The historical context of the trial and eventual execution of Mary, queen of Scots is of quite significant for those who take interest in English history and particularly for them who want to know about what happened in the discourse of history when the Holy Roman Catholic Church split into two divergent branches i.e., Catholic and Protestant. At that time, i.e. in 1543, Henry VIII of England decided to set up the Anglican Church and to break the religious ties with the Catholic Church. Rather than to call the English Church as both Catholic and Protestant, it was defined to be both Catholic and Reformed and officially implemented by Queen Elizabeth I in 1558. Mary of Scot was a baby of some months when the Anglican Church was established; she was born on December 8, 1542. However, the entire movement led by protestant reformers by which most of the population of both England and Scotland became reformers had severe impacts upon Mary as queen of Scots, who was a strict Catholic herself. It became difficult for her to rule over her own people when she returned to Scotland in 1561, and finally after a series of dreadful events, one after another, and with some charges of assassinating Elizabeth I to seize the English Throne, Mary was imprisoned for 19 years and was finally executed on February 8, 1587 (Donaldson, 1974).
However, it is agreed upon that being the only legitimate child of James V of Scotland, who was the grandson of Henry VII of England, Mary was as eligible for the throne of England after Henry VIII’s children as she was eligible for the throne of Scotland. Although she received neither of them; being sent to France and got married with Francis II in 1558 and enjoyed the short time of being the Queen Consort of France till 1560, when Francis died and Mary returned to her homeland in 1561. Till that time, as a result of the reformations movement led by John Calvin and John Knox, Scotland had officially become the Protestant country. Although Mary was a Roman Catholic, she was welcomed whole- heartedly by Scots as their Queen, and ruled successfully for five years. Mary was again subjected to miseries when she married with her second cousin Henry, Lord Darnley; the great-grandson of Henry VII in July 1565. Henry was an ill-tempered person, and had become more arrogant with Mary after her refusal for the Crown Matrimonial. Moreover, the marriage union also outraged Elizabeth I in England, since both Mary and Darnley were the heirs of English Throne, and so would be their children. Adding more miseries to Mary, she mis-calculated her marriage with Darnley, a practicing Catholic as well, who was not accepted by Scot nobles and the rebellion against Mary took a shape in August 1565, which was eventually won by Mary. However, the things did not come to an end as Darnley conspired with those Protestant Scot Lords against Mary in March 1566. This brought their marriage to an end and although their son James born in June 1566, their marriage almost became over. However, it was not the divorce that brought end to their marriage; it was Henry’s death in an explosion in February 1567 (Fraser 1969, Morrison 1960).
Followings Mary’s marriage in May 1567 with one of the suspects of Henry’s murder, Lord Bothwell, the Scots outraged against Mary. They declaring her as the murderer of her own husband and forced her to transfer the Throne to her infant son. She was imprisoned then, but she escaped and ran towards England, seeking refuge from Elizabeth I as they both were cousins. Elizabeth was a cautious queen; she put a commission to find out the role of Mary in murdering Henry with the help of Lord Bothwell. However, her guilty was not proved at all but she was kept in custody beacuse Elizabeth feared of releasing Mary as one of the immediate heirs of English Throne. The situation become worst for Mary when her half brother, Lord Muray was assassinated in 1571 and the Catholic earls in North of England set out a rebellion against the Protestant Monarchy. This not only resulted with the Scot-English war, but also propelled Elizabeth to consider Mary as a continuous threat for her throne, as she was a catholic and can be a hope for rebellious Catholics in the country (Warnicke, 2006).
However, it was actually the revealing of plots made by Mary to replace Elizabeth, by taking the help from Spain. The plots continue to reveal one after another, and Mary was finally put on trial on October 1586, with a charge of making plans for queen’s assassination under the Safety of the Queen Act 1584. Although she denied from every charge for which she was accused, by considering that she was not provided with any legal support. She was convicted in a hurry decision on October 25, 1584 and was sentenced to death. Elizabeth hesitated in ordering her execution, for one reason that killing of a queen might discredit her for the entire period of her monarchy, and also it would rage the Scots, particularly Mary’s son James VI and I. However, because of immense pressure from her Nobles and the parliament, Elizabeth signed Mary’s death warrant on February 1, 1587. She was unaware of the background plans by her members of the Privy Council that execution would be held without any further delays (Lasky, 2002). Mary was beheaded on February 8, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. Initially, she was buried at Peterborough Cathedral; later her son James VI and I of Scotland exhumed her body in 1612 and placed it in Westminster Abbey (The British Monarchy, n.d).
The series of misfortunes and tragic events in Mary’s life show the attitude of the public and Monarchs of that time. She was used, one by one by different persons for their own benefit. Although she became the queen of Scotland when she was a six days old infant, yet she never became able to rule over her people. Her life also portrayed the significance and importance of Monarchy in both England and Scotland, and how the Thorne heirs keep afraid of each other and try to seize and keep the throne to themselves only. It was her loss of kingdom that eventually led her to such brutal execution, when no one cared that she was a queen. Her trial also depicts the cruelty of those times in which one was put on trial without providing any kind of legal support. This shows the bias, the fear and the threat amongst the English, from both the Scots and the Catholics, and the movement which although settled in 1558, marked its significance till the trail and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Donaldson, G. (1974). Mary, Queen of Scots. London: English Universities Press.
Fraser, A. (1969). Mary, Queen of Scots. New York: Delacorte Press.
Lasky, K. (2002). Mary, Queen of Scots, queen without a country. New York: Scholastic
Morrison, N. B. (1960). Mary, Queen of Scots. New York: Vanguard Press.
The British Monarchy. (n.d). Mary, Queen of Scots (r.1542-1567). Retrieved April 17, 2013 from
Warnicke, R. M. (2006). Mary Queen of Scots. London: Routledge.