A Short History Lesson

Mary Stuart, Mary I of Scotland, acceded the throne a week after her birth following the death of her father, King James V of Scotland. Betrothed to the Dauphin of France she spent most of her childhood in France and was educated at the French Court while Scotland was ruled by regents.

In 1558, Mary I of England died, and King Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth who was considered illegitimate assumed the throne. The French King, Henry II, encouraged Mary Stuart (aged 16) to claim the royal arms of England as the descendant of King Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret Tudor.

Mary left France in 1560 when her recently crowned husband Francis II died within a year of his accession. She  returned to Scotland where she married her cousin Lord Darnley in 1565. Their son became King James VI of Scotland and King James I of England.

In an attempt to wrest control from Scotland’s nobles, she made many enemies, and when Darnley was murdered in 1567 the Earl of Bothwell forced her into marriage. She was imprisoned in Loch Leven castle and forced to abdicate in favour of her son. She escaped captivity and fled to England to the protection of her cousin Queen Elizabeth who considered her a threat to the English throne. She was confined within the interior of England for eighteen and a half years during which time she planned a rebellion and plotted to assassinate Elizabeth.

On 8 February 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle, Mary Queen of Scots (44 years old), willing to die for her religion, refused to renounce the Catholic faith. She was tried and found guilty of treason. Her execution did not pass easily and the executioner had to fell three strokes with the ax before she was beheaded.


A death mask to preserve the face of Queen Mary of Scots was created immediately after the beheading.


For a detailed recount of the execution, see http://the-ringing-isle.blogspot.com/2013/02/on-this-day-execution-of-mary-queen-of.html

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, was born in 1542 and was executed in 1587. Her body was embalmed and interred in Peterborough Cathedral despite her wish to be buried in France. A modern plaque along with the Royal and national flags of Scotland are located on the opposite side of the aisle to the original burial place.


In October 11th 1612 I her body was exhumed on the order of her son, King James VI of Scotland and James I of England, and re-interred in a marble tomb in the south aisle of the Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.


A white marble effigy sculpted by William and Cornelius Cure lies beneath an elaborate canopy. A crowned Scottish lion stands at her feet.


The figurine wears a close-fitting coif, a laced ruff, and a long mantle fastened by a brooch. .


Translation of the Latin inscriptions on her tomb:
To God, the best and greatest. To her good memory, and in eternal hope. MARY STUART, QUEEN OF SCOTS, Dowager Queen of France, daughter of James V of Scotland, sole heir and great granddaughter of Henry VII, King of England, through his elder daughter Margaret, (who was joined in marriage to James IV of Scotland): great-great-granddaughter of Edward IV, King of England through his eldest daughter of Elizabeth [of York]: wife of Francis II, King of France sure and certain heiress to the crown of England while she lived: mother of James, most puissant sovereign of Great Britain. She was sprung from royal and most ancient stock, linked on both paternal and maternal side with the greatest princes of Europe, abundantly endowed with most excellent gifts and adornments both of soul and body; yet, such are the manifold changes of human fortune, that, after she had been detained in custody for more or less twenty years, and had courageously and vigorously, (but vainly), fought against the obloquies of her foes, the mistrust of the faint-hearted, and the crafty devices of her mortal enemies, she was at last struck down by the axe (an unheard-of precedent, outrageous to royalty) and, despising the world, conquering death (the executioner being wearied), commending to Christ her Saviour the salvation of her soul; to James he son the hope of a kingdom and posterity, and to all who witnessed her unhappy murder an ensample of endurance, she piously, patiently and courageously submitted her royal neck to the accursed axe, and exchanged the fate of a transitory life for the eternity of an heavenly kingdom, on 8 February, year of Christ 1587, in the 46th year of her age.

If splendour of birth, if rare beauty of form, a mind innocent of vice, an unbesmirched honour, the power of an invincible spirit, a brilliance of intelligence, a hope (springing from piety) of divine consolation, if probity of character, endurance of harsh restraint, if majesty, pure goodness, and a bounteous hand: if all these were able to avoid the pallor-inducing, fulminating thunderbolts of fortune (which seek out mountains and holy places) she would not have died untimely, according to her fated destiny, nor would her effigy be made sorrowful with mourning genii [winged cherubs].

Mistress of Scotland by law, of France by marriage, of England by expectation, thus blest, by a three-fold right, with a three-fold crown; happy, ah, only too happy, had she routed the tumult of war, and, even at a late hour, won over the neighbouring forces. But she perished that she might possess the land: now she triumphs by death, that her stock might thereafter burgeon with fresh fruits. Conquered, she was unconquerable, nor could the dungeon detain her; slain, yet deathless, imprisoned, yet not a prisoner. Thus does the pruned vine groan with a greater abundance of grapes, and the cut jewel gleams with a brilliant splendour. So seeds, lying hidden through many days, gradually spring up from the fruitful earth. With blood did Jehovah ratify his covenant with his people, with blood did our fathers propitiate the divine powers; with blood were sprinkled those household gods who anger was assuaged; with blood has the land been stained which lately had yielded. Forbear, O God, it is enough: put an end to these unutterable woes. May the day of [their own] death swoop upon the death-dealers. May it be forbidden to slaughter monarchs, that henceforward the land of Britain may never more flow with purple blood. May this precedent of the violent murder of the anointed Queen come to naught; may the instigator and perpetrator rush headlong to destruction. Should she, after her own death, be vindicated by all the well-disposed, then executioners, tortures, gaols and gallows, all would cease. The Queen accomplished that journey which the heavenly powers allotted. God bestowed happy times, hard times. She gave birth, fate being propitious, to the excellent James, whom Pallas [Athena], the Muses, Diana, and the Fates revere. Great in marriage, greater still in lineage, greatest of all in her progeny, here lies buried the daughter, bride and mother of kings. God grant that her sons, and all who are descended from her, may hereafter behold the cloudless days of eternity. Mourning, I wrote this H.N [Henry, Earl of Northampton].

Christ suffered also for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.

Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.
1.Pet.2.22 [actually verse 23]


2 thoughts on “A Short History Lesson”

  1. I’ve Googled my fingers sore. IF that is Mary of Scots, :-/ there’s many on Google Images who believe it is Anne Boleyn. It would be nice if the display had contained a proper plaque to designate the name.

    There might be two common death masks for Mary of Scots (which is strange), but I have found no others for Anne Boleyn which seems strange as well.

    1. There are two death masks claiming to be Mary Queen of Scots. The first which I posted on the blog is owned by the Marquis of Hamilton and is on display in Lennoxlove castle near Haddington, Scotland.
      The second example is displayed in Mary Queen of Scots House, Jedburgh, Scotland. A plaque beneath the mask states that the example found by the late Dr. Charles Hepburn of in Peterborough where Mary was first buried has been hand painted. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-n0DBLFVgYRA/VV95EAQkoNI/AAAAAAAAAFY/k-jNgL-4yjE/s1600/mary-queen-of-scots-house2.jpg
      It is possible that two death masks were made. I’ve also researched with little result so we may never know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s