A Detailed Timeline Of Mary Stuart, The Queen Of Scot’s Tragic Life

Today in history on June 19th, 1566 saw the birth of King James VI and I of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. In today’s post, I wanted to cover the tragedies of his mother Mary and the complicated life she led before his birth.

I have composed an extensive timeline of events and tragedies that Mary Stuart faced her whole entire life. She is a controversial figure who often has been disregarded for making irresponsible and egregious choices during her reign; however, Mary’s life was brutal from birth and her history is far more intricate than at first glance. It simply cannot be chalked up to just a story of a naïve women. Her life was far more complicated than perceived.

Mary, Queen Of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace in Scotland on December 8th, 1542. She was the queen of Scotland, and at one point, for a short time, the queen of France. Mary had claims to the English thrones as well. This was a women born into wealth, power, and prestige from the start; yet, none of that made her life easier in the end.

DECEMBER 8th, 1542 – DECEMBER 14th, 1542

The winter of 1542 began the life of Mary Stuart but it was a rough beginning. She was the child of King James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. Mary was born into privilege, title, and wealth as the daughter of a king; however, it wasn’t long before things became extremely complicated.

On December 14th of that year, just six days after Mary was born, her father died. King James V most likely perished due to cholera or dysentery. He had left his throne to his infant daughter, his only legitimate child. This made the little queen incredibly vulnerable. Obviously, she was too young to rule and needed to be protected. Mary of Guise took quick action to secure her daughter’s safety and establish a regency in order to make sure Mary retained her birthright. This was not easy because everyone wanted to step into this perceived power vacuum and fill in the gaps themselves.

Outright, there were people fighting for the regency against Queen Mary’s mother. The two biggest claimants were Cardinal Beaton, a catholic, and the Earl Of Arran, a staunch protestant. The Earl of Arran was James Hamilton and next in line to the throne after Mary Stuart. He managed to win the regency until 1554 when Mary of Guise managed to obtain the regency.

DECEMBER 5th, 1560 – JUNE 1th, 1561

At the age of five, Queen Mary was moved to France to live in the French court of her future-in-laws King Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici. Mary was engaged to their son, Francis, the French Dauphin. This decision was decided by King Henry II and Mary of Guise.  An alliance between Scotland and France was negotiated. Scotland needed French military support to protect themselves and their queen against the English.

February 1548, a young Mary was moved for her safety, to Dumbarton Castle after English raids. Shortly, after that, Mary was sent to live at the French court until her marriage to Francis. This was supposed to be a good thing for all involved. Mary would be the queen of France and Scotland both, and the alliance offered Mary protection. It wasn’t going to last, unfortunately, the year 1560 was not Mary, Queen of Scot’s year.

The tragic year of 1560 began with the death of Mary’s mother and Scotland’s regent. Mary of Guise died on June 11th, at Edinburgh Castle. She had suffered from dropsy, also known as fluid retention, edema, hydropsy, and swelling, which is the build-up of fluid in the body’s tissue.

By the end of July 1560, Mary was already married to Francis II, who was now king of France. The couple was wed earlier that year on April 24th; however, Mary’s marriage and reign of France would be cut very short.

While still heartbroken and grieving the death of her mother, Mary would also lose her first husband just months later. On December 5th, 1560 due to a middle ear infection that led to an abscess in his brain, King Francis II died.

This was devastating. Once again, death was tragically changing the course of Mary’s life. At just the age of eighteen, now an orphan and a widow, Mary made the journey to return home to claim the Scottish throne.

July 29th, 1565 – March 9th, 1566

The second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots was her English-born half-cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. The pair were wed on July 29th, 1565 at Holyrood Palace. Darnley wasn’t happy with being simply the king consort of Scotland, he demanded from Mary, the Crown Matrimonial.

This would have allowed Lord Darnley to rule with his wife as equals and make it so that if Mary died before her husband, then he would have the right to the throne of Scotland for himself. This was quite a power grab and wasn’t appreciated by many. Mary refused to sign the Crown Matrimonial over to her husband. This caused a lot of discontent and arguments.

