Monday, 29 July 2013

A fatal royal marriage

Many royal marriages have been described as tragic but not many end with both participants suffering violent deaths after plots and intrigue.  The wedding which took place almost 450 years ago today proved to be the most tragic decision that both bride and groom ever made.  But it did lead to the birth of the king who brought together the crowns of England and Scotland. 

Mary, Queen of Scots in a portrait held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  Mary was a bride on this day in 1565 but her wedding had a very unhappy ending for both husband and queen.
Mary, Queen of Scots became a bride for the second time on July 29th 1565.  She was 22 years old and had already packed more into her short life and long reign than many of her contemporary monarchs.  The crown, or crowns, rested heavily on Mary's head from virtually the first moment of her life.  Queen of the Scots at the age of six days and queen consort of France at the age of sixteen when her first husband became Francis II on the unexpected death of his father, Mary in reality held little real political power at that stage of her life.  And she was double queen for only a year or so - Francis died in 1560 aged just sixteen himself.

Francis II, King of France 1559 - 1560, and his wife Mary - already Queen of Scots by the time she became French queen consort
Mary, as queen of her own country and dowager queen of another, was royal marriage dynamite.  If her collection of crowns wasn't enough, she also had a strong claim to the English throne through her descent from Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII and his York bride, Elizabeth.  Another Elizabeth was queen of England now - but the Protestant Queen Regnant Elizabeth I faced challenges to her rule and some of her Catholic opponents chose Mary as their figurehead.  For Elizabeth, and for many in Europe, Mary's choice of husband was a dangerous game over which they had little control.
Margaret Tudor, Queen Consort of Scotland, was the eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and the grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots
According to some historians, Elizabeth's great stroke of good fortune was that Mary herself had little control over who she would marry.  Her second wedding, 447 years ago today, was based on lust and passion and one observer noted that the queen appeared 'bewitched' by her potential king consort.  Mary was now back in Scotland and ruling with headstrong impetuosity.  That same tendency let her heart rule her head, the queen made Henry Darnley her second husband at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh - not even obtaining the necessary permission from the Pope to wed a cousin.  On her wedding day, Mary seemed a more powerful threat to Elizabeth than ever before - Henry was also descended from Margaret Tudor meaning any baby had a double Tudor claim to the English crown.  But Mary had married in haste and her lack of self control led to the beginning of the end of her reign.
Henry, Lord Darnley was briefly king consort of Scotland but was dead within months of the birth of his heir, the future James I of England and James VI of Scotland
Henry, by all accounts, was as hot headed and lacking in common sense as his new wife.  As the year drew to an end the king consort decided he liked his new life so much he wanted to guarantee it went on, even if his wife died, and he demanded to be made joint ruler.  Mary refused and Darnley began to plot to gain the throne.  The queen was by now pregnant but rumours about her child's paternity were commonplace with many indicating that her private secretary, David Rizzio, was the daddy rather than Darnley. In March 1566 David Rizzio was stabbed to death in front of the heavily pregnant queen.  Darnley, although involved with the plot, decided his wife was a better bet after all and switched his allegiances back to her.
The Murder of Rizzio by John Opie - Mary was held at gunpoint and forced to watch the man said to be her lover stabbed to death
But soon after the birth of their son, James, Mary was plotting herself and met with her lords to discuss how to handle Darnley.  Not long after this meeting, Darnley's house was hit by an explosion and he was found dead in the garden.  But he hadn't died in the blast.  It seemed that he had been suffocated or strangled and the man everyone pointed the finger at was Lord Bothwell, also rumoured to be a lover of the queen.
The young bridegroom of July 29th 1565 had been married to his queen for just over a year.  But before the second wedding anniversary, his wife had lost her throne.  Bothwell was tried and found not guilty of Darnley's murder in April 1567 and soon after abducted the queen.  Some claim her raped her, others that she promoted the idea of the attack to protect her honour.  In May 1567, 22 months after marrying Darnley, Mary wed Bothwell in Edinburgh.  It was too much for many of her lords and just two months after this third wedding in the 24 year old queen's life, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her year old son, James. 
James VI of Scotland became James 1 of England in 1603 when he succeeded his cousin, Elizabeth I, who nominated him as her heir.  This portrait is by Paul von Somer and shows the king in 1620, fifty years after the dramatic events that cost his mother her throne
From there she fled to England to ask her cousin, Elizabeth, for help.  Her long years of house arrest and her involvement in plots to gain the throne of England led to her execution in 1587.  Twenty two years after her impetuous marriage to a dangerous man, both participants were dead.
Without the royal marriage of July 29th 1565 the histories of both Scotland and England might have been very different.  Mary, Queen of Scots said that her heart was her own.  But sadly for her, it caused the end of her reign and cost two young people their lives.

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