringay Castle…. Mary’s own mother, Anne Boleyn had been beheaded – a master French swordsman had been brought in to perform her execution….it had been quick and clean…. The same cannot be said for Mary’s….

The scaffold was draped in black, more than 100 spectators gathered in the Great Hall to watch the proceedings…. Mary was forced to undress to her undergarments – she wore a blood red bodice to symbolise her Catholic martyrdom…. All the while her loyal servants wept around her….

Mary’s lady-in-waiting tied a cloth around her mistress’s eyes and helped her to kneel on the cushion…. Mary prayed – “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum” ~ “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”….

Unable to see, due to the blindfold, Mary had to fumble around to find the block on which to lay her head…. Once her chin was in place one executioner held her in place whilst the other raised the axe…. As it fell and struck her neck it became all too obvious he had gravely misjudged….the blade had only partially gone through…. He quickly raised the axe and let it fall again but still her head remained attached…. after a third blow and using a sawing motion Mary’s head was finally severed from her body….

The execution scene, drawn by eye witness Rupert Beale – Public domain

Exclaiming “God save the Queen!” the executioner raised the head for all to see…. as he did so Mary’s head promptly fell to the ground – and he was left holding only a red wig…. According to witness accounts of the time her lips continued to twitch for a good quarter of an hour after decapitation….

As if all that is not gruesome and traumatic enough, more was still to come…. As the executioner lifted the skirts of Mary’s petticoats to remove her garters – as was his right as executioner – he discovered her pet dog, Geddon, hiding in the folds…. The distraught little dog refused to leave his dead mistress – and lay in the pool of blood where Mary’s head had been….

On this day in history….23rd January 1570

On this day in history : 23rd January 1570 – The murder of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray – in what is thought to be the first assassination carried out using a firearm….

James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray – Hans Eworth – Roy Strong, The English Icon, 1969 p.94 – Public domain

Moray was the illegitimate son of King James V of Scotland – who had many illegitimate children but Moray was perhaps the most prominent…. He was born around 1531 – his mother, Lady Margaret Erskine, was the favourite mistress of the King….

At the time it was not unusual for Peerage titles to be granted to the illegitimate offspring of Royalty…. However, Moray’s title was not bestowed upon him by his father – but rather by his half-sister, Mary Queen of Scots…. When Mary came to the throne in 1561 Moray became her advisor and she made him Earl of Moray….

At first the two got on well – but then tension began to grow between them…. Mary was a devout Catholic, whereas Moray supported the Scottish Reformation…. Things became even more strained when Mary remarried….

Mary’s first husband, Francis II of France, whom she had married in 1558 at the age of 15, had died in 1560…. Five years later Mary was to meet, for the first time, her cousin Henry Stuart – Lord Darnley…. It was love at first sight – and after a whirlwind romance the couple were married at Hollywood Palace – she was 23 and he was 19…. Being first cousins meant the marriage strengthened their claims on both the English and Scottish thrones…. However, not everyone was happy about the union…. Darnley’s mother, Queen Elizabeth I of England was furious, both English and Scottish Protestants were angered and of course Moray was none too pleased either….

Mary with her second husband, Lord Darnley – Public domain

Moray had tried to prevent the marriage – he had gathered some 1,200 supporters together and marched on Edinburgh with a view to staging an armed rebellion – ‘The Chaseabout Raid’…. Unfortunately for Moray the people of Edinburgh refused to support him and it soon became obvious Moray and his men would be defeated – so they fled to England…. Only Queen Elizabeth I refused to help them and so for a while Moray became an outlaw….

Meanwhile the honeymoon period for Mary and Darnley was soon over…. Mary was pregnant within the first two months with the future King James VI and quickly discovered her new husband was not the man she thought he was…. He may have had the looks but Darnley was not of pleasant character…. He liked the good life – drank too much and was a womaniser…. He was arrogant, vain, jealous and quick-tempered…. He soon became a hated man in Scotland….

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

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

Some believed Mary to be involved; she had certainly visited Darnley the night before…. Trapped in an unhappy marriage – but being Catholic unable to divorce – she had a motive…. Also suspected was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell – who was arrested and tried for the murder, only to be acquitted due to lack of evidence…. Mary married Bothwell just over three months later, on the 15th of May 1567….

Moray returned to Scotland and was pardoned by Mary; although no suspicion could be placed upon him for Darnley’s murder he would no doubt have been pleased…. When Mary married Bothwell to keep his head low Moray disappeared to France….

After Mary’s abdication from the throne in 1567 and her imprisonment, Moray returned to Edinburgh…. He was appointed Regent of Scotland, to take care of affairs until Mary’s infant son was old enough to take over….

James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, Regent of Scotland – Public domain

Mary managed to escape from her prison and mounted an attempt to regain the Scottish throne…. Moray was determined to prevent this from happening…. A series of battles were to happen – at the Battle of Langside Mary’s supporters were defeated by Moray’s men – earning him the name of ‘The Good Regent’…. Moray continued to defend the throne, leading a military campaign – ‘The Raid of Dumfries’ – where he seized control of establishments belonging to the supporters of Mary….and many more surrendered to his forces….

But Moray had made many enemies….among them the Hamilton family, long-standing supporters of Mary…. He was at Edinburgh Castle, making plans for an attack on Dumbarton Castle, a stronghold controlled by Mary’s supporters…. Near to Edinburgh Castle lived Archbishop Hamilton, in the town of Linlithgow…. The Archbishop’s house offered excellent views of the streets of the town….

On the 23rd of January 1570 James Hamilton, the Archbishop’s nephew, visited the house – he was waiting for somebody…. Moray had been warned that he was in danger and that the streets of Linlithgow were unsafe for him – but the warnings went unheeded…. As Moray walked past the Archbishop’s house Hamilton shot him in the stomach – he died the following day…. Firearms had not been around that long and were still a rarity…. It is quite likely Moray’s assassination was the very first of its kind….

James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh in the act of assassinating the Earl of Moray at Linlithgow – G. Cattermole – Leitch Ritchie, Scot and Scotland, 1835 – Public domain

Hamilton had an escape plan and managed to get away – he fled the country and was never caught…. His uncle, the Archbishop, however – was hanged for his part in the murder….

On this day in history….9th September 1543

On this day in history : 9th September 1543 – Mary Stuart is crowned Queen of Scots at the age of just nine months…. She had become Queen when she was less than a week old….

The Coronation of Mary Queen of Scots – Image credit : teaattrianon.blogspot.com

The ceremony was conducted by Scotland’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St.Andrews – and took place in the Chapel Royal of Stirling Castle…. Mary had officially become Queen when she was six days old, after the death of her father, James V of Scots…. Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise, ruled as regent – aided by Cardinal Beaton….

Mary of Guise, portrait attributed to Corneille de Lyon c.1537 – Public domain

Mary of Guise came from one of the most powerful of aristocratic families in France…. As a Roman Catholic she was faced with the rising tide of Protestantism in Scotland – and was also under pressure from the English throne to force a marriage between her baby daughter and the young heir to the English throne, Edward Tudor…. Mary Guise had no intention of allowing such a union and when little Mary was 5-years-old she was sent to live with her French grandmother, Antoinette of Guise…. Mary was brought up in the French court as a Catholic with French as her first language….

Mary Queen of Scots – Photo credit : Lisby via Flickr

On this day in history….29th July 1565

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