And finally… Mary herself
How much blame should the Queen of Scots shoulder for her own demise?
Mary, Queen of Scots is often seen as the author of her own downfall. But, from the start, the odds were stacked against her. She was manipulated, she was subjected to repeated mutinies, she was assaulted and she was imprisoned.
As I argue in my recent book on Elizabeth and Mary, she could have been an excellent queen. When she moved to Scotland as queen at the age of 18, she encouraged religious toleration, engaged advisors from all the major clans and listened to their counsel, even when they were working against her. Elizabeth’s style of queenship, similarly predicated on expressing respect for her advisers and instituting religious toleration, was rightly praised.
When Elizabeth’s ministers undermined her, they did so by lying to her and going behind her back. By contrast, Mary’s advisors staged coups and tried to abduct their monarch – even the ones she thought she could trust, such as her treacherous halfbrother, the Earl of Moray.
Mary believed that the best way to protect herself was through marriage. Undoubtedly, her choice of husband was unwise in that her union with Lord Darnley only exacerbated her problems, but in reality she had no option that would have satisfied the Scottish lords.
Mary’s biggest mistake was to flee to England after she lost her throne. She was convinced that Elizabeth I would help her return to power. That support never materialised and, famously, the two never even met. Locked up in England with no prospect of release or escape, Mary became one of the most isolated figures in royal history. And that isolation undoubtedly played a part in her writing the letter that would lead to her execution: throwing her weight behind the ‘Babington Plot’ to assassinate Elizabeth I.
Monarchs are always surrounded by treachery, but Mary had not a single person she could trust. DISCOVER MORE FILM
Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I, premieres in British cinemas on 18 January BOOK
Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots
by Kate Williams (Hutchinson, September 2018)
Mary’s biggest error was to flee to England. Here she became one of the most isolated royals in history
Mary’s execution shown in a c1613 watercolour. The queen “had not a single person she could trust,” writes Kate Williams