The downfall of Mary, Queen of Scots

The disaster that overtook the Scottish queen in the summer of 1567, resulting in the loss of her throne, has long been viewed as the outcome of an ill-advised love affair. Yet, as Linda Porter reveals, there was little romance in her sordid, bloody fall from grace

Painting of Mary, Queen of Scots wearing a dark dress

On the evening of 9 March 1566 Mary, Queen of Scots was at supper in her private apartments in the palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh. The queen was six months’ pregnant, had endured frequent bouts of ill-health and wanted the company of friends and family with whom she felt at ease. So she was surprised by the intrusion of her husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, from whom she was already estranged after less than a year of marriage. His unexpected display of affection, arms encircling Mary’s waist, did nothing to reassure her. The atmosphere in the small dining room became tense. But much worse was to follow.

A group of armed men, led by Lord Ruthven and the Earl of Morton, entered the chamber and demanded that her Italian secretary, David Riccio, come forth. They had conspired with Darnley to make the unpopular Riccio a scapegoat for their own discontent. Clinging desperately to the queen’s skirts, the little Italian was dragged out and stabbed more than 50 times.

A pistol was held to Mary’s side to prevent her from moving. She was in terror for her own life. And with justification, for Riccio’s murder was intended to frighten the queen into abandoning parliamentary proceedings against rebels who were to be forfeited of their lands. If Mary’s reaction to such violence had led to miscarriage and even death, some would not have lamented.

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