These days, being a member of a royal family seems like a pretty sweet gig. In modern times, most monarchs are mainly figureheads, serving as a symbol for their subjects rather than engaging in actual politics. But this wasn’t always the case. For most monarchies, it was only a few centuries ago that wearing a crown was considered one of the most dangerous professions for men or women. Palace intrigue, constant threats of invasions, and power struggles were considered part of the job. So, imagine facing this level of drama as a child ruler. For Mary Queen of Scots, danger swirled around her since her infancy, creating a biography that’s as tragic as it is salacious.
Mary was crowned shortly after her birth
Most people aren’t ready to make adult decisions when they turn 18, but Mary inherited her throne at just six days of age in December 1542 when her father died. Her father, King James V of Scotland, was on his deathbed at her birth and died six days later. The following year, Mary officially ascended to the crown. Initially, the king was sad to learn that his French wife, Mary of Guise, had given birth to a girl. As was the custom of this time, a male heir was preferred because he could continue the royal line. His fears were unfounded as Mary went on to give birth to James VI, who would take the throne to rule England and Scotland in 1567 after Elizabeth the I’s death.
The young queen spent little of her childhood in Scotland
You might be surprised to learn that Mary spent most of her childhood in France. Part of this could be because her mother was French, and the French court was considered the most sophisticated of Europe. But most likely it was because Scotland was at odds with England. The two nations signed the Greenwich Treaty in 1543 that consented to a marriage between Mary and Edward, son of Henry VIII. But after Mary’s father died, Henry VIII began invading northern Scotland, and Scottish royal advisors wanted no part of that marriage agreement. Everyone agreed to send Mary away to France at the tender age of five. She lived in France from 1548 until her return to Scotland in 1561.
Mary upstaged her cousin Elizabeth as a great beauty
It was customary in this time period to give royal ladies flattering titles like “the fairest” and “the most beautiful.” But in Mary’s case, this praise was well earned. Apparently, during her time in the French court, Mary was considered an attractive child and an even more gorgeous woman as she grew. As if that weren’t enough, she was also very bright. She spoke seven languages and loved to debate with members of the court.
Mary didn’t have the best luck with men
Mary was beautiful, smart, and a young queen, but she was terribly unlucky in love. In total, the Queen of Scots was married three times — with two of her husbands meeting horrible ends. She was first married to Francis, The Dauphin of France, in 1554. Even though the two were very fond of each other, this was meant to be an alliance marriage between France and Scotland. In 1559, her husband inherited the throne after his father’s death, only to die a year later of an ear infection.
Two of Mary’s husbands plotted against her
After relocating to Scotland, Mary wed her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, in 1565. She refused to share the crown with him, which didn’t make for a happy marriage. While he gave her the son who went on to rule after Elizabeth I, Lord Darnley also attempted to overthrow her as queen with a failed imprisonment plot that included murdering her Piedmontese secretary David Rizzo in front of her. Amazingly, the couple reconciled after this betrayal—to the irritation of Lord Darnley’s co-conspirators. The fickle husband managed to escape a bomb plot on his home but was then strangled to death in his own garden minutes later. Mary was suspected of his murder until her death in 1587.
The queen decided that the third time was the charm and married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who was also suspected of her second husband’s murder. This was more of a political marriage that was meant to keep the nobility calm and took place in 1567. The nobility was not pleased, and ultimately Mary was forced to sign a contract that abdicated the throne to her infant child, James VI. The Earl of Bothwell, fearing arrest for his previous plots, fled Scotland but was later captured and imprisoned in Denmark. He would stay a prisoner there until his death in 1578.
Mary Loved Animals
On a more lighthearted note, Mary Queen of Scots was known as a huge animal lover. In addition to riding horses, she adored dogs and could always be seen with a few faithful companions around her. This continued from her childhood even through her imprisonment in England in her final years.
So, it’s safe to say that earlier monarchs weren’t always living the good life. Tudor England often gets romanticized, but it was a tough time to be alive if you were a ruler. Do you think you could have survived the era?