STUART, Mary (Queen of Scots)

Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) has intrigued people for centuries. Ac­curately described by Elizabeth I* as the "daughter of debate," Mary has been dubbed queen, adulteress, murderess, and conspirator, but her role as poet and writer is of equal importance, although frequently ignored.
Born in Linlithgow Palace, at the age of one week she became sovereign queen of Scotland following the death of her father, King James V. In an attempt to secure a beneficial marriage for her daughter, Mary of Guise arranged a union between Mary and the dauphin, heir apparent to the French throne, and in 1548, at the age of five, Mary left Scotland and sailed to France.
At the French court, Mary received an education suitable for a princess. She wrote in English, French, and Italian, and based upon her libraries' collections at Holyrood and Edinburgh castles, she was probably able to read Latin, Greek, and Spanish. According to contemporary accounts of her French education, Mary was skilled at needlework, dance, singing, music, poetry, and riding. Two French poets, Pierre de Ronsard* and Joachim Du Bellay,* served as her men­tors at the Palace of Fontainebleau.
In 1559 Mary became queen of France, and she and Francois II boldly de­clared themselves "King and Queen of France, Scotland, England, and Ireland," although within a year Francois died. Mary returned to her homeland, Scotland, in 1560, where she ruled problematically for less than a decade. By the age of twenty-four, Mary had married three times, to the French king, to her cousin Lord Darnley, and to Lord Bothwell, whom some called her second husband's murderer. Scotland's response to her third marriage led to rebellion, her forced abdication, and her fleeing to England, where she remained for nearly twenty years. Queen Elizabeth, fearing that English Roman Catholics might rally around Mary in rebellion against her own government, had her imprisoned. Several conspiracies did transpire, and in 1586 Mary was found guilty of being party to a plot hatched by one Anthony Babington to assassinate the queen. Mary was executed in 1587. Her son James* later became king of England following Elizabeth's death in 1603.
As a writer, Mary produced a diverse collection of writings: love sonnets to Bothwell, sonnets of supplication to Elizabeth, dedicatory poems to Ronsard, contemplative poems revealing her religious piety, and numerous letters. In the margins of her favorite book, The Book of Hours, she drafted her later poems. Although Mary was a skilled writer, she never attempted to publish her works, and aside from a few pieces published by contemporaries, the first publication of her poetry appeared in 1873, nearly three hundred years after her execution. As history records her story, Mary's writings did not achieve great attention during her lifetime or after it. Undoubtedly, she is remembered more for the words written about her than by her.
Mary, Queen of Scots, Bittersweet within My Heart: The Love Poems of Mary, Queen of Scots, ed. R. Bell, 1992.
J. Wormald, Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure, 1991.
Stephanie Witham

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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