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August 19, 1561 – Mary Stuart Returns to Scotland After a Decade in France

Mary Stuart c.1579 by Francois Clouet (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

First, some background. Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland when she was less than a week old. Henry VIII of England wanted her to marry his son Edward so that they would unite England and Scotland under the same crown, but the Scots famously “dinna like the manner of the wooing” and instead sent their young queen to France to marry the Dauphin. Mary ended up charming the French court – she became close to her father-in-law, King Henri II, and his official mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  Of course, that did little to endear her to Henri’s wife, Catherine de Medici…

Then Henri II died suddenly from a jousting accident and his fifteen-year old son Francis acceded to throne with Mary at his side. Because the couple was so young, Mary’s powerful Guise relatives took over the “real” governance, brushing Catherine aside and earning her enmity in the process. When Francis (who had always been sickly) died only a year later from an ear abscess, Catherine saw her chance to get rid of Mary and the Guises in one fell swoop: she took over the regency for her son Charles, and let Mary know how drastically her position at court had changed.

While there were some discussions over Mary’s remarriage (she was a queen after all, and would bring her country as a dowry), she found herself under strong pressure from the Catholic world (the Pope, Spain, and France) to return to Scotland and “set things right.” You see, during Mary’s decade in France, her Lords had moved Scotland in the direction of reform – far enough that their Parliament abolished the celebration of the Mass and declared the nation officially Protestant. Mary took part of the advice: she agreed to return, but without making any immediate changes to religion.

Today marks the anniversary of the height of Mary’s popularity – the day she arrived in Scotland. She would actually remain popular for a while – until she started to push her weight and make decisions against the advice of her Lords. It started with marrying Henry, Lord Darnley (Catholic), worsened when she elevated David Rizzio (also Catholic) from musician to principal advisor…and then really went downhill from there. But that is a story for another blog post (well, a bunch of them). For today, let us appreciate the promise of a new opportunity, one marked by tolerance and reasonableness…

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