Lord Darnley was arrogant, and their marriage wasn’t a happy one. It is also recorded that Mary’s husband was very jealous of her friendship with her secretary David Rizzio. A man who had garnered himself a lot of wealth and influence in Mary’s court in just a short time.

Rizzio was making enemies left and right during his time as the Queen’s secretary. Nobles at court found him too controlling of the access they had to Mary, and didn’t like him. It wouldn’t be long before Lord Darnley and some protestant nobles decided to hatch a plot to be rid of David Rizzio.

On the evening of March 9th, 1566, while a six-month pregnant Mary, her half-sister Lady Jean Stewart, and David Rizzio sat around the table eating their meal, they were interrupted by Darnley and his men. They had rushed in to confront Mary and Rizzio, as the rumors going around were claiming that Mary’s child was actually in fact Rizzio’s. despite no evidence of this.

Rizzio was stabbed over fifty-times while being dragged through the chamber in front of Mary. His body was then thrown down a nearby staircase and he was stripped of all his valuables including jewels.

Rumors were thrown around about the motive for the murder – some claimed Darnley was jealous, or that powerful lords sought to manipulate Darnley and remove an irritating presence at court. David Rizzio was only about thirty-three years old and his death was a catalyst for the downfall of Darnley, and had serious consequences for Mary’s subsequent reign.

June 19th, 1566 – February 10th, 1567

After the death of Rizzio, things continued to go terrible for Mary; however, more hardship manages to come her way. Mary gave birth to her and Darnley’s son James on June 19th, 1566 at Edinburgh Castle. This should have been a time of joy and healing but the couple’s marriage was in literal shambles and beyond repair when Darnley is unexpectedly murdered.

Darnley alienated many who would otherwise have been his supporters through his erratic behavior. His insistence that he be awarded the Crown Matrimonial was still a source of marital frustration when his body and that of his valet are found in the orchard of Kirk o’ Field near Edinburgh on February 10th, 1567 less than a year after the birth of his and Mary’s son.

Darnley feared for his safety and after the baptism of his son at Stirling shortly before Christmas, he went back his father’s estates in Glasgow. At the start of his journey, he was afflicted by a fever, possibly smallpox, syphilis, or the result of poison, and he remained ill for some weeks.

In late January 1567, Mary prompted her husband to come back to Edinburgh. He recuperated from his illness in a house belonging to the brother of Sir James Balfour at the former abbey of Kirk o’ Field, just within the city wall. Mary visited him daily, a reconciliation was in progress.

Prior to his death, Darnley had been recuperating at Old Provost’s lodging, a large two-story house within the church quadrangle, a short walk from Holyrood. Mary had brought him there to recover with the intentions of incorporating him back to court when the timing was right. The night of Darnley’s death, two explosions rocked the foundation of Kirk o’ Field.

Two barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the small room under Darnley’s sleeping quarters. Darnley’s body and that of William Taylor were found outside, surrounded by a cloak, a dagger, a chair, and a coat. Darnley was dressed only in his nightshirt, suggesting he had fled in haste from his bedchambers. He had been strangled but unharmed by the explosion.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was only twenty years old.

April 23rd, 1567 – July 24th, 1567

The main suspect for Lord Darnley’s murder was James Hepburn, 4th Earl Of Bothwell. He was a controversial noblemen in Mary’s court and this wouldn’t be the first time he had been under fire against attacks from other nobles. His quarrels with the Earl of Arran caused some issues leading to Bothwell being held prisoner at Edinburgh Castle without trial until 1562.

He later escapes his imprisonment and continues to serve Mary. The Queen and Bothwell were very close at this point. Just a few weeks after giving birth to her newborn son James, it is said that Queen Mary rode for days to be with Bothwell at Hermitage Castle after learning he was likely to die.

