The Murder of Lord Darnley
Return to Scotland
Mary, Queen of Scots, and Francis, Dauphin of France, were married in 1558. The bride was sixteen, the groom fourteen. The marriage ceremony, even for the sixteenth century, must have had elements of comedy about it. Mary, tall, robust, beautiful, walked down the aisle with a short, puny, sickly boy. Those in attendance must have wondered how such an incongruous couple could ever consummate a marriage. Shortly after the marriage, Francis's father, Henry II, King of France, declared his new daughter-in-law Queen of Scotland, Ireland, and England.
A little over a year later, King Henry II died and Francis was proclaimed King Francis II. Other thrones were in flux. Within this time period, Elizabeth had become Queen of England, and Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, was ruling Scotland in her daughter's absence.
In 1560, however, things changed rapidly. Mary, now not only Queen of Scots but Queen of France as well, had her life altered significantly by the end of that year. First, France, England, and Scotland signed the Treaty of Edinburgh, in which France no longer claimed the throne of England in Mary's name. By mid-year Mary of Guise died, and Scotland was ruled by a faction of warring lords. By the end of the year, Francis II, always a sickly boy, caught a fever while hunting and died in December. In the course of two years, Mary Queen of Scots was married, orphaned, and widowed.
Francis II was succeeded by his brother, the ten-year-old Charles IX. Mary's mother-in-law, the formidable Catherine de Medici, had no place in her plans for her newly widowed daughter-in-law. Suggestions that Mary should marry Charles were quickly squashed, as well as attempts by her Guise uncles to marry her to Don Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne. Under these circumstances, Mary decided to return to Scotland, her kingdom that she had not seen in thirteen years.
She would return to a land ruled by a council of twenty-four nobles divided between Protestants and Roman Catholics, sufficiently motivated by the pursuit of power to allow Scotland to exist in an uneasy truce between the competing religious doctrines. Foremost among these lords was the ambitious Lord James of Moray, Mary's bastard half-brother. Moray was a Protestant who had led the effort to declare Scotland officially a Protestant country, but in effecting a compromise of tolerance between the competing religious factions, he had acquired the enmity of the intolerant Calvinist, John Knox, a powerful and wild-eyed preacher.
Despite this opposition, Moray seemed to Mary to be the most effective advisor for her return to ruling Scotland and the man most likely to help her avoid civil war. In accepting the advice and counsel of Moray, Mary had to accept the influence of his cronies, the clever Lord Morton and the dangerous Lord Maitland. All three of these men would have a hand in the murders that would ultimately determine Mary's future.
On August 19, 1561, Mary Queen of Scots, nineteen years old, returned to the land of her birth. "She had left a Scots child and returned a French woman," as John Guy so aptly describes it.
However, sixteenth century Europe did not look kindly on female rulers. In the early years of her reign, Elizabeth I of England was under constant pressure to marry, not only for the functional reason of producing an heir (male, hopefully), but to have a strong man's hand on the helm of the ship of state. Anticipating Mary's return to Scotland, John Knox had written three years before Mary's return to Scotland his "First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women" which began:
"To promote a woman to be our rule, superiority, dominion. or empire above any realm, nation or city, is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, a thing most contrarious to his revealed will ..."
This was the land that Mary was to rule: A land of cold castles inhabited by rabid Protestants and equally rabid Catholics, all hungry for power. She was a lamb walking into a lion's cage.