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Archive for Mary Queen of Scots

Opportunity Knox (but only for men?)

I’ve got John Knox in my system today so give me a few minutes, here. Knox, considered the father of Presbyterianism, preserved for us the dreadful details of the Oxford Martyrs’ fate (today in 1555) and was in fact a “martyrologist.” (I am wondering if this occupation went the way of “zincographer” and “haberdasher.”)

Knox also penned a delightful little piece called The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. He was referring to the Catholic female rulers Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, and Marie de Guise. As we all know, another prominent female ruler was coming down the pike, and his publication didn’t go over so well with Elizabeth I. As you can imagine.

Knox wrote to her, explaining “Well I didn’t mean YOU…” but she was not amused. When Knox came back from Geneva in 1559, the queen wouldn’t let him land in her beloved England. Instead, she directed him to Leith via the treacherous North Sea. That’ll teach him.

You want to read this misogyny 16th-c view on female rulers, don’t you? Here you go. The link also includes his “let me explain” attempts to Elizabeth I. Of course the time being what it was, t’was unusual to imagine or accept a female ruler. Times change, though, and fortunately those women helped that.

Knox is buried, as it happens, beneath parking spot #23 next to St. Giles in Edinburgh. Surely, many “weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish” women have parked atop him over the years?


Mary? Quite Contrary!

This not only gets up my history-nerd dander but my proofreading/editing-nerd dander as well. For crying out loud, “Bloody Mary” refers to Mary I, not Mary Queen of Scots!

(thanks to The Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor friend Sarah Butterfield for pointing this out.)

Ye Olde Smoking Gun

Thomas Phelippes' forged cipher postscript to ...

Thomas Phelippes’ forged cipher postscript to Mary, Queen of Scots’ letter to Anthony Babington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aren’t historical documents fascinating? I always find myself starstruck at these aged pieces of paper with the signatures of monarchs, governors, co-conspirators, future headless people, and the like.

To mark the 424th anniversary of Mary Queen of Scots’ execution, I give you the smoking gun in the Babington Plot. Once Walsingham had this signed piece of paper in his hot little hands, she was as good as in the ground.

The translation of the above, courtesy of the National Archive, is “”I w be glad to know the names and quelityes of the sixe gentlemen which are to accomplish the essignement, for that it may be I shall be able uppon knowledge of the parties to give you some further advise necessarye to be followed therein…… as also from time to time articularlye how you proceede and as son as you may for the same purpose who bee alredye and how farr every one privye hereunto.”

After she’d been imprisoned, Mary communicated with her allies in code, which can be seen here.  Not that it mattered: Her letters were routinely intercepted by a double agent. Several months later, Elizabeth I grudgingly signed her death warrant and off to the block at Fotheringhay Castle went the Queen of Scots.

Life After Tudors

James VI of Scotland, I of England and Ireland...

James VI of Scotland, I of England and Ireland Deutsch: James I. (1566-1625) mit dem Sancy-Diamanten an der Hutkrempe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With Liz I’s death in 1603, the Tudor line ended and the Stuart line began with James I. Well, he was James VI of Scotland, but became James I of England and Ireland.

Follow me, here: Scotland had had a separate monarchy since the 9th century, when it became its own country. There were five King Jameses there before Liz’s future heir became Scotland’s king. He was only 13 months old when his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was whisked away and imprisoned. She later fled to England where she spent 19 years and then became about a foot shorter.

Little James VI had adults to rule for him, of course, until he reached the age of majority, but he was technically the king of Scotland for 36 years before swinging on down to London as the new top dog. And since England had never had a King James previously, he became James I there.

Why do we sometimes see Life After Tudors spelled “Stewart” rather than “Stuart”? It was “Stewart” originally, from way back in the 9th century, but James’ mom, Mary Q of S, actually grew up in France. There was no “w” in the French alphabet at the time, and she would have spelled it “Stuart.” 

Scotland and France were BFFs during the Tudor period, and occasionally beyond that, so “Stewart” and “Stuart” were used interchangeably to describe that post-Tudor dynasty, depending on whether the Scots and the French were playing nicely. Now it is usually spelled “Stuart.” Either way, it spelled d-r-a-m-a  f-r-e-e  for the most part, until the Gunpowder Plot a few years later.

Mary Queen of Scots’ Death Mask

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed on this date in 1587, after a few whacks with an ax. Click here and here for pics of her death mask, eerie and yet hauntingly beautiful, to see how this tortured soul appeared.

Note: There is some debate as to the authenticity of this mask. It is worth pointing out that this BBC News article described this as Mary Queen of Scots’ death mask for an exhibition some years back.

There Will Be Blood!

Crime Scene

Image by Clover_1 via Flickr

Get ready, because this is a particularly dark week in Tudor history. Today is the anniversary of Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution in 1587. It was a grisly affair, as it took more than one whack to do away with the poor girl.

On Wednesday the 10th, we have the murder anniversary of her husband (also her first cousin), Lord Darnley, in 1567. That same date marks the 1542 imprisonment of pathetic and misunderstood Kitty Howard.

Thursday the 11th marks the day Elizabeth of York died in 1503. The woman who gave birth to our tubby, turkey-leg eating womanizer fell victim to infection after having Henry’s little sister and died on her own birthday.

On Friday 12th we have the 1554 execution anniversary of poor nine-days-queen Lady Jane Grey, and her husband, Lord Guilford Dudley.  And we continue the Headless Chronicles on Saturday the 13th, as we remember that day in 1542 when Kitty Howard and Jane Boleyn (Anne’s sister-in-law) were sent to the chopping block.

Whew! It’s getting bloodier than a Martin Scorcese movie. Stick around if you’re not the squeamish type.

Tudor Ghost-du-Jour: Mary Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, around 1560

Image via Wikipedia


Tudor cousin Mary lay her head down for the last time at Fotheringhay Castle, where it took two whacks to get her out of Elizabeth’s way permanently. The ax first hit the back of her neck, and she mumbled, “Sweet Jesus.” I think I would have used more colorful language than that. The second time the ax came down, it severed all but just a bit of gristle. This did kill her, although her lips moved for 15 minutes afterward.  (I’m a Sagittarius, with the same birthday as Mary, and it is indeed hard to shut us up!)

Fotheringhay Castle is now just a bit of rock, as my husband and I found out the day we decided to drive out that way and check out Mary’s execution spot. That was kind of disappointing. Her son James had ordered it be razed to the ground after the horror that happened there. But the castle’s oak staircase, which Mary is believed to have descended on her way to her execution, was used to build the nearby Talbot Hotel (so were other stones from the castle). Guests at the hotel report a chill on the stairs, moving furniture, and being pressed on by an clammy but invisible weight while in their beds.

But that’s not all! Mary’s restless spirit reportedly shows up in just about every abode she ever set foot in, from Stirling Castle to Bolton Castle to Manor Lodge to Craignethan Castle (the only location where she is actually headless). This royal multitasker fits into our present world quite well, don’t you think?