Mary, Queen of Scots in Scotland
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
For a few years to come [following 1561], England itself was settling down and rapidly developing strength and wealth under Burleigh's administration. Mary was following out her own dramatic destiny in Scotland. But on the Continent events were taking place, the meaning of which must be grasped in order to make the subsequent history intelligible.
In the first place the Council of Trent was brought to a conclusion. It had never been in any sense a Council of Christendom, since it had excluded from its deliberations so much of Christendom as challenged the spiritual supremacy of the papacy. But it defined Catholic doctrine from the Roman point of view, drawing its own ring-fence round the Church and parting those whom it recognised as Catholics from the rest of the world.
The party label was accepted in common speech, but without any admission of the implied contention that those whom the Church of Rome chose to exclude were not members of the Church Catholic; precisely as an English political party calls itself and is called by its opponents Liberal or Conservative without implying its exclusive possession of the qualities expressed by those terms. Further, within the Roman Church there was being perfected that militant organisation known as the Order of the Jesuits, which played an extremely active part in the coming politico-religious struggle.
Next; in France began a series of wars of religion which continued into the last decade of the century. Among the nobility and the common people there was something like a balance between the Catholics and the Huguenots; the Huguenots being headed by the Bourbon branch of the royal family, which stood next in succession after the four brothers of whom the reigning king Charles IX was the second.
At the head of the Catholics stood the powerful Guise family. But between the two stood a middle party whose main object was the political one of preventing either Huguenots or Guises from becoming over powerful. This was the party of Catherine de Medicis, who herself cared nothing for religion, but inclined towards repression or toleration of the Huguenots according to the exigencies of political strife. These came to be known as the Politique. This strife of parties prevented France from concentrating on a national policy.
The dramatic interest centres entirely in Scotland. There the young queen on her arrival found the Lords of the Congregation completely dominant, while the two most powerful men in the country were the preacher John Knox and her own half-brother Lord James Stuart, better known to posterity by his later title of Earl of Moray. In Scotland there was no question of a Catholic element extending toleration to Protestants; the question was as to the amount of toleration which the Calvinistic Protestants of the country would extend to the Catholics.
A Catholic herself, all that Mary could do was to place herself ostensibly in Moray's hands, whatever hopes she may have cherished of ultimately restoring the ascendency of her own faith. But she was able and ambitious, and she had been bred in a political atmosphere. She was also beautiful, and endowed with an extraordinary fascination. With her as with Elizabeth, the great problem was to find a suitable husband, a matter which was of extreme interest to the French, the Spanish, and the English courts.
Elizabeth tried hard to persuade her cousin to marry her own favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, a younger son of the traitor Duke of Northumberland. The Queen of England had driven her own ministers to the verge of despair by giving colour to the suspicion that she had thoughts of marrying Leicester herself; and the proposal that Mary should marry him was resented as insulting. Both Charles IX of France and Don Carlos the heir-apparent of Spain flitted across the Scots Queen's matrimonial horizon, but neither was ever a probable suitor.
Marriage to Darnley
Mary, however, selected for herself Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley—the eldest son of the Earl of Lennox — who as we have seen stood not far from the succession to the thrones both of England and of Scotland, in right of his descent on one side from a daughter of Henry VII and on the other from a daughter of James II. Darnley himself passed for a Catholic, and the union would strengthen Mary's hold on the English 'Catholics.
An unsuitable king
Unhappily for Mary, Darnley was utterly unfitted for the position she gave him. Intellectually and morally he was entirely despicable, as she was soon to find to her cost. Moreover the marriage alarmed and angered many of Mary's Protestant subjects, including Moray, who took up arms, but then thought it better to retire from Scotland.
Mary was now managing her own affairs and ignoring her husband, who was easily inspired with a furious jealousy towards her Italian secretary, David Rizzio. The secretary was likewise detested by the Scots Lords because the queen placed her confidence in him and distrusted them. Several of them entered into a "band" with Darnley himself for the slaying of Rizzio, and the secretary was butchered almost before Mary's very eyes in the palace of Holyrood.
Mary was without a friend she could trust, tied to a husband whom she loathed most deservedly, surrounded by men who had proved themselves utterly unscrupulous.
