Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587), also known as Mary Stuart, a queen of Scotland and of France. She was an heir to the English throne, being a great-granddaughter of Henry VII and a grandniece of Henry VIII.
Mary was the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. She succeeded her father as ruler when she was six days old. Mary was raised in France as a Catholic. In 1558 she married the dauphin, the heir to the French throne, who in the following year became Francis II. Francis died in 1560, and soon after Mary returned to Scotland.
Meanwhile, Mary's cousin Elizabeth had become queen of England. The Roman Catholic Church considered Elizabeth illegitimate—it did not recognize the annulment of the marriage of her father, Henry VIII, and Catherine of Aragon—and thus ineligible for the throne. As next in line of succession, Mary claimed the throne.
During Mary's absence in France, the Reformation had spread to Scotland. With English assistance, the Protestants, led by John Knox, had risen to power and repudiated the Catholic religion. The Scottish Parliament negotiated a treaty with England in 1560 renouncing Mary's claim to the English throne, but Mary refused to sign it.
Mary was popular at first with her Scottish subjects, but she soon aroused the wrath of John Knox by holding to the Catholic faith. In 1565 she married her cousin Henry, Lord Darnley. Darnley was ambitious and unscrupulous. When his demand to be crowned king was opposed by Mary's secretary, David Rizzio (or Riccio), he had Rizzio murdered.
Mary gave birth to a son, James, in 1566. In 1567 Darnley was murdered. The instigator of the murder was the Earl of Bothwell, with whom Mary had become romantically involved. In April Mary permitted herself to be abducted by Bothwell, and in May, after he had divorced his wife, she married him.
Indignation at the queen's conduct swept Scotland. The nobles rose in rebellion, Bothwell fled the country, and Mary was imprisoned. A box containing letters presumed to be written by the queen (known as the Casket Letters, and never proved authentic) fell into the hands of the nobles. The letters purported to show that Mary was a party to Darnley's murder, and she was forced to abdicate in July, 1567. Her infant son, James VI (later James I of England), was crowned king and Mary's half-brother, the Earl of Moray, became regent.
In 1568 Mary escaped from detention and raised an army, which was defeated in its first engagement, at Langside. She then fled to England.
Queen Elizabeth, although friendly to the Scottish nobles, did not approve of the overthrow of a lawful monarch and allowed her cousin to remain in England. However, Elizabeth had her kept in virtual confinement. Mary soon became the center of a series of Catholic plots to overthrow Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne. In some she played a direct role; in others she did not, being only the focus for the plotters.
The first plot, in 1569, produced an uprising of Catholic nobles in northern England. They were quickly defeated, and some 800 rebels were hanged. Parliament called for Mary's execution, but Elizabeth refused. In 1571 Roberto Ridolfi, an Italian banker in London and a secret papal spy, devised a plot to assassinate Elizabeth, have a Spanish force invade England, and place Mary on the throne. The plot was discovered, and the Duke of Norfolk, a key conspirator, was beheaded. Parliament called upon Elizabeth to take action against Mary, but she refused.
Mary was a participant in the Throckmorton plot (1583), which called for an invasion by France and Spain on her behalf. Her involvement in 1586 in a scheme (the Babington Conspiracy) to murder Elizabeth proved her undoing. Mary was tried and found guilty of treason, and Parliament again petitioned Elizabeth for her execution. After some hesitation the queen signed the death warrant, and Mary was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle on February 8, 1587.