However, records indicate that Queen Mary was already on her way to visit Bothwell on matters of state before she ever even heard about him being gravely wounded, and that therefore, this visit is not any sort of adequate evidence that the two were already lovers at the time of his accident.

In fact, Mary waited a full entire six days after learning of his injuries before going to visit Lord Bothwell. The story of her mad flight to be by his side was spread around later by her enemies in order to discredit her.

Bothwell managed to convince more than two dozen lords and bishops to sign the Ainslie Tavern Bond, in which they agreed to support his aim to marry the queen; however, it is unknown if Mary was agreeable to this arrangement. He was still thought to have been Darnley’s murderer.

On April 23rd, 1567 Mary visited her young son at Stirling for the last time and ran into Bothwell on her way back to Edinburgh, where she was abducted and raped while being held at Dunbar as part of Bothwell’s plan.

Bothwell had backed Mary into an impossible situation. She had little choice but to marry him. The pair were wed on May 15th, 1567 at Holyrood Palace just twelve days after Bothwell divorced his first wife Jean Gordon.

Queen Mary’s third marriage didn’t go well at all either. There was no support for it by the Scottish nobles and the public were up in arms over it. To the world, this showed that Mary was culpable of her second husband’s murder and had conspired with Bothwell to be rid of Lord Darnley.

Both Protestants and Catholics were shocked that Mary was married to the man accused of murdering her husband. In Edinburgh, crowds of spectators protested and denounced her as an adulteress and murderer.

Eventually, she was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle on an island in the middle of Loch Leven. where she miscarried twins somewhere between July 20th – July 23rd. This was end of Mary’s reign over Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate her throne, handing the crown over to her son James VI on July 24th, 1568. He was still a young baby and needed a regency. That would go to Mary’s half-brother James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray. This regency wouldn’t last long.

Moray was assassinated just two years later in 1570.

May 2nd, 1568 

On May 2nd, 1568, Mary escaped from Loch Leven Castle with the aid of supporters that included the owners of Loch Leven. The former Queen managed to raise thousands of men to rise against the acting regent, her brother, the Earl Of Moray, but unfortunately she was defeated.

Mary was at a crossroads and decided to flee south to England. She had hopes that Queen Elizabeth I would assist in helping her regain her throne. This was not to be so. Once in England, Elizabeth held Mary captive for years with little to no freedom. It was a difficult time for Mary.

Queen Elizabeth I was afraid of Mary, who was a cousin and a claimant to the English Throne. Mary was and had always been a threat to Elizabeth’s rule. There is a lot of background and history with the relationship between these two queens. England was not the safe haven Mary had hoped.

Mary was beheaded on February 8th. 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. Her son James VI of Scotland was named as Elizabeth’s heir, and he would inherit the English throne as King James I of England.

Mary’s life, marriages, lineage, alleged involvement in plots against Elizabeth, and subsequent execution established her as a divisive and highly romanticized historical character. A life of tragedy.

NOTE: Below I have included a book recommendation with link and synopsis that goes into more detail into the imprisonment and politics that involve the imprisonment and death of Mary, Queen Of Scots. 


Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots covers the lives and careers of the men and women who ‘kept’ Mary Queen of Scots when she was a political prisoner in England, circa 1568/9-1587. Mary’s troubled claim to the English throne – much to the consternation of her ‘dear cousin’ Elizabeth I – made her a mortal enemy of the aforementioned Virgin Queen and set them on a collision course from which only one would walk away.

Mary’s calamitous personal life, encompassing assassinations, kidnaps and abdications, sent her careering into England and right into the lap of Henry VIII’s shrewd but insecure daughter. Having no choice but keep Mary under lock and key, Elizabeth trusted this onerous task to some of the most capable – not to mention the richest – men and women in England.

Sir Francis Knollys, Rafe Sadler (of Wolf Hall fame), the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess of Hardwick, and finally, the puritanical nit-picker Sir Amyas Paulet. Until now, these nobles have been mere bit-players in Mary’s story; now, their own lives, loves and fortunes are laid bare for all to see.



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