And yet there was one daring ruffian whom she did trust, or at least on whose loyalty to her she relied, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell; but for practical purposes she was a woman helpless in the hands of her enemies—a girl rather, for she was but three-and-twenty when her husband and his fellow-conspirators committed their unpardonable outrage. She would have been either more or less than human if her soul had not longed for vengeance, and, above all, vengeance on her husband.
Yet since she could not strike, she suffered herself to make some show of reconciliation leading up to a new tragedy. There were many of the Scots Lords who were ready to help her to that, for Darnley was unendurable. Before twelve months were out the vengeance fell. Mary and her husband were together. He was ill, and they were quartered, not at Holyrood, but in a house called Kirk o' Field close to Edinburgh, a house which had been selected by Bothwell and Maitland of Lethington, the cleverest politician in Scotland.
Fortunately for Moray, who had been restored to favour, his wife fell ill and he was summoned to her side. One of the queen's servants was to be married, and late that night Mary left the doomed house to attend the bridal masque. Before she could return, the house was blown up. When search was made, the body of Darnley was found close by, dead, but bearing no signs of injury.
Innocent or Guilty?
Was Mary guilty? On the evidence, as we have it, a modern jury in a law court would be obliged to acquit her, because guilt is not definitely proved; but it would be difficult to find twelve men any one of whom after hearing the evidence believed in his heart that she was morally innocent. The first quite plain fact is that the murder was carried out by Bothwell, the next that Maitland and Morton were both privy to it.
It is scarcely possible to doubt that Mary left Kirk o' Field that night without any expectation of seeing her husband alive again. It is not easy to doubt that Moray at least suspected that the tragedy was imminent, and deliberately absented himself in order to avoid inconvenient entanglement. But this amounts to no more than saying that both Mary and Moray knew enough to enable them to save Darnley if either of them had chosen to do so.
The standard of political morality which refused to connive at assasination was exceedingly rare outside of England. Philip of Spain and a whole series of his ambassadors connived at plots for the murder of Queen Elizabeth, and for the murder of William of Orange. In France the massacre of St Bartholomew was the deliberate letting loose of religious fanatacism in order to achieve a political end by assassination on an enormous scale. In England one Spanish ambassador noted with extreme disgust the difficulty of getting anyone to lend himself to such expedients; the Englishman's passion for doing everything by form of law was too strong. Yet Henry VIII had encouraged the murder of Cardinal Beaton, while in Scotland assassination was almost a commonplace; and so far as Mary herself was guilty, she shared her guilt with the very men who sought to turn her ruin to their own advancement.
But the special points are: first, that there was a political as well as a personal motive for the crime, because Darnley had fully proved that so long as he lived either his follies or his vices would make havoc of every political design of Mary's; and next, that the current morality of the period, even while it forbade persons in high positions openly to associate themselves with such crimes, did not by any means prohibit a very flimsily veiled connivance.
The thing that was fatal to Mary Stuart was precisely the recklessness with which she permitted her actions to tear in pieces the flimsy veil which propriety demanded. If the unhappy queen had not chosen to marry the murderer himself almost on the morrow of his deed her actual complicity would probably have been, not acknowledged, but both assumed and condoned. As it was, she made herself an accessory after the fact, and gave the whole crime the appearance of being, not political, but the outcome of a guilty amour; though it can never be proved beyond question that she had more than an inkling of the plot beforehand.
Marriage to Bothwell
The drama moved forward swiftly. Three months after the murder Mary was Bothwell's wife. Another month, and at Carbery Hill she surrendered to the lords who had risen in arms, while Bothwell made his escape. She was carried to Lochleven Castle, and while there was compelled to sign a deed of abdication in favour of the infant she had borne between the two murders; Moray being nominated as regent, with a council which included Morton, who has already been named as one of those privy to the murder of Darnley.
The arrangements of the new government were by no means to the mind of all the nobles, and Moray had some hard work before his authority was completely enforced. Even then the Hamiltons, angry at being set aside in favour of Moray, succeeded in contriving Mary's escape from Lochleven, and gathering a force to restore her to the throne.
The Battle of Langside
Just eleven months after Carbery Hill, Mary struck her last blow for her crown on Scottish soil at Langside. The battle was short and decisive. The queen's troops were completely routed; she herself fled southward, crossed the Solway, and threw herself on the generosity of her loving sister of England.