HIS week in English Catholic History, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned Queen of Scotland on September 9, 1543. She was only 9 months old.
Mary Queen of Scots is mainly remembered for being the Catholic rival for England’s throne right after England had broken with Rome and become Protestant. She is also a direct ancestor of the current Queen of the United Kingdom, whereas Elizabeth I, Mary’s contemporary, died without any children, having chosen not to marry.
Since Queen Elizabeth of England, Mary’s cousin, was the illegitimate child of Ann Boleyn, for whom King Henry VIII divorced his true wife Catherine, Mary had a legal claim to Elizabeth’s throne.
Many years later, after 18 years of imprisonment, Mary was beheaded by Elizabeth, based on accusations that Mary had conspired to murder her. It seems clear, however, that these charges were trumped up to eliminate Mary’s Catholic Scottish claim on the Protestant English throne.
At her trial, following the guilty verdict, Mary said to an attendant, “Well, did I not tell you this would happen? I knew they would never allow me to live; I was too great an obstacle to their religion.”
Queen Elizabeth asked Sir Amias Paulet, Mary’s caretaker, to secretly “shorten the life” of Mary to avoid the double scandal of publicly executing a queen and her own cousin. Paulet refused, saying he would not “make a shipwreck of his conscience, or leave so great a blot on his poor posterity.”
Mary spent the night before her execution in prayer. She wore red, the color of martyrs, to her execution. She said to her executioner, “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.” Her last words were, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
After the executioner chopped off her head, he held up Mary’s severed head by the hair and said, “God save the Queen.” At this point, the head fell, and he was left holding only her wig.
After Mary’s beheading, her clothes, the chopping block, and everything touched by her blood was burned to discourage relic-hunters.
So if Mary died for the Faith, why isn’t she considered a martyr?
First, Mary’s second husband Lord Darnley was violently jealous, and murdered one of Mary’s counsellors. Lord Darnley later died under suspicious circumstances, when the house he was staying in was blown up by gunpowder and he was found smothered in the garden.
Second, Mary was kidnapped by the infamous Earl of Bothwell, rumored to be behind her second husband’s death, and brought to Dunbar Castle. Bothwell also may have raped her. She invalidly (see Canon 1089) married him under coercion two weeks later in a Protestant ceremony.
These two scandalous events permanently ruined Mary’s reputation.
However, because of her pious end, and because the blessed souls, even of Purgatory, can aid those on Earth, let us conclude with a prayer to her: Mary, Queen of Scots, pray for us, and glorified may you reign upon a better and imperishable throne!
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Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, (C) 2018.
John is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster holds a Doctorate in Medicine from Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.