Mary Queen of Scots

Early Life

Born at Linlithgow in Dec., 1542, Mary became queen of Scotland on the death of her father only 6 days later. Mary of Guise betrothed her daughter to the French dauphin (later Francis II) and sent the girl to France in 1548 to be brought up by her powerful relatives the Guise family. In 1558, Mary and Francis were married under an agreement that would unite the crowns of Scotland and France if the union produced male issue. At the same time Mary signed a secret contract that bequeathed Scotland to France should she die without issue. The young couple was crowned in 1559, but Francis died the following year. The accession of Charles IX in France led to the fall of Mary's Guise uncles. This situation, together with the recent death of her own mother, prompted Mary to return to Scotland in 1561.

As a Frenchwoman and a Catholic, Mary faced a nation of hostile subjects, but her charm and beauty quickly won over many lords and commoners. She took as her principal counselors her illegitimate half-brother James Stuart (later earl of Murray) and William Maitland, both friends of England, thus dispelling fears of a return of French interference in Scottish affairs. She also accepted the establishment of the Presbyterian Church and, under pressure from John Knox and his associates, consented to certain laws against Catholics. She refused, however, to abandon the Mass in her own chapel or to approve a law for compulsory attendance at Protestant services